Photographing Richard III
Posted on July 19, 2021
I wandered down to see Shakespeare By the Sea’s production of Richard III this weekend at Pt Fermin Park. It’s a fun show with lots of powerful moments. And since I happened to have my 70-200mm with me, I took some pics.
Photographing performances is way different from doing landscape art photos. It’s in real time and the moments come and go fast. But in a past life, I worked with a touring Shakespeare company, got an MFA, and did lots of acting and directing. So capturing moments in a play is a particular pleasure.
Richard III will be at Pt Fermin next weekend as well. The early comedy, Love’s Labour’s Lost, will be done there over 2 weekends in August.
Pacific Northwest Portfolio is Live
Posted on October 30, 2020
Well it appears that the portfolio is essentially wrapped up at least in terms of the post work — which has been ongoing since early Sept. Seems like it took forever. But I started with almost 2k of images, And, given the challenges of using Raw, each image needs to get touched by the photo artist’s hand.
In the last week the focus has been on getting the best 20 Pacific Northwest images ready to display — which requires lots of test printing on different papers — and media. I started by printed them all in 8×10. And now I’m starting to see how they look on metal and acrylic. And they mostly look great … now they’ve been touched (anointed) by assorted Adobe and Topaz products.
At this point, I just have to add them into Tim-Truby-Photography and start designing and putting together a sellers booth at Crafted. (That’s all?) I’ll have many of these displayed in Nov and Dec at the San Pedro arts and crafts warehouse, Crafted on 22nd St — along with my most recent Pedro, PV, South Bay landscapes. Crafted is open from 12-6 on Sat and Sun, soon on Friday as well. I’ll make announcements here and there. If you’re planning to visit, reach out and I can be there to give the cooks tour. I’m only 7 minutes away from the space.
For those who can make it downI should mention that seeing one of these immersive pieces in print rather than in a low rez Facebook makes a huge difference.
Seastacks and Smoke: A Photographer’s Journey in a Time of Plague
Posted on September 11, 2020
The idea for this journey began during our lockdown here in the South Bay. I’m a professional landscape photographer that’s lived in the South Bay since ’99. I photograph everything from the tidal pools along the coast to Iceland and Europe to the National Parks. And during the lockdown, it was frustrating not having access to any of that.
So I concocted a photo escape plan once the lockdown ended. The photo road trip I had planned for May, to Scotland, was out. But there are plenty of iconic photo locations in the USA away from crowds where I could just be out in nature.
The obvious answer was the Pacific Northwest. Not hard to get to, minimum of logistical hassles, way less Covid risk … and some of the best seascapes in America. So I took the two hour flight up to SeaTac and rented a car. And found myself in Forks, Washington, 20 miles from Olympic National Park and the sea stacks of Rialto Beach. Sweet.
Rialto is towards the top of the Contiguous 48, where the peninsula juts out into the north Pacific. And from the Makah Indian Reservation down to below La Push, on the Quileute Tribal Reservation, you’ll find one mythic seascape after another. These are the crown jewels of Olympic NP. … Sadly, several of the iconic beach locations were closed because of the lockdown. But Rialto Beach was open — and glorious.
With over a mile of thick sand and massive bleached tree trunk, Rialto is big. Hike north a mile, you come upon a couple of hulking sea stacks. They’re practically joined at the hips, have been for a millennium or two, and almost have personalities. If they were in Iceland, it would be the old troll sisters frozen at sunrise. I laid my pack and camera on an old tree trunk, open up the tripod and took it all in.
The shot. I got to Rialto just before sunset so I was working quite fast. The composition wasn’t hard to see, side-by-side monoliths leading the eye towards distant rocks and that final sunset glow. Basically a foreground-midground-background shot. I shot it a bit dark so as not to blow out the sky. For photo techies, my settings were f10, ISO 100, 3.2 sec. That long exposure smoothed out the surf and helped evoke the mythic nature of the place.
My post style. This image has a different feel from most of the photos on Instagram or Facebook. That’s partly because of my post production (Photoshop, Lightroom) choices. The great challenge for landscape photographers is dynamic range. No camera can “see” the sun and deep shadows at the same time, not like the eyes. So to capture the full range of nature, we shoot Raw. Then use the software tools to pull out shadow texture, save sky colors that have been blown out, any anything else you can imagine.
