After being stupidly busy I have finally got round to writing my blog for my recent trip to Iceland.
After many requests I'm going to write this not only as an account of my trip but also featuring some tips and advice for people who have asked.
This trip to Iceland was largely inspired by the trip there in 2014 with my friend James https://www.facebook.com/refinedlight (Take a look a some of his work also) There were lots of unexplored places and locations that I hadn't done in 2014 due to a few reasons that mainly included time and weather.
On the whole I underestimated the amount of things to do in Iceland and 2014 was a little whistle stop. Whilst getting to see many locations the chance to revisit and spend more time at them were sparse.
For 2015 I said that we would spend more days in locations and this would enable me more chances of images we wanted (weather depending)
After a photographic trip to Wales earlier in the year I decided that Iceland would definitely have to be booked after a typical wash out trip once again due to the British weather.
I decided that October again would be the best time to book as the tourists have died down, the aurora is then visible and the accommodation and car hire is also cheaper due to it being off season.
After checking out flights with Easy Jet I booked from Saturday 4th October - 18th October. This again would gives me 2 full weeks to explore and plan to a good extent. The flights were around £230 each. About half of the cost of the flight cost was adding extra bags. We decided on 3 suitcases so this would enable us to fit in the clothing and at a squeeze the amount of camera gear (I did have to pay for extra weight allowance also) I'll go into equipment later.
I also booked our car hire. A 4x4 is pretty essential in Iceland. It gives you the freedom to travel on the bumpy and sometimes waterflooded F-roads as well as being equipped to hold our equipment and clothing. Last year we opted for a Dacia Duster and went with this model again this year. These 4x4's are basic but do the job well as I found no trouble with the one from 2014. In fact I was impressed with what the duster was like. As a Diesel as well the travelling costs were quite good and the MPG generous for the size of car.
As last year I booked with Blue Car Rentals http://www.bluecarrental.is/ . I found they are the cheapest and were happy with the service I received from them.
The Duster cost us around £800 for the 2 weeks duration of the trip. I would pick up and drop off at the airport as they have a depot there. If you are going to hire a car in Iceland then make sure you get full insurance with everything covered. It's an unpredictable place so be on the safe side.
With the 2 main elements booked I set upon equipment. Last year I took 2 camera bodies with one being mainly as a back up only. This year I had 2 new additions to the camera family A canon 7D2 and a 5D3. Last year I waited in vain hoping that the 7D2 would be out in time. Unlucky for me the release date was a month too late meaning I was riding with my older Canon 7D. Anyone who knows the 7D will know its stronger points were never high ISO's. This is one thing that I struggled a little with in 2014. Not to be outdone this time I treated myself to a Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 to accompany my new 5D3.
One of the the other new additions of kit this year was a electronic Dolly/Slider. After searching round the internet and also debating whether to make one I found myself one that would fit in my suitcase and was designed for the purpose of travelling whilst having a long enough travel to be effective.
Timelapse is something I've been thinking of doing more for a little while and so saw this a perfect opportunity. Another £350. I put the cost as you'll see this creeping up more and more.....and more as the trip arrives!
Clothing wise I pretty much had everything and added just a few base layers. Spending a lot of the time up mountains in Wales teaches you to get correct equipment for all conditions. I also go with the line...Buy rubbish buy twice. In outdoor equipment THIS is the case and don't let anyone tell you differently.
Clothing essentials for Iceland
I`ll give a list of clothing below with most of it being bought at some time at one of my favourite stores - Go Outdoors. I've found they have a good variety, price match and the one local to me in Manchester has great staff who are knowledgeable and take time with their customers.
Ok clothing out of the way I'll move onto equipment. This will include camera and general.
A running theme in Iceland is to double up on everything essential. Iceland is not the place to lose or have something to break. There are little shops out of the bigger towns and cities but these have basic stuff and are not well equipped so replacing something is not an option.
My friend James had made the trip up as we were flying from Manchester at around 8am. Upon arrival to the airport at 4.30am we scraped in on the baggage allowance but was accepted after a few niggles about whether we'd paid the extra allowance.
Getting through border control with the hand luggage has always been no problem with the equipment carried for me. My pal James however always seems to get singled out though. Again this was the case and he was subjected to a full body search and numerous swab tests much to my amusement.
The flight of 2 1/2 hours seemed to pass quick quickly with a bit of a nap as I'd not slept since the night before and a bit of music from the iPhone. You do get what you pay for and Easyjets seats arn't that comfortable with minimum leg room for someone my size.
I'd been looking at the forecast building up to the trip and noticed the weather wasn't great. On landing though we wernt expecting it to be this bad!!
