Notes on a Portfolio Review

IMG_1745

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.

IMG_1796

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.

2G7A6629

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.

2G7A6649-Edit

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.

IMG_1014

Back yard Siglufjordur (iPhone)

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

2G7A6720

Hofsos harbor and beach looking across the fjord.

2G7A6739

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.

OldestChurchIceland

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.

2G7A6780-Edit

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.

2G7A7426

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.

2G7A7425

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

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

2G7A3680-Edit

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.

2G7A7447

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.

 

SaveSave

Vincent Thomas Nite Shoot #1, Fountain Studies

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.

2G7A7354

Finding my spot before the big show — and following the light. 25 sec, f22

2G7A7361

The fountain begins, .8 sec, f4

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

2G7A7390

A second angle, .6 sec, f7.1

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.

2G7A7394

Explosion, 1/10 sec. f5

 

 

2G7A7416

Is this art or clash of cymbals?

Once the show got going I had more luck catching how the audience engaged with the fountain.

2G7A7423

Drenched, 1/50 sec., f6.3

Next: Moving on to the Vincent Thomas

Akureyri, Iceland’s Northern Metropolis

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…

Eyjafjordur pull-off

The fjord countryside northeast of Akureyri

… 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.

Akureyri church

The church is up the hill from the town center.

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: pedromyndir@pedromyndir.is.

001

Tip: The Berlin Cafe is a great location for breakfast, snacks and coffee. They also make excellent smoothies.

Next Up: The Northern Fjords

 

 

Lake Myvatn, Jewel of the North

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.

2G7A6508

Wide angle of Hverarond just before sunset. I’m not sure what was flowing in the graphite-gray stream but that became a leading line to pull the eye into the otherworldly location.

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.

2G7A6509

Hverarond #2. Playing with foreground/background layering of the various eco elements.

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.

2G7A6609

Grjotagja Cave. The cave entrance is on the east so I got here (early) in the morning allowing me to avoid other visitors. I worked my way as far as I could to the side (watch for the low ceiling) and used a tripod.

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.

2G7A6533

Midway on east side, shooting north.

East side of Lake Myvatn

Hverfjall. On the east side of Rt. 848 is Hverfjall, a volcanic cone. It’s also a hiking destination.

Pond off road on east side of Myvatn

Pond just east of the Lake Myvatn ring road.

Southern end of the lake.

2G7A6554

Myvatn at 3 AM

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.

2G7A6588

Godafoss, 1/200 sec., f6.3

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.

 

Northwest Iceland, a Visit to Dettifoss Waterfall

The section of the Ring Road from Egilsstadir to Lake Myvatn was my least favorite drive. You leave the east coast, head past lush farm lands and drive through fields of black lava for much of the two hours it takes to get to Lake Myvatn. 

There is one important photo location along this section of Ring Road, the Dettifoss waterfall.  Dettifoss is about 85 miles east of Eglisstadir, 25 miles from Lake Myvatn, and the most powerful waterfall in Iceland. Plus, it’s adjacent to Selfoss, a waterfall of equal beauty.

Logistical issues. Dettifoss and Selfoss are something of a rarity in Iceland, they can be approached easily from either side. Rt. 862, the western approach, is shorter and paved. It gets the lion’s share of tourists. This western viewpoint doesn’t give much glimpse of the gorge below.

From the east side, you can walk right up to the cliff edge and aren’t as hampered by the managed overlooks. Unfortunately,  Rt 864 is a longer drive down a dirt road. The route is also less accessible. This section of the Ring Road is at a higher altitude so there are snow issues for most of the year. I had planned to shoot Dettifoss from both sides. But when I came in early May, 864 was closed; the sign saying (in nicer words) if you get stuck on this road, you’ll need a second mortgage to pay the towing fees. So I went with the flow.

Best light. On the other hand, I discovered that Dettifoss’ western view is the better choice in the afternoon. The river, Jokulsa a Fjollum, flows south to north so you’re shooting with the sun behind you. The eastern view will get better light in the morning and a better view upstream. Of course this being Iceland, you’re likely to be shooting on an overcast day.

Layout. An easy walk from the parking lot takes you to a couple of fenced off overlooks. The first overlook is just above the falls. The downstream overlook gives a cleaner composition. It’s easier to get the entire falls into frame.

