Monday, October 8, 2012

Going to Iceland? Here are some interesting experiences for the photographer or traveller.

This was a memorable trip. Iceland offer a variety and beauty of landscapes that is simply mind-blowing. Landscapes are expansive horizontally while having a vigorous mountainous background generously sprinkled with waterfalls. The colors of the grass and moss are vivid, maybe because the contrast against black sand or dark volcanic rocks and materials. For the photographer this is as close to heaven as it is possible on earth. You can judge by looking at my Iceland Gallery.

The country is basically a bunch of volcanoes coming from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean  in the middle of the Northern part. Being so north in latitude means lots of snow that gets compacted into glaciers which happen to be on top of volcanoes. When they erupt the lava and materials go through the ice and crystallize by the sudden cooling creating a dust that is like sandpaper. Sometimes the eruption happens beneath the glacier, melting the ice until the water has to go somewhere and when it does, it sweeps away anything it finds in its path. 

Iceland is the youngest land on earth; new land is created every time there is a volcanic eruption.

Extensive areas are covered by black materials, ash, lava rocks, volcanic materials and their resulting black sand. No wonder why Hollywood has taken notice and is filming more and more in Iceland.
Prometheus, the movie that is NOT supposed to be Aliens 1 was filmed there. Same for Batman Begins, Die Another Day and the upcoming Ben Stiller movie “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” to be released next year.  It is like being in a different planet that is inhospitable yet beautiful.

One thing that would be obvious to North Americans is the almost complete lack of advertisement and other signs. Your sight can be filled with the landscape and its weird beauty without being interrupted by some view of the latest burger combo deal. This is great for the photographer or even the normal traveller. I hope that the Icelandic government maintains the landscapes without those visually polluting annoyances. The last think anyone wants are mechanical yellow arches on top of a glacier. BTW, although Icelanders do eat lots of burgers, hot dogs and other North American foods, it is hard to find the typical fast food chains there.

I spent 8 days there and drove over 2100 km of driving. The map below shows the main route with the green thingies showing the nightly stops or destinations, the orangy ones shows the clusters of my geotagged photographs.

So why Iceland?

Well, there is no other place in the planet that I am aware of that you can drive the same day into a inactive volcano caldera, see beautiful waterfalls, drive by several glaciers, lava fields park your car then, walk to them. There is no other place where you can be on a glacier in the morning and taking a natural geothermal bath in the afternoon, where you can see geysers, black beaches and fiords all at driving range. If you like nature, studied geology, geography or just appreciate the wonders of nature, then you should visit Iceland. You will not regret it. You will be rewarded with some of the most spectacular landscapes on earth, all at your reach in just few days. If you know about some other place like this, please let me know because I want to see it.

Tips For the Photographer enthusiast

Let’s start with the equipment, here is what I took and recommend (see included photo) :
  1. A shower cap to cover your camera when rains. Trust me, at certain point you WILL need it. I used plastic bag as substitute, because I did not read a post like this one (see the photo below). Alternative you can purchase a off-the-shelf one for few dozen dollars.
  2. Tripod to make your shots sharp.
  3. ND filter (8X) to produce the silky texture of waterfalls.
  4. CP Filter to enrich the colors (I never used it though)
  5. UV Filter to minimize the haze normally produced with distance
  6. Additional battery or batteries. The last thing you want is to run out of them after hiking few km to get close to a glacier, waterfall or volcano
  7. Layers of clothing, including a wind-breaking-water-proof-coat. Trust me, eventually you will get wet. This tip do not apply to Canadians, we know how to dress for cold weather.
  8. GPS Tracker to geotag your photos and to get a track log of your routes.
  9. Panoramic head if you have it and if not, make one. The manual method is not always good enough.
  10. A macro lens. The small berries and colorful flowers that grow along the moss, moraines and black soils are beautiful and unique. Anybody, can easily spend hours capturing the different naturally occurring flower bouquets. You entire Iceland photo gallery can be of just this kind.
  11. Warm hat or toque, gloves and SCARF!!!
  12. A notebook and additional backup drive to backup your photos.
  13. The normal stuff e.g. battery charger, blower, cables, triggers,etc.

The weather…..

Weather in Iceland is moody and whimsical, if you get good light shoot as soon as you can, it may last seconds, literally. My most sour experience with this was at Jokulsarlon, in our way back to Reykjavik, we stopped there around 9:00 am, the sun was just rising, the light was warm and oblique producing long shadows, there was no wind and therefore the lagoon acted as a mirror for perfect reflections. When I saw it, I grabbed my camera and ran, I took about 3 exposures and that was it! The sun was gone! I waited for about an hour, it was teasing all those unhappy people with cameras that were waiting. 

It finally gave us few more seconds but now with wind, the perfect mirror was gone. So, whenever you get the opportunity, take it. DO NOT think that you may have another better time. It could easily turn for worse. What is worse than poor light? Rain. 

When rains, you lose all visibility, the tall mountains, glaciers, volcanoes, etc all disappear. Rain is also normally accompanied by wind which makes it almost impossible for photography. 

Ok, enough for today, next week… Icelandic quirks and oddities. Stay tuned.

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