Today we start a series of travelogue style episodes to walk you through my recent Iceland Full Circle Photography Tour and Workshop.
Before we start, I want to just mention that I will interrupt this series, probably next week, to bring you a video showing how I’m processing my images now in Capture One Pro. I was hoping to do that this week, but have been too busy, so we’ll start this series, but jump in with the video then continue the series after that.
Now in it’s fourth year, this year’s Iceland tour was another wonderful, memorable experience, with a great group of participants. We changed the itinerary for this year, to take the group full circle, enabling us to pull in some of the beautiful waterfalls in the North, and we’ll look at some photos of these falls in a later episode.
Very Productive Trip
I shot a total of 1991 images during the 11 days of shooting in Iceland. During the few hours of downtime that we had here and there, I was able to go through and do a quick edit and initial selection of my images for all but the last day, which I completed after I returned to Japan. After my initial selection process I had some 538 photos that I wanted to look at again. That’s more than one in four images, and a higher ratio than I’m used to selecting. It’s not that the images were necessarily better than usual. It was just a very productive trip.
Also, many of the images were variations of ice on the beach with crashing waves or iceberg photos from a zodiac, which generally require a large number of frames to find something that works well. Still, I had to invest the time to go through and whittle my selection down to as few images as possible, and it was relatively time consuming this time, especially when we consider that this was a landscape trip.
Even though it’s been two weeks since I got home, and going through removing a few more images each day, I still have 146 images in my current selection, and I can’t see myself removing many more at this point. It’s a nice problem to have of course, but now I have the job of going through and promoting the better of the set to identify the images that I want to proactively share with people, and also find the portfolio class images.
Bonus Day in Reykjavik
As usual, we did a bonus photo walk on the first day, for people that were already in town, and visited the large church in Reykjavik, Hallgrímskirkja. Unfortunately the outside view was a bit of a mess due to some construction work that they were having done, so I won’t share any images. We continued on along the main road in Reykjavik, and down to the Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center on the water front.
I really enjoy shooting in the Harpa, with all of its colored windows and intertwined floors, but I rarely like my photos from the inside of the building enough to share them. Here is one of the outside of the Harpa building, from the other side of the small harbor out back (below).
As you can see, we had a great sky, although I have brought that out some in Capture One. The original image was a little bit flatter than this, although there are only a few slider tweaks between this and the original. The Harpa is an amazing building though. I really enjoy my yearly visit.
To make time to go up north, we dropped the days that we used to spend around Reykjavik, and the Reykjanes Peninsula, and headed out of Reyjkjavik the morning after this bonus day, once all of the group was in town. Our first stop was Thingvillir, and the Öxarárfoss waterfall.
Apparently it’s been a relatively dry summer in Iceland, so the water level wasn’t very high, and the rocks were mostly quite dry, which I don’t really like. This location is much better when the rock is all deep black and shiny, but we have to work with what we’re presented.
I also much prefer to photograph waterfalls when it’s overcast, as they are too contrasty in direct sunlight, but again, we do what we can. The result is an OK photo, but nothing to write home about. Although I would have done this black and white conversion in Silver Efex Pro in the past, this one is straight out of Capture One Pro.
After Öxarárfoss we headed on to Geysir, the geyser from which the west got our name for these natural phenomenon. I decided to first go for a shot of the water bulging, as the eruption starts, and although I had to crop it down considerably on the top to remove the people in the background, I’m pretty happy with the results (below).
With the bright sun directly behind the water, I was able to get a shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second at f/10, ISO 100, so this pretty much froze the movement of the water as the bulge started to develop. I really like how you can see into the water to see the right ridge of the hole from which the water erupts, and see all of the bubbles under the surface.
A few minutes after this, I photographed the eruption itself, as we can see in this image (right).
From the same location as the previous image, the sun was right behind the water for this shot, so all of the water is beautifully backlit, showing all of the texture and various layers of the water.
Still at a 1/1000 of a second shutter speed at f/10, ISO 100, the droplets of water are all perfectly frozen in time.
The fast shutter speed also meant that the blue in the sky went really deep. I’m not a fan of blue skies, but here, I think it makes a nice contrast.
I haven’t bothered to clone out the few people in the image. I might do that later before I submit this to OFFSET for my stock photography collection, but for now, this is just a documentary shot to show you where we were and what we were photographing.
After Geysir, we continued on our somewhat touristy Golden Circle tour, and made our way to Gullfoss. When we first arrived, the falls were still in full sun, but luckily we had a great sky roll in just as we started to get into position to shoot the falls.
I know this is kind of repetitive, but I couldn’t resist making my favorite photograph from this spot, looking down the gorge, as we can see in this image (below/right).
I’m happy to have been able to make this new version of this photograph, because of that great sky. It’s probably the best bit of sky I’ve had for this photograph, so a nice addition to my image library.
Again, this is a Capture One Pro black and white conversion. I’ll try to remember to show you what I did to this image in the upcoming processing video, but I’ll quickly summarize here.
I turned on the Enable Black and White checkbox in the Black and White tool panel, obviously, and reduced the yellow slider to -80. This deepens the greens, as I wanted the foreground grass to be really dark.
Then in the High Dynamic Range tool panel, I increased the Highlight slider to 45, and the Shadow slider to 20. Under Levels, I moved my mid-point to -0.10 and my white point to 250.
In the Luma Curve I also deepened the shadows a little and brightened the mid-tones, which is the water. I know I increased the Shadow slider in the High Dynamic Range tool as well, which may seem counterintuitive, but I like the finished look, so I’m not worrying about that too much.
