East Greenland Part 4 – Aerial Glacier Photos (Podcast 542)

by | Sep 26, 2016 | Podcast, Travelogue, Workshops | 2 comments

This is the concluding episode of a four part series to share my experiences and ten more images from my recent East Greenland photography adventure, including what I think is some pretty special aerial glacier photos.

We finished part three after looking at a few aerial photographs from a chartered helicopter, and we’d landed in front of the Heim Glacier for 20 minutes, before taking off again, to do a swoop over the back of the glacier, giving us a view from above, as we can start to see in this first image for today (below).

The Heim Glacier from the Air

The Heim Glacier from the Air

As I mentioned at the end of last week’s episode, I had bumped my ISO to 800, and was shooting with between 1/1600 and 1/3200 of a second shutter speeds, to overcome the vibration of the helicopter. For this shot I was using my 24-70mm lens, at 31 mm, and was obviously attracted to the two pools of clear water in front of the glacier.

The other challenge when shooting from a helicopter is that you really have very little time to think about your composition, as the scene below you is changing all the time. I’m happy with these images, but I remember keeping every sense on high alert as I tried to decide on the next shot and capture each possible image with very little time.

Global Warming In Our Face

I got another few frames after this one as we climbed, but as I realized that we were soon going to be over the main Greenland glacier, I decided to switch to my 11-24mm lens, and boy am I glad I did. The detail from this next image might not come across in the Web version, but I believe these next few images (below) are some of the most important of my career so far.

The Greenland Main Glacial Shelf

The Greenland Main Glacial Shelf

I love the texture, and the relative simplicity of this shot, despite the detail that can be seen in each fissure when you look closely. The reason I think this is important though, is because Greenland is obviously very much in the spotlight when we talk about global warming, and unfortunately I don’t think this view is going to be there much longer.

Here is a screenshot from Google Maps (below) showing where I was over the glacier as I made the last image. This won’t mean much as it is, but note at this point how far down the fjord the glacier runs. Pretty much to the bottom, where the Johan Petersen Fjord meets the Sermilik Fjord.

Greenland Johan Petersen Fjord Glacier

Greenland Johan Petersen Fjord Glacier

As we swung around the back of the glacier though, I was even more happy to have switched to my 11-24mm lens, as it enabled me to shoot this photograph (below). This is looking down on the Heim and Kagtilerscorpia Glaciers. What I want to impress on you here though, is just how much the ice has receded.

Heim and Kagtilerscorpia Glaciers and Johan Petersen Fjords

Heim and Kagtilerscorpia Glaciers and Johan Petersen Fjords

I don’t know how old the satellite photos used by Google are for this part of the world, but I doubt they are all that old. Yet you can see that the glacier has now melted right up to the three pieces of land right next to the pin showing where I was when I made the previous photograph.

This to me is pretty shocking. I don’t know what lies further in land, beneath the main glacial shelf of Greenland, but at this rate, I don’t think we’ll have to wait many years to be able to see exactly what it looks like below there. I also hope that this kind of imagery will help people to realize that whatever the cause, global warming is real, and we are losing glaciers like this one at an alarming pace.

Berg from Above

The next photo I wanted to look at is as we flew over the Sermilik Fjord again, and I got a number of photographs of Icebergs that show their beautiful under water portions pretty well. There wasn’t time to use a polarizer filter, but as you can see from this image (below) there were some angles where there was no reflection on the surface of the water anyway, so we were afforded some beautiful views like this.

Iceberg from Above

Iceberg from Above

People often quote different ratios, but according to the laws of physics based on the density of ice, it is generally thought that only one-tenth of an iceberg is above water, leaving nine-tenths that are below the water. As we see this huge body of ice drawing down into the depths, it’s not hard to imagine just how much ice there is below the surface of the water.

Tiilerilaaq from the Air

In the previous episode, I talked about our visit to the settlement of Tillerilaaq, and this had taken us an entire morning to get to in our speedboat. By helicopter, it was less than 15 minutes away from Tasiilaq. In this photo, you can clearly see the tiny channel through which we’d traveled to get from the Ammassalik Fjord route we’d taken to Tiilerilaaq, and it was really nice to get this view of the settlement from above.

