In my last blog post, I covered our first few days in Iceland, leading up to the start of the photography workshop with Focus on Nature. In part two of the Iceland posts, we get into the meat of the workshop, and some serious shooting and exploring!
Day 4: And we’re off!
Geothermal spots, Waterfalls, Little Towns & Glaciers
After a full classroom day and orientation at the Grand Hotel in Reykjavik, we set out early on Monday morning to start our week-long photo adventure. The Focus on Nature travel setup is really ideal. We have a heavy duty and very large all-terrain vehicle that can handle all kinds of roads, streams, ice, etc., and inside this vehicle, each person gets their own row, which makes it easy to keep camera gear out and readily available. (It’s also convenient when you want to occasionally nod off between shoots.) Ben and Ragnar (Raggi) travel in the same vehicle as the attendees, offering up shooting tips and Iceland info. Einar, who runs Focus on Nature, travels behind in his truck. Einar is literally the “command central” for these workshops. He’s always on some type of device checking the weather, coordinating hotels, making dinner plans, etc. He literally makes it so that we have to think about nothing else but shooting. In other words, Einar rocks.
Our first two shooting spots were geothermal locations. One of the many amazing things about Iceland is that they use a lot of geothermal energy. The country is located between two plates in the Earth and is situated in such a way that the heat from the planet’s core rises up to the surface and can be used to create clean energy. Very cool, right? (Well, I guess I should say very hot!) In some of these places, like the one in the photo above, you can literally hear boiling water beneath the ground. If you get too close to the openings, you might get an unintentional facial, because that’s steam coming out of the ground! The locations above and below are natural. We also visited a plant where the energy is actually “harvested.” We went to shoot at one of the plants but I wasn’t so much into the super industrial look of it, so I haven’t processed those images yet.
Skogafoss (a giant waterfall)
Our next stop to photograph was Skogafoss, a gorgeous waterfall on the south coast of Iceland. I also mentioned this in my last post, but any word ending in “foss” in the
baffling complicated Icelandic language is referring to a waterfall. When the vehicle stopped here, the group literally jumped out and took off for the falls. It was not only gigantic, but stunning. It was also an interesting place to shoot because you have access to all sorts of vantage points. You can get really close to the base of the falls (though you get nailed with spray) and you can also climb up along the side of it to get views from different heights. I did a little of both.
The town of Vik
As we continued east, along the south coast of the country, we stopped in a little town called Vik. What a beautiful place! We had everything from quaint buildings, to a beach, to a gorgeous little church on the hillside. We had lunch here and then set off to go shooting for a bit.
The glacier lagoons
We covered a lot of ground during our first day on the road, and ended up on the southeast side of Iceland, where the glaciers “flow” out into lagoons. We stopped at two of these lagoons, hoping for some nice light. The good light went on and off, but we got some decent shots anyway. There are constantly icebergs breaking off of the glaciers so the lagoons are full of them, and this can make for some really interesting compositions.
By the time we were finished shooting at the lagoon, we were all pretty wiped. We drove the final hour to our hotel on the east coast of Iceland, checked in and … went to bed. Ok, I’m lying. As tired as we all were, we still hung out in the lobby/lounge area to load and edit photos. I even recall that Ben was giving some one-on-one Photoshop lessons at 1 am in the morning, after an 18-hour day of traveling and shooting. That’s pretty hard core, is it not?
The National Park, Angry Birds & more from the Lagoon
Shooting the glacier at Iceland’s National Park
Not six hours after we went to bed on Monday night, we were up again and in the hotel breakfast area, fueling ourselves for another long and exciting day of shooting. I think a little more coffee than usual was consumed this morning! Our first stop was a glacier in Iceland’s National Park. Unlike national parks in the U.S., where there are tons of tour buses, signs and guard rails, this park was untouched, and for the first two hours we were there, our group had the place to ourselves. And there were no guard rails or “photo spot” signs either. There were a lot of vantage points to shoot from, and lots of opportunities for both detail shots and landscape views.
