Iceland - October 2015 Day 7 - 16

February 16, 2016  •  4 Comments

DAY 7
 

Not much of a lie in and getting up around 9am. I headed for breakfast at the guest house which was included in the stay. I loved the Icelandic breakfasts as they have a selection of meats, pancakes as well as usual cereals so it's a good opportunity to fill up for the day ahead. 

Spending the day mostly around the Stokksnes area I first visited the Viking village I'd mentioned the day before. Whilst not being overwhelming it was good to not being thinking about composing an image. Having a break now and again from the camera will do wonders and takes away the pressure of finding an image to shoot. There were some wild horses roaming the area though and it was enjoyable to get some fun candid shots of these. I found they liked Maryland cookies and you could get them to hang around for images for the odd snaffle of a biscuit. They are quite friendly by nature and allow you to get close up and stroke them. Don't be afraid to spend some time with them as many a good image can be obtained with patience!

I then headed down the coast and got some images from there before returning to take some images of the Vestrahorn peaks again. I waited ages for some cloud so I could get some atmosphere in the sky doing a long exposure. You can see the camera's set up here. This was before I put on my hood I have over all the camera. This stop the chance of any light leakage. You will get it on long exposures and covering the viewfinder is sometimes not enough. It can get in lots of places other than there so I shut it all out. You'll see light leakage by streaks of light or odd colours appearing on your long exposures. If you've experience this and are mystified as to what it could be then there's good chances this will be why. I use the weather cover I have for my 300 2.8 in reverse as it secures using the velcro already on it. But you can use anything even a wooly hat!


Sure enough patience paid off and I was rewarded with the image below. I was using my 16 stop Hi-tech Firecrest ND filter with this with my Firecrest grad filter to control the sky. It was an 8 minute exposure time but gives a surreal effect in the right situations.

 

Settings as follows:

Exposure:  480 seconds, ISO: 100, Length: 21mm, Aperture: f/13




After this shot I headed back to Hafnarbúðin (Did I mention how good this place was) for lunch. The usual burger, chips, onion rings combo was the clear winner.

Sunset at Vestrahorn was much better this evening with dramatic clouds and nice light cast upon the mountain range and produced one of my favourite images of the trip:

 

Settings as follows:

Exposure:  3.2 seconds, ISO: 100, Length: 16mm, Aperture: f/16


No aurora tonight due to cloud cover meant time to catch up on social media, Edit a few shots, back up images and thankfully an earlier night ready to move to Jokulsarlon tomorrow.

DAY 8

Up early and on the move to a place that I fell in love with last year....Jokulsarlon. It's only an hours drive. The weather was quite misty and hazy with scattered showers which wasn't a worry as it was due to clear at around 11am so I had time to go and drive up some of the glacial roads. 

I travelled past Hoffell down a bumpy F road and came to the glaciers edge. It was hard going but I got to the glaciers edge. There is a viewing point which would have been a nice shooting venue had it not been for the weather. I turned back and then turned the attentions on another glacial route F985. This time this one would take me up high up alongside the glacier. After a never ending very steep route up which the Duster coped very well I reached the summit. The climate had changed dramatically with below zero temperatures, and fog widespread. Unbelievably at the summit there were a group of guys getting some pictures of reaching there also. At the top was a closed guest house / lodge which I'm guessing is only open summer time. It was a great experience to see the glacier close up and how vast and huge it was. Care should be taken going up and down these roads though and if at any point there is a sense of danger then it is safe to turn back and not risk anything!

The route down was a slow one but taking care I got to the bottom and then headed to Jokulsarlon. I decided to try the lesser popular but still as jaw dropping Fjallsarlon. I wasn't disappointed as I thought this view was better than that of Jokulsarlon.

 

Settings as follows:

Exposure:  480 seconds, ISO: 100, Length: 25mm, Aperture: f/10


Whilst the weather had cleared up it was bitterly cold. There was an ice cold wind blowing from the west which meant for a long exposure, equipment would have to be securely positioned as any slight movement would ruin the image. As I've mentioned before always prepare yourself well for the conditions. I was happy with the clothing I had on but saw a good few tourists heading back to their cars without even reaching the waters edge. I would never dream of coming to Iceland in trainers, joggers and just a hoody but bold as brass people were there shivering beyond belief!

Whilst the long exposures were running there was also time to get some "tourist" pictures. I always seem to skip getting any pictures of myself when out with my camera as I'm always behind it and forget. PS you can see the hood in place on the camera this picture.

