Posted on March 9, 2019
I never did get a portfolio level photograph at the Seljalandsfoss waterfall on my May trip; after two days I was heading east on the Ring Road again. I caught Seljalandsfoss on a May morning, wind cold and blowing hard, I was seeing the place through eyes that’d already seen 20 hours of travel. Some interesting shots came out of it that first day and that isn’t trivial. I felt what I shot.
But I already knew Seljalandsfoss was capable of being one of those spacial places to shoot, one of those glorious, iconic shots to be had — I just hadn’t gotten it on my March or May trips. So when I did the Ring Road again in August, I stopped at some fav locations for a third bite of the apple. Seljalandsfoss was my final have to have before flying home.
I was eating at the cafeteria in Vik that final night (Icelandic char) and notice the weather had cleared. Good chance for a real Iceland sunset out at Seljalandsfoss. [I have a whole system in the evenings when I’m traveling, figuring which spot to shoot that evening.]
I scooted out of Vik by 7:15PM, did the drive west in under 40 minutes. When I got there, the last tour buses were leaving (look closely). It was only a few minutes before sunset. I grabbed my wide angle and tripod, jogged past a few photogs, dialed in my settings as I walked, headed into the cave. … Like I was doing a live performance. Showtime.
The dense mist behind the waterfall takes on an almost womb-like atmosphere. And you’re instantly wet. But get past that and it’s really a magical spot to be in. First because the mouth of the falls faces southwest. And sunset light filtered through mist is the magic. And then you see what that light does to the blanket of green moss…
I headed deeper down the path, watching how the balance point of waterfall, stream, moss and sunset changed. At one place on the muddy path, I felt to stop. This spot made me imagine that the cave itself had its eye on the light show.
[I’m sure there are some out there who question this passion for getting the shot. But it’s not some strange addiction (regardless of what Freud says). It’s just the feeling you get when you enter the zone — Watson the game’s afoot” or something. hey, who doesn’t like a sunset. This spot gave me the perfect line: waterfall, stream curving towards the sun and that concentrated yellow glow.
I stood, back against wall, so as to pull in those velvety, mossy boulders. That misty moss made me want to take my shoes off and wade in. (Of course I had to pull all that detail out of the image in post.) And of course, I had to wipe the lens off after each shot. I didn’t bring a dry cloth so my shirt did the job.
Didn’t do that many shot variations, the sun being so close to the horizon. Plus, I was pretty sure I had what I wanted.
Posted on March 8, 2019
I left passport control at Iceland’s Keflavik International at about 5:20AM dragging my suitcase and camera pack. There was supposed to be a guy at the airport entrance holding sign with my name on it. Nope. So I dumped my stuff next to the Welcome to Iceland desk, got a donut, switched my phone to the local network and left a message … and a second, at the car rental office.
By 6:20, the car keys were mine and my suitcase and camera gear were loaded. I had gone low budget (by Iceland standards) with a Dacia Logan station wagon. So I headed out slow from the airport, remembering how to drive in snow, and drive stick, on roads I didn’t know.
After half an hour, I hit Rt. 1, the legendary Ring Road that circles the island, Iceland’s answer to Route 66. This (mostly) 2 lane blacktop winds through 840 miles of primal landscapes and I was gonna photograph that and more. But after an 8 hour flight from LA and 24 hours without sleep, I was running on empty.
My goal on this 14 day road trip wasn’t to do the guidebook stuff, the tours, museums, restaurants, accommodations. I wanted to get a portfolio of kick-ass landscape photos. The guidebooks and travel marketing don’t get into the details photo enthusiasts care about: best photo locations, times to shoot — location scouting. So I end up doing my own location scouting on Instagram, 500px and Pinterest.
You never fully understand that spot until you’re there, camera in hand. But you can certainly discover Iceland’s “marquee” photo locations just by looking at the amazing shots that are on-line. Once you are there, the job is to see it fresh and photograph it under the conditions that are there at that instant in time.
After all, Iceland isn’t a list of spots to shoot — which is what you’d think if what you know about a place is how it’s presented in the media. It’s an immensely varied place as landscape.
So, since before my two Utah books. I’ve made myself a more interesting goal, to discover the 99% of a country that’s not in the guidebooks — the little roadside pull-offs, the places the locals connect to. The country living out each day. If you can start seeing what you’re given, regardless of weather or the requirements of the trip, you can get images you won’t find on Instagram.
That’s why on this visit, I had no particular assignment. Just the desire to create a portfolio, an Iceland portfolio that would capture the mythic quality of the place and that distinctive color palette. I figure if the quality is there, I’ll be supported. After all, being out there, getting lost in the mood of a place, the flow of nature … that’s the core DNA for landscape photographers.
Discovering the South Coast
An hour and a half in, I arrived at Selfoss, the regional hub for the South Coast with a bustling 7,000 inhabitants. I was thinking about getting some real breakfast here and using the facilities. But nothing was opened yet (not even the KFC) so I pressed on.
After Selfoss, you’re in big sky country, huge expanses of farmland on the right, long ridges of mesa-like plateau on the left. My South Coast visit the previous March for location scouting had been a total delight. But on this morning, the clouds were getting pushed along by a storm in the North Atlantic, even the car was getting pushed around. The farmland meadows were like matted tundra from weeks of cold rain and snow. Muted colors, lots of black and white.
