Iceland is quite a spectacular place. It is less than a 3 hour flight from Copenhagen and the first thing that meets your eye is the eastern part of the island. Covered with mountains, glaciers and snow, it dawns on you why you packed your suitcase with warm clothes.
Before I went to Iceland, I asked a native what clothes to wear… He had a funny look on his face, when he told me to dress for winter. I later understood the full meaning of the look on his face. It clearly meant: “On Iceland you decide nothing, Iceland itself is the decider of all things.”
Brown Orange and Blue
When set for landing near Reykjavik, the ground turns brown. It must be the brownest land you’d ever seen. But you’ll soon get used to the color scheme that is Iceland: Brown, Black, Blue and white spiced up with the earthy coloured yellows, orange and green.
When you set foot on the ground, you are already in awe. At the airport. The large brown plain is surrounded by far away snowy mountains. When you come from Denmark, that is a spectacular sight. If you come from Norway or Colorado, it is business as usual. But as a photographer, you know that the photo opportunities will be plenty.
On Iceland, the clouds move
The cool thing about the crazy weather on Iceland is the always scattered clouds. It’s a gift to any photographer. Although the light changes constantly, you just have to wait for the right moment to get fabulous scenarios. If the light isn’t awesome right there and then, but you like the scene, then wait a minute or two, and soon the scene will be lit in the most spectacular way.
The picture above is Dyrhólaey Lighthouse. It was rainy when we arrived, so the lighthouse was more or less a gray mass surrounded by eager photographers. I know photographers who are very keen on staging people in their shot, for some reason I wait until they are out of my frame, especially if it is another photographer – It just becomes too meta. And yet, as you’ll see later, I sometimes change my mind and do the meta shot anyway. But anyways – a greyed out Lighthouse presented itself too flat for my taste, so I framed and waited a few minuttes. When most people were out of the frame, and the sun broke out behind the clouds, I had my shot. The Lighthouse was framed perfectly by the light and the dark blue and grey clouds behind it for just af few seconds – fortunately it happened while I was waiting for it to happen.
The size reference
Once in a while I do like a human in the frame as a size reference in an epic landscape. Often epic scenes appear smaller than they really are and then it is pretty cool to have a person or an object people can relate to, to indicate the sheer scale of things.
The angry boiling water
Our hotel was located right next to Geysers and aptly named Geysir Hotel. Most of the party went to the hotel restaurant to eat, except for me and Jonas Rask, who immediately went up to the Geysers. It was a grey sky and overcast, so the blue colors of the Geyser would stand out more.
When satisfied, we went to eat at the hotel and found out that Icelanders makes really delicious food. From decent Cafés and up, the food is awesome, and they are not afraid to spice it plenty.
The Geysir erupts without warning. I tried to spot some sort of trigger warning, but the only thing that could tell that it would erupt, was time passed since the last eruption. It just suddenly bursts into a cloud of haze, and the only way to capture it, is to frame it and wait in that position from 7 to 15 minutes and release the shutter quickly. In its early stage, you see the blue color clearly until it a split second later, turns into a white haze.
Water is a wet affair
Iceland is known for its many waterfalls. One thing about waterfalls is their wetness. They do spray out a lot of moist. And of course you want to make them pictures epic, and therefore the rule of any waterfall photographer is: make it look like foam. Everybody was running around with 10 Stop ND filters, and I swore that I’d stay away from that and do something more true to reality, and then I packed my Fujinon 14mm and my Lee Seven5 Big Stopper and did the exact opposite… I do not regret that I did the long exposure thing, and I’m quite pleased with the pictures. But I am puzzled why my unconscious self do not take orders from my conscious self. I must be so anti authoritarian, that I won’t even follow my own orders… Talk about a split personality.
It’s not a pony
One advice on Iceland is not to walk backwards. Especially as a photographer. You’d probably end up injured in a ditch. Another great advice is not to call their Icelandic horses ponies – just don’t and don’t ask why! The Icelandic horse is famous for its less nervous nature than i.e. Arabic horses, which in the real world means that the Icelandic horse is nervous about most things, where the Arabic horses are downright psychotic. It also does the töltið, which means a sort of trot, but it carries the rider so gentle, that the saying goes, that you can read the saga’s on the back of your Icelandic horse doing the töltið. It actually said “write the Sagas”, but lets not suggest the impossible.
The Icelandic language are known for being one of the most difficult languages on earth. It is an ancient language and so rooted and isolated from other cultural influences, that the Icelanders can read original 1.000 year old sagas. So if you want to hear how the scandinavian languages sounded a thousand years ago, listen to the Icelandic tongue.