 

After a few hours I decided to see the day out at Breidurmerkursandur. This is the black sandy beach over the bridge from Jokulsarlon. Sometimes called Jokul Beach or The Glacial Beach. Icebergs drift out to sea from the Lagoon and then get broken up by the fierce tide. They then get swept up on the beach and create a magical setting.

Everything piece of ice is different and if you get some nice rays of light the ice sparkles in the sun. it's one of my favourite ever places to photograph as it's so unique and a magical place.
 

Settings as follows:

Exposure:  4 seconds, ISO: 500, Length: 23mm, Aperture: f/7.1


Settings as follows:

Exposure:  3.2 seconds, ISO: 100, Length: 18mm, Aperture: f/6.3

Settings as follows:

Exposure:  0.8 seconds, ISO: 100, Length: 16mm, Aperture: f/18

Settings as follows:

Exposure:  0.6 seconds, ISO: 100, Length: 35mm, Aperture: f/18

Those are just some of the shots that can be obtained there. Shooting on the beach can be quite tricky. Here are some tips to help get you that perfect shot. 

  • Firstly Wellington boots should be worn. My friend had had an ingenious idea of masking tape with gaffer tape over the tops which stopped any water going into the boots over the top....a tip I will use again and again as it prevented soggy wet feet.  
  • A clean lens cloth is needed as you will get spray on filters and your lens. Try and shoot with the wind to your back to stop this becoming a tiresome exercise. Check regularly to see if there are any specs or spray that could ruin an image!
  • Never leave your camera bag laid down close to the tide line. Every now and again a rogue tide will come in and go a lot further than what you are expecting. A wet bag with all your equipment ruined is not what you came to Iceland for. Place it well back and keep a good eye on it. If its a rucksack (recommended) wear it and don't take the chance.
  • Shoot often. The waves give a great effect on the way in and the way out. Change the angle at which you shoot the icebergs at. Get close in, further out, longer lens....Experiment. There is no right or wrong!
  • Don't fall in love with one piece of ice! There are thousands of gems there. Don't focus on one piece and then risk all your shots being the same.

Shooting until darkness it was then time for the short journey to our next stay which was at the Skyrhusid Guest House. http://booking.com/9138b398f69cf77d . The hostess was very friendly and offered us free juice and milk on our stay and 1 free Skyr yoghurt. The free yoghurt was the deal breaker it seemed and it became our little running joke as when every guest would arrive she would offer them but adamantly state ONE free skyr. There was a fridge full of them and no one was taking them (If you've never had skyr then it is an acquired taste) The bad boy in me wanted to hide 10 or so of these yoghurt's just to see her reaction but thought better to keep international relations friendly. 

As there were no cooking facilities where we were staying I dined the the Thórbergur Center. This a museum on the complex where I was staying that also has a restaurant. It's quite easy to spot from the road as it is shaped like a row of books.

 The speciality is the Arctic Char. It's part of the Salmon family and was very nice.....A nice alternative to the hot dogs and noodles I'd grown accustomed to!

I headed out quite late this night as again the weather forecast which was spot on was due to clear later on that night with a KP 6 for Aurora. This was one of our best nights for the Northern Lights. They started with nice patches and me wondering if that was all I was going to get to a full blown curtain of green!

I started off at Jokulsarlon as I'd dreamt of getting the northern light reflecting over this great lagoon. I tried a few shots and got those in the bag and then decided on a full hour long exposure which captured the milky way in a star trail and the aurora all over a glacier. All boxes ticked you could say I was happy with what I got. More happier when Canon UK decided to use it on the social media platforms to display star trail photography.

 

Settings as follows:

Exposure:  3597 seconds, ISO: 100, Length: 16mm, Aperture: f/2.8


Moving on to Fjallssarlon (the lesser popular lagoon I've spoke about) already happy with the images I had you couldn't imagine my delight when the Aurora decided to put on its great show. The lights just got stronger and stronger and as if by some divine intervention placed themselves exactly where you'd want them......right over the glacier. The wind was non existent and barring the cold climate conditions were perfect.

With enough shooting time to experiment I got a vast array of images with these ones being amongst the very best I have ever taken! Again there was a full hour exposure image done and then one that I'd always wanted with the reflection over the lagoon.

 

Settings as follows:

Exposure:  3597 seconds, ISO: 100, Length: 16mm, Aperture: f/2.8


Settings as follows:

Exposure:  20 seconds, ISO: 3200, Length: 16mm, Aperture: f/2.8

I shot until 6.30am where I had to call it a day as day light pollution was starting to encroach from the horizon. It truly was one of those nights where you could of shot forever! Needless to say though my head was glad to hit the pillow.

