Whether it is Game of Thrones, or the myriad of images flooding the social media these days..Iceland has been on everyone's must see list for the past few years. The popularity of the country is at an all time high...and if one is to venture out to the popular locations during the “normal business hours” you'll come face to face with the reality that Iceland is crowded. Lucky for our group of photographers we only visit the popular locations in the dead of the night, when the light is best for photography, and the crowds have all long gone back to their hotels and are fast asleep.
The first day of our adventure we meet for a brief orientation so everyone can get to know one another a little bit, and Scott and I can help answer any questions the group might have about the itinerary, and the time ahead. Everyone is clearly excited to be here, so we head off to dinner at a local fish and chips restaurant to feed our bellies before our first night of photography.
With a tummy full of delicious local fare we set off in our van for Þingvellir National Park. This is one of the oldest parks in the country, and was the site of Iceland's first parliament type meetings. Game of Throne enthusiasts in our group are happy because this location was also in an episode of the popular TV show. Our first real shooting location is the waterfall öxarárfoss. This is a small waterfall, by Icelandic standards, but a pretty one nonetheless. Scott and I use it as a way to help the group start to get dialed in with their settings, compositional tips, and also this is where we start to work on the best ways to capture a proper exposure in the field...whether it's by bracketing, or the assistance of a graduated ND filter...getting the whole range of light in your camera will help to make the processing side of things much easier later on.
The first night of the group is always a little short, folks are still tired, and adjusting to their new surroundings. We like to get back relatively early so the gang can get a full night sleep before our next day. On our way home we stop by Geysir, this is the geothermal feature all other geysers were named after. While it isn't the biggest, loudest, or most powerful...it is very reliable and our group has fun trying to capture some shots of this “old faithful” part of Iceland's history.
We hit the road around mid-day. Everyone is rested, and ready for our adventure! The crazy Iceland weather has arrived in full force and we get to see the whole spectrum of weather. Sun, clouds, rain, fog, and wind. Our destination for night 2 is the town of Skogar....home to the popular waterfall Skogafoss. This waterfall is impossible NOT to see when visiting Iceland. It's right off the main road that circles the country, and has appeared in movies, advertisements, and nearly every instagram account worldwide at least once. Because our hotel is so close to the waterfall we hit this location up at our convenience, and devote our night to exploring the town of Vik, This coastal town offers up sea stacks, black sand beaches, and a little red roofed church in a field of lupine. Unfortunately, it also offered up a lot of rain on this particular day...so we hoped that after a nice dinner we might be able to sneak above the drizzle and find some puffins on the top of the Dyrhólaey cliffs. Lucky for us, the weather up here stopped for a bit, and we were able to find some puffins really close to the trail and everyone was able to get some nice images of these peculiar little birds. In addition to the puffins there is also a lighthouse and cool sea arch up here for photographing. Scott and I encouraged everyone to get as many shots as possible, because it was the only thing photographable at the moment due to the weather.
The bad weather kept us off of the beaches nearby and the dark sky and wind made photographing the little red church more challenging than necessary so we opted to head back to the hotel and shoot Skogafoss when the weather allowed. Even though the rain was minimal at the waterfall...the mist was blowing outward and that added another level of difficulty to the mix...everyone was still able to get some shots though, from a safe distance.
DAY 3 & 4
We move east to the Vatnajokull glacier. Our photographic goal for the next 2 nights centers around the Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon, and the diamond beach. Diamond beach is the black sand area that temporarily houses the chunks of the glacier that have calved, and then washed out to sea...and been tossed back to shore during the tidal shifts. On our way to the lagoon we made a stop at Fjaðrárgljúfur a small but awesome canyon in the southern part of Iceland. Our visit timed perfectly with some breaks in the weather and we were able to get great shots of the mossy canyon walls, and river below with some dappled light and puffy white clouds.
The first night of the glacier lagoon and beach was pretty overcast, and we were able to capture some moody shots of the various chunks of large icebergs floating throughout the lagoon. Scott and I helped with settings, pointing out shots that would be great for larger scenes, as well as cool intimate details. One of my favorite little spots to take folks is the outlet river of the lagoon. Large chunks of ice will get wedged here and this causes chutes of water to be funneled around them at high rates of speed...while the ice remains locked in position. It's a great place to work on capturing moving water AND ice. In the lagoon all the ice is moving at one speed or another, and it's hards to get blurred water with the ice. The group got some tremendous shots here...and the neat part is the ice only stays wedged for a brief period of time before the tidal push wears them down and they float off to the sea. Shots made here are truly a once only opportunity.
All that ice has to go somewhere! The tide deposits it on the black sand beach, and like the name implies...it looks like a bunch of oddly shaped diamonds. The goal here is to get the rushing waves moving around the chunks of ice. THe streaks left by the waves, will create drama, and allow the eye to move throughout the image. THere's not a great deal of ice on the beach, but certainly enough to really have some fun shooting. In between shooting the waves with the ice, I encourage some folks to do some close ups of all the details inside of the icebergs...looking deep into the ice is like a whole tiny world of cracks, bubbles, and color.
It was a long night here, but with the weather forecast for the next day looking grim, it was best to maximize our time here. On the way back we found a nice pocket of light, and stopped to photograph an old abandoned farm with some nice color and clouds in the background.
The next night we had the plan to go shoot some mountains on the eastern fjords, but the rain and fog had obscured them to the point they were no longer even visible. THat left returning to the glacier area our only option. We of course stopped along the way to try and photograph a reindeer, and some horses. The Reindeer must've known that a few of our group members had reindeer burgers for dinner....and he wasn't going to cooperate.