Titanium rods makes no Wolverine
At the southern coast, there is a stranded DC3. Anyone who ever saw a picture from Iceland have seen this wreckage. For some reason, the landowner had put a stop to people driving the about 4 kilometers to the site. We had to walk. It might not seem like much, but when you, as in I, have titanium rods inside your femur and solid screws through your bone to keep it in place, a 4 kilometer walk, on a bad leg day, is not the most ingenious idea in the world. It might be considered down-right stupid. But I did it, and a few hundred meters into the experience, I knew I had made a mistake. But as said before, I seldom follow my own orders, and that really stubborn rebel inside me takes over the show.
So I went all the way down there, to that plane that is surrounded by all kinds of tourists. I was done, like in completely crushed when I arrived wearing my raincover in a hailstorm, I had leg pains you can’t imagine. I was helped up and into the plane, where people came in for shelter and I must have looked like a dead man. My good friends, despite of sore feet, took my bag pack and carried it all the way back. I just had to get myself back, which I couldn’t imagine how would be possible. I was done, and there was at least 4 kilometers back to the car.
Well, first of all, there was nowhere in hell, that I’d walk all the way there without pictures of that god damn wreck. So yet again, without being able to see properly, because of the excruciating pain, I waited until people were out of sight, to the sides and behind the plane, and took the picture.
For me heading back was pure survival. I couldn’t walk anymore, but I couldn’t expect anybody to carry me or drive down to fetch me. Their feet hurt and they had to carry my backpack as well. So everything went into the vacuum of now… There is only now, and there is only the next step. You look up and you see the cars not too far away, you walk for what seems to be hours, and look up again, and the cars seem equally far away.
While forcing one foot in front of the other, in my head I had a quiet conversation with the land owner, cursing him for not allowing vehicles on this god forsaken piece of nothing – It is rock and black sand, that’s all there is! If there was anything that could be disturbed, I’d understand the prohibition. But there literally is nothing to destroy. Maybe he’s just sick of tourists…
Well 1 + 1 steps become many, and when my body was near a total collapse, I fell into the backseat of the car and my body just gave in. That evening I had to skip anything but lying in bed. Next day were a little less painful and the day after, my legs were back to a normal set of reasonably well functioning walkers. That is how things are, when you are half a robot. But I’m surely grateful for the lovely people I was with. They carried my stuff and made me food, because getting out of bed the next day, took a while, and I couldn’t make it to breakfast at the hotel. But that doesn’t matter when friendly souls have sandwiches ready for you, when you get into the car.
And now, back to the weather
As mentioned, the weather at the wreckage went from cold, windy and sunny to a hailstorm and then back again to less windy weather and partly sunny. It hits you, that complaining about the weather, as we often do in Denmark, is downright ridiculous in Iceland. It just doesn’t make any sense, because you have this overwhelming feeling, that Iceland doesn’t really give a shit about you or your high horse. On Iceland you just obey, follow and adapt.
The Icelandic climate is both awesome and crazy. One morning before dinner, we went through all seasons in a few hours. It started out really cold with pretty heavy rain, later it went into sleet, then snow, then sort of a snowstorm, then light snow, where we had to give up crossing a mountain pass, because the car rental company had decided to equip their car with summer tires… If you go there, do not accept summer tires or 2 wheel drive – it will transport you on the roads in the summer, but it won’t do you any good, anywhere else or at any other time a year… At all!
Back to the weather. When standing there in the snow, with a car that couldn’t go further, we did take som pictures right there and then went to Reykjavik, where it was nice and sunny and + 9-12° Celcius. This changing seasons in half hour intervals is something the Icelanders are used to and it does not take long until you just give in to the circumstances and become one with the climate. It just is what it is, until it changes completely 20 minutes later.
You had me at Ice
We went on to Reykjavik, the capitol of Iceland. There aren’t that many people living in Iceland. About 350.000. Most of them in and just outside Reykjavik. So there is a lot of potential for loneliness and art. The Icelanders seem to appreciate art, music and culture in a big way.
No matter who you are or where you live, Iceland is a place you should put on your bucket list. And you should stay there for a while. I will definitely go back, and it will not be a 5 day trip, I’d rather stay there for at least months, so I can plan the right photos, in the right light at the right time of year, in a 4 x 4 vehicle that can take me wherever I want to go.
Iceland, you won me over.