For years I've had the experience of going to the dentist...and like it or not, it's always on their terms. When I was told I was taking a group of dentists on a 5 night tour of Iceland...I was excited to finally have them on my turf.
Iceland is a place photographers flock to. It's mysterious, rugged, and amazing often all at the same time. From the frozen glaciers, to giant waterfalls Iceland has some of the most bizarre and fantastical things to put in front of your camera. Though we had only 5 short days to explore this photographic playground, we had a hearty bunch of eager photographers with the desire and experience to give it their best effort.
Our first day we set out for an early soak in the world famous Blue Lagoon. This pool is technically run-off from a nearby geothermal plant. The minerals in the water give it the azure color. This location draws in many people each year to sit and relax in the warm (supposedly therapeutic) water.
Our group met inside the pool and spent over an hour enjoying the water, always looking for the warmers spots. We put on the mineral face masks, and had a good time using Orlando's GoPro camera to get some funny video and shots of the group as we relaxed.
Once our time in the pool was finished we set out with the cameras in hand to try and photograph some of the twists and turns in the area that is not continually heated by the power plant. The runoff fills a larger area than is actually part of the facility, and this area is quite fun for photographing. I encouraged the group to spread out and explore and tried to help point out little areas and lines that I felt would make good elements in a photograph
The weather was looking a bit dreary in this part of the country so the plan was after dinner to head inland some and explore the Golden Circle, one of Iceland's most popular drives.
Our first stop was inside Tingvillir National Park, at the waterfall Oxararfoss. This waterfall though small is quite fun to photograph. Cool blue water flows over a small basalt shelf. This area is actually a rift between the North American and European tectonic plates. The lovely path to the waterfall walks between two 30 foot high cliffs of basalt along a boardwalk that is surrounded by yellow and purple wildflowers.
Every was quickly dialed in with the different compositions, and I helped to guide people to the best vantage points that I have discovered over numerous visits to this waterfall. With the lighter sky, I encouraged people to use Graduated Neutral Density filters to help balance the exposure. Though the forecast was for gloom, we did manage to pick up a little bit of pink in the sky, in what was probably one of the only clear patches in the whole country.
Our next stop was Geysir, a geothermal area with, you guessed it, a geyser. In fact this is where we get the word geyser. This geyser, unlike Old Faithful in the USA goes off every 5-7 minutes, so it gives the groups photographing it plenty of time to capture this blue bubble of hot water before it erupts into a 30-40 foot high fountain of scalding hot water and steam.
I helped people to get their cameras set for slightly higher ISO and faster shutter speeds, so when the shutter is set to continuous shooting mode everyone can rattle off several exposures and have a really good set of images showcasing the progression in the eruption.
Our final stop for the night was Gulfoss, or Golden Waterfall. This waterfall is massive and falls into a narrow basalt gorge. There are numerous vantage points to shoot this giant waterfall and we start at the top...before working our way down to the lower levels and views looking up the canyon. We hoped the sky would break completely and give way to a stunning sunset, but the color stayed mostly to the higher parts of the sky...but it wasn't raining, and the group still got some great images from a variety of vantage points! It was a long first day and everyone surely deserved a good night's sleep!
We drove to Skaftafell National Park where we checked into our hotel at the foot of a portion of the Vatnajokull Glacier, the largest glacier in Europe. The weather looked challenging but we took the challenge head on and drove to the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon and nearby iceberg beach.
Though the weather was slightly dreary and rain was threatening we took our chances and photographed this massive lagoon filled with house sized chunks of ice that have calved off the nearby arm of the Vatnajokull. The sky had a nice soft glow to it, and giant chunks of blue, white, and black ice floating throughout the water made for some nice, moody images.
In Iceland you never want to spend too much time in one spot when bad weather is on the horizon. We finished shooting the lagoon and drove across the street to see how much ice was on the beach.
WOW...Iv'e never in 5 years of coming to this spot seen so much ice on the beach. Huge chunks, medium chunks, and a billion smaller pieces that looked like diamonds littered the black sand beach. The class quickly scattered and tried to find their own part of the beach to make into a compelling composition. I gave some instructions on what to look for and the way to make exposures here to get the best water action, and not run the risk of having your ice move in a shot.
After about two hours of work the rain began to come down, and our group decided that with another day in the area, and a walk on this very glacier looming the following afternoon we should head back and get some proper rest before setting out on our Day 3 adventure.
We met in the early afternoon for some brief tutorials on photoshop before a drive to the Skaftafell Offices and our Glacier Gudies Adventure hut. Our Icelandic guide met us on site and went over the use of our safety gear. We had helmets, a harness (for unplanned crevasse treks), an ice axe, and crampons. Once we had set up our gear it was into their van and off to the glacier!
A short hike through areas of landscape that had only 50 years earlier held large walls of this very glacier put us at the edge of the ice. We dawned our safety gear, and set out behind out guide up the ice. We stopped to see places the ice had broken away, moraines, and other cracks and crevasses that were fun to see. Glaciers are always moving and shifting...it's good to have a guide who has seen many of theses day-to-day changes and can lead you safely up the ice.
Nobody had ever done a hike like this before so we didn't know what to expect.
"A little farther up."
"We're Just going up there."
We heard comments like this all the time...and trustingly we followed our guide far up the glacier, past HUGE crevasses, little ice caves, holes that lead to who knows where filled with water, over small glacial creeks (which were fun to drink), up, up, up we went until we were at edge where the glacier was spilling over the mountain. The sun cam out and we were treated to some amazing clouds in the sky...and the light couldn't have been better for the hike. There was minimal wind, and chill and everyone was able to hike with fewer layers than we had planned.