The first stop I did was to the nearest fuel station to pick up a Icelandic sim card. The rates and data you get from one of these far outweighs using your provider from back home here in the UK. Just make sure your phone is unlocked to be able to take one. The best sim card to get over there is Siminn. They have the best coverage and best tariff. Don't be talked into getting a different provider ie - Vodafone etc. The coverage isn't as good.
A link to Siminn's website is here to have a look at: http://www.siminn.is/english/
Next stop was to one of the many Bonus supermarkets for some supplies. These are more like an Aldi or Lidl stores but have everything you will need shopping wise.
My first accommodation was named Laxarbakki Guest house near to the town of Akranes. It's about 2 hours from Keflavik so far enough for a first days driving. I'd booked one night here as a way point to our next destination.
Whenever I do a trip like this our quota for accomodation is simple:
The rooms are relatively cheap but as I am out most of the time day and night, fancy amenities are of no use to me. On this day it was of some use that premiership football was on and I was able to watch Man United unfortunately get beat by Arsenal. I had hoped of visiting Glymur that day but it was a complete write off due to the weather.
A lot of the guest houses are quite dated in their decor but as above they are clean and serve the purpose.
The weather for the rest of the day stayed dull, rainy and gloomy so after a brief organise of my equipment it was a night watching the TV.
Not the start I'd wanted but this is Iceland and I fully knew I would have days like this...
After yesterdays wash out today started with grey skies but thankfully cleared and gave some nice light in places.
I was up early so I could make a start on travelling up to Snaefellsnes which is about 2 hours away. This area contains lots of opportunities for photography including one on my bucket list "Kirkjufell". I missed this one last year due to the weather and once again it has threatened to get in the way this year.
On the journey to there lies the Gerduberg basalt columns which were a short distance from the road so we decided to try these first. I had 2 bodies running (one was timelapsing and the other for normal exposures)
As with some places tourists can and do get in the way. The trouble you get is that when you do long exposures or timelapse you aren't actually looking into your camera so it doesn't look as though you are taking any shots to Mr Joe Average who duly obliges and walks into your shot. This happened to James on more than one occasion which can be frustrating but just the way it goes......Patience is very much needed.
I was staying at the Old Post Office in Grundarfjordur. http://booking.com/8d66270477de27c2
Again the accomodation well spec'd and perfect for what I wanted with its own kitchen and you could come and go at will. I was greeted by the owner on reception who was only too willing to give advice on locations around the area so if you are struggling on places to go then this nice chap is the person to ask. The Post Office is perfect for shots of Kirkjufell as you'll see from the pics below it is overlooked by it. Perfect for Aurora shots I was hoping for.
Whilst it was early afternoon I decided to head for Grundfoss. I'd seen this waterfall on the way into Grundarfjordur where I was are staying and I went back to check it out. After looking at maybe a short walk I ended up going to the very top which was quite a way. It was well worth it and the panoramic views with a huge waterfall within feet was a great experience.
Going down was a little easier than the trip up and I decided to head for Kirkjufell for sunset. Thankfully the weather shaped up enough to get some nice light on the mountain from a couple of different angles.
Settings as follows:
Exposure: 3.2 seconds, ISO: 100, Length: 27mm, Aperture: f/11
Settings as follows:
Exposure: 10seconds, ISO: 100, Length: 16mm, Aperture: f/11
I returned back to base after these and cooked tea hoping for some aurora later. The aurora forecast was reading a 3-4 and the weather was forecast mixed.
I headed out later on and the weather wasn't the greatest but some aurora could be seen through the clouds. From walking the short distance from the car to the spot I needed to be the weather have gone decisively worse. I kept camera and lens protected from the elements until hopefully an opportunity came to get some images. This moment didn't come and I decided to call it as the weather wasn't clearing.
End of the night by then and I chose to back the days images up and edit a couple on the laptop back at the old post office.
With the weather not shifting until mid morning an early start wasn't required. The weather did start to be more accommodating at around 11am. One thing you cannot get frustrated at with Iceland is the weather. It changes quickly sometimes for the worse and you just have to be prepared to bite your lip and be patient.
Today was going to be spent touring the sites of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. There are lots of sights round the area. Heading west from Kirkjufell the first area I went to was Djúpalónssandur beach. A black sandy volcanic area.
On the beach there are iron remains from the British trawler, The Epine GY7, which was wrecked east of Dritvík on the night of 13th March 1948. The beach is strewn with the iron remains of the boat iron DO NOT TOUCH THESE. As with most things in Iceland they are untouched and this preserves the islands beauty and should be kept that way.