Day 10

A late get up enabled me an afternoon around Jokulsarlon. The light however was uninspiring and didn't really set the place alight as the previous year. Impressive as it still was the weather put a damp squib on it and once the rain decided to take hold it was end of day. I've mentioned before that you'll get days like this and sometimes they are a blessing in disguised as they'll allow you to recharge and stop you getting tired and unfocused to what you want to be doing. Whilst still getting some images that day they are more of a record than masterpieces.

 

Settings as follows:

Exposure:  1/40 second, ISO: 100, Length: 105mm, Aperture: f/11

Back at the guest house for the evening as no Aurora due to cloud it was time to recharge, edit and most of all chill out.

Day 11

Moving on to Skogafoss for day 11 meant a 3 hour drive to out next accommodation stay - The Hotel Lambafell http://booking.com/dd5b98b49cd89a6f . On arrival I thought we had the wrong place as the place looked a far more expensive place than what we had paid. It was a huge log cabin and was impressive inside. I was greeted by the polish housekeeper Artur and he confirmed I was in the correct place. A very friendly guy who had just moved over there and sorted us out when it came down to the food so I must thank him for that.

Once the weather had cleared up it was off to Skogafoss for some shots of the falls. After travelling here last year and bagging quite a few it was all about getting the ones that I had missed out on for one reason or another. Be warned Skogafoss is heavily populated by tourists! They will get in your shot! They will not care that they have! If you suffer from short temper and stress and are looking for a peaceful shoot then do not come here. To get the people out of shot then a long exposure is the way to go, but on some you will still get the odd one that likes to stay in the same position for the 10 minute duration of your shot..hence them featuring in it, so it is try, try and try again. If all else fails then brush up on your cloning skills. Sometime you can use the people in the picture but more often than not you want to exclude them. 

 

Settings as follows:

Exposure:  899 seconds, ISO: 400, Length: 16mm, Aperture: f/10

Settings as follows:

Exposure:  38 seconds, ISO: 100, Length: 18mm, Aperture: f/11

Settings as follows:

Exposure:  15 seconds, ISO: 100, Length: 17mm, Aperture: f/16


Arriving back at the cabin it was time again for a quick bite to eat then to head out for some Aurora shots. It does seem a bit of a fairytale how many times I got chances to shoot the Northern Lights and I have to say it exceeded my expectations. Tonight was no exception and I headed out early as they were already out in force. The jewel in the crown for images for me was Skogafoss with the northern lights over the top. Once again after a wait for the lights to change in there appearance they duly did this and I got one of the images that I so sorely wanted. I can quite honestly say that if I could have had one image in mind before coming then it was this one!

 

Settings as follows:

Exposure:  10 seconds, ISO: 3200, Length: 16mm, Aperture: f/2.8



 

Settings as follows:

Exposure:  5 seconds, ISO: 20000, Length: 16mm, Aperture: f/2.8

Turning to the left was the cracking streak coming over the mountain and farmhouses of Skoga.

 

Settings as follows:

Exposure:  10 seconds, ISO: 3200, Length: 16mm, Aperture: f/2.8

With my fill of Skogafoss done I moved down to Dyrholaey. From here you could shoot both ways down the coastline. One way was Vik with its prominent rock formations on the horizon. The other way was the Dyrholaey lighthouse over the arched rock formation.....I duly did both as well as getting some time lapse footage which I've yet to edit.

 

Settings as follows:

Exposure:  20 seconds, ISO: 1600, Length: 16mm, Aperture: f/2.8


 

Settings as follows:

Exposure:  15 seconds, ISO: 1600, Length: 16mm, Aperture: f/2.8

Shooting until the early hours again (3am) it was time to call it a night again coming away with some more unimaginable images of this great country.

DAY 12

A short drive to the black sands of Vik this morning to take in the sights of Reynisdrangar and the basalt columns. 

Legend says that the stacks originated when two trolls dragged a three-masted ship to land unsuccessfully and when daylight broke they became needles of rock.

You can see why there are so many fairytale's of this great country as the mystique it carries with it warrants it. You can choose to drive to the top via the single track road or head for the beach. Either is spectacular in its own right and if you have the chance then go for both!

In the afternoon it was back to Skogafoss. However rather than do any of the main waterfall it was all the way up the falls and carry on to the less visited falls further upstream. It's amazing to see the drop of of people once you get to this point. I had 1 walker go pass me whilst shooting in the whole time I was there as opposed to the thousands at the tourist spot. 