Iceland isn’t postcard pretty on a day like this, but it’s real. Not the Iceland of the brochures, it’s the Iceland that gets served up 90% of the time. After all, Iceland’s basically a piece of black lava planted between the North Atlantic and Arctic Circle.
I pulled over along the way for pictures, a favorite activity for Ring Road travelers. It’s the kind of thing that drives Icelanders nuts (rightly so). Visitors will often stop right there on the road for a quick shot. They don’t see anyone coming and every turn in the road seems to have an awesome vista. The problem is most Iceland roads only have a couple of feet of shoulder so you can’t just pull over. So people stop right there on Rt 1.
The correct approach when you need to take a picture is to look for a farm road or driveway pull-off. Get the shot (while staying close to your vehicle) and then get back on the road. Easy-peasy and it’s what your Mom would tell you to do. And since you’re off the road, you can concentrate on the landscape you’ve been given.
But enough backstory. I was a couple hours into the trip now, 30 hours into my long day’s journey. And there was the famous Seljalandsfoss waterfall on the left.
Iceland gets about 5 million visitors a year. That’s a lot of folks coming to a country that’s barely larger than Maine. About 90% of them stay in Reykjavik and do day tours to marquee locations like Seljalandsfoss and the Golden Circle. So photo locations that are within a couple of hours of the city get a LOT of visitors. That’s rule #1 for photographing Iceland, shoot before 9:30 or after 6.
I was there before 8:30, so no tour buses, only a handful of cars in the lot, not many folks with lime green parkas. … But the porta potty was open for business and I made a deposit. Note: There’s a parking fee at the lot.
It was cold an rainy by now and what I wanted was a shower and some hot tea. But my room at the guesthouse wouldn’t be done till afternoon. So I was going to shoot the two important waterfalls on the South Coast, Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss, before checking in. [Yes, foss is the word for waterfall.] The southwest-facing Seljalandsfoss waterfall is the first one you see as you drive along Route 1 — that and a few smaller ones that pour off the glacial plateau.
Lay of the Land. Seljalandsfoss doesn’t have a lot of water power but the 220 ft. vertical drop provides visual impact. Some tourists believe they turn the waterfalls off at night. Yeah, that’s a frequently asked question. But that’s not true. When I arrived the waterworks were as you’re seeing.
There’s also a quite wonderful cave behind the falls covered in velvety moss and bathed in waterfall mist — just follow the muddy trail. Note: If you want to shoot the falls from behind, bring protection for your camera, a wide angle lens and something to wipe your lens.
Seljalandsfoss faces southwest. So it can be a great sunset shoot if the weather cooperates. But there are good photo ops from anywhere along the trail.
Given the lay of the land my gear choices were obvious, my walking around lens, a Sigma 24-105mm — and for the cave, a wide-angle, my Canon 16-35 f2.8 and tripod.
Some shot notes
It was in the mid-30s now and the wind was pushing the falling water around with a heavy hand. I pulled on my inadequate LA gloves. And by now it was raining. I wasn’t a happy camper. I thought about heading in behind the falls. But my down jacket was already getting wet, the cave would be darker and wetter. Plus I had a decent cave shot from my March visit.
So instead of trying to make the inside the cave shot work, I noticed the obvious, the wind. So I followed the stream out from the waterfall to get some perspective on the scene.
I used the tripod and played with slower shutter speeds for a while. Uh. Kinda cool.
Then it started to snow, now the scene was all white polka dots. I knew I had two full days along the South Coast so I decided not to bother with Seljalandsfoss until light and the weather would cooperate. Instead I heading over the bridge and down the path to the Gljufrabui waterfall.
Gljufrabui about 500 meters down the trail from Seljalandsfoss. It’s less known, all you can see from the outside is a small stream flowing from a slit in the cliff face. But walk inside and the cave turns out to be a slot canyon with a waterfall falling through the “ceiling.” It’s definitely worth checking out.
Tech Notes: Gljufrabui is as misty as the Seljalandsfoss cave. And it’s darker. So bring a cover for your camera, a good cloth wipe for the lens and, if you don’t enjoy standing in glacial run-off, water-resistant footwear.
I chose a longer shutter speed for this shot, to catch the distinctive way the waterfall shapes itself, so the tripod was a necessity. But you can also get great shots hand-held.
Wet places aren’t good for cameras. So I got camera, tripod, release, settings nailed down outside the cave entrance. Then walked the tripod into the cave, put together a composition, took the shot. And things went fast: take a shot, dry the lens, adjust composition, take a shot, dry lens, repeat …
By now my down jacket was sopping wet. My feet had been submerged in a glacial stream for what seemed an hour (and was probably 7 minutes). I walked back out to the river bank, and pulled the lens cap out of my pocket with shivering hands … and it fell, slowly, into the dark stream. Plunk.
Lens caps don’t float. Searching the river rocks with numb hands didn’t help. It was gone. S**t, s**t, s**t. Fact is, lens caps are important little pieces of plastic — especially with fancy lenses in a harsh landscape. The only place (as far as I knew) that stocked 82mm lens caps was the camera shop in Reykjavik, along the main shopping drag. That drive would waste most of a day.
I headed slowly back towards the parking lot. You could say I was frustrated. But the beauty of the place kept intruding on my whining. Just looking at Seljalandsfoss at the far end of the gravel path. Almost eternal – they don’t even turn the water off in winter.