I spent a good few hours here as there are different rock formations and the beach is great for long exposures. The sea creeping up and around the rocks makes for a great image against the black sands.
Settings as follows:
Exposure: 0.3 seconds, ISO: 100, Length: 16mm, Aperture: f/16
Settings as follows:
Exposure: 0.4 seconds, ISO: 100, Length: 22mm, Aperture: f/16
Next stop was Lóndrangar. Lóndrangar are 2 cliffs on the coastline. Parking up in the public gives a short walk where viewing platforms have been installed for tourists. You can shoot from here and get quite an interesting shot of the sea crashing into the cliffs.
Settings as follows:
Exposure: 75 seconds, ISO: 100, Length: 22mm, Aperture: f/14
Further round and on the south coast of Snæfellsnes lies Arnarstapi. The beautiful columnar basalt and cliff formations are breathtaking in beauty and one of Iceland's most beautiful harbours.
Settings as follows:
Exposure: 40 seconds, ISO: 100, Length: 23mm, Aperture: f/16
After the drive back round the coast it was time for some tea back at the guest house. The weather by this time had closed in and had started to rain. I had visioned trying Kirkjufell again for the sunset as it was literally in sight. I decided to chance my luck as my friend was having none of it as it didn't look like I was going to get anything.
I waited for a good half an hour before a clearing started to appear and I decided to take a walk round the falls which is a 5-10 minute journey.
The cloud was moving quite fast due to the wind as as the sunset was not glorious I decided on a ultra long exposure to create some drama. I was rewarded with this!
Settings as follows:
Exposure: 420 seconds, ISO: 100, Length: 16mm, Aperture: f/11
Getting back to the guest house gave me a chance to clean my gear and edit a few shots. I deliberated on whether we should do another day here and decided against it. Originally wanting an impressive Aurora shot over Mt Kirkjufell meant a waiting game that didn't look as though it was happening. The weather forecast for the next day around this area wasn't good and we decided to take a bold step to Akureyri as the weather and Aurora forecast was looking very good. We quickly looked for accommodation to book and decided an early start tomorrow was the best choice.
On waking up at 5am having packed up the night before I was pretty sure I had made the right choice. The weather around Snæfellsnes was awful. Not only was it raining but the fog had descended leaving visibility useless for any kind of photography.
I set off on what was (with a rest break) a 6 hour journey. I'm a willing driver so thought nothing of doing this if it meant getting the images I was wanting.
The road to Akureyri is a long but impressive one. The terrain changes regularly and I passed areas I'd done the previous year. One further thing that was changing ever more as I headed east was the weather. The further I got the clearer it became.
Arriving in Akureyri at around 1pm to glorious weather, for October I hadn't expected T-shirt weather but that is what I had . I checked into the Apotek guest house that I had booked the evening before. http://booking.com/ed89786e380df
This was in the heart of Akureyri. I really like Akureyri. Whilst being quite large (for Iceland standards) it retains that Icelandic charm. More so in my opinion than Reykjavik which bows down to the tourists that are frequent visitors. The only draw back to the Apotek was that parking outside of it wasn't allowed during the day so had to be parked at the cultural and conference centre then. (A five minute walk but worth bearing in mind if that poses a problem)
The Apotek had recently been refurbished and was a good standard hotel with good Wi-Fi. I set about planning the next couple of days knowing Goðafoss would be a good place to start for the sunset later.
I also checked the Aurora and weather forecast. The best forecast is Iceland's met office Vedur http://en.vedur.is/ To my delight it had got even better than the forecast from this morning. I'd read that there was was going to be a solar storm for the next few nights which meant one thing......GOOD AURORA!
What I had done the mammoth drive for!!! A KP of 6 is very high and clear skies were forecast. Would this be the Aurora night I had hoped for!
I packed the car up with our camera gear and supplies for a long night ahead. Aiming to be at Goðafoss (The Waterfall Of The Gods) waterfall a couple of hours before sunset would give me time to take some nice images of this awesome waterfall. I'd been here last year as it is easy to get to being straight off route 1. There are plenty of shooting opportunities for this waterfall from both sides and they are building a viewing platform on the east side which wasn't there last year (So maybe the last chance to shoot it in the position I wanted)
I'd tried for Aurora shots here last year and it was tough going as the wind and spray in pitch black conditions were challenging to say the least.
A shot I'd failed to get last year from the base of the falls. A lot of spray is produce from the falls and generally comes in the direction where you are shooting from. This time I was helped by the wind direction and whilst spray was still working its way over it gave brief moments to capture the shot I was after.
Settings as follows:
Exposure: 2 seconds, ISO: 100, Length: 25mm, Aperture: f/18
With sunset out of the way the attentions turned to the evening. The skies were crystal clear. It was going to be cold but with the correct clothing that wasn't going to be a problem.