Dettifoss Waterfall

1/20 sec., F20

This framing gave me some nice leading lines into the image. And since there was a perfect rainbow, I used it. I did play around with shutter speeds at this spot. This waterfall is a powerhouse and I wanted a (somewhat) slower shutter speed to suggest movement in the water without sacrificing definition. So for me, anything slower than 1/20 second gave too much smoothing to the falls for my taste.

One note: The swirling black and white along the cliff edge (center) are patterns in the snow. I’m not sure how they got created but I like the effect. Also, notice that the rainbow stops in midair.

As far as post, I mostly just lightened up the shadows in the lower third of the image.

Selfoss

Another nice thing about this shot location is that it’s a twofer. The Selfoss waterfall is just a ten minute walk upstream. (You’ll see the path off to the left as you head back towards the parking lot.)

Selfoss has just as much water flow as Dettifoss (duh) but the layout allows you to shoot from the cliff edge. Plus, Selfoss has a number of smaller falls leading the eye up to the central area of it. So there are any number of ways you can compose the image successfully.

Selfoss Waterfall

1/500 sec., F8

At 1/500 sec., the foreground waterfall becomes lattice-like and the turbulence in the river is nicely detailed.  So this approach seemed to capture what made Selfoss so unique at that moment.

Between the two waterfalls, the gorge narrows and the river moves fast. So I spent longer working this location, seeing how a longer exposure would impact the motion of water. Here’s an example of that.

Selfoss Waterfall

1/10th sec., F22

For me, the slower shutter speed was too weird. I don’t mind the fall’s blur on the right side. But that 1/10th sec exaggerates the river motion. It’s a powerful photographic choice. But I get almost sea sick looking at it and I can’t imaging anyone having this image on their wall. I could have gone for a much longer exposure, 1-5 minutes. But then I lose all the detailing in the river. And those powerhouse rapids are what captured my attention that afternoon.

None of this is meant to say how these two waterfalls “ought” to be photographed. These perceptions are what moved me on that afternoon. With different lighting, different water levels, I would have gone with another approach. The point is to engage with a place, let it “speak” to you, then use your tools to capture the feeling.

Post. For the two Selfoss images, my core adjustments were to equalize the effects of the light differences. The cliffs getting direct sun were a bit harsh and blown out, the cliffs and water in shadow were too dark. That’s a common challenge for us.

While shooting, I was talking with a young couple about the challenges of photographing a scene like this. They were enjoying the moment, I was thinking out loud.  I probably mentioned how dark the shadows were getting. It was 6:30 by now but the two ladies could still see every detail in the rocks (on the right side) with no trouble. The camera was registering all that as black since I didn’t want the sky getting blown out. People often think you should just “photograph what’s there.” But what the eye sees isn’t what the camera can deliver. That’s the point of post production, the point of shooting in RAW.

…………………..

After shooting Selfoss, I headed down into a final black plain towards Lake Myvatn, my stop for the night. The deep blue lake is a relief after the lava flats. As I noticed early on, in Iceland you don’t have to drive far before the landscape transforms.

2G7A6466

Lake Myvatn is just beyond the mountains.

Hafraigilsfoss waterfall. If you have more time, Hafraigilsfoss waterfall is just a couple of miles downstream from Dettifoss. At this point you’re within Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon which goes on for miles to the north. It’s a popular hiking area. The two roads to Dettifoss, 862 and 864, parallel the canyon. But after Dettifoss, Rt. 862 becomes a dirt road as well.

SaveSave

The Hike to Svartifoss Waterfall

Skaftafell National Park (now part of Vatnajökull National Park) is most known for the scenic Svartifoss, a basalt-columned waterfall at the base of Iceland’s largest glacier field. Hint: the hike to Svartifoss is also worth your attention. It’s good to keep the eyes open. Plus, other sections to the park have their own views, including glacier vistas. Skaftafell’s a worthwhile stop on a Ring Road tour.

I didn’t bother to show up at Skaftafell till about 9AM. If it’s a rainy day, there’s no point in catching the dawn light. So I slept in, enjoyed Skaftafell Hotel’s free breakfast and tossed my suitcase in the trunk. (I was at a guesthouse just east of the Glacier Lagoon that evening.)

Layout. The park is just a few miles off Rt. 1 and there’s lots of parking (you can pay for that at the park’s visitors center). The help desk folks are all knowledgeable.

