Day #3!! You know that feeling you get when you wake up way too early? I’m not talking about the swollen eyes, or the dry mouth, or the massive yawn you are about to produce. I’m talking about deep-down, low-grade feeling of nausea. Over the years, and certainly in my training, it’s happened to me a number of times. And with that feeling comes the cold – this is part of our natural circadian rhythm – a natural low in our cortisol levels. As we wake up, this naturally corrects itself, making us feel better.
So after taking the redeye flight, and have a full and fulfilling day of photography, we woke up the next day, something like zero-dark-thirty, to photograph the sunrise. Hey, we were there for the photos right? We scrambled to get the kids out of bed and dressed. We got our multilayers of clothes on. We gathered all the camera equipment. We met in the lobby. Not surprisingly, Thor was already there, dressed, the car was warm. This guy was a pro. And then we looked outside. Blizzard. Gale force winds. Why didn’t we look outside from our hotel room? Or come to the lobby for a peek? Thor was on his phone and looking at the weather. Even Thor decided to bag the sunrise. We were sad, but I can tell you, everyone was more than a bit happy to go back to sleep for an hour!
Lesson #3. When you are approaching pristine scenery, be respectful of the next photographer (or viewer). That means don’t just walk right up and leave footprints or tracks in the snow or mud, etc. Go around, approach your subject from the side. Leave the scenery intact! This is probably good advice for any traveler, or adventurer, or nature lover, or ANYONE WITH ANY COMMON SENSE! We used this technique many times during the trip. Here we used it too – started from afar, and worked our way up to the subject.
“I don’t like (crowds of) people. I mean I don’t like a lot of people. I like being with a few people.”
We started the morning at Dagverðará which was just a few moments from our hotel. We once again focused on using a minimalist composition strategy. In the first picture, there was enough definition from the unspoiled road to get some lines leading up to the abandoned farm. The sky was the king however, with light at the horizon, patches of blue sky, and ark clouds. It’s also pretty cool to see how we both approached the farm, and then retreated, leaving the pathway to it pristine. Shots were taken with all 3 cameras. In one of them, you can see that the thick snowflakes were visible and added to the depth of field. It was so peaceful here. We didn’t have to like people 😇.
We reached the Western Shore! In grand fashion! Admittedly, this was a harrowing drive. Basically, we drove off road, in more than a foot of snow, over rocky terrain, tracing previous tracks. I think there was a road there – Thor did mention it a time or two. So we did it again. Got out of the van. Gathered our gear. Reviewed wind conditions and tripod safety, and walked out onto the edge of a cliff! So here is the progression. See Kiran taking this shot from the safety of land? Yes, he is far from the edge! And he gets off this shot!!
Thor says, “that’s not the angle you want to get, come with me!!” Seems treacherous, but it’s not! Look, Sunita came out this far! Hahaha! Then I say, “we need to get out farther to get the shot!” Now we are talking. So we go out further. And Boom! Look at this viewpoint!
Not satisfied, I turn around…with an ultra-wide angle lens, you really do need to get to the edge or the foreground takes over. So here we go again. The reason I am kneeling is because I didn’t want to stand. I’m not scared you’re scared! By the way, check out Thor – he is standing and a foot closer to the edge…Worth it!
We did manage to walk up to the lighthouse itself. There was a little walkway near it. The wind here was brutal though – head on, probably 30mph and constant. You can see the wind in this picture. I was bracing the tripod up against a railing to make this work.
We could not be outdone by the lighthouse and the seascape, so we worked our way back on the path towards the beach. Not just any beach. On Skarðsvík Beach, the western shore of Iceland bekons the North Atlantic. There is a very interesting effect that goes on here. Once again, we employed Lesson #3 – take pictures as you approach, and try to leave the landscape undisturbed for the next people. The boys did their part too, taking some intimate landscapes and action shots. Really quite amazing. We started here, with what I like to call the perfect beach. Totally flat, beautiful sand. No one around. Serene blue water (yes, very cold, but serene) as far as you can see. If you chose to look around, you were greeted with more vistas of rocky beach meeting serenity.
Yes we started out in the dry part of the beach. We first approached some rocky features, which made for very interesting leading lines in the sand mixed with black lava. The rivulets were a combination of sea water from the front with meltwater coming down off the glacier. No way to truly describe the effect…
As we continued to approach the beach, the real magic began. It’s not entirely obvious how far out we went, even from the picture below. Suffice it to say it was about a ¼ mile off to the left, and the conditions were ideal. Just at the edge of the surf, the mixture of sand and black lava became surreal. It was almost like looking at granite patterns. Always changing. Iridescent.