Each person uses these algorithmic tools in their own ways (as do the phone makers). The style I’ve developed is definitely my own. It’s a style that feels heightened in some ways, more 3D than that flat camera look. It gets called painterly. Which is partly because painters use the same techniques if they want to create depth and a more subjective reality.
These images push beyond the 2D camera version of reality because human eyes and brains see and feel nature differently. Because I want the viewer to be immersed in an art photograph as if they were there.
Each artist makes post production choices. Even the guy who gets the file out of camera and goes straight to PRINT is making a choice. So I use the Raw file as if it were a symphonic score that comes alive once it’s played. I don’t add stuff that isn’t there at pixel level. I do eliminate junk from the picture (branches, a person or two, etc.) with Photoshop. I’m creating an art work, not doing photo journalism. So I touch each image as a photo painter, adding layers, creating an interior world using brushes Ansel Adams never imagined. This image is the Rialto Beach of my imagination, not Canon’s.
Cannon Beach. Next stop on my photo tour was northern Cannon Beach in northern Oregon. This little beach town, just off the coastal 101, seems carved out of the forest. It’s 1 1/2 hours west of Portland and about half the size of Carmel. Cannon isn’t old money and high art like Carmel but with lots of BnBs and restaurants, it’s got tons of charm. The eastern edge of the beach has friends and families huddled around the fire pits — giving the beach a hickory smell and sense of community. And at low tide the waves slip over the wide beach like a liquid mirror of light.
Even in August there was an openness you can’t find in SoCal. The evening was cool and breezy and up beach, families and a young crowd was around the big fires that were set up. Other folks strolled out to the water’s edge to warm in the setting sun. A community savoring the sunset with no need for mask or worry.
Cannon Beach is a place of communion for the town, much like the South Bay beaches, but less populous.The entire state of Oregon has half the population of LA County. And as I traveled south, I kept marveling at the vast coastline and the lack of congestion. With so much seascape and dense forest, a morning walk can be a time for solitude.
Hug Point. So, once you leave Cannon heading south on Hwy 101, the human presence gives way to forest and ocean. And even just a mile south of Cannon on 101 puts you into the dense forests of the Pacific Northwest. The area from the Silver Point Overlook out to Hug Point is emblematic of the real coast, the part most folks never see except for from the road.
Until well into the 20th Century, the area around Hug Point was too densely forested to have a coastal road. So stagecoaches and early automobiles drove along this stretch of beach to cover ground. But at Hug Point a vehicle had to be careful, hug close to the cliff-edge, especially at high tide.
Landscape photography should be about mood, moment, the feeling one gets when out in nature. The experience of awe. It’s not a new feeling. Been around for thousands of years. The Romantic poets were serious practitioners of this, just look at Tinturn Abbey: “… on a wild secluded scene impress/Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect/The landscape with the quiet of the sky.”
This feeling is everywhere in the art world. It’s an idea embodied by the Hudson River School (long before Ansel) … and ancient Taoist landscape painters. I loved both of those styles of painting when I was growing up. The Hudson River School because they had those majestic paintings of Yosemite and the Sierras. The Chinese pen and ink painters because they could evoke that sense of awe-in-nature so purely with washes of black ink on white paper.
And this image of Hug Point is like my take on a Chinese landscape pen and ink. It’s a mood. A woman walking a vast expanse of beach on an overcast morning. And what she’s thinking may not be too far removed from that of the Taoist monk immersed in a mountain scene. A walk on the beach as a meditation. An image can evoke the awe just as surely as Wordsworth.
Cape Kiwanda. The Cape Kiwanda Natural Area is a large sandstone peninsula on the outskirts of Pacific City, a town of a thousand. It’s not much of a city. It’s got motels, a handful or restaurants, a craft brewery, grocery store, no pharmacy but two cannabis dispensaries.
When I’m doing a photo road trip part of my MO is to target points of particular interest and stay as close as possible to my landscape shot locations. I stayed in Pacific City for two nights just because of Cape Kiwanda. Much of the Oregon Coast has an igneous origin. The Kiwanda sandstone bluffs have been shaped into natural sculptures by the waves and I spent hours wandering there.
For the image above, I found a high point in the cliffs and use the thrust of the cliffs as a leading line with Haystack Rock in the distance. On the top left you can see sunset worshippers perched atop the cliffs. I used my 16-35mm lens to capture the vastness of it. I tried a long exposure but a faster shutter speed (1/200th) better captured the dynamism of high wind and big waves.