Skiaftafell

A big piece of the park is glacier and there are several companies located to the left of the parking lot that do tours each day. In addition, there are a number of hiking trails criss-crossing the non-glacier section of park, that long spit of land (above).

Trails

The rangers all seem to be total pros. The guy I spoke with gave me some good tips as to the more photogenic trails. The S2 trail goes to Svartifoss, S1 goes along the flatlands to the base of the glacier. S5 heads up a ridge that overlooks the glacier and the eastern mountain range. That’s what I ended up doing.

The paved Svartifoss trail starts just left of the Visitor Center. It has a fair amount of vertical elevation at first, then the trail levels out. For me, things got interesting even in that first section of the climb, where there’s a small bridge over a mountain stream. From the bridge, the view was nice but with too many branches and brambles to get a clean shot. So instead of following the crowd up to the marquee event, I found a path down and in front of the bridge and below the overhang.

From here I was close to the stream and some good foreground choices. With a 15-35mm wide angle, the shot just fell into place.

On path to Svartifoss waterfall, Skaftafell National Park

1/15 sec., F22 (All images are handheld, I didn’t bother with the tripod for the shutter speed I was going with.)

On path to Svartifoss waterfall, Skaftafell National Park

1/5 sec., F22. From under the bridge

By now it was raining again so I grabbed the poncho from my day pack. After the terrain levels there are a couple of waterfall overlooks to the left, for Hundafoss and Magnusarfoss waterfalls. (Foss means waterfall.) Both falls have lots of vegetation so getting a clean photo is tricky. This one turned out OK.

Hundafoss waterfall Skaftafell National Park

Magnusarfoss waterfall, 5. sec., F22

Not long after these waterfalls, you can see Svartifoss up valley.

Svartifoss waterfall, Skaftafell National Park

Svartifoss waterfall from the ridge, 1/400 sec., F20

Svartifoss waterfall, Skaftafell National Park

Svartifoss waterfall, Skaftafell National Park. 1/250 sec., F11

Most images you see of Svartifoss are taken from either that bridge or along the creek. Here I preferred to include more of the valley. Part of that was just the situation. The vegetation was just starting to take on that red-brown spring coloring. Plus from higher up, the valley, bridge, mountains behind become part of a context that humans are a tiny part of. These images remind me of the old Chinese pen and ink watercolors, a traveling monk lost in a vast landscape.

But here’s an example of a more standard Svartifoss landscape shot from below.

Svartifoss waterfall, Skaftafell National Park

Svartifoss from creek level. 1/25 sec., F20

The waterfall and the basalt columns are a more central part of the image from this viewpoint. But the creek itself is visually busy with all the boulders. If I do a 500px search for Svartifoss, the images that hold my attention are mostly the long exposure ones. Doing a longer exposure here would have hidden some of the busyness in the creek behind the gossamer texture. But I haven’t seen many Svartifoss images that grabbed me.

I made one final discovery walking back. The Svartifoss creek and the trail were perfect leading lines for a photo of the entire area.

View trail to Svartifoss waterfall, Skaftafell National Park

Southern view, Skaftafell National Park. 1/500 sec., F11

Doing the S6-S5 trail

For a longer stay at the park, it’s worth it to hike a few miles more on the S5 trail — up to the glacier overlook. The easiest way to get there, if doing the Svartifoss trial (S2), is to look for a sign for Sjonarnipa. This is the S6 trail that runs into S5 (the trail number isn’t marked as such). It’s a nice trail that does a slow climb up the wide ridge.

2G7A7945

After @ a mile and a half, you’re at an overlook of the glacier, Skaftafellsjokull, and the eastern mountains. Nice.

2G7A79442G7A7956

And heading back to the visitors center along S5 rather than going back the Svartifoss route the view continues.

Chinese Temple Dog

 

Tip: After all that hiking, there’s a nice cafeteria (soup, sandwiches, dessert) attached to the Visitors Center that’s a good value and a great place to chill.

 

SaveSave

Take Care of Your Tools

There were several times on the road when I was reminded of my Yankee side — that part of me that takes a hard look at things, tells you to own up when you screw up. And I had one Yankee moment on the trail up to the Svartifoss waterfall.

Early on, I came to a bridge over a creek. I took the place in: a rushing stream, red-brown bramble lining the banks, rain clouds above. Of course I had to shoot it.

