Here’s another shot of the Westfjords under the midnight sun in June 2012. One day, I’ll make it back there. It’s a truly incredible country.
With no music to cut the silence, and my travel buddy passed out next to me, I navigated our little white jeep up and down meandering switchback after meandering switchback. Having only made it half way from our hostel to Latrabjarg, we tucked tail and made our way home for fear of running out of gas. Our first night in Iceland taught us a lesson. If the GPS says it will take 4 hours, it will take ten. The roads are rough, but the real reason is that the beautiful scenery begs you to stop after every bend.
I’d struggled to find a groove on this drive, as I so often do when I dust off the photography skills in a new destination. Then, the sun began to reverse its brief dip just below the horizon and something magical happened. A soft light bathed the landscape, bursting through gaps in the cloud to the north. The birds began to awaken and fill the air with song. Approaching a bend, ascending out of another fjord I suddenly found inspiration. The serenity of the moment seemed to be summed up in the single view captured below. Huge cliffs sat peacefully in the distance as a road twisted and turned its way along the edge of the fjords. There wasn’t another car or person in sight. I’d just driven that stretch, and there was a long way to go until I’d reach a bed, but I had to stop, step out in the cold, and mount my camera atop my tripod and try to do the view before me justice.
Today’s Photo: The Dark Lighthouse
This photo makes me want to get back to Iceland as soon as possible. The plan for my next trip is to turn up there for a longer period of time with a tent and not much of a plan. I want to wander, go to where the good light is and wait for the good light in places that deserve it. There seems to be campsites everywhere in Iceland so finding somewhere to crash should be easy as plugging campsite into the satnav.
This shot is from my first night in Iceland. After arriving at midnight, I discovered that this beach was just a short walk from the guesthouse I stayed in. It was handily scouted by my travel buddy who had arrived a day earlier. The lighthouse is actually no longer used so it seems fitting to leave it in the dark. A newer one is located just off to the right. You’ll get to see photos of it one day as well.
The Technical Bits
Camera: Canon 5d Mk II
Lens: EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM
Exposure: 1.6, 6, and 25 at f/18
Taking the Photo: I wandered the beach searching for a good foreground for this shot. The rocks looked promising and when I stumbled across this patch of larger, moss drenched stones I set up my tripod. The camera was placed at about half my height to get close to the rocks and capture the detail in the moss. You’ll have to click the image and view it larger to see the details. I actually shot bracketed shots from -4 to +4 because the sunset was so intense behind the lighthouse. As you can see above, I only went with -2 to +2, which I’ll explain next.
Processing: This is one of those photos that I’ve tried to process numerous times but failed. I have a similar shot, here, that I was never quite happy with. The sky and the lighthouse just never looked quite right. I felt like I was sacrificing colors and detail in the sky to bring out details in the lighthouse, which just blended into the sky. This time, I took a different approach and decided to let the lighthouse remain as a silhouette. The rocks in the foreground are much more interesting than the details of the lighthouse anyway. Now, I’m very happy with this shot.
I probably could have achieved this affect with an off camera flash, which I don’t yet own. One of the useful parts of HDR is that you can adjust your lighting once you’ve gotten home. Of course, this has limitations so I’m planning on buying a couple of off camera flashes and figuring out how to use them. That way, in a situation like this I could take my usual bracketed photos, but also use a bit of flash. Then, I can just use whichever method worked out better and maybe save me a bit of head-scratching once I get home.
Software: Photomatix, Photoshop, Topaz Adjust, Noiseware Pro
Arriving in Iceland at midnight, in the middle of June, immediately makes you realise you’re entering a surreal land. As the flight begins it’s descent you can see the vibrant colors of sunset around you. The colors continue long after you’ve left the airport. Long enough that you can travel 20 minutes to your accommodation, drop off your bags and wake up your sleeping travel mate, that got there a day earlier, and still be able to take photos of the unending light!
This beach was walking distance from our guesthouse in Gardur so we made our way straight there. I spent at least two hours taking photos that night, despite my total lack of sleep, and didn’t even begin to feel tired. The air was crisp with a slight scent of sulphur from nearby springs. We even managed to climb up the lighthouse pictured in the distance here. It afforded a great view back across the landscape, including the newer, still-functioning lighthouse nearby.
This is the first photo I took in Iceland. My flight was scheduled to get in at midnight and was delayed by half an hour. It was torture as we approached because I could see the sun was setting. I knew it would be light all night, but the sunset was incredible. It felt like it took forever to get through immigration, get my bag and make my way to the guesthouse. I didn’t spend long in the room as I quickly broke out my gear and took off… successfully leaving my tripod in the room. Fortunately my travel buddy offered to run back and get it while I looked for a shot. I think it was technically sunrise when I took this shot and the color had died down a bit. As you can see it was really windy. Rather than trying to freeze the flowers (which may have been impossible) I decided to increase my f-stop and let them get as blurry as possible.
Sitting here, after taking this photo, I came to the conclusion that we were not going to make it to the bird cliffs at Latrabjarg. They are the furthest point of land in the direction this photo is looking in. As you can see, we still had a long way to go. It was still a great night with some pretty dramatic scenery. All of the photos I’ve released from Iceland thus far are from this night. It offered up the best sunset we had the entire time we were in Iceland.
After failing to reach the giant bird-cliff at Latrabjarg we were making our way back to the hostel. I stumbled upon this scene. Three identical looking horses hanging about a ruin in front of a shack. It was definitely time to make a stop. My travel buddy was a large animal vet who had been trying to catch some sleep on the drive back. She didn’t mind getting woken up for these guys though.
Icelandic horses are pretty incredible. They’re little stout things but incredibly photogenic with rugged coats and flowing manes. You could probably spend all of your time in Iceland photographing just the horses. There were a number of fields full of horses I could see myself spending hours at if I had more time. I’m hoping to spend all of June in Iceland next year. If I do get to do that I’ll definitely spend a lot of time hopping fences for closeups of Icelandic horses.
Having so many photos from Iceland makes it pretty difficult to decide what to process first. I wanted something that typified Iceland for me, and was taken early on in the trip. This was taken towards the end of my first full night of shooting as the sun made its way back up over the horizon to track across the sky. The farm, the ocean and the mountain really do give you a good taste of the extremes experienced as you travel around the country. This was taken in the Westfjords, shortly after the decision was made to stop taking photos and get to bed. But, how could we not stop here?