Just north of the first image, I hopped the fence and came to the end of Cape Kiwanda. I used the Kiwanda cliffs to frame the distant beach. Since it was Golden Hour, the side lighting brought out the shape of the cliffs. And in post I brought out the sandstone texture and the softness of the forest and clouds beyond. The result is that the eye goes on a journey — from the warm light and texture of the cliff to the waves and pastel beach to clouds and distant hills. It’s a photograph the eye can get lost in.
One of my watercolorist friends thought this image was a pastel at first. And with an image like this one, it’s not hard to bend the visual notes in the direction of pastel or watercolor — links like how a blues harpist might bend a note. But somehow, when I mix the painterly textures with a camera’s high def imaging, the imagination starts to take over.
Thor’s Well. Yachats, Oregon, midway down the coast, was my next stop. It’s a bit larger than Pacific City and had a couple of must-see shot locations — Thor’s Well being the most challenging. Every photograph has challenges — lighting, composition, shutter speed, logistics, etc. And a tidal pool like Thor’s Well is particularly complicated.
The first hurdle is that the Well only works its magic at high tide. You need to have waves flowing over the high rocks, down into the “well” and out again through the lava tube. No high tide, no show. I knew that early on, I’d called the state park rangers before my trip. Thor’s Well also has the usual challenges, you need to be there when the light is good, i.e. at sunset. It also helps to have nice clouds and a slower shutter speed to capture the excitement of the flowing water. And when I got to Yachats, I didn’t have any of that.
The tides weren’t cooperating, there was nothing I could do. I still scouted the spot, figured out the best way to capture the Well. I hiked some trails, photographed the Hecate Lighthouse which is 15 miles further south. But I didn’t have any captures of the well to share. And after two days, I drove south to Bandon Beach, my next stop. The next evening, I did the two hour drive back up to Thor’s Well when the tides and light were more cooperative.
Hecate Head Lighthouse. Here in the South Bay, we have three lighthouses, Point Vicente, Point Fermin and Angels Gate. The lighthouse at Point Fermin is my fave partly because of the lovely garden, partly that there’s the whole “house” part where the keeper lived. I also live just up the hill, so I like that.
The one at Hecate is different, esp. in how it connects with the tough Oregon coastline. That’s one thing about lighthouses, they have a job beyond their lives as calendar photos. And the Pacific Northwest has always been a hard coastline for ships, particularly in winter. Just look at images of Cape Disappointment on Instagram or 500px.
Heceta looks out over forest and cliff. And just below Hecate is a mountainous island that the waves point against.
The shot. This image is all about composition and context. This location needed for me see I needed to climb up the hill behind the lighthouse. To get that visual alignment of glowing lighthouse light, rocky island and distant coast. The lineup is almost mathematical, almost Zen. And you get a boost of adrenalin when you’re standing in the right spot.
Post. Basically, you can’t shoot in Raw without doing post. It’s a digital negative. Notice the rocky edges of the island and coast? The scent of Douglas Fir? How the fresnel bulb glows in the sunset, the effulgence of light along the right side. Those are all pulled out. And when you look at this image now, it seems obvious and right. And it’s the best approximation of how I saw it last August I could do.
But doing post is something like repairing a car. There’s lots of ways of seeing the problem and fixing it, but a very few of those ways will allow the car to run. I think this version of a Heceta Head sunset captures a piece of the sacred. … but
An evening in Bandon. Bandon Beach (like Cannon) was a place I could see living. Yes, the place gets 62 inches of rain a year. But that beach, wow. The town is charming as well with homes along the plateau above the beach. Half a mile north, old town Bandon. Shops, seafood places — all outdoors, a little bookstore, good pastry place, no boat tours now. But it’s August with a nice flow of visitors and the folks are making it work.
But the beach is the icing. It goes on forever with the big sea stacks sprinkled here and there, over a mile from Table Rock down to Haystack. You could get lost here on an August evening.
This was an easy shot to see. From the overlook, that set of monoliths is like an arrow to a sunset. The third leg of the triangle is the couple down at the bottom left rule of thirds point. And they’re tiny down there, visually. But she’s wearing turquoise blue. And their attention is the anchor point, the bow.
