This week we continue our series of travelogue style episodes to walk you through my Sept 2016 Iceland Full Circle Photography Tour and Workshop.
At the end of part one, we looked at a photograph of the beautiful Seljalandsfoss, one of my favorite falls in Iceland, which is just around the corner fro Skógafoss, probably still my favorite waterfall. There are a lot of tourists at these falls now, with Iceland welcoming more than seven times their entire population in tourists each year now, and these falls are within driving distance of Reykjavik.
Still though, there is no denying the raw yet simple beauty of a 25 meter wide wall of water dropping 60 meters into its basin, then flowing off in a surprisingly immediately calm river. Although we generally get a few moments to shoot the falls when there are no tourists in the frame, and I have a few shots I like without people this year too, I decided to share this fun shot with a guy in front of the falls with an umbrella (below).
As I mentioned in part one, I love to process my Iceland waterfall shots very dark and moody like this. I toyed with brightening up the water around the umbrella man a little, to make him stand out more, but it really doesn’t suite the mood for me. Plus, although the web version is quite dark around his lower body, the full sized version has good separation, so I’m leaving this as it is.
Dealing with Spray
One of the things that the members of my group always has fun with, is keeping the spray off the front element of the lens while shooting a waterfall like this, that generates a lot of spray. Some people inevitably get frustrated, but with a bit of patience, it’s totally doable.
For light rain or spray, with just a few droplets, I generally just use a rocket blower to blow the beads of water of the filter. That doesn’t work with this much spray though. You have to wipe the lens or filter clean with a lens cloth. The problem is, the spray gets on the front of the lens again while you are wiping, so it seems like an endless battle.
To overcome this, I always carry a large cloth with me. A small towel will work just the same. And I hold that in front of the lens as I wipe, and then drape it over the lens to keep it clean until I’m ready to release the shutter. Of course, I’ve got the camera on a tripod, and I’ve already got my composition and exposure set. I do that while getting the front of the lens wet, then dry it ready to make the photo.
With my camera set to a 2 second timer, so that I can get my hand away from the camera to avoid vibration from my hands, I wait until no one is in the frame, or in this case, until the umbrella man turned up to do his thing. Then I press the shutter button, all the time holding the cloth over the front of the lens to keep the spray away.
I wait until the 2 second timer is almost finished, then whip the cloth away from the front of the lens to get my shot. In the split second that the front of the lens is open to the elements, I usually don’t get any spray on it, so I get my shot.
Note too that although I generally like to use a 0.8 or one second shutter speed for waterfalls, the water will start to look silky from around 1/5 of a second, although I like to still use about half a second, as I did for this shot. At f/13 I increased my ISO to 160 for this photo, using a 3 stop neutral density filter, for that 0.5 second exposure. Any longer than 0.5 seconds here just increases the risk of water getting on the front of the lens.
I should also mention that this method works best with screw in ND filters and the lens hood on. It’s much more difficult to keep those big square filters dry, which is one reason why I don’t use them.
Reynisdrangar Sea Stacks
After our time at Skógafoss, we continued our drive to Vik, and headed down to the black beach to photograph the Reynisdrangar Sea Stacks, as you can see in this photograph (below). This is another of my favorite spots on the southern coast of Iceland, so we stay in a nearby hotel, and revisit these sea stacks the following morning too.
We had a more dramatic sky the following morning, but this is one of my favorite images, because of the contrast between the white water and the black beach. This is a 1/30 of a second shutter speed at ISO 160 again, and the aperture set to f/14. At 65mm that’s just about enough to still get good depth of field, so everything is in sharp focus.
The 1/30 of a second shutter speed isn’t quite enough to freeze the movement of the water, but that is my intension. When you zoom in and look at the detail, there is a little bit of movement visible in the crashing waves and the front edge of the foamy waves on the beach, and this adds just the amount of movement that I wanted. I also do long exposures at this spot, and although they’re nice, there are a lot of sea birds, so the images always look like a kid scribbled over the sky with a pencil.
The following morning, we visited the beach again, and here is a shot from the cave, which is just out of the frame to the left of the previous image. As you can see, with my 11-24mm lens, it’s possible to get the entire mouth of the cave in the shot from within the cave (below).
I showed how I processed this image in Capture One Pro in the video that I released last week. As I mentioned, it’s possible to shoot something like this, with the inside of the cave almost totally black on the back of the camera, and still be able to bring out a lot of detail. I just expose for the highlights in the clouds, ensuring that they are close to the right side of the histogram, and this gives me enough detail inside the cave to bring most of it back in post.
I much prefer this method to doing HDR, as I feel this looks more natural, and it’s less work. I’ve nothing against HDR if they feed the photographer’s creativity, but I don’t like to see obvious HDR images. If you can’t tell that they are HDR then the photographer has done a good job in my opinion.
As we left Vik to continue on our journey, I saw a great sky, and stopped the bus for a few minutes, which resulted in this photograph (below). Roads are great subjects—very symbolic—so I always like to include them in my shot when the rest of the scene will support it, as I feel it does here, with this great sky and the cloudburst to the right.
Again, I’ve gone for a dark and moody look, which I feel really suites Iceland images, but this doesn’t feel sinister to me. I’ve struggled to find a good title for this shot, so at the moment I’ve settled on The Road, which leaves it open to interpretation, but I’m hoping people feel positive thoughts when they view this. It’s processed dark, but not a dark mood image, in my opinion.
Fjallsárlón Glacial Lagoon
After a good drive, we arrived at the Fjallsárlón glacial lagoon, which we photographed from the shore for a while, but then had an hour on Zodiac boats, sailing around the lagoon, getting photographs like this one (below).
