Hvitserkur Sunset 1

Hvitserkur Sunset 1

I photographed this dramatic seastack known as Hvítserkur on Iceland‘s north coast this past June. Tony Wu and I had experienced several days of horrendous weather before we finally read a forecast that looked promising up north, so off we drove with this destination in mind. Hvítserkur is an old basalt lava plug that has withstood the erosion by the sea. Legend has it that the rock was a troll who forgot to retreat from the light and was turned to stone at sunrise. It is one of Iceland’s iconic landscapes, so we were surprised to have it all to ourselves the one night that we photographed it. Nothing all that memorable was happening in the sky until this cloud suddenly burst into flame. We were also very fortunate to unintentionally arrive during a low tide, so I was able to compose this wide-angle image with sand patterns in the foreground.

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Latrabjarg Atlantic Puffin 36

Latrabjarg Atlantic Puffin 36

As I mentioned in my previous post, this was my third visit to Iceland, but Tony Wu’s first. As part of his pre-trip incentive to live out of a van with me for two weeks, I had promised him that I would take him to see Atlantic puffins. The bird cliff at Látrabjarg is among the best locations in the world to photograph them, but in order to get there it requires a long drive along some awful roads.

Our goal was to spend two days and nights photographing puffins, during which we were rewarded with ideal conditions. We kept an Arctic summer schedule by sleeping during the day while most of the puffins were out at sea fishing, anyway. By the time the light starting getting good in the early evening, the puffins had returned. The sun barely dipped below the northern horizon after midnight, so we simply stayed up and prepared for another round of fantastic light. I enjoyed photographing the puffins and observing their comical expressions, but I told Tony that I do not think I ever need to drive all the way out to Látrabjarg again.

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Kirkjufell Sunrise 1

Kirkjufell Sunrise 1

This past June, I traveled to Iceland for the third time in my photography career. Tony Wu, my good friend and photo tour business partner, joined me for two weeks of driving around in a van, sleeping in obscure locations, eating whatever happened to be left in our non-functioning refrigerator, and chasing photographic opportunities. We had a great time together before co-leading our first sailing expedition in Norway’s Svalbard. I’ll share more about that incredible trip soon.

The weather in Iceland is always extreme, but I found it to be especially difficult during this trip. Before leaving home, I vowed not to drive from one end of Iceland to the other as I had done during my previous visits because the distances and roads often require 6-10 hours to drive between locations. However, once the weather continued to be uncooperative, I spent a lot of time checking the forecast for various parts of the island and adjusted our plans to chase the light no matter how much driving was involved.

One of the locations that we abruptly made a decision to drive to was the iconic Kirkjufellfoss waterfall located across from the witch-hat summit of Kirkjufell mountain. I was vaguely familiar with photos of this beautiful setting and only knew that it was located on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Since I was driving around in the middle of the night with limited internet access, we initially drove to the end of the peninsula thinking that the famous name-sake volcano must be the the correct location before realizing that we had to turn around and drive back in the opposite direction.

Fortunately, the light this far north and lack of tourists on the road at 1am made it easy for us to find it, park, and stroll up to the falls in plenty of time to set up for this dramatic sunrise. I had expected to have to scrum with other tripod-toters to shoot this composition, but was pleasantly surprised to have this beautiful setting all to ourselves. As the colors in the sky started to explode, I coached Tony on how to use his filters and in general how to photograph a landscape, since he is usually underwater when he pushes the shutter release button. I have been intentionally avoiding photo “hot-spots” the last few years, but I am pleased that I allowed myself to indulge in photographing this graceful scene.

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Brennisteinsalda Steam Vents 6

Brennisteinsalda Steam Vents 6

During my trip to Iceland, I was enthralled by the dramatic landscape of Landmannalaugar and fortunate that the road had just opened a few days before my visit. Because it was considered early in the season, there were very few people around. I camped for 4 days, with the main challenge being that I slept during the day. I always wonder why anyone would visit the Arctic during the summer and sleep rather than stay up all night. Except for my travel buddy, I had Landmannalaugar all to myself each night from 8pm until 5am. This is another one of my favorite images that I created after hiking up to the Brennisteinsalda steam vents and photographing the dramatic light on Blahnukur.