Once you’re below the cliffs, you’re in a different universe. An occasional tourist, a photog with tripod. The birds own the beach now. The sea fans out on the smooth sand. … Being here’s not the same as shooting Iceland’s sea arch, Gatklettur in March at 4:30 am. You’re on a different ocean. It’s warmer, you can go barefoot. And you notice the sea birds flying up the beach with golden light dripping down from above. Art as experience.
To me every landscape image is pure physics, pure math; a rock mass, the pull of a wave, a painted sky — balance. Get this close to things and the simplicity of physics becomes clear.
By this point I was getting better at listening to the scene I was being given. And it didn’t hurt that I didn’t have all the footprints in the sand. That reminded me to see the beach as canvas — a canvas I wandered through until picture could emerge. And right about now I was taking in this chunk of rock and the seagulls ahead who really didn’t want to move for me. And I got that … and they were nicely in a line as they drifted into Blue Hour. And I stepped a bit to the right to make the most of that big swath of gold.
It was almost the end of Blue Hour when I left that night. Walking up all those steps, dragging my tripod. The camera was already stowed in my pack. And I noticed the reddish glow on the hill grasses and a sprinkling of flowers. And just behind me, the sky saying goodnight. So I pulled the camera out….
Southern Oregon Coast. Driving 80 miles south of Bandon gets you to Brookings, Oregon, arguably the least developed (so most natural) section of the coast. But what a coastline. Meyers Creek Beach is a vast expanse of sand dunes, native grasses and sea stacks. A few miles further south are miles of hiking along the coastal cliffs and through dense forest. I spent three days there and couldn’t get enough of the high grasses and smell of spruce.
The Shot. When I first take in a location, one I’ve never been to, I do two things: 1. Look at what the light’s doing and 2. Figure out the key elements. I see if there’s an enticing foreground — maybe native grasses catching the warm sun. Then there’s how the creek cuts its way past the sunlit beach. And for a background, the sky with sea stacks. Once you’ve got the right ingredients, it’s just a question of giving each the room to breath.
Meyers Beach #2 was photographed 50 yards further north and 50 minutes later. But here I used the creek as a leading line and found a way to add the reflection. Just the big curve of quiet water gives a different feeling … of reflection.
Samuel Boardman Scenic Area. Drive ten miles south of Meyers Creek and the wide beaches give way to dense forests. There are numerous pull-outs along 101. Each stop links you to trails that overlook secret coves and stretch for miles. I spent a couple of days in Boardman and gave up trying to make sense of the landscape. I got lost several times which was OK because the overlooks were always amazing. Plus I knew I just had to walk up hill to get back to 101 and my car.
This spot, down from the Natural Bridges Viewpoint was a total discovery for me. An amazing view south along the coast and this
Last Stop, Sonoma Coast. I continued my road trip south on 101 through Northern California: Eureka, Mendocino, Gualala. By now I was running into way more tourists. Folks from further east trying to get away from the heat and the Covid risks of Sacramento, San Francisco or the wine country. And it’s amazing country that I need to explore further.
But my key landscape location in Northern California was the Sonoma Coast. The area around Jenner is a bit like the cliffs along Big Sur but with sea stacks. And I booked into a BnB in Jenner and gave myself two days to capture it. After I checked in and dumped my stuff, I scouted the best locations as the afternoon turned into an unusual Golden Hour.
By late afternoon, the wildfires to the east were getting noticeable — even when looking due south.
To the north, the fire was more obvious but not too threatening. Though it had become a subject of picnic conversation.
An hour later, at sunset, those of us still out could see how unique the moment had become.
By 8PM only a few folks were still at the park. But for the four folks with cameras, the feeling was you were capturing a historic news event — but the way a landscape artist does it — through composition and color. Capturing the moment was important in a different way.
As composition, this image has two leading lines. On the left, the trail through the grass leads the eye into a perfect sunset. And three photographers are capturing that moment. On the right, the rough Sonoma coastline leads the eye to the smoke that’s obliterating the sky — which the photogs are also capturing.
It’s a visual moment that is immensely beautiful — and on many levels, horrifying. These fires caused immense damage. They sent a wave of fear throughout California. The smoke stayed with us for a few months. People died. And both of these elements, sunset and fire, are essential cycles of life here in the West. Not that I knew all those ramifications when I captured this image.