Whilst waiting for it to go completely dark a quick snack was in order and already I could see glimpses of the Aurora.
Taken by my phone off the back of the camera. This wasnt long after sunset and already strong Aurora was starting to show.
A slight hiccup to the evening was the workmen doing work on the new viewing platform. Expecting them to finish at darkness the carried on with huge spot lights! I drove to the other side where they were slightly less obscuring. Unfortunately the light pollution from their lights meant shooting at the falls including them (Not good)
A quick check of the Aurora forecast and it said the next few hours was going to be a LEVEL 8!!. This was unbelievable and the show from the northern lights for the next few hours was breathtaking!
You see videos of the Aurora on YouTube and always wish you could be that lucky to get a show like that. Here I was right in the centre of the biggest light show on earth! Everywhere I looked in the night sky was alive with green and blue.
Settings as follows:
Exposure: 4 seconds, ISO: 6400, Length: 16mm, Aperture: f/2.8
After getting what I could at Goðafoss I headed for Aldeyjarfoss. Goðafoss was unfortunately getting a little too many tourists and they were shining torches everywhere and getting in shots. Not Ideal when trying to shoot timelapse sequences and normal shots getting spoiled. So after a 45 minute or so drive I arrived at Aldeyjafoss. The walk down to this waterfall can be hazardous especially in pitch black so a head torch is essential. When I arrived down there there were a handful of photographers who were very courteous. One thing that hits you when you go to heavy tourist spot that is easy accessible is the sheer lack of courtesy by some people so do be prepared for that. You just have to shrug your shoulders and move on....you do get use to it. Hence the move away from Goðafoss at the moment I did.
The lights dazzled the rest of the night and I think we eventually called it a night at about 5am after a stop at Goðafoss again and then at the Laufás Museum houses. These didn't work out as planned due to the museums bright lights lighting up the church polluting the surrounding houses. These are located north of Akureyri on the way back from Goðafoss and are quite picturesque
A 20 minute drive got me back into Akureyri at the end of a long but unbelievable day.
Day 5 started after a long lie in. After being on the road quite a long time yesterday and having a late night with the fantastic aurora it was a good time to have a late morning and reflect on the previous days events.
I decided to head out around 2pm and headed to the tongue twister Hrafnabjargafoss. This is situated just south of Aldeyjarfoss and is very isolated with little visitors as it's quite out of the way. As I'd visited Aldeyjarfoss the previous year I decided on a new challenge.
In my time there Iceland had suffered record flooding and therefore this meant that the F26 road from Aldeyjarfoss onwards was closed. I had to park up at the Aldeyjafoss parking area and walk from there. Taking the road it was about a 2 mile walk to Hrafnabjargafoss. At the time it didn't seem that far but with camera equipment and uneven terrain it was harder and a little bit further than I had reckoned on. Regardless I made it there and set about taking some images. My friend and I split up to give us a chance of obtaining different images. (Its always good to see others perspectives and visions at the end of the day).
I chose to concentrate a little further downstream from the major falls and found this spot of which I especially liked the framing and the contrasting colours the water and rocks gave.
Settings as follows:
Exposure: 13 seconds, ISO: 100, Length: 16mm, Aperture: f/10
Hrafnabjargafoss gives plenty of shooting opportunities and angles and after shooting a few of these and the light now starting to fade I decided to get some images of the main falls.
The spray coming up from the falls makes it almost impossible and after banking a few shorter exposures decided to chance my luck on a longer exposure to get some cloud movement also. After a good few attempts and the blood pressure rising the perfect 3 minute exposure was obtained. Still to this day I don't know how I managed it but luck favours the brave.
Settings as follows:
Exposure: 178 seconds, ISO: 100, Length: 16mm, Aperture: f/16
After packing up my equipment and heading back to the car in failing light I headed back to the hotel for tea.
A favourite with me on the trip are the delicious hot dogs that the Bonus supermarkets have. They are easy to cook, convenient and not too pricey. I normally eat very well but when on the road and travelling it's a hard task after a days shooting to come back and start cooking a masterpiece and would prefer to spend the time doing what I actually came to do.
After tea I headed out west of Akureyri to see if we could find any spots to shoot Aurora. The spots we had in mind didn't come to fruition and the cloud scuppered any chance of any northern light shows on this night. I was not downhearted after the previous nights events I had been spoilt and it was good to get a early night compared to the night before.
I'd only planned to stay in Akureyri for 2 nights and decided that next day we would head to Stokksnes on the southeast coast.