After 3 hours of shooting ice details and vistas looking out over the landscape from high on the ice our group made its way down slowly and carefully back to the van. What an adventure! I think everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves, and though it was more challenging than everyone had anticipated it was worth it!
For some the day wasn't over. A few hearty souls wanted to venture out again and try the glacial lagoon and beach for sunset and sunrise....we drove out hopeful that with a few breaks in the sky we might avoid the gloom and some magic would happen. Well The weather cards were definitely in our favor, we had the most spectacular 2 hour long light show at the lagoon. I've never seen 3 photographers move around sue determined and quickly trying to capture every angle in the right light. We had glowing oranges, golds, reds, and a host of wonderful cloud textures in the sky...plus the lack of wind made for perfect mirror reflections in the water. It was perfect, darn near one of the best displays of light I've seen here.
Light is funny though...while we had tremendous light at the lagoon, just 100 yards away, across the street the beach was experiencing none of the color. There were some great textures in the sky, and the amount of Ice was still as staggering as the previous night. We all spread out and everyone resumed the task of trying to figure out how to make aesthetic compositions out of so much ice! I tried to help point out simple shapes and lines when I saw them...and encourage people to simplify some of their compositions to just a few larger ice chunks wedged in the sand out in the current.
When all was said and done the final group was finished shooting at 4am...and that was QUITE a long day for everyone. We went from being on the glacier to being mixed up with pieces from the glacier. What a day!
We moved south to the town of Vik. This little coastal town would serve as our base for a night o exploring nearby waterfalls, red-roofed churches, black sand beaches and sea stacks.
The first thing we did on our night of shooting was drive up the cliffs of Dryholey. These cliffs offer a rich variety of birdlife and a magnificent view of the surrounding area. THey don't open the cliff until the end of June, so this was the first group I was able to bring up there in the evening. Lucky us we found some puffins to shoot as well, only 10-15 feet off the edge, perfect for grabbing some images of these wobbly little birds. Puffins mate for life, and return to the same burrowing area each year to raise two chicks.We had a few people who were really keen on seeing some puffins so to be able to get them close to the birds to shoot them, was really fun for me.
After the puffins we drove to follow the light to the iconic Seljalandsfoss. This waterfall is right off the main ring rode. It is known for being able to be walked behind. OUr group gathered the gear and moved up behind the waterfall to shoot out and catch some of the orange sunset light that was filtering through the clouds. This is a tough shoot, but lucky for us the mist wasn't too terrible this night, and we were able to get the necessary bracketed shots to capture the full range of light present in this scene. We even saw a couple getting their wedding photos taken at the falls in some clothing that was definitely not suitable for this kind of environment. Crazy people!
Skogafoss was one of our last stops for the night, This large curtain waterfall is seen on postcards and probably one of the most recognizable waterfalls in the country. Visiting it during the day you will be fighting through massive amounts of tourists and other people visiting this popular stop. At night we had it all to ourselves, as we do most other locations. Night is beautiful to see iceland, other than a few hardcore photographers you rarely see another soul, and are able to enjoy the nature in a special way. SKogafoss is best viewed and shot from a ledge 2/3 of way and 3,204 steps up. Everyone eagerly set out and up these steps...and slowed considerably about half way up them...but the view was spectacular and they all came away with some nice shots.
A couple diehards weren't done shooting yet, so I dropped them off at a black sand beach to photograph the sea stacks named Reynisdragnar. Legend says that a giant troll was dragging a ship to shore when the sun rose and turned him and his prize into stone. I'm not sure I buy this, but it makes it more interesting. By the time I returned to the beach form taking the others to the hotel, the sky was beginning to show signs of pink in the clouds, and I was hopeful we would get some epic light over the stacks....and sure enough it went crazy. We had 360 degrees of beautiful clouds and color...nobody knew what to shoot, and there was some organized chaos as photographers ran from spot to spot to capture as many compositions as they could given the sweet light.
The light here lasts awhile so after the beach we hit the red-roofed church in Vik, and shot it with some great glowing clouds behind it, and swaths of purple lupines in front of it. It was 5am by the time we returned to the hotel. Everyone had earned a good night of sleep.
Our last night, back in Reykjavik. On the way from Vik we stopped to photograph a group of particularly photogenic Icelandic Horses. This group had some cute little ones with them, and were more than happy to let us photograph them in some pretty sweet lighting. Five days wraps up fast, and though everyone has to get ready to depart in the morning, we were all still up for some photography. We drove out to the Reykjanes peninsula to see if we could find a little light. We hit up a spot that I know where the geothermal runoff from a power plant is funneled right into the sea. This scalding hot water when mixed with the surrounding sea water makes for some really interesting photography. The area is surrounded by black lava rock, and in the pools where the hot and cold waters meet all kind of vibrant algae grows creating some really fantastic colors and textures for foregrounds. In addition to the colors and textures, there is also steam from the hot water wafting throughout the area from where the hot and cold meet...it's truly otherworldly and not often seen by the casual tourist here.
We made one more stop at some neighboring sea stacks so the gang could try to capture the hints of orange in the sky...and do some seascape shooting. I saw some really cool images from here by the guys who worked down to the edge of the rocks to get a lower vantage point...really nice stuff.
5 days is a long time of shooting and we spent nearly 25 hours of time in the field shooting, so that really made for some hard hours to keep...considering it never gets dark here! Everyone did so awesome though....everyone knew their limits and was always up for each adventure. It was a tremendous group of people to hang out with for 5 days...and they did a great job of using social media to document each and every step of their journey. I enjoyed myself a great deal with this group of people...and makes for the first time I can honestly say, seeing the dentist(s) was the bright part of each day.
Thanks to Jim, Bernie, Doug, Matt, Kim, Orlando, and Kim It was a blast!!
Until Next Time,
Brian and the rest of the Aperture Academy team!
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