Then I notice a little hay barn just opposite Gljufrabui. Nothing fancy, a ramshackle barn packed with hay, Iceland bjork (birch) trees to the side. I took it in, almost creeping up on the place. Not a shot you’ll see on Instagram, but pure Iceland. Sweet.
As I headed back I realized, I should call the guesthouse. Hey, I’m less than an hour away, it can’t hurt to ask if there’s a room ready. I definitely needed the sleep.
So I called Guesthouse Vellir. My host answered, she was quite willing to oblige a weary traveler. Well, that made my day. I told her I’d be there by 1.
Welcome to Iceland
South Coast Overview
My South Coast planning map
The section of Ring Road from Reykjavik to Vik is about a 3 hour drive. And there’s farms and countryside that are worth exploring. Little moments and grand vistas. But for a landscape photographer, the 40 miles from Seljalandsfoss to Vik are the key locations. Here’s the Cliff Notes (heading east):
Seljalandsfoss waterfall. In this part of the valley, every few miles seems to have small, highland streams cascading down from the glacial plateau. Seljalandsfoss’ special asset is the fact you can also photograph from the cave behind.
Plus, as extra credit, a third of a mile down the path is Gljufrabui, the “cave” with a waterfall dropping through the opening above.
Skogafoss waterfall. The falls in the tiny town of Skogar are almost as high as Seljalandsfoss but more full bodied. So the place also gets busy during tour bus hours. Skogar has lodging, restaurants, an impressive museum and, of course, Skogafoss – making it a nice home base alternative to Vik. There’s also a little known falls just past the Skogar Museum called Kvernufoss. (And yes, “foss” is Icelandic for waterfall.)
Solheimasandur Plane Wreckage. The stripped down aluminum carcass is all that remains of an American DC-3 airplane that crash-landed in the lava dunes here. It’s a “must see” if you’re into bleak, end-of-world photography or have kids with too much energy. I wouldn’t have done the two mile walk but I knew if I didn’t make the trek, there would’ve been a chorus of disappointment. … There will probably be other tourists so bring your wide angle — or show up early.
Dyrholaey. The cliffs of Dyrholaey can get overlooked by the guidebooks. But for someone who’s got the bug, Dyrholaey is a visual feast: the lighthouse view, that sea arch, puffin nesting cliffs, overlook of the Vik sea stacks, etc.
Reynisfjara/Vik Black Sand Beach. Reynisfjara provides an impressive expanse of black sand beach and basalt cliffs, punctuated by trollish sea stacks and the dangers of the North Atlantic. An enthusiast can get a lovely shot here in the hour after dawn.
Off the beaten track.The South Coast is more than a photo greatest hits album. There are secluded beaches, an amazing view from the butte behind Vik, each bend in the road seems to surprise.
Tip: Get onto your fav photo social media site and search on any of the above photo locations.
Next: Portfolio image #1: Seljalandsfoss
Posted on February 5, 2019
Fjaðrárgljúfur–very Icelandic name, is a jewel of a river canyon in southeastern section of the island. It’s just 2 miles off the Ring Road, a few miles west of the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur and one of a few classic photo spots between Vik and the Glacier Lagoon/Hofn area.
But it’s not a spot many tours get to, mostly just Icelanders and Ring Road travelers. Oh yeah, Justin Bieber used this unique Geopark as main location for one of his music videos — and landing the canyon on the travel world’s radar screen.
The park itself isn’t much, just a trail along the canyon edge. But something about it, the fluid canyon shapes, that’s almost otherworldly. The trail runs for about a mile and ends at a dramatic overview of the slide-like waterfall. It’s an experience regardless of the weather and a pleasant repast from the Ring Road drive.
Location: Follow Iceland Rt 1 west from Kirkjubæjarklaustur for two miles till you see a small sign for the park on the right. It’s Rt 206. Follow it for a couple of miles, it turns to gravel and ends at the park’s parking lot. GPS: N63° 46′ 16.026″ W18° 10′ 19.506″
Photo notes: You can go wide angle or zoom to capture the canyon’s curves. The canyon runs north/south so there’s not as much value being there during Golden Hour. Given the controlled access, there’s no issue with people getting into the shot.
The trail up starts at the parking lot. You can’t stray from the well-marked path; the grasslands are too delicate given the foot traffic. There are well defined overlooks along the way for photos (and selfies). Luckily, even when an overlook is busy, you can get a fairly clean shot of the canyon area. Note that the more delicate promontories of the canyon have been made off limits since the Bieber video.
Two studies. The canyon’s charm is all about the strange shapes — kinda like what you find at Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona, but way bigger. The challenge is how you put these elements together.
It’s easy to go wide and include too much landscape for a clear composition. With these two studies I pushed in closer on some core shapes and colors. That gave extra emphasis to the grassland and juxtaposed the expanse of green against a few of the blue-black of lava columns.
The canyon ends just a bit further down the trail at the waterfall. The shot below is taken at the fenced overlook. It’s another view that has a wealth of complicated shapes. But the thing that worked best for me was to use the cliff that juts out on the left as a foreground element that leads the eye to that waterslide of a falls. I crop out everything on the right side and went square so as to emphasize the other visual relationship, that clear, blue lake at the bottom right. In post, I balanced out the dark and light spots and added texture to the visual surfaces, that lovely moss.