The cold we had the previous night kept a couple folks from seeing the diamond beach so we made our way back there so everyone could go play some more with the ice and moving waves...the gap in the weather didn't last long, but we surely made the most of it. The weather in Iceland is always after you...if you escape the rain for a few hours...just know it's looking for you. IT WILL FIND YOU. Around 1am the weather did find us, so we were forced to pack up and make our way back...
DAY 5 & 6
We're off on a long drive to Snaefellsnes peninsula. Here we're going to photograph several iconic locations including the most popular mountain in Iceland- Kirkjufell and the waterfall that has the privilege of being in all photographs of it...Kirkjufellfoss. (I think that's Icelandic for “maybe you've seen me on instagram?) On our way to the peninsula we made a brief stop at Seljalandsfoss one of the more popular waterfalls on the ring road...you can actually walk behind this waterfall. It's really a special place...when you can visit it at night, and have it all to yourself. Our mid-day stop gave the group a perfect reason for not going out during the day here...there must have been 500 people here walking all around.
We arrive at the hotel late afternoon, dropped our stuff off and set off for dinner. The weather for our first night was awesome at Kirkjufell...clouds, color, reflection...the whole nine! Scott and I helped the class with the iconic, traditional shots...but also helped to point out some of the other shots possible here..reflections in a nearby lagoon...etc.
Once our sunset faded, we opted to drive to the other side of the peninsula in search of some nice weather. Unfortunately..we found nothing but more rain and mist. We did, however, walk the gang out to the Arnarstapi sea arch, and also took them for a little shot of this cool red roofed house, that was on the cliffs, surrounded by little towers of rock. It was more practice for bracketing and working with finding compositions...I think everyone had fun exploring (and also getting attacked by terns...they had just hatched their chicks, and were EXTRA feisty!)
The next day we slept in, and were set to head out for another night of photography with a good forecast. Scott and I unfortunately had to deal with a minor issue back in Reykjavik, so we had to leave for a few hours...but our resident Aussie, James was happy to hike the group around to some nearby locations and help them in our absence. Thanks, mate!
Scott and I arrived back just after sunset, loaded up the group, and drove them back to the south side of the peninsula to visit Budir, the black roofed church. The weather once again had found us...and we made use of the dark, brooding sky to help give our shots some drama that would look good in monochrome. We also worked on things like using shallow depth of field, and Scott worked with a couple on focus stacking. It wasn't a long night...but it was productive and with this group it was always entertaining and fun!
DAY 7, 8, 9
With 2 nights in Olafsvik under our belt, and blue skies ahead of us we set off to the north for our favorite location of the trip. Skjaldarvik Guesthouse. THis place feels like home. THe owners, Disa and Oli have really made a special little slice of heaven here on their horse farm. During the days we can photograph the horses in the field, and in the evening we're only a “small” drive from several iconic location. The weather looked awesome and we were ready for a lot of fun.
Our first night we set off for Godafoss. This waterfall has a great horseshoe shape, and the water is a brilliant blue color. THe “clear” forecast wasn't accurate...but the dark dramatic sky we had, in my opinion, is better...the blue of the water shows up better as does the striking green moss on the rocks along the bottom of the falls. We shot the falls from both sides, and along the bottom...there were definitely no shortage of awesome compositions to be had here...and after the group saw their images, I think they agreed that the darker sky was nice as well.
It was a long day driving here, so we set off back to the hotel to get a good night's rest.
The next day we spent a couple hours in downtown Akureyri looking at shops, eating, and also having ice cream...ice cream is always a must! That afternoon the group decided it was time to start the new series of Game of Thrones, so we all donned our robes from the rooms and sat down together to watch episode one of the new season....it was a great team building experience, and the show wasn't bad either.
The forecast for the night of photography looked good...but once again, the weather was not accurate. We arrived to the Námaskarð geothermal area to gale force winds. This made photography quite a challenge, but again...the sky was textured and moody...which is always fun to photograph. The gang was rugged, and everyone enjoyed trying to walk around in the heavy winds. Scott and I yelled over the wind to try and help folks find compositions, and deal with different ISO settings and apertures to get faster shutter speeds and combat their shaking tripods.
Our final night in Akureyri we had a dream day. We spent time in the horse pens shooting the horses with great skies, and light...Helena even went on a ride that day! We soaked in the hot tub, and enjoyed the view of the fjord. We had a nice dinner in town at the gas station (lol) and then photographed Dettifoss and Aldeyjarfoss with great sunset and sunrise light. This was a long night...everyone had some great shots along the way too! By this point they had really started to grasp the bracketing and exposure needs for every location, and were moving about like pros looking for multiple compositional possibilities.
The next day was our last together, all that separated us from our starting point was a long drive.
The group had planned a great list of questions for Scott and me...that kept us talking about all kinds of different photographic topics for nearly half the drive. It was kind of sad when they ran out of them. The last night in Reykjavik we always go out to a nice dinner...it's a way to celebrate all the trials and tribulations of the trip...the long days, and nights, and all those little things that help bring a group together. We had such a nice time reliving the trip...but we missed you, Mary! After dinner it was off to the Blue Lagoon...when you come to Iceland everyone is going to ask you if you went or not...so you might as well go. The cold evening made that water steamy..and the temperature was perfect. Of course we all splattered our faces with the white silica masks, and made some goofy pictures in the water...but in addition to the relaxing part...that's what one is supposed to do!
Leaving the lagoon is rough because it means the trip is over...and once we get back to the hotel there's only one more sleep before everyone has to return home. No more long drive air-drop parties, candy stops, interesting roads, ice creams, or hot dogs. No more GoT talks over dinner, or picking up Mary's gloves...Scott and I are going to miss you all and hopefully our paths all cross again down the road.
Until our next adventure!
Brian, Scott, and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team
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