We recently returned from our Winter Photography Adventure in Iceland. We had a great group of folks and enjoyed some great light and a very different experience from July. I’ve been asked if I like July better than January. The question is tough as both times offer a very different experience. Yes the weather is a bit more challenging in January, but that also makes for some dramatic photographs.
Because of the logistics we only took 5 attendees. This afforded us lots of time together both in the field and at night to talk about photography, process some images together. We started out meeting in Reykjavik. I flew in a few days early. I flew direct from Seattle (only a 6 ½ hour flight) for only $605.00 round trip. What a bargain!
At the airport I met up with Örvar Thorgeirsson, who is one of Iceland’s premier photographers. He and his wife cooked a great dinner for me that evening. My assistant, Greg Duncan arrived the following morning so by Friday we were on Iceland time (+ 8 hours from Oregon).
We set out heading east along the southern Iceland coast in the dark on Friday morning. Sunrise this time of year in Iceland is about 10:45 AM. We arrived in the small town of Vik in late morning, in time to photograph the pinnacles and seascape from a cliff looking east. After lunch, we returned to the beach, this time looking west preparing for sunset. Little did we know what was in store.
The light for the entire day this time of year in Iceland is extremely soft. It’s like 6+ hours of what we know as the “golden hour”. The sun never rises more than 7 degrees off the horizon. This afternoon we had one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen. Maybe it’s because it just kept going and going and getting better and better.
On Saturday we headed out early again, driving east-photographing waterfalls, never-ending green moss covered lava fields and more. We even had a number of rainbows to add to the experience. We arrived in Skaftafell late in the day and photographed some of the nearby glaciers.
The blue ice is something to see. Glaciers have been created over hundreds, perhaps thousands of years when snow is compacted into ice. As the ice field crystal grows, the ice expels out the air making the ice extremely dense. The ice itself absorbs the light and reflects the short-wave-length blue light.
As ice is exposed to warmer air and/or warmer water, the crystal structure of the ice breaks down and reflects all the light. That change, in effect, is what makes the ice appear white.
And that’s why the deepest blue colored ice is seen most often in fractured ice or in crevasses and in chunks of ice broken off from the glacier. When it’s cloudy the blue even appears to be richer in color.
We also made some stops to photograph some of the iconic countryside churches found in Iceland.
On Sunday, we traveled to a wonderful guest house in Hali, not far from Jokulsarlon. Jokulsarlon is a lagoon that has many huge icebergs floating in it. These icebergs have broken off the close by glacier and eventually float out to see via a nearby river. They break up more and return to the land on the nearby black sand beach.
This makes for some of the most interesting photography anywhere. But you need to be careful. The north Atlantic can be quite menacing and sneaker waves are common, as we found out. Walking around with wet feet for a few hours is no picnic. We spent Sunday and Monday on the beach, photographing different glacial lagoons and glaciers.
After one more stop at Jokulsarlon on Tuesday morning we headed back west. We arrived to meet out mountain guide and trek up to an ice cave about an hour west.
Ice caves are temporary structures that appear at the edge of glaciers. They are surreal looking from the inside. The centuries old ice is highly pressurized glacier ice that contains almost no air. The lack of air means that it absorbs almost all visible light, apart from the blue fraction which is then visible to the naked eye.
This cave in the glacier ice is the result of glacial mill, where rain, snow and ice melt water on the glacier surface are deposited into streams that enter the glacier through the crevices. The water drains towards lower elevations by forming a stream into and then exiting the ice caves. The sediments in the adjacent soil causes the water to appear a muddy color while the top of the cave exhibits a blue tint. Some glaciers move quite fast, up to 1 meter per day. This causes the ice to crack up at its end and form the cave. The daylight entering the cave allows for some beautiful and unearthly photography.
You can see a video of your trek up to and in the ice caveHERE
These caves can be dangerous. Only enter them with experienced mountain guides. Helmets and proper footwear are important. (Camera protection is really helpful as well)
After the Ice cave we headed back to Reykjavik. Along the way we found some playful and friendly Icelandic horses. They really enjoyed having some attention and their images taken.
On the following day, most of us headed back to America and elsewhere. This was one of the fastest weeks I’ve ever experienced.
Again, we are doing two of these events in winter 2014. One is almost sold out and the other has a few spots open. Please contact me for more information. You can access full informationHERE.