Posted on January 31, 2019
East of Vik, the Ring Road scenery is fairly average by Iceland standards. Southeast Iceland is mostly farmland, black sand beaches and miles and miles of lava fields covered in thick, green moss. A little weird that moss. When you get to a traffic circle, you’ll see the tiny the town of Kirkjubaejarklaustur (church farm cloister).
Klaustur, the local nickname for the town, is quickly forgotten by the roadtrip visitor – they’re biding their time, heading east to Glacier Lagoon. But look closely and you’ll has a thousand years of history, a cataclysmic eruption and Fjaðrárgljúfur, a Geopark that’s a visual feast and was the setting for a Justin Bieber video.
The roundabout is central hub for a church, market, bank, tourist center, fast food joint and gas station, several guesthouses, even a hotel. I decided to stay there, at the Klaustur Guesthouse, because it’s so close to the river canyon of Fjaðrárgljúfur, my favorite shot location in the area.
But my plan was to shoot this canyon in the evening light. So I stopped by the gas station/fast food joint for lunch and to see if the town offered anything for the curious tourist.
I ordered the grilled chicken sandwich and lemonade and continued talking to my server, a young guy from Hungary. He started off with a story about his grandfather and the Nazis worthy of Tarentino. Then conversation turned to life for a guest worker in Iceland; he and the others here were summer workers from Eastern Europe. They made good money and my new friend was an enthusiastic explainer of the local sights. So I got the scoop on what to do.
Of moss and history. It’s believed that Klaustur was where a group of Irish monks settled before the Norse arrived in the Ninth Century. By 1186 a Catholic cloister was founded in the area. Their farm was on the ridge, set next to the lake, Systravatn (“water of the sisters”). Just below that was the locally famous sight Systrafoss (“waterfall of the sisters”). The Laki volcano, few miles north of all this, was the site of a massive eruption in 1783, one of the worst in European history. All of these pieces of history are written in the stone and and culture of the town.
It was too early to check in Klaustur Guesthouse so I stopped by the Visitors Center on the way — it’s at 10 Klausturvegur road, just off the roundabout. Besides the local travel flyers and books, they have a little exhibit going, 10 or 12 types of moss under glass bell-jars — plus the excellent video on the Laki volcano.
The volcanic eruptions that happened at Laki from the summer of 1783 till early 1784 were the largest of the last thousand years in Europe. For a full 8 months, 42 billion tons of lava, 120 million tons of poison gases and ash blasted out of the fissure at Laki, killing 25% of Iceland’s population. The hydrogen fluoride gases killed 80% of the country’s sheep and 50% of the horses and cattle.
The release of the sulfur dioxide gases also had a cataclysmic effect in Europe. The thick haze decreased the amount of sunlight by enough to make that winter a deadly one in Europe. Even in North America the effects were significant, causing the Mississippi River to freeze over at New Orleans.
The months of dark haze caused crop failure as far away as Egypt. The famine in France was more deadly, one of the causes of the French Revolution. Remember “Let them eat cake?” Marie-Antoinette may not have said the iconic line, but the famine was real and deadly, even for the queen. According to the documentary, the Laki volcano killed a million people world-wide.
Klaustur, just south of the epicenter, was the town hardest hit. The scope of the lava flow was immense by any standards and the farmers in the area were devastated. After a month and a half of nightmarish damage, the people were certain their lives were over. That Sunday in July 1783, they gathered at the Klaustur church with a major lava flow bearing down on them.
The pastor, Jon Steingrimsson, delivered the sermon. He understood clearly that this nightmare was God’s doing, that evil was walking the Earth. And he gave his eldmesse, his “Fire Sermon,” demanding that the congregation look within, acknowledge their sins. He must have been particularly effective in urging the congregation to re-dedicate themselves to God. By the time the service was over, the lava had stopped. The worst of it was over.
After 20 minutes, the historical video was over as well. So I checked out the display on the ecology of moss and lava. And yes, moss is another part of the Laki story. The moss I saw that day was nature’s answer to the miles and miles of new-made lava. The eruption of 1783 is still recent in terms of geological history. And ever since, the moss has slowly turned black stone into vegetative earth.
I headed to the guesthouse to check in. The Klaustur Guesthouse is just down the Klausturvegur road from the visitors center. The folks at the front desk know all about the town’s history and mentioned that path behind the guesthouse leads past the waterfall and up the plateau. So once I showered, I headed up the trail, camera in hand.
The trails behind Klaustur Guesthouse are open to anyone; this landscape is a piece of history. The walk is popular with families and couples. Nothing spectacular by Iceland standards. But a pleasant walk in a quiet forest has its own rewards.
And that’s Klaustur, the cloister town, the village at the traffic circle. Very little of this stuff makes its way into the guidebooks. The tour buses drive by, on their way to Skaftafell National Park and Jokulsaron Glacier Lagoon. But Pastor Steingrimsson and his Fire Sermon are a part of every Icelander’s heritage and Klaustur is a tourist destination for them.
Posted on November 8, 2018
I spent last weekend at the Javits Center in New York. New York has never been a favorite spot for me. The crowds, the priciness of it all, always make me feel the place is overrated.
The one reason I went to New York, New York was the PhotoExpo, for the Portfolio Review sessions happening there. The main convention floor had areas for the big camera brands, Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji, etc, and booths for the various retailers from B&H Photo to Moab photo paper to copyright lawyers.
I wandered through the convention booths every so often, mostly to see the latest and greatest products. I tried out new ultra wide lenses from Tamron (a 15-30mm) and Sigma (14-24mm). I did some research on photo papers, tried out various Sony mirrorless cameras in the Best Buy area. (Yes, pro/enthusiast photo gear has become a focus for Best Buy.)
There were also nonstop seminars and workshops, sessions on street photography and fashion that made use of the city, sessions that dealt with how #timesup and #metoo would relate to the photography universe. Much of the educational sessions were timely if expensive for what you got in an hour. The one paying seminar, a $150 class on advance camera techniques like lens stacking, wasn’t fully baked.
But the portfolio reviews were what I needed to help me define my photography approach as a business. I’ve been treating my photo work as business for 5 or 6 years now, starting with my Utah photo guidebooks. And as my approach has evolved, I’ve taken my writing to a more personal level as well. And I’ve been asking how I can use the business side of what I do to support my creative goals. So showing my Iceland portfolio to an assortment of photo industry professionals was what I needed.
The Portfolio Review
The structure for the portfolio reviews was that the participants signed in and got the table number for the reviewer who would be working with you for that 20 minute time frame. Basically speed dating for your career. There were about 30 different reviewers working the room at any given time.
So shake hands, plunk your portfolio down on the table (whether it was loose prints, photo book, tablet, computer), and start talking. I had two actionable goals for the sessions, to jump-start my Iceland book idea and learn other ways of getting my images out to a wider public, especially through gallery shows or a web site.
There were only two reviewers who worked with photo books, one an editor at Rizzoli. I met with both of them. Four or five folks worked with galleries. Two were associated with publications that look for photo content — Bloomberg Pursuits, Culture Trip — and a few agents who were looking for bigger game. Some folks were more useful than others but having 12 people with an eye for the medium giving you feedback was a great takeaway unto itself.
Takeaways From the Conference
Quality of the work. No one had a problem with my more traditional landscape compositions. There was only one person, an agent, who wasn’t wowed about the quality of the work — didn’t think it was punchy enough. (She won’t be on my Christmas list.) The reviewers who seemed to have the best instincts said they really liked my stuff and only suggested that a tighter crop here and there or to use different printer paper.
Presentation of my work. For me, the 12×18 prints with 3/4″ white border was the way to go. Reviewers also seemed to like clamped together books of images. Tablets were less popular with reviewers because they’re one step removed from the medium but no one actively minded using a tablet of computer.
I did have images on two different types of paper — something I know wasn’t optimal but only one reviewer took me to task for that. The idea is that it’s good to have a consistency of look and feel.
Social. A couple of folks pointed out that social media engagement can be helpful, especially good Instagram numbers. So I’m cleaning up that part of my game, getting rid of images that don’t carry their weight, updating older shots that needed my current level of post.
Book Proposal. Both of the photo book specialists had useful points. They said that the book market has changed given the lack of independent booksellers. Now the publishers make sure books have a good chance of making money. The academic or artist photo book isn’t enough — unless it’s a book by a celebrity photog like Avadon, etc.
They want to see a proposal that shows your approach will appeal to a wider audience, that the cost of the book is appropriate, what part of the bookstore the book will fit into — basically show them your work will drive business their way.
Galleries. No one said you have to show at my gallery. The one gallery owner (she’s in SoHo) said most galleries in the city have such high overhead that they can’t take a chance on folks without a major track record. Several folks pointed out that there are lots of venues for work beyond galleries, businesses, cafes, etc.
Other Outlets for Images. One of the reviewers mentioned that my work would be of interest to art consulting services. Big companies of all kinds buy art but aren’t going to work with individual artists. They give their specs to a consulting service that can pull in artists and photogs working in various styles.
Photo Web Site. One reviewer also suggested that Smugmug is a rotten choice for a photography web site for me. That’s something I’ve been thinking for years. But I know from personal experience that commerce web sites can be a pain to set up and run. She suggested that I could try Format.com — and they do seem to have a fairly nice turnkey approach with various formats and the ability to take payments and track orders in some basic way.
As far as content I choose, she thought that structuring photos based on shot locations might be too narrow. That many of my potential clients really don’t care if you have Iceland or Vermont pics. They want the material to be more theme oriented. So I’ve organized some of my current Smugmug projects to be more theme oriented.
She also said I should look at issue.com. I’m not sure if that one is as applicable for my business but their material does have content that’s worth browsing.
Bottom line, know the bottom line for your work.
Posted on September 1, 2018
The north is a rough glove of mountains separated by long fjords. Like the east, there are small villages in each, some charming, some just workaday. But in the north, you must leave Rt 1 to drive those coastal two-lanes. The Ring Road heads east to west (more of less) and is half the drive. But I like the mix of cliff road and ocean and driving Trollaskagi, the troll peninsula, was the obvious choice for me.
Photo locations (listed east to west)
Grimsey Island day tour (taking the ferry from Dalvik). The island on the Arctic circle is home to a wide range of birds, puffin, guillemots, arctic terns.
Siglufjordur. The scenic town at the north end of the Trollaskagi peninsula — and my stop for the night. Siglufjordur has several restaurants, a nice harbor area, good hiking and the Herring Era Museum. Siglo is at the same latitude as central Alaska.
Hofsos. The little fishing village on the west side of the Trollaskagi peninsula features a cute harbor area, a beach with basalt columns and a scenic pool.
Grafarkirkja. The oldest turf church in Iceland is located 3 miles south of Hofsos on the east. Watch closely or you’ll miss it.
I didn’t leave the metropolis of the north until almost 2PM. But once Akureyri and Rt 1 are behind, it’s only about a 1 1/4 hour drive to get to Siglufjordur, the fishing village that’s almost due north. Siglufjordur seems to be the most picturesque of the northern towns and I wanted more images of small town Iceland — so I was spending the night there at an AirBnB .
The northern road, Rt 82, isn’t twisty like Rt 1 gets in the eastern fjords. My first little stop-off was a little overlook-park just a km south of Dalvik. Dalvik’s claim to fame is that the ferry to Grimsey Island leaves from there.
As per rule #1, I didn’t stay in the parking lot. I headed down the hill and along the river bank. No spectacular scenary but the bushes along the wet river bank had a roughness I liked. And once I stopped looking for a shot, there were some peaceful moments.
Just above this location I noticed another overlook. And since it was a balmy 44 degrees that afternoon, I wandered way down hill from the road-side parking area. From the top overlook, you can see hints of distinctive sea cliffs and the distant mountains. And as I headed down between the red-brown bushes, the scope of the cliffs and a curved beach became clear.
By now, I was on my knees half the time, right in there with the reddish ground cover. And the longer I stayed, the closer I got to the cliffs. The view 60 yards below the overlook was a world away from the parking lot view. It was a hike back to the parking lot but who cares when you (maybe) got one or two nice images.
Once you drive past the town of Olafsfjordur, the road turns into Rt 76. You need to go (slowly) through a couple of tunnels under the mountain (the tunnels in Iceland have traffic cameras. Once out of the tunnels, you’re in Siglufjordur. The town’s known for its Herring Era Museum and fishing is still a mainstay though the herring have moved on.
When I got to Siglufjordur that evening, I didn’t do the restaurant route. I had found an AirBnB rental, something you don’t see often in small town Iceland. And once I connected with the owner, I discovered I had full use of the kitchen. I walked down to the market down the block and picked up some cereal and a micro dinner treat. The inexpensive dinner and room meant I saved over a hundred bucks that day.
And after rest and dinner, I wandered out camera in hand.
Next morning I visited the old herring boat for one final shot before continuing my drive along the coast.
Hofsos is half way down the other side of the Trollaskagi peninsula. A tiny town with a small harbor area and a scenic (and inexpensive) pool. There’s also a an important genealogical center, the Vesturfarasetrid, that Americans and Canadians of Icelandic descent use to research their roots.
I parked up by the harbor and did a short photo shoot of the basalt columns that are just below the harbor. Not quite Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway but a good excuse to get the camera out and stretch one’s legs.
An old sod church. About two miles south of Hofsos on Rt 76 is Grafarkirkja, the oldest church in Iceland. Parts of it date back to the 17th Century. The sod church is a bit off the road on the east side, out in a valley in the middle of nowhere. It makes for a memorable photo.
Eight miles south of Hofsos on Rt 76 is a surprisingly large car museum called, Samgonguminjasafn Skagafjardar. I did a fair amount of auto show photography while I was working for Cars.com and it’s a fun challenge. I’d suggest starting with a wide angle lens to get more visual impact and eliminate background junk.
Holar. About 10 miles below Hofsos is Rt 767, the road leading to the town of Holar. The historic town was important center for Catholicism for centuries. Monks studied there and it had an important cathedral until the Reformation came to town. The present cathedral is from the mid 1700s , the interior has some impressive German carvings. Hardly anyone lives there now but except folks at the agricultural collage.
Saudarkrokur Black Sand Beach. There’s a scenic black sand beach in the lowland about a mile east of Saudarkrokur. I had seen a photo of it in my internet research. So I was looking for the pull-off from Rt 75 and I parked just in from the road, a spot the locals use. From here you’re at the bottom of the fjord with a great view of the mountains to the north.
Alternative route: Stay on Rt 1
I chose to take the long route between Akureyri and Blonduos to the east. The drive along Trollaskagi was worth it and I wanted to explore the peninsula to the west, Skagaheidi, and photograph the lighthouse there.
Staying on Rt. 1 isn’t as appealing as the coastal drive but it’s somewhat faster. There are scenic areas along that section of the Ring Road. For instance, Rt 1 heads up a pretty valley about 20 miles west of Akureyri called Oxnadalur that’s worth a pull-off: 65.570691, -18.547477.
Glaumbaer. Further west is the pass-through town of Varmahlid. Nothing special there. But drive 5 miles north on Rt 75 is Glaumbaer, an excellent turf farmhouse museum that the shows what Iceland life was like in the 19th Century. It’s a recreation, but nicely done.
Posted on August 20, 2018
Once the band of Night Hawks was finished with the fountain display on Harbor Blvd., we walked down Swinford St. till we got to a little lagoon area. There are a bunch of wooden posts rotting in lagoon, the LA Harbor cranes are just on the other side … and the mighty Vincent Thomas Bridge towers above.
I came late to the party, one too many fountains. But the group’s cool about sharing shooting spots. In fact these Night Hawks events all seem to have a supportive interaction with none of the turf battles you see at a spot like Mesa Arch. The main thing I (and everyone) attends to is not walking into someone’s shot.
I’d done this lagoon location about 9 months ago — and used the shot in my Dekor Gallery show. So on Thursday, I mostly played with subtleties of composition and shutter speed. From all my expeditions out to LA and Long Beach Harbors, I know that the water gets a nice sheen after 15 seconds or more of exposure. So I played with long exposure shots.
I kinda like including all four of the container cranes in the frame. It gives them more primacy in the image, weighting the eye in that direction. On the other hand going tighter with the same idea, i.e. bridge and cranes reflection, gives the image more impact.
This one above was fairly similar to the shot I did for my gallery show in March:
The earlier shot is more zoomed in on the crane and bridge, less concerned with the scope of the bridge. The main difference between the two images is shutter speed, the one from nine months ago doesn’t care about that issue. Going long exposure is sorta overdone these days. But in this situation, with lagoon water already untroubled, you almost don’t notice the effect of a 30 second shutter. Instead your attention goes to the upper half of the image.
And in this situation, the smoothing effect of long exposure heightens the visual abstraction, heightens the play of color, smooths out the image’s dynamic range. On the other hand, at 1/50 sec., the light reflection in dark water is quite painterly and closer to what the eye sees. Both choices work.
Vincent Thomas Location #2
After shooting at the lagoon for a bit we each went NE on Front St. for a quarter mile and turned left onto Knoll Dr. This hill is home to a baseball field and higher overlook for viewing Vincent Thomas. Here you’re able to catch the cars driving the bridge — and more importantly, the car head and tail lights. So a long exposure gives some cool light trails.
On this evening, there was a huge construction light set up on the bridge. It steals focus and is a hassle to remove in Photoshop. Plus, for some reason the cars were being held up on the bridge. So to get any decent light trails, you had to see when traffic was allowed to move.
On the other hand, this is a great angle to shoot the bridge from, a location I didn’t know how to get to previously. I’m sure I’ll be back once construction is less annoying and be able to explore more approaches.
Posted on August 18, 2018
I joined forces with the Night Hawks group, signing up for a photo adventure the Creative Photo Academy does. It’s the Paul’s Photo guys organizing a night shoot at some LA photo spot (for not much money) and everyone shoots their little hearts out. Mark Crase was on hand from the Academy to keep the cats together and for photo questions. Last Wednesday was a Night Hawks visit to a local San Pedro favorite, the Vincent Thomas Bridge.
I’ve shot Vincent Thomas at night before — I had a shot of that in my March gallery show in San Pedro. But I was hoping the Night Hawks would get me a new view to shoot.
We met up at about 7:30 at the fountains along Harbor Blvd. in SP. Basically these fountains are like a small town version of the Bellagio’s. The challenge is how to turn all that into composition. Here are some of my fave shots from that sequence.
The fountains have a pretty good design all things considered. Lots of nice angles, good use of the spotlights in the fountain. And once I got the lay of the land, I wandered down to this end to make the most of those elements. Plus the sun was giving off warm colors. I went with the long exposure to smooth out the light reflections in the water.
Once the fountain began it’s sequence I found I had to shorten the shutter speed in order to record a smaller segment of the water dance. Going for 20 seconds (or 5) means you get too many different water effects one on top of the other. But tightening the shutter speed and triggering at the beginning of a new sequence gave me a cleaner look.
Second fountain dance
With darkness hiding all the crappy buildings in the background, I moved to this side of the fountain. By now, the lit wall around the edge of the fountain was golden bronze and I spent some time using that shape against the line of palms — while getting as much reflection as possible.
I was shooting the main fountain area once the show started again, without much luck. These fountain effects aren’t choreographed to please photographers. But I did get a few things.
Once the show got going I had more luck catching how the audience engaged with the fountain.
Next: Moving on to the Vincent Thomas
Posted on July 23, 2018
If you’re driving the northern end of the Ring Road, Akureyri will be the best resource for everything from travel needs to accommodations. Akureyri is like other towns on the north coast. It’s at the end of a long fjord and has a mountainous backdrop. It has a long history in Iceland and as a fishing port. But…
… But with a population of almost 20,000, the town is huge compared to the rest of the north. It has a distinctive church, supermarkets, restaurants, swimming pool, banks, tour operators, clothing and bookstores, harbor, museums, hospital, airport (with regular flights to Reykjavik), actual nightlife, etc.
Being centrally located, most of the guidebooks mention that Akureyri is a good choice to stay. And the town does have reasonably priced accommodations (included AirBnB). But my accommodation approach was to stay close to the good landscape shooting locations. That gave me more chances for the Golden Hour light.
So for me, Lake Myvatn, 1 1/4 hours further east, was the better choice. Myvatn has the natural beauty, volcanic areas, and is right between Godafoss and Dettifoss. That said, after a week on the Ring Road, my visit to Akureyri felt like indulgence and I could have spent the entire day eating, shopping and sightseeing.
Photo Choices Around Town
Lystigardur. There’s a good botanical garden a short walk south of the main square. It showcases the indigenous plants as well as more exotic ones and is a great place to recharge.
Kjarnaskogur. This forest park is a popular spot for residents — about 7 km south of town. Take the main road past the airport and airplane museum and turn onto Rt. 831.
Camera Shop. Yes, Akureyri has a camera store, Pedromyndir. They have batteries, chargers, filters, tripods, memory cards, bags, lenses for Nikon and Canon, GoPro cameras and accessories. The folks who work there are real photographers and have fair prices. And getting a new lens cap there meant my 16-35mm lens was protected for the first time in a week. The store is at 16 Skipagata just across the street from the main parking lot in town. Phone: +354 462-3520, email: email@example.com.