Another early start proceeded the 6 hour drive to Stokksnes. Last year one of our gripes was that I near enough travelled everyday so I felt by doing big journeys and then spending 2-3 days in each area was better. Again I was up for the long drive and targeted the break in Egilsstaðir which is on the east side of Iceland and about half way to our destination. It was also familiar to me as I'd stayed in the town last year (and knew there was a subway!).
I painfully drove through the Myvatn area which is a whole area to be discovered in itself. Again because I'd done this area last year and still having great memories of flying over the Bárðarbunga volcano I decided to skip it this year.
I also stopped off at a couple of waterfalls on the way and got some images of those. I won't pin point them as there are plenty of opportunities and lots to choose from on the journey that are in simple reach from the car.
Reaching Egilsstaðir meant a refuel not only for the Dacia but also for myself.
Subways are a weakness and I wasn't missing this opportunity to grab one. They are rare in Iceland. Considering there isn't one McDonalds at all in Iceland this tells a story. Belly full and car refuelled I set off again for Stokksnes. I decided to mount the GoPro to the top of the duster and time lapse part of the journey.
You can find the footage on my facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/damianblackphotography/videos/vb.216688861875781/413942775483721/?type=2&theater
The scenery going through the east fjords of Iceland is breathtaking. I was lucky to have such glorious weather going through this area and it was stunning. It's an area which often gets overlooked but I would like to spend more time in this area.
On arriving to Stokksnes you are greeted with the Viking Kaffi. A small cafe bar as a stop off before the road for the classic view of Vestrahorn shot. You are asked to pay a small fee to go down the road. This goes towards the upkeep of the area so I had no qualms in paying this. The land owner is quite friendly and was quite happy to point out spots of interest. It was also quite funny to watch him go and chase the drivers who hadn't paid whilst having a coffee before heading out to get some shots. If you wanted to there is also a mock viking village that you can also visit.
I headed down the road and parked up. I'd seen many iconic images of this mountain range with the distinctive plantations as the foreground. As well as shooting that I went for a different shot from the black sandy beach. Due to the uneventful sunset and sky I used the water to get the image with some interest in it.
Settings as follows:
Exposure: 2.5 seconds, ISO: 100, Length: 16mm, Aperture: f/11
Content with the sunset images I'd obtained I needed to check in and then head for some tea. I was staying at Seljavellir Guesthouse http://booking.com/09c1e4b5ea6c5dfe . This is a 5 minute drive from Hofn and the guesthouse is brand new. It had lovely panaramic views from the rooms of the landscape.
Already as I settled in and prepared to go for tea I could see the Aurora and took a quick snap. I was in no hurry as the forecast said clear skies all night and getting stronger as the night went on.
I popped into Hofn for tea as our guesthouse had no cooking facilities and had looked up Hofn's equivalent of a fast food restaurant Hafnarbúðin. I've got to say the food there was sublime. They obviously had heard of my eating exploits as the portions were huge. Definately a place to stop at and I ate here both nights I stayed here.....as well as lunch it was that good!
It was then time to head out to Stokksnes for the Aurora. As I arrived there we could see a huge wave of green heading our way. The forecast was at a level 6 for most of the night and again it wasn't wrong! Camera's out quicker than you could imagine in pitch black conditions is harder than you think. Finding the correct focus point in these conditions is hard enough so I'd advise marking the sweet spot for your own lens before hand.....It saves a hell of a lot of messing around. Another problem you`ll face when shooting out in the cold is the lens fogging up. Try to acclimatize your equipment before heading out. Leaving the camera bag open in the boot of the car is usually a good idea. What not to do is have it in your nice warm hotel room and then head out. There's nothing more frustrating than having to wait for your lens to "defog" or even worse taking a lot of images to find out they are ruined by condensation or a fog spot on the lens without noticing. Also wrap a scarf round the lens. Again this will prevent moisture and dew from buliding up on the lens.....Little tips like this will enable you trouble free shooting in the chilly conditions!
Settings as follows:
Exposure: 13 seconds, ISO: 1600, Length: 16mm, Aperture: f/2.8
As there was no moon present it was nigh on impossible to get great detail on the mountain side. A silhouette of the Vestrahorn with the backdrop of the Northern lights is what I went for here. The jagged line of the mountains work well as a good foreground. Once again we had luck on our side and once I'd got what we wanted from this location I headed east down the road and got some more shots of the aurora over the southern coastline. Again I was out until about 3am before deciding to call it a night happy with the images I'd taken. Again this had been a long day with the long drive. One thing that is a problem when you have nights like this is deciding when to end the night. As the longer you stay out then the less of the day you end up having the day later as some sleep is needed.