It is quite a walk and you can choose how far you go. If you wanted it is a full walk that people do and takes around 8 hours! Not that I was looking to do that but for the walkers it's a good place to go.

Getting upstream gives you some glorious panoramic sights and this is just one of the sights there. I chose a wider perspective on this shot to show the surrounding area rather than just the waterfalls.

Again changeable weather spoiled the sunset but happy to get what I'd got today. To do the unknown sometimes gets the results and pays off. Whilst there are many iconic shots of Iceland that I wanted to get I also wanted some unique ones that others may never had seen before.

Back at the hotel I had decided that our next move in the morning was going to be further inland and trying the interior for a couple of days. The area of Landmannalaugar is spectacular and an area less visited to to it being off the beaten track and inaccessible to non 4x4 vehicles. 

Again with the WiFi back at the hotel generally good it was time to update back home with the trip so far, catch up with goings on and edit a few shots of the day.

DAY 13

Looking through the window upon waking didn't fill me with excitement. Weather is everything and unfortunately it was bleak and dull grey. Not great for photography. Leaving skogafoss in the morning and heading for our next stop to the southern interior region. It's a couple of hours drive up to the guest house I was staying at. This was apart I had not done last year. This year I decided that I would spend a couple of days in this area. It's vastly different and a lot of tourists choose to skip this as it's a little harder to access.


I visited the waterfall Thjofafoss. This gives a few shooting points. You can either shoot from the top where to where you park the car. Or you can carefully navigate your way to closer to the falls taking care on the way down.  Lighting for this wasn't great and probably the worse I'd had since stepping foot off the plane. You have to cope with what you are dealt with and the way to go with dour light is mono in my opinion to try and get some life and contrast in to the image. You can see from the sky how bleak it was. I couldn't be down hearted as I had been pretty lucky with the weather so far on this holiday. I am greedy though and still wished for it to change which wasn't to be.

Next up was Gjain. Gjáin Gorge is a great example of the contrasts of Icelandic nature. Amidst the old lava fields of the southern Highlands is this work of nature, beautiful waterfalls, columnar basalt rock, ponds and peaceful springs. The colours that are all mixed together bring out a staggering scene. 

Choosing to wear the fashionable green wellies here proved invaluable. I managed to get across the river just. The water was literally coming up the the edge of my boots and had to be careful not to get water in and then cope with soggy feet for most of the day. It was also quite amusing to watch a mini bus of tourists try to get to the location where I was. They could see me but were unable to work out how I had got to where I was. For about half an hour I watched them like wildebeest at the migration trying to find a decent spot to cross the river.

As you can see off the pictures. The terrain and landscape change considerably to the coast and surrounding area. Iceland is so diverse that its hard to keep up with the ever changing scenery...Not that I was complaining.

Luckily I got round Gjain for a couple of hours until the rains appeared and we headed off to check into hotel - The Hrauneyjar Highland Center  http://booking.com/a3f018f08f438. There are not many places to stay around this area and this guest house is one of the closest to Landmannalaugar. It's well spec'd with it's own fuel pump which is convenient. 

As with a lot of guest house in Iceland this one had been refurbished some what so all the facilities were of good new standard. 



Dining facilities were excellent and the large order they were about to receive off me for dinner was well catered for. Wifi was very good for saying we were in the middle of nowhere. It always staggers me when I am in areas like this that you have good Wifi and phone signal. it was the same when I visited the Masai Mara in Kenya and I had full phone signal most of the time there. Back home I struggle to get any signal at all in places like Wales!

An evening of watching films and editing beckoned and I'd resigned myself by looking at the forecast for the next few days that my Aurora nights were done with. My friend had gone for some fresh air and came back into the room with a directive of "bring your camera". Not knowing what to expect (Maybe northern lights) I gathered my camera and made my way to the front of the guest house. This is what I found!


Now by 4x4 standards the duster isn't the largest but this thing was ridiculous. I got chatting to one of the rescue workers who was also staying and he told us that whilst it being large, there were bigger vehicles. He aptly told us that come winter time this machine is where it's at. Designed for travelling over the glacier and the like. I can quite imagine that wherever that machine is pointed it will go regardless. The word "inadequate" was muttered a few times and I almost felt like asking for a refund on our own "little" beast.