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Atlantic Puffin 7

Atlantic Puffin 7

I want to share another one of my favorite Atlantic puffin images from the bird cliffs at Latrabjarg in the Northwestern Fjords of Iceland.  It took me 9 years to return to this fantastic location so that I could photograph these cute birds.  I was fortunate that the clouds parted late in the evening allowing the sun to bathe the cliffs in golden light.  I like this puffins open beak with the fantastic bokeh background of the cliffs behind it.

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Jokulsarlon Icebergs Sunrise 5

Jokulsarlon Icebergs Sunrise 5

My regular readers will have noticed that I am a big fan of shooting wide-angle landscape images and seldom use a telephoto lens other than for wildlife photography. I enjoy discovering patterns in nature with a medium telephoto lens, but I prefer to shoot grand and dramatic scenes. I also think that it is technically more challenging. This iceberg detail and reflection picture from Jokulsarlon is a notable recent exception. The blue color of the ice comes from the density of the ice absorbing all the colors of the spectrum, except blue which is reflected. Photographing blue ice is best in overcast conditions, of which I had plenty.

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Jokulsarlon Icebergs Sunrise 2

Jokulsarlon Icebergs Sunrise 2

During my trip to Iceland, I visited the spectacular Jokulsarlon 5 different nights over 2 weeks hoping to photograph an epic midnight sunset. On the night that I finally created this image, the magic light had threatened to overwhelm the clouds for several hours. I don’t remember how I occupied my time for the next hour, but by 2:45am I was set up and ready to photograph the sunrise light when it briefly radiated underneath the heavy clouds and illuminated the mountains above the iceberg choked lagoon.

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Brennisteinsalda Steam Vents 1

Brennisteinsalda Steam Vents 1

I’ve been editing my images from my trip to Iceland the last few days. My regular readers might recall that I was complaining about the dreary weather the entire trip. Just because the conditions are miserable does not mean that there weren’t any photos to be had. Due to my years of photographing Alaska, I am adept at shooting in cloudy conditions. While the general public is happy with blue skies (as I am about to enjoy myself this afternoon), the light that I need to create dramatic photographs requires being willing to work in less than inspiring conditions. For example, consider this image of the Brennisteinsalda steam vents. I created it at the end of a cloudy day in Landmannalaugar when there was no sunset light. I experimented by taking over 200 images of the steam emanating from the ground in order to capture the steam pattern and dark clouds in this the decisive moment.

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Atlantic Puffin 18

Atlantic Puffin 18

Yesterday, I spent 6 hours editing, processing, keywording, and sizing my Atlantic puffin photographs for the web. As busy as my summer is, I am not going to finish processing the rest of my Iceland trip any time soon. This is one of my favorites. I like how the puffin’s breast is pointing forward with the orange bokeh from the sunset illuminating the cliff. I always preach that the most important part of a great wildlife image is not the subject, but what is going on behind it. Clean, simple background like cliffs and mountains in the distance yield the best results. I created this image with my Canon 7D and 400mm f4 DO IS lens on a Gitzo GT2931 tripod with an Acratech Ultimate ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick.

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Blahnukur Sunset 9

Blahnukur Sunset 9

As my regular readers will note, I experienced mostly gloomy weather during my trip to Iceland. While the bad weather did nothing to overcome my Seasonal Affective Disorder, it did provide me with some incredible lighting conditions for landscape photography. The highlight of my trip was camping and shooting for 4 days at Landmannalaugar. I was disappointed that the colorful hills were covered in ash from the recent eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, but their was still plenty of spectacular scenery to shoot everywhere I looked. I explored the main hiking trails from the campground and became particularly enchanted with the geothermal steam vents at the base of Brennisteinsalda. I returned to this surreal location 2 nights in a row and was rewarded with this dramatic image when the clouds parted and the sun illuminated the summit of Blahnukur in golden light.

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