Einar got this photo of some of our group shooting at the glacier. From left: Ben, Sara, Ragnar, Peggy and me. Can you tell which one of these people is from Iceland and which of us are used to much warmer climates?
After shooting at the glacier, we got in the vehicle and Ragnar told us about our next top. He said we’d be going to a beach where we could photograph these beautiful birds. Sounded great to me! Then he went on to tell us that when we walked out there, the birds would immediately start to attack us. He also sounded very happy about this. Hmmm…. I admit that I was scratching my head a bit on this one. Hundreds of birds dive-bombing my head didn’t sound like the most awesome experience to me. But hey, I’m game for almost anything, so I put a long lens on my camera and got ready to go out. Before leaving the vehicle, however, I did snag Ben’s wide-brimmed Tilly hat after I watched Ragnar go out there and immediately get crapped on.
To be honest, this experience was absolutely hilarious. We were all out there, aiming our lenses in the air, as these very angry birds squawked and dove at us over and over. They would probably come six inches from our heads before swooping up again. They never hit anyone, but at least four of us got crap-bombed. Now, “why would we put ourselves through this?” you might ask. Well, that’s easy. The angry birds happened to be gorgeous, and if you were fast enough, you’d get some great images of birds in flight.
I couldn’t help but make a goofy little video of the “angry birds” experience.
After the crazy bird shoot, we all had lunch at a cute little restaurant near the beach and then headed back to the hotel for an afternoon siesta. The nap was very much needed after the short night’s sleep. A few hours later, everyone was feeling a little more alive and, instead of heading out right away, we had a little classroom session in the hotel where Ben went over some post-processing techniques and gave the group some time to edit their photos and ask questions. We all had a very nice dinner at the hotel and then it was time to roll out again.
Beautiful light at the glacier lagoon
To start the evening’s shooting, we returned to the glacier lagoon that we shot at the night before. The light was looking better, and we knew we’d get some nice results. This particular lagoon is interesting because it empties out into the ocean and if you get there at the right time, there is a steady movement of icebergs as they slowly float from the lagoon out to the ocean.
A late-night steel wool lightpainting
We were out shooting at the lagoon until about midnight, which is when most people would head back and go to bed. Luckily, we’re not “most people.” Instead, Ben took on a pretty big lightpainting challenge. If you didn’t know already, Ben is a master of a particular type of photography called lightpainting, where an image is shot in the dark and then lit with flashlights or other unique light sources. So the tricky thing about lightpainting in June in Iceland? It never gets dark!
Luckily, it was overcast, which darkened things up a little bit. The other plus was that instead of using a flashlight in this lightpainting, Ben would be swinging a ball of burning steel wool. The sparks would be so bright that we could get away with shorter exposures. Shorter exposures would be necessary with ambient light in the scene. We stopped at an abandoned building that Ben had spotted earlier in the day. Once we all had our tripods set up, Ben gave a little lightpainting lesson and then got down to it. Everyone was able to shoot at the same time, and we all got different images because we were all shooting from different angles. What’s funny is that the few cars that were passing by stopped to see what the heck we were doing. You don’t often see sparks flying around an abandoned building with a bunch of photographers set up on tripods. To make things even funnier, it was past 2 am and we had all reached that point where you’re so tired that you just start acting goofy.
One last stop
Finally, we all get back in the vehicle and we almost make it back to the hotel. Our poor driver was probably cursing us as we asked him to pull over at 3 am so we could shoot a little pond with some lovely reeds and reflections in it. As tired as we all were, we eagerly stumbled out of the vehicle and over to the pond to shoot. We hung out for about 15 minutes before we decided we could barely stand up any more!
By the time I crawled in bed that “night,” the events from the morning seemed as if they happened days ago. We could not have possibly packed more into one day, and I love that! There’s nothing better than crashing in bed after an exhilarating day of exploring, shooting, editing and sharing the company of other like-minded folks.
More to come…