DAY 14
 

Day 14 was to be my last day of photography and again the weather was largely uninspiring. I was travelling around the Landmannalaugar area. Four routes lead to Landmannalaugar and one of them is accessible by regular car, though the road is rough. stones the size of fists are not uncommon as well as washing-board style sections of the road which feel like they are shaking the car to pieces. As previous said a 4x4 is essential when wanting to enjoy these areas safely....and legally. 

I shot a few areas but without great light the place didn't feel as special as I'd hoped. It is an area I would like to revisit as you can see the potential it has.



I was happy with this shot however with a dramatic long exposure after a sneak of nice light had appeared through the clouds:
 

Settings as follows:

Exposure:  204 seconds, ISO: 100, Length: 16mm, Aperture: f/11


The roads are quite challenging to drive down and you have to put trust in your car. Once you've driven on certain F roads in Iceland you will moan about a pot hole again.

Making my way to Haifoss hoping to get a shot of this beautiful waterfall and it's surrounding landscape I was met with this:

I can tell you now that a few swear words were uttered at this moment as I couldnt even see the waterfall (If you look hard enough you can see a glimmer of white). I waited around for a while but this weather wasn't shifting. If anything it got worse and that was that for the day and time to return to the guest house.

The night mirrored the previous one with a hearty meal and then a chilled night in front of the laptop.

 

Days 15

This was to be our last day in Iceland and I duly packed our equipment and headed for Keflavik to where I had booked my last nights accomodation: The Bed & Breakfast Hotel http://booking.com/ce0840f05228d

I did stop and try at Haifoss again only to be met with the same conditions and I'll save posting an identical picture (See above). With that done that would be my last opportunity to take any images. All what was left to do was clean the duster of it's 2 weeks travels and fill it back up with diesel for it to be returned at 6am the next morning. It had once again served us well and gave us no problems and took us everywhere where I had asked it. 

Arriving at out hotel it was time to pack the cases and organise them so that they were equally weighted to avoid any conflicts at the airport again. After tea and watching the rugby on TV it was time for bed for a 4am wake up call.

DAY 16

A short drive to the airport. I dropped the car off and then checked in for our flight home. A few items from the duty free for people back home a I treated myself to a 66 North hat as I did last year. They are quality hats and are highly recommended for cold conditions. 

Then it was time to say good bye to Iceland for the flight back to Manchester.

Summary

Iceland is an unbelievable place that you really have to visit. The diversity that it throws round every bend is second to none. From the basalt rock formations to the volcanic areas, Geysir's spewing steam from the ground to the magnificent waterfalls.....Then there's the Northern Lights. Iceland is a magical place that really needs to stay that way. It is easy to spend days in just one area as there are hidden gems everywhere! Even 2 weeks is no where near enough and I don't think you would scratch the surface even if you spent a year road tripping round here. The natives are friendly and welcoming also. Even on this trip which exceeded my first trip in 2014 I still instantly want to go back again and again. 

If your planning a trip there and would like any information check out my Facebook or Twitter page.

Thanks for reading

Damian Black

 


 


Comments

4.Euan Ross(non-registered)
A fantastic write up Damian of your trip to Iceland.

I spent a week there in February this year with my wife and managed to get a bit of photography done albeit that wasn't the main purpose of the trip. Shockingly I've yet to process most of the photographs.

It's a country I'd love to return to for the purpose of photographing it more but unfortunately there are too many other places I'd like to visit I've not yet been to.

However, it's great to read about someone's trip who has booked it themselves and probably far more cost effective than if going with one of the many guided tours that operate there. I found a wealth of information online for the vast majority of locations I wanted to visit.
3.Danielle(non-registered)
Thanks Damian, I will keep an eye on your blog for some ND filter tips. I need to do some practicing before my next trip.

I'd not heard of blue car hire before, but I think i may go with them this time. I used Geysir before who had a good price with all insurances and Blue are similar and have some interesting car choices.

I tried to give horses grapes and they were not impressed and pulled faces at me!!
2.Damian Black Photography
Hi Danielle
Yes a lot of my images use ND filters. I use different ones/strengths depending on the conditons, effect I am after. Again I may write a little article on my filters soon

Regards
Damian
1.Danielle(non-registered)
A really enjoyabls blog with fantastic images.

Back in 2007 had Arctic char at Fosshótel in Reykholt, I wasn't a big fish fan at that point but it was amazing and I still talk about. Your photo looks like similar preparation.

It's really useful to see the set ups for the shots, one question did you use NDs in all of them? It's not mentioned but I wondered due to length of exposure - I am just learning about these techniques, and hope to use them on my next visit in Sept.
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