As I type this, I’m sitting in my hotel room in Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital, looking back on one of the most amazing and beautiful weeks. I know the word “amazing” gets thrown around a lot, but trust me, I mean it in a “holy cow, I don’t believe that’s real” kind of way. We just wrapped up a week-long Focus on Nature photography workshop where Ben was the guest instructor. The event started out in Reykjavik and then we all traveled together around the southern coast of the country.
Day 1 – Arrival
While the bus stayed in the Denver area, Ben and I flew into Reykjavik, landing on the morning of June 22nd. It was at the airport where we met Einar Erlendsson, the man behind Focus on Nature, which is the group that runs these photography workshops in Iceland. I had been communicating with Einar via email for several months before the trip, so it was great to finally meet him in person.
Our room at the Grand Hotel wasn’t ready for us yet, so Einar drove us around the city and we made a few stops. The first thing I noticed about Reykjavik was the architecture. There are lots of very old, quaint and colorful buildings mixed with some seriously sleek and modern ones. This might sound mismatched, but somehow, it works. We went to lunch at a new music hall called Harpa, which is an extremely cool building made of hundreds of glass panels. It reminded me of a giant glass honeycomb. Since we were pretty jetlagged, we took the rest of the day pretty easy, taking a nap and then going to dinner.
Day Two: Iceland by air and some pre-workshop sight-seeing
Now the good stuff starts! We had a full day before the workshop began and, since Ben had been wanting to photograph Iceland from the air, Einar put him in contact with a great pilot about an hour outside the city. We all left around 7:30 am in order to get there for some morning flying/shooting. The plane we went up in was made in 1964 in France and had a wooden frame painted in red and white.
The good news was that the scenery was spectacular and Ben got the kinds of images he was hoping for. The bad news is that, even though I took some motion sickness pills, I spent most of time in the backseat turning green (green would actually be a very mild description of what I was going through.) I was able to squeak out a few photos during the first part of the flight and some are posted below.
Some things I learned during the Iceland photo flight:
• If you’re really serious about getting good images, you can’t be shooting through the windows. You need a plane that either has removable windows or one with an opening for your lens. (The latter is what Ben had. I was in the back seat and had to shoot through the windows. You end up with some hazy, reflection filled images. Luckily, I got a few keepers.)
• Only do it if you’re serious about it because, wouldn’t ya know, hiring a plane and pilot is pretty darn expensive. In Iceland, it’s crazy expensive. I mean yowza.
• Use fast shutter speeds. To do that, you might have to shoot at ISO 400 (or maybe higher if it’s dawn or dusk). In a plane, ISO 100 is no longer your friend.
• This might sound obvious, but if you’re really prone to motion sickness, reconsider shooting from a teeny tiny plane. There are so many other shooting opportunities in Iceland that wont wreak havoc on your body.
The Icelandic language is pretty darn confusing (heck, I can’t even pronounce most of the words) but I quickly learned that any word ending in “foss” was referring to a waterfall. After I recovered a bit from the flight, we went to see Urridafoss, a seriously expansive waterfall located south east of Reykjavik. I learned that of all the waterfalls in Iceland (and there’s a cazillion) this one has the highest volume of water flowing through it. This was my first official shooting location in Iceland and I was just blown away. The waterfall itself was vast and impressive, but the scenery surrounding it was something out of a fantasy movie. Everything was so lush and green, with flowers popping out all over the place, and rolling hills in the background speckled with grazing sheep. Oh yeah… and there was NO ONE THERE. In the States, a place like this would be swarming with tourists all day long. During the course of our visit there, I think I saw maybe two other people.
I was a horse girl growing up, so one of the things that excited me about this trip was the Icelandic horses. They are simply elegant, and I adore their thick, flowing manes and forelocks. Iceland is proud of its horses, and keeps the breed completely pure. No horses are allowed to be imported into the country and if an Icelandic horse leaves Iceland, it can never be brought back. When you drive through the country, there are horses everywhere (sometimes they’re even in the road!) and I was in my glory. During the drive on that first day, we eventually pulled over so I could grab some quick photos. Note that there are more horse shots in the next blog post on Iceland.
Day Three: The workshop begins
The Focus on Nature workshop began on Sunday. Everyone met in a small conference room in the Grand Hotel for a day of orientation and classroom time. It was here that we all met Ragnar Th Sigurdsson, an incredible local photographer who would be assisting and guiding during the course of the week. Ben taught some sessions on composition and Photoshop, and in the evening the whole group went out to dinner in downtown Reykjavik. We could tell that it was going to be a good group, and that we had a great week in store for us!
More to come in my next Iceland post…
*** Ben got a lot of excellent aerial shots from the small plane. Check out a video/slideshow of his images HERE.