Then I added 35 Clarity, set to Punch mode, and 23 Structure. These are all generic changes, that modify the look of the entire image. I went on to add an Adjustment layer to darken down the two triangular shaped sides of the foreground, and also cloned out some bits of grass and rocks in the foreground that stood out a little bit too much.
Time-wise, these modifications took perhaps a couple of minutes, which is about the same amount of time that I would have spent on this image in Silver Efex and Lightroom in the past. I haven’t been quite as heavy handed with the darkness of these dark areas as before. I am using the Exposure Warnings in Capture One to show me when I’m going to full black, and pulling that back again, to maintain a little bit of detail as I plug up that foreground, and this is working well for me.
That took us to the end of the shooting for day one, and we then drove to our next hotel in the highlands, for a nice early start the following day heading into one of my favorite locations on the planet, Landmannalaugar.
On the way, we stopped at the Blahylur crater lake, of which I got some nice shots, but wanted to share a view from that location in a different direction, as I’d photographed these beautiful ringed hills in the distance. I’ve photographed these each year so far, but never really liked the results, because the light wasn’t quite right. Today, it was working, so I’m happy with this photo (below).
I love how the layers of strata are visible in these hills, as they look almost like a topographical map of themselves. The moss and lose volcanic gravel add to the effect, and the colorful mountains in the distance doing a great job as supporting actors. To isolate this scene, I used my 100-400mm lens at 255mm, with a 1/30 of a second exposure at f/14, ISO 100.
A little further along the road, we reached our destination, the carpark at Landmannalaugar, and walked up onto the lava shelf, and across to the valley that you can see in this photo (below). I tell myself each year, that this place is just a little bit closer to heaven than most parts of the planet, speaking metaphorically of course.
I did my usual valley shots, and my self-portrait with me looking out across the valley, but I thought I’d share this shot, as it’s a little bit different from my previous work. I used my 11-24mm lens at 21 mm, pointing down into the valley, to show the river winding through it. At 21 mm the rhyolite mountains are still large enough to add impact to the shot, as well as allowing us to see the valley basin with the various shades of grass and cotton grass, as well as a few strategically placed sheep.
After spending quite a while photographing the valley, we walked around the edge of the lava shelf, then back up over it, before heading into the mountains, where I shot this next image (below). I love this view too, with the lava shelf in the middle ground, way in the distance you can see the valley where we had parked our bus, and then this foreground with the moss and steam, almost makes it look like the mountain is alive and breathing. I guess in some ways, because of the geothermal activity, the mountain is alive.
We had a great sky on this day too. The light was similar to that which we’d had on my first visit to this place, four years ago. It was simply magical. I used to run my photos from this location through Color Efex Pro to bring the greens and other colors back to how I remembered and felt the location, but here too, I’m now just tweaking these images in Capture One Pro. I love being able to keep my images in their original raw format and get exactly the look I want.
After climbing a little further, we got to a point where you can see this incredible view, looking through the rhyolite mountains (right).
This spot is difficult to shoot and really do justice, because you can’t quite get a good angle without getting the base of the mountain that you are standing on in the bottom of the frame, but it works well enough.
Again, the colors are enhanced slightly in Capture One, but only by tweaking the Saturation and Clarity, and moving the white point a little bit in the Levels.
I had exposed for the clouds in this shot, at the top of the frame, so the foreground was relatively dark. To bring the detail out, I pumped up both the Highlight and Shadows sliders in the Hight Dynamic Range tool. This works really well, so I was able to continue to avoid doing any HDR images throughout this trip.
I also wanted to note that I can’t look at this image without seeing a koala bear’s face in that snow at the top of the frame. Can you see what I mean? There’s his left eye and nose, and the right eye is covered by that peak.
After this, we walked back across part of the lava shelf, then down beside the river, back to our bus, to drive to our hotel for the night.
The following day, we made tracks along the southern coast of Iceland, until we got to one of my favorite waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss, that we can see in this photograph (right).
There was a good breeze, so the tendrils of water are blowing around, seemingly quite frail, as they make their way to the basin at the base of the falls.
Again a Capture One black and white conversion here, I have continued with my tendency to make the rocks of the cliff walls really dark, accentuating just the form of the falling water.
I also stayed in Capture One to clone out the hordes of people behind the falls. And I cloned out the little island of grass that was in ton our he water, taking up most of the left side of the basin of the falls here.
It sometimes requires a little more work to do this in Capture One, but I learned of a shortcut from Phase One’s David Grover recently, that really speeds up the process, so I’ll share that in my upcoming processing video as well.
After this we drove 15 minutes around the corner to Skogafoss, absolutely my favorite waterfall in Iceland, but we’ll take a look at a shot from there at the start of part two of this series, as this takes to us our tenth image for today.
Iceland & Greenland 2017
With that, I’d usually just point you to my 2017 tour page if you might be thinking of joining us, but I’m actually considering totally changing next year’s tour. Last week I floated the possibility of doing another Greenland tour in 2017 and/or 2018, and I had a pretty good response, but not many people want to travel this far for just one week in Greenland, so I’m considering coupling it with a second week in Iceland.
Adding a week in Iceland will obviously add quite a lot of money, especially as the prices in Iceland are going through the roof right now, but I do think it will be an incredibly productive two weeks, so what I’m going to suggest right now, is if you think you might be interested, just drop me a line to let me know, and I’ll keep you in the loop.
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