By now, I was under the bridge, close to the water. A wide angle was the choice, i.e. my 16-35mm that no longer had a cap. I looked the glass over as I screwed the lens in place.

My slip of a hand on that cold day was still a bother. It was an easy mistake that had non-trivial consequences. This two week shoot was important to me, as business and as creative opportunity. I’ve planned it up the kazoo. And this essential lens could easily get damaged given the spring conditions. Plus I hadn’t heard of a single store on the Ring Road that would have DSLR lens caps. (I found one a week later up in Akureyri.)

Point taken. I got my head back into photographing the little stream.

On path to Svartifoss waterfall, Skaftafell National Park

Shooting under the bridge, Skaftafell National Park

Five shots later, the 24-105mm was on my Canon, the 15-35mm was in my pack (in one of those little lens bags). I had pulled out my poncho. Yes, there was a steady rain by now and yes, I had remembered to bring rain gear. As I walked, I returned to thinking how I could be more attentive, mindful. …

… My father used to say you always take care of your tools. Clean the paint brush you used. Put the hammer back where it came from. Basic dad stuff, basic life lessons. The early landscape photo pioneers had the same practical perspective on things, maybe that’s what made them pioneers. I started making mental notes of stuff I needed to attend to.

Stuff I need to attend to, a personal list 

  • Put the lens back where it belongs when you switch to a new one … same for ND, CPL filters, cable release, etc.
  • Put your lens cap into your left-hand pants pocket (my system) when you’re shooting.
  • Bring water.
  • Bring extra gear, poncho, windbreaker, etc., if there’s a chance you’ll need them.
  • Bring a camera cover in Iceland, you’ll need it at some point during the day.
  • Check your camera settings before you start shooting.
  • Take the location in, breathe it in, before you start shooting.
  • Keep the rest of your gear close at hand.
  • Don’t take unnecessary risks. Travel safely.
  • Don’t always stay on the path (or in the scenic overlook’s parking lot), explore.
  • Be respectful of property, ask the owner before you intrude on their land.
  • Be supportive of your fellow photographers. Don’t walk into their shot, don’t trash talk on their gear. Appreciate where they’re at, share insights. It’s a community.
  • Don’t pull the trigger until you’re seeing the composition you want.
  • Think outside the box. Try shooting at ground level, from above, with different settings.
  • Recheck settings as you go.
  • Check that your lens is clean, often.
  • Stow everything where it belongs when you’re through with that location.

These are my notes to self, your mileage will vary. I added one more note to the list when I got to Snaefellsness: Zip up your gear pack fully when it’s not in use, so that new Sigma lens won’t drop out and the UV filter won’t be destroyed. Yep.

This list is a work in progress. And I know there are a hundred other points I could have mentioned. But you can only keep so much in RAM.

 

Vik to Skaftafell, the Journey East

After  1 1/2 days shooting Dyrholaey, Vik Black Sand Beach and the waterfalls, I was ready to continue down the Ring Road. My next stopping point was Skaftafell Hotel, just down from Skaftafell National Park, an hour and a half northeast of Vik. The trip turned out to be full of unplanned discoveries. 

Ninety miles isn’t much. During the first leg, the landscape isn’t much different from the western side of the South Coast. You’re driving through a wide swath of rich farmland sprinkled with sheep and horses that’s overlooked by the usual mesa. After that, the massive footprint of Vatnajokull Glacier pushed the Ring Road down towards the coast.

So the plan was to stop half way and do a 2-3 hour photo shoot at Fjaðrárgljúfur, a 2 million year old canyon park, then head into glacier country and Skaftafell Park. I had done a quick trip to the canyon on my first trip to Iceland, getting there just before dusk (see slideshow below). Fjaðrárgljúfur had a certain magic and I knew the location would be even better with good light.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

But before easing down the road, I needed to upgrade my cold weather gear. I swung by the store, Icewear, to pick up some serious gloves and a balaclava mask on my way out of Vik.  Icewear is as big as any REI store in LA. Finding all that cold weather gear in a town of 200 is kind of impressive.

About 40 miles east of Vik, Rt 1 crosses a lava area that is covered with dense green moss. It’s an intriguing area, most of it fenced off for environmental reasons. It’s worth a stop at one of the road pull-offs.