Tiilerilaaq from the Air - East Greenland

Tiilerilaaq from the Air – East Greenland

Blue Lake and Mountains Near Tasiilaq

Blue Lake and Mountains Near Tasiilaq

As we continued on, we passed over the mountains between the Sermilik Fjord and Tasiilaq, and got some great views of the mountains and lakes up there.

Here (right) is a lake that looks to have blue glacial meltwater as its source, almost iridescent in the sunlight shining on it between the broken cloud.

To keep my shutter speed high, I had been adjusting my aperture a lot, based on how high we were. Most of the previous images were shot at f/10 or f/11, and that gave me plenty of depth of field at the distance we were shooting from, and the wide aperture.

For this image, as we were even higher, I dropped down to f/8 at 24mm, for a 1/2000 of a second shutter speed, still at ISO 800. Everything from the nearest foreground to the distant mountains is in perfectly sharp focus.

A few minutes after this, we were over the bay at Tasiilaq, and before we knew it, landing at the heliport on the edge of town.

The helicopter is run by the brother of the owner of our hotel, and although they were a little reluctant at first to allow us to open and shoot through the windows, it all worked out really well.

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I hadn’t flown in a helicopter until four years ago, when I had a whizz around Niagara Falls while I was in Canada for my 2012 Pixels 2 Pigment workshop, but since then, I’ve ridden in helicopters a few other times, over Tokyo at night, and then a total of three more times here in Greenland by the time we’d finished the tour. I think they are becoming more accessible as enterprising people build businesses around this sort of ride, and that’s a very welcome change, especially when we are allowed to open the windows etc.

After returning to the hotel, I quickly went through my photos, and was happy to see that they were all nice and sharp, and that I hadn’t wasted my money. I was also really happy with my decision to switch to the 11-24mm lens as we flew over the back of the glacier. In fact, I’m even happier that I decided to put it in my vest pocket, as I almost didn’t. Sometimes we make really bad decisions, and they sting like hell. The more we do this though, the more likely we are to make better decisions, and it’s great when they pay off like this.

Aurora Borealis

So, by this point, it was August 30, and we only had a couple more nights in Greenland. We had been keeping our eyes on the Aurora forecasts, and had a bit of a display the previous night, but with a better forecast for this night, we headed out again at about 11 pm, and were pretty happy to see some beautiful Aurora Borealis stretching across the entire sky. Here is a shot from a few minutes walk from the hotel (below).

Aurora Borealis Near Tasiilaq

Aurora Borealis Near Tasiilaq

For Aurora, as for most night sky photography I do, I generally set my lens to it’s widest aperture, f/4, and with an ISO of 3200, use a shutter speed of 20 seconds. If the Aurora gets brighter, I will try to reduce the shutter speed to 15 seconds, which ensures no movement in the stars, and then as it gets brighter still, I start to bring the ISO down. This shot was at my initial settings though, so f/4, 20 seconds at ISO 3200.

Unfortunately, it was really windy, so the lake nearby was not reflecting anything, and I honestly don’t think I could have scrambled down there in the dark anyway, but I’m happy enough with this shot. There were some beautiful patterns being made, and I like the touch of purple as well.

The next morning we headed out on a speedboat again, and spent a number of hours whale watching. I think we’d used up all of our luck by this point though, so although we saw a number of whales, we were not able to really get any good photos. Still, it was great to just be around them.

Afterwards, we headed over to the glacier that you can see in the distance in this next photograph (below), and then on to Kulusuk, which is the town near to the airport that we’d flown into from Reykjavik. The houses in Greenland seemed to follow pretty much the same pattern in the most part, which makes for nice photos I guess, as they are often either beautifully colored, or with the peeling paint, like the two in the foreground here.



This day was a bit of a mess logistically mind. The people that we’d organized the speed boat with forgot to buy our lunch, so they gave us money to buy something at Kulusuk. This means that we had to eat in the town, and one thing that doesn’t come across in my photos is that the towns are full of little flies that try to get into your eyes and ears, and are a real pain. It would have been much nicer if we could have eaten over by the glacier before coming to town.

The next hiccup was that when we got back to our boat, our driver had caught the propeller of the boat on the rocks in the bay, and broken the propeller clean off. He was a resourceful young chap though, and quickly organized a replacement boat and driver, who we would spend the rest of the day with.