It’s always fun shooting from a Zodiac, although they are always rocking around, so keeping the horizon straight is a bit of a challenge, and because you are moving, it’s always best to keep the shutter speed quite high. I used 1/500 of a second for this shot, at f/10, and that required an ISO of 500.
ISO—Main Exposure Adjustment Parameter
I generally use my ISO as my main exposure adjustment parameter. I work in Manual exposure mode almost all the time, and my thought process is generally to first set my shutter speed based on what I need to do with the scene. I might want a slow shutter speed, and even use neutral density filters to reduce the amount of light coming into the camera, or as in this case, I might need a faster shutter speed to freeze the subject or avoid camera shake caused by shooting from a moving platform.
I then select my aperture, based on how much depth of field I need. I like to use f/14 for landscapes, when I’m using a tripod, but when hand-holding, I sometimes have to go a little wider, and for a scene like this, f/10 will give me enough depth of field.
Finally, I adjust my exposure with my ISO, to the point where the information is just about touching the right side of the histogram on the camera’s LCD. This is a technique known as Exposing to the Right or ETTR, and gives you the best quality images, and enables us to open up the shadow areas better, as I mentioned earlier.
Even with today’s cameras, people are often still afraid to increase the ISO for fear of introducing grain, but if you are taking control of the exposure and using ETTR techniques, it really isn’t a problem, especially on full frame sensor cameras. Even the high resolution 5Ds R has great ISO performance, despite what the pigeonholers would have you believe. When necessary I will push my images to ISO 3200 and even 6400 and have no issues with grain.
Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon
After our Zodiac ride, we drove a little further along the coast, to the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, where we spent the rest of the afternoon. One of the things I love to do here, is to photograph the ice that gets stuck in the channel as the tide goes out forcing the water to run out of the lagoon and into the sea, as we see in this photograph (below).
Here I was obviously attracted by the hole in the ice, and I used a 1/15 of a second exposure to capture some movement in the water, but leaving some texture too. A longer shutter speed for this shot would smooth over the texture of the water through the hole a little too much.
The following morning, we came back to Jökulsárlón and spent a number of hours photographing the ice on the beach, as you can see in this photograph (below). This was on the right side of the channel, as you look out to sea. There was not so much ice on this side, so I spent a couple of hours here before lunch, just singling out beautiful pieces like this.
I love the quality of light in this image. I shot this with my 100-400mm lens, and an ND1000 10 stop neutral density filter to give me a 10 second exposure at ISO 125, and an aperture of f/14. It can be tricky doing long exposures of ice on the shoreline, because the waves that wash around the base of the ice can cause it to move during the exposure.
Especially for this image, I was timing my shots so that the water was washing right around the ice and over the stones in the foreground, so some of them didn’t work, because the ice did move. For this one through, the ice stayed still, and I got my shot.
Here’s another image from the same place, which I’d like to share with you because I love the color in the ice (below). People often ask if the ice really is this blue, but apart from a little increase in the saturation and clarity, I haven’t done anything to enhance the color. Sure, it looks bluer than the original raw file, but only to the level that I recall seeing in the field.
This was shot with the same settings as the previous image. In addition to the form of the ice jutting out of the water, I really like the line of rough water near the horizon caused by the water rushing out of the channel with the tide. This was also of course a lucky shot, because in some of my frames the ice did move as it was completely surrounded by sea water. Luckily though, it was grounded well enough to stay still for this 10 second exposure.
Next, I turned my camera the other way, and walked down the beach for a while, to make this photograph (below). Here I was attracted by the way the foreground chunks of ice sort of lead out to the ice in the sea, almost forming a procession of ice. I also thought the sky was beautiful in this direction.
There are some large chunks of ice that moved during the exposure, but I feel there are enough stationary pieces to anchor the image well enough to work. This was a 5 second exposure at f/14, ISO 100, so there is a little bit more texture in the sea than the previous shots. I like the effect, but if I’m totally honest, the reason I reduced the shutter speed for this one, is because the ice wouldn’t stay still long enough for a 10 second exposure.
This final image for today shows the people on the other side of the channel, having fun in the ice, and escaping the waves that sometimes crashed in a little bit further than they expected (below). Although I often photograph the surrounding scene at the locations we visit, I rarely share the images. I like this one though, as it holds up as a photograph, as well as a document of the situation.
I of course removed the neutral density filter for this shot, and increased my ISO to 400, for a 1/160 of a second exposure at f/14. Although it was a documentary shot, I was still conscious of where I placed that foreground ice, and I waited for the right moment to release the shutter with those crashing waves nice and high.
Next week, we’ll continue with the shooting from this day, as I photographed on the side of the channel that you see in this photograph after lunch. I have three more images to show you from this location, before we move on to areas of Iceland that I had shot for the first time on this Full Circle tour.
Iceland 2017 + Hokkaido Landscape Photography Adventure!
If you would like to join us on the 2017 Iceland Full Circle Tour, please check out details at https://mbp.ac/iceland. I’d also like to mention that we do still have some places left open on my upcoming January Hokkaido Landscape Photography Adventure. This is an amazing minimalist winter landscape tour, in an area of Japan that still seas very few tourists, and the resulting photographs are absolutely beautiful. Please check this out at https://mbp.ac/hlpa if you might be interested.
Details of the 2017 Iceland Full Circle Tour & Workshop: https://mbp.ac/iceland
The Hokkaido Landscape Photography Adventure: https://mbp.ac/hlpa
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