2G7A6050

Shooting the moss-covered lava was challenging. It’s tactile and otherworldly but too amorphous to fit easily into a composition. Finding a bit of a foreground design and pulling in a distant mountain plateau seemed to work.

Closed for renovation 

When I got to the turnoff for Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon, I was in for a surprise. A park ranger was waving visitors over to explain that the canyon was off-limits except for the bridge at the bottom of the stream. The wooden boardwalk that goes along the entire eastern rim was getting a major renovation.

That wasn’t what I wanted to hear, the canyon is one of Iceland’s unique photo experiences. Plus this was my one chance to shoot this park, what with me doing the Ring Road. I wanted to see if there was any leeway.

Our ranger was a total pro, articulate, thoughtful, hunky. He explained that as an American, I would understand how important and delicate the ecology of a park can be. He mentioned that it gots 500,000 visitors in 2017, way more than the current wooden boardwalk can’t handle, especially with all the spring rains.

My new ranger friend told me the view from the bridge would be worth it. Knowing that the bridge is located at the bottom end of the canyon, I begged to differ. “Do you think a photo taken from the far end of the Grand Canyon captures the magic of the place?” He got my point. He did allow me to head down to the base of the bridge and wander up river if I wanted. The water was way too cold for that but I did get one or two shots at river level.

Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon

Not the photo I wanted. But I gained a bit of insight into the challenges Iceland faces in preserving its unique landscape. Plus he gave me a ride back up to my car. We shook hands. He continued working with the new visitors, I continued up the Ring Road.

Along the way

With only 50 miles to my hotel, I had plenty of time to kill. So I kicked back and enjoyed the classic southern countryside, golden-green farmland framed by a mountain plateau… plus a wind-swept waterfall.

Waterfall in SE coast, 60 miles east of Vik in Sidu

1/800 sec., F8,  63°51’9.282″ N 17°53’17.322″ W

Just another road pull-off, not a place that’s in any guidebooks or on any tours. But balancing the fence posts with the plateau made it one of my favorite images.

Then I pulled up and parked for a closer look at the falls, called Foss a Sidu.

Waterfall in SE coast, 60 miles east of Vik in Sidu

1/30 sec., F18,    63°51’14.61″ N 17°52’16.128″ W

The area past this point was private land so I didn’t intrude. Just took six shots of this delicate falls. In half the images, the water doesn’t make it do the ground, the wind gusts kept sweeping the falls away.

Eastern District

Twenty miles further on and the Iceland landscape is transformed from farmland to a black sand river delta. I spotted a butte set against the expanse of brown-black earth — another photo location that’s not in the guidebooks. I found a safe pullout just over the bridge. My first image was to the east.

2G7A6092-Edit

For this composition I used the curve of straw colored grass along the dune to lead the eye in.

Shooting north, the view is of a long plateau and a tongue of the Vatnajokull Glacier.

2G7A6098

Afternoon exploration, Hof 

By now I was close to my hotel and ready for a late lunch. I checked in and grabbed something at the restaurant/store across the road. I had decided to do Skaftafell and the Svartifoss waterfall the next morning when I was rested. So that afternoon, I drove further east on Rt 1 to take a look at another of the area’s points of interest, the turf church at Hof.

Hof Sod Church

The church itself was closed but the trees and old graveyard made for a shot that could have been in The Hobbit.

This whole area has some intriguing mountains so I explored another 10 km down the Ring Road. There was something about the snow covered peaks fronted by golden tundra grass. But one of my working rules is not just to shoot a cool mountain or waterfall by itself. I need to put any visual element into a more complex artistic context. So I didn’t pull over until I found the missing element, a dirt road that led the eye into the mountains.

Rt 1 pull off southeast of Hof

A leading line into composition

Evening light

It had been a long day so I rested before dinner. But Iceland had more in store for me, the evening light. I walked outside and noticed sunlight filtering down to the glacier behind Skaftafell National Park. Sweet.

Skaftafell Park

A closer look.

Skaftafell Park

And further down the road.

Pond south of Skaftafell Park along Rt 1

This time looking east with the stream as a leading line and anchored by the rough vegetation.

Pond south of Skaftafell Park along Rt 1

A variation

I got back to my room just after nine. It had been an interesting day, a perfect road trip day. My only must-see photo location had been a washout, called on account of spring rains. But the photos I had were uniquely my own … just me seeing something that other folks on the road had driven past. Not bad.

%d bloggers like this: