Portfolio image #1: Seljalandsfoss

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 had gotten Seljalandsfoss images that captured my loopy mood on that first day — and capturing the mood of a place isn’t a trivial thing. But the average person won’t hang a dark, moody Iceland shot in the den.

However, one trick you learn is to keep a shot location card catalogue in your head. That way you can come back to spots that have potential under the right conditions. And I knew that the behind-the-falls shot can be almost otherworldly at sunset.

So when I did the Ring Road again in August, I stopped at some fav locations for a third bite of the apple. And on my final night in Vik, I noticed the weather clearing up. A real Iceland sunset was being served up at Seljalandsfoss.

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, headed into the cave — with heart pounding.

From in there, the dense mist and moss provides a womb-like atmosphere. 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 stopped. This spot made me imagine that the cave itself had its eye on the light show; 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.

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A photograph is a distillation of light, color, shape, balance … feeling.    [1/40th sec, f13, 19mm]

 

Welcome to Iceland

There was supposed to be a guy at the airport entrance holding sign with my name on it. Nope. By 5:30AM, I’d left passport control at Iceland’s Keflavik International, suitcase and camera pack in hand. 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.

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Keflivik Airport statute, phone shot. Pretty cool for airport art but I could tell they were cold too.

By 6:30, 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.

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A classic behind the wheel phone shot from just east of the city. This section of Rt. 1 is a 4 lane highway.

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, the body was running on empty.

My job

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. The spirit of a place doesn’t need to be a bells and whistles shot.

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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.

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Iceland presents so many compositions that are clean and stripped down: here, a harsh-edge mountain pressing against a curve of road.

Road Shots

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.

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Another roadside pullout. Classic leading line photo

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.

Seljalandsfoss

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.

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The path up to Seljalandsfoss and its cave.

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.

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.

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Seljalandsfoss at 1/2 sec. exposure. Adding a slightly slower exposure time emphasized the speed of the stream and power of the wind. Now the falls were wispy, like a candle on the edge of being snuffed out.

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

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 …

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Gljufrabui Cave, .6 sec, f10

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.

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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
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South Coast Overview

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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

Photo Walkabout at Fjaðrárgljúfur

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.

Fjaðrárgljúfur, part of Katla Geopark

Fjaðrárgljúfur, looking upstream. I emphasized the curve of the left hand wall and the river as the obvious leading line.

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.

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Iceland in the summer. All I’m doing with the composition is following the curve of the geology into the distance. In post I softened the foreground grassland, lightened the canyon shadows and brushed in extra clarity, cooled off the sky — just getting the image to look the way the day felt.

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.

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At the high point of the canyon, the entire canyon is laid out before you. You can’t get it all in unless you go fish-eye. I decided to focus on this one curve in the river. The biggest challenge was how shadowed and contrasty the canyon was in late morning. That meant lightening up on the dark areas in post and added weight to the lava columns. One I’d eliminated the flatness of Raw, it was like entering a different realm.

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.

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At the Klaustur Roundabout

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.

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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.

Guesthouse Klauster and Systrafoss falls as seen from a pull-off on Rt. 1.

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. 

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The pull-offs in this area offer several vantage points for photographing how the Laki event looks today. The experience, miles of moss and black lava, is almost otherworldly — and hard to capture in a composition. But finding a bit of hillside allowed me to make sense of the amorphous blobs and use Rt. 1 as a leading line.

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. 

An old sod-roof shed, a path into a dark wood, the sound of a waterfall. In Iceland, the old world, the land of the Sagas, is just at the edges of our modern time.
Forests are hard for the camera to make sense of — too many design elements mushed together. But I opened up the lens, narrowed the DOF to capture the mood.
Systrafoss from the trail viewpoint. Not sure who the model on the rock was. 
From higher up the trail, the substratum of Laki lava gets obvious.

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.

Up next: Photo Walkabout at Fjaðrárgljúfur river canyon

Notes on a Portfolio Review

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

The Northern Fjords, Pt 1

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.

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Fjord north of Akureyri

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.

Trip Details

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.

South of Dalvik

Down from an overlook pulloff just before entering Dalvik.

South of Dalvik

In black and white

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.

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Pull-off below Olafsfjordur

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.

 Siglufjordur

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.

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Back yard Siglufjordur (iPhone)

And after rest and dinner, I wandered out camera in hand.

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Next morning I visited the old herring boat for one final shot before continuing my drive along the coast.

Hofsos

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.

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Hofsos harbor and beach looking across the fjord.

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A basalt outcrop on the beach at Hofsos. I was playing around with long exposure, timed to capture the wave’s inflow.

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.

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Car museum.

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.

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East of Saudarkrokur looking north. Finding the right sand dunes as foreground was my main concern.

 

 

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.

 

Vincent Thomas Bridge: Two choices

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.

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15 Sec, f8

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.

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Aug 15, 2018, 30 sec., f6.3

This one above was fairly similar to the shot I did for my gallery show in March:

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From November 2017, 1/50th sec.

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.

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Vincent Thomas from Knoll Hill, 6 sec., f13

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.

 

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