Moving on. That’s what we do. We find a beautiful place. Unload a bunch of gear. Weather the weather. Get cold hands, and faces, and bodies. Take a boatload of pictures. And then move on to the next beautiful location. They kind of come out of nowhere around here. For example. Just off the highway, maybe a mile or so up the hill, is an isolated church. Ingjaldshóll has it’s own claim to fame – apparently Christopher Columbus visited these grounds. The other really cool part of these images is that we got our first good look at the glacier Snæfellsjokull in the background. Solitary. Simplistic, if not minimalistic. Nice cloud patterns emerging with deep gray clouds at the horizon contrasting with the virgin snow. Leading lines in the tracks of snow on the road…
There is something about living in a place. And having an eye for pictures and places. Thor never really revealed his hand – he had his ideas, and stops in mind. But other than the big ones, we never had a clue where he was going to stop. So when he turned off the main road and started climbing into the mountains on Snæfellsnesvegur, who knew what was going to happen? We were teleported from the rock seascape to a thousand or so foot elevation. Driven snow. Rocky peaks. And the clouds…this is minimalistic. Nothing to see at all except the contrast. There were a few times I asked Thor to stop the car so I could grab a picture or two. This was one of them.
We came to this place on the side of the road. The snow was a few feet deep up here, and there was a flattened out parking space for maybe one or 2 trucks. There was a family unloading a snow mobile next to us. And in the middle of a snowy meadow was a solitary red hut. No tracks. No one had been there. What is it for? Why was it built? Even Thor didn’t know. But we took a lot of pictures. The clouds were behaving too, and even in the middle of the day, we had great light!
Not surprisingly, Thor had planned the main event for the end of the day. We came back down to the shore, and continued our round about the peninsula. I was taking the occasional picture our of the car, and I saw a cool looking mountain. Solitary, just against the ocean. Not really distinctive in shape, but it had presence.
Kirkjufell! The most photographed mountain in the world! It’s a trapezoid? Really? Haven’t you seen all the pictures all over Instagram? How can this be. Honestly, I was feeling a bit gypped! And as we came around to the other side, it’s true self was revealed. It is a triangle! These were some tough pictures to make, however. The mountain was bathed in bright light. The waterfalls were in shadow. The surrounding area was also blown out. There was no good way to get an exposure, even in HDR. So we shot Kirkjufell alone – using Ansel Adams style of black sky…and waited. The shadows extended across the foreground, and I was able to perform a reasonably long exposure with various ND and GND filters to capture this scene. It’s ok. It’s iconic. It’s probably not going up on my wall…
That evening, as we were waiting for the sun to go down, we had one of the best meals of the week in the town of Grundarfjörður. It’s (like all the towns) a quaint little place, on the ocean, with a spectacular view in the backyard (Kirkjufell). After dinner, nearing the Golden Hour, we went back out. Now here’s the thing. There was a blizzard the night before. The street was plowed with a snowbank of about 2 ½ feet high. There was no where to stop or pullover. So Thor simply drove over the snowbank. We made it. (I know you were worried there for a minute.) Down near the bay. So we could get Kirkjufell during sunset. At this point, the clouds decided not to cooperate, and went away completely. There was a bit of a breeze, or we could have had better reflection shots. But alas. Next trip. But some of these are going to make the wall at home. All 3 cameras were in full swing!
Oh yes! In order to get these compositions, we did need to get pretty close to water’s edge. Especially for that lovely teardrop shaped foreground element. And comes Lesson #4. When you are out in snow-covered land, and you see a teardrop shaped foreground element like this, it is very possible that there may be snow-covered water, in this case ocean, just below. I found it! Up to my ankle! Drenched to the bone! I was surprisingly warm for the next hour or so, but it did eventually catch up to me. We spent that night getting friendly with the hairdryer…
One last stop. Are you friggin’ kidding me? I was cold, my foot was wet, my boot was soaked. The sun was down. It was cold and windy outside. But here’s the thing. As the sun set, the sky cleared, and the mountains and glacier started to glow. There was just enough sunlight left glistening off the tops. There was this eerie presence. On the way back, Thor had planned to take Snæfellsnesvegur anyway, and drive by that red hut again. You see where I’m going with this right? So we stopped. I put on my cold wet boot, no sock this time. Got out with the tripod, and took a handful of these shots. You can see some star trails if you look closely as I was doing some reasonably long exposures. And THEN we went back to the hotel.
Condensation. We were shooting in the cold. There was high humidity. We were moving from the cold to the warm humid hotel. Guess what? Condensation! That’s right. Dripping from the camera. Before leaving, I had bought some super large Zip-Lock bags, and put a few large (60gm) bags of dessicant in them. You know the “do-not-eat” stuff you get in all kinds of packages? That. Anticipating this, I was supposed to put the cameras in these bags while still outside, then walk into the hotel with them and let them warm up inside the sealed bags. That way, the condensation could accumulate outside the bags and not touch the cameras. Well I forgot. And I needed to get to my memory cards to do a backup (see below). So naturally, I scrambled – got the cameras wiped off, shoved them in the bags, sealed them with the bags of dessicant, and waited 20 min or so for them to warm up. I also took out the memory cards and left them in the bag so they would warm up faster. Then I snuck out the memory cards after 5-10 minutes (I will cover working with multiple Lightroom catalogs in the next chapter, and backing up in the chapter after that).
So off to sleep! We have an early morning ahead and hope that I am better rested in anticipation!