We went back out into the open water south of Tasiilaq, and tried our luck at some whale photographs again. It didn’t work out photographically, but at one point a Fin Whale surfaced right near us, and actually called out. It was a magical moment. I couldn’t find any recordings on the Web that sounded like what we heard, but it was a long droning sound that we could feel through the water as much as audibly hear it.

I used to have a record of whale calls when I was a kid, and the hair on the back of my head would stand up when I listened to it. The memory of actually hearing a call like this in real life, bobbing around in a boat off the coast of Greenland, is one that will stay with me for the rest of my life, hopefully.

On our last night in Greenland, the Aurora gave us another display, which I captured this time with a nearby satellite dish, as I liked the space relationship (below). The dish was lit up by nearby lights, so I didn’t have to do any light painting or anything.

Aurora Borealis Near Tasiilaq

Aurora Borealis Near Tasiilaq

Again, the purple was beautiful, and more pronounced in this image, although I prefer the shape of my shot from the previous night over this one.

The following morning, as I opened the curtains in my room, there was a beautiful mist over the town of Tasiilaq and down into the bay, so I grabbed my camera, and went outside to get a few pre-breakfast images, before the mist cleared. The town isn’t as pretty from above as it is below, so here’s a shot of the bay with the few seemingly resident icebergs (below).

Icebergs in Mist at Tasiilaq

Icebergs in Mist at Tasiilaq

I shot this at 135 mm with my 100-400mm lens to isolate the mountain and bergs. As the sun made its way down into the bay, the mist quickly burned off, so I was happy to have got these last few images, as we were to leave for the heliport shortly after breakfast, to fly back to Iceland for one last dinner before we disbanded, completing the tour.

Greenland Portfolio

I am just completing putting together a portfolio of this Greenland work, which you will be able to see at https://mbp.ac/greenlandportfolio probably by the time I release this podcast post, so please do take a look if you have a minute. I’m also going to try to put together a slideshow video soon too, and I’ll let you know once that’s available.

Licensing My Greenland Images

If you would like to use any of my Greenland work commercially, you can license these and many more images from the trip from my OFFSET stock library.

Future Greenland Tours?

I’m sure you’re wondering if these Greenland tours are going to be a regular thing moving forward, but the answer right now is, I don’t know. We had an amazing time, but financially, this isn’t currently a viable tour, as we only had a few participants.

I went ahead with the tour, because I wanted to visit Greenland myself, but for basically seven days in Greenland it’s an expensive deal, and I don’t think people realized just how much they would be getting for their money, including of course flights from Iceland and the local helicopter from Kulusuk to Tasiilaq and speedboat transport on most days.

The other thing is that the speedboats were pretty rough some days. The boat we had for the first two days was the most comfortable, but that broke down, and we had one without any cushions on the seats the following day, and when you are slamming down on waves on a choppy sea, it was uncomfortable, bordering on dangerous, so I’d really like to see them get a better handle on the transport situation before organizing another trip.

Having said that, Greenland is an absolutely magical place, and I will go back. It has everything if not more in some ways than Antarctica, at a fraction of the price, so I don’t see how I’ll be able to stay away.

Let Us Know if You’d Like to Go!

If you would like to go to Greenland, drop me a line. I can certainly start to build a list of people that are interested, and set something up again if enough people are interested. You can contact me with our contact form which is linked to all pages on our web site. You can also subscribe to our Tour & Workshop Newsletters and we’ll let you know if we set up a future trip.

Opening for Complete Namibia Tour 2017

Before we finish, I’d also like to let you know that we have had one cancellation from our June 2017 Complete Namibia Tour, so if you would like to join me for that, take a look at the details here: https://mbp.ac/namibia

Complete Namibia Tour 2017

Complete Namibia Tour 2017


Show Notes

See Martin’s Greenland Portfolio here: https://mbp.ac/greenlandportfolio

License Martin’s Greenland images here: https://mbp.ac/offset

Music by Martin Bailey


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  1. Janet Webster

    Flight to England was delayed so read all your Greenland postings while waiting in Vancouver airport. Made the wait time fly by (excuse pun?) I fell in love with icebergs and glaciers last year when I visited Lago Grey in Patagonia. Your superb images rekindled the flame. Thank you.

    • Martin Bailey

      Hi Janet,

      I’m pleased these posts helped with your flight delay. 🙂

      Thanks for the kind words, and for continuing to follow my antics.



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