With the sunset, I headed back to my room in Jenner. But before I did, I took a few more photos from the road in front of the motel. In the middle of that photo, a big F250 pickup truck drove by like a bat out of hell. Literally. When I got to my room I found a post-it note that said “Evacuation Order.” A couple of minutes later, a police cruiser drove by telling folks to leave town immediately.
I couldn’t see finding any other lodgings in the area, not at that point. So I got onto the Coast Hwy heading south towards San Francisco. I found a room at one of the airport hotels at about 11. The next day I drove home, the sky orange with smoke almost the entire way.
The Northwestern Coast, it turns out is even more than I imagined. Quiet dunes, sea stacks, waves painting pastel beaches, set up against old growth forest. It was just what the soul required. There were other tourists, mostly folks from Oregon or Washington, all coming to the coast to reestablish that primal connection to nature, color and the pursuit of good light.
I’ve had a wide ranging career. An MFA in theater, ten years of acting, and teaching theater, a move to the South Bay in 99 when I was doing web site marketing, content and product development — and the occasional SAG job. By the time I got to Cars.com, I did all their photo work — portraits, event shooting there as well as my Product Mgt role. Moving to the South Bay also gave me access to the strong photo community here, and the Pauls Photo classes. And with my background in the arts, I did the same kind of serious training in photography and composition, Lightroom and Nik, location shooting, that I had done in my earlier acting, directing, play writing.
After Cars.com came the two shooting Utah parks books. That led to my current approach, doing long three or four week photo tours, like the one I just did from Olympic NP down to Oregon and finally Sonoma. Previous photo tours, solo or with my wife, were in China, Monument Valley, Scotland, Canyon de Chelly, Rome and Venice, Iceland, Cinque Terre and Amalfi, etc., — and back here shooting the coast.
And these Northwest Pacific art pieces are the other side of the photo travel, the best 6 or 8 compositions that I will add to my web site, show at galleries, enter in contests and sometimes see in someone’s home. True, landscape photographers don’t support themselves just by selling their art. It’s called doing what you like … and doing it well.
With my background in acting, writing, and business, the photography has been the next step in artistic exploration. I love the process: shooting, shaping the image into art in post, and sharing of the work with like minded souls. Only the best get posed on Instagram or my local Facebook groups. I’ve done 8 or 10 shows locally, won awards (1st Place at the OC Photo Contest). Now I’m doing a holiday show of the Pacific Northwest work (plus some local faves) I’m calling Mythic Pacific. That’s weekends at Crafted in San Pedro at 112 E. 22nd St.
Web site: Tim-Truby-Photography.com
Sam Boardman SP and the Southern Beaches
Posted on September 7, 2020
The very bottom of the state has some of the most impressive moments of any in Oregon. Just above Brookings is a warren of trails and coves surrounded by dense forest. It’s a lot to take in folks can spend a week getting . And north of that are more expansive of the rough cut beaches, Gold and Meyers River, barely inhabited spots trimmed with dunes and native grasses and the iconic coastal rock outcrops.
Loving Bandon Beach
Posted on September 1, 2020
On the southern side of the Oregon Coast, Bandon Beach is a standout. The beach seems endlessly long but it’s got plenty of areas to explore thanks to the distinctive sea stacks like Wizard’s Hat and Face Rock. I found myself starting by shooting from the long bluff above the beach then heading down to explore the sea stacks more closely while I moved in and out depending on the flow of tides. And it doesn’t hurt that all this beauty is no more than a few minutes from lodgings and restaurants.
Central Oregon Coast
Posted on September 1, 2020
The coastal area from the Newport area down to Yachats has one cool photo location after another. Yaquina and Heceta Head, the lighthouses that guard that rough-edged coast, are worth a photo walkabout. Seal Rock Rec area is worth experiencing at sunrise or sunset. Round it all off with the views from Cape Perpetua and the iconic Thor’s Well. It’s good stuff.
Cape Kiwanda area Images
Posted on August 30, 2020
For anyone driving the Oregon coast who’s interested in photography, Cape Kiwanda is a must see. This state preserve located on the outskirts of Pacific City, is one of the most distinctive geological areas along the coast. The limestone cliffs are like sculptures shaped by thousands of years of wave action. And the Cape’s color palette works beautifully against the deep blue of the Pacific. I spent two full days shooting here and farther north around Walden Island and wished I had spent longer.
Images of Cannon Beach, Oregon
Posted on August 30, 2020
Portfolio image #1: Seljalandsfoss
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.
Welcome to Iceland
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