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This week we conclude the four part series of travelogue episodes to cover my first tour in Iceland a month ago, from August 25 to September 5, 2013. Iceland definitely didn’t disappoint, with beautiful light and incredible scenery, and we had a great group to travel with as a bonus. It was a very special trip to kick off my Iceland tours with.
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We pick up the trail on the final shooting day, September 4, 2013, as we drove pretty much the width of the island, stopping at some of the most iconic locations and waterfalls that Iceland has to offer. Earlier in the tour we’d driven through a lot of these locations, but didn’t have time to stop, as we were scheduled to arrive at our hotel quite late, even with just a few toilet stops, but the scenes we passed had haunted me and the group, so I was really looking forward to getting back and seeing if there were still shots.
The first image that I want to look at today is of the rocks needles called Reynisdrangar, jutting out of the sea near Vík í Mýrdal. Thanks to Bergþór Jónsson on Google Plus, I now know that Legend says the stacks originated when two trolls tried to drag a three-masted ship to land unsuccessfully and when daylight came they were frozen into these needles of rock (below).
Again here, I used my ND8 and ND400 neutral density filters stacked together for a 30 second exposure at f/16, ISO 100. The needles were a way out, so I used my 70-200mm lens at 180mm. I composed the shot so that the beach was just running along the bottom of the frame, as that causes the white water from the waves to leave these interesting patterns. Further out, there was only a little bit of cloud movement, but the smoothness of the sea with texture from the waves is quite effective I think.
For the last shot, we stood on a large stone storm barrier shaped almost like a pier running out along the beach. When I turned to face the other way, there were a couple of surfers braving the Icelandic sea, and one of their surfboards still sitting on the beach, which I found quite ironic, so grabbed a couple of frames.
I didn’t do a long exposure for this shot (above), as the story was obviously going to be about surfing, so I wanted the waves to be rolling in to support the story. I took the neutral density filters off, and increased the ISO to 200 to give me a 1/250 of a second exposure at f/14. This shutter speed was enough to freeze the waves as they rolled up the beach, and I timed the shot so that there were not only some nice waves, but also the layers of dark wet sand and the white water from the previous waves still drawing out.
Another scene that had been haunting me since we drove past earlier in the tour, was the church on the hill with the beautiful green mountains behind them that we see here (below). The composition was difficult here, because there is a large area of just mud below the church and there are ugly factories and other buildings below that and to the left.
Once I had this framed how I wanted it though, we had to wait a while until the light caught the church just right, which didn’t take long, but then I also wanted just a splash of light on the mountains in back, which took a while longer to happen at the same time as the church being lit. We were already late for lunch, and had a lot of ground to cover this day, but I think this splash of sunlight was worth messing up the schedule a little.
A few minutes from this spot, we drove around the promontory to a car park from which we could walk to the basalt cave that we see in this next image (below). The needle that you see here is the left most needle in the shot we looked at earlier. I used my 16-35mm lens wide open at 16mm to get the entire mouth of the cave in the shot, and again used my two neutral density filters to get a 30 second exposure at f/16, ISO 100.
The light was catching the top of the cave just enough for me to be able to pull this detail out in Silver Efex Pro, and again the waves crashing on the beach have left their beautiful white satin texture. I would have loved to get all the rock needles in the shot, but I had to go this far back to get the full semi-circular cave mouth in, so that wasn’t to be.
After this, we drove quite a way to what was one of the locations I had most wanted to shoot since I saw my friend Graham Morgan’s shot of the beautiful waterfall Skógafoss. If you saw the main image that I used to market the 2013 Iceland tour, that was Graham’s photo, that he kindly let me use and I had not yet been myself. I’d wanted to visit Iceland for many years, but it was that photo that