Tip: The Berlin Cafe is a great location for breakfast, snacks and coffee. They also make excellent smoothies.
Next Up: The Northern Fjords
Posted on July 21, 2018
Lake Myvatn (pronounced me – vaht) is the blue gem in the intriguing volcanic area of north-northeast Iceland. Just an hour east of Akureyri, the small 14 sq. mile lake is nutrient, making it an attraction for migrating birds. The lake’s too far for most of the tour buses but it gets plenty of Icelanders and savvy tourists. For photographers, the Myvatn area offers a range of landscape possibilities and it’s worth two days (or more) for the Ring Roader.
Myvatn (like Thingvellir) is a marker for where the North American and European continental plates separate. The lake formed by a volcanic eruption 2300 years ago. And you’ll find everything from volcanic craters and lava columns by the lake. A few miles east, the landscape turns ochre to sulfur gray to lava black.
The lake side is deep green. Yes, there are small hotels and BnBs along the lake road, most in the tiny village of Reykjalid. The town has a small supermarket, gas station, visitor center. The area has various places to eat, an assortment of day tours, a fancy natural bath — and all the natural sights.
Going south from the town on Rt 848 are volcanic cones and lava columns along the water and into the green fields. Further south and east are the nutrient-rich wetlands feasting grounds for a vast range of wildfowl — including 15 or so species of ducks. The lake’s name my (midge) vatn (lake), is a result of the clouds of midges that come in summer.
Further afield, you’ll find Godafoss waterfall to the west and Dettifoss and Selfoss waterfalls about an hour’s drive east of the lake.
Photo locations (listed east to west)
Dettifoss & Selfoss. These classic waterfalls are a 40-60 minute drive east of Myvatn depending on which a access road you take. So if Myvatn is your home base, these natural wonders are on your short list.
Krafla. The Krafla area, northeast of Myvatn, includes a big lava field, crater lake, mud pots and a geothermal power station. Geologically, Krafla is how land looks in the first centuries after being created. Photographically the area is all about going abstract, going wide angle. Go 3 miles east of the lake on Rt 1, then take Rt 863 north for 7 km.
Hverarond. The distinctive brown-orange landscape called Hverarond (or Hverir) is worth a couple hours of walking and/or photo walkabout. There’s lots of mud pots, lava and sulphur streams here. But I was able to be there just before sunset and realized that this shot location makes the most of Golden Hour. Another location that likes wide angle. Tho a 24-70mm will work as well … or a 70-200, or…. Just off the Ring Road about 2 1/2 miles east of the lake.
Shooting Volcanics. I’m always hesitant to photograph stuff like mud pots. The colors are always strangely interesting (if not pretty). But the volcanic elements don’t always fit easily into a composition. So my approach here was to find clear design elements within the complexity.
With its unique coloring (and not so charming smell) this location deserves a couple hours of exploration. But like any enthusiast, I wanted to make the most of Iceland’s Golden Hour. So I decided to return again and do the place justice.
Shooting the Lake
West of Hverarond the Ring Road descends into the lake valley. This is where the turnoff for Jarðböðin við Mývatn, the Myvatn version of the Blue Lagoon, is located. The baths aren’t quite as spa-like as the Reykjavik attraction but there’s food, a great view, less tourists and less price inflation.
Grjotagja Cave. Just west of that turnoff is Rt. 860, the road that takes you to Grjotagja Cave, the hot springs that were featured in Game of Thrones.
East side of lake. A mile further west of the cave area, you’re at the junction of Rt. 1 and 848. Rt. 848 is the ring road around the eastern/southern half of the lake. That’s where Reykjahlid is located. But as you continue south, you begin to see the mixture of lake and volcanic views. There’s lot’s to work with.
Southern end of the lake.
Godafoss. Thirty miles west of Reykjalid on Rt 1 is another of the marquee waterfalls, Godafoss. It is a godly waterfall as its name might suggest. But the history of the “god-falls” name is that one of the forefathers got Christian and dumped all his statues to the Norse gods here.
Tech Specs: I got to Godafoss an hour after dawn. The falls are east-facing but the hills to the east were still blocking the sun. I took my time getting set up. Godafoss can be shot from either side of the river. But the main parking is to the north, just off Rt. 1. And that location opens up the composition (in my opinion) with some interesting foreground elements to choose from. I played around with long exposure but those seemed to have less impact.
I also drove over the bridge to the south side parking. On that side you can shoot from the cliffs or river’s edge. I didn’t get anything worth sharing.
Aldeyjarfoss. Twenty miles upstream from Godafoss is another impressive waterfall, Aldeyjarfoss. The landscape there is nothing but barren rock, much of it basalt. Plus the drive south along Rt 842 or 843 takes a while. But people have gotten good shots here.
Not too far from Lake Myvatn:
Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon. The most expansive canyon in Iceland comes into its own just below Dettifoss. The Hafraigilsfoss waterfall is located there, a couple of miles downstream from Dettifoss.
Ásbyrgi Canyon. Eighteen miles north of Dettifoss, is a couple mile long horseshoe-shaped depression with sheer walls. Legend has it that the canyon is a footprint of Odin’s 8 legged horse, Sleipnir. The place definitely has a mythic quality and a great area for hiking.
Húsavík Whale Watching. An hour’s drive north of Myvatn on Rt. 87 is Husavik, the whale watching capital of Iceland.
Next: on to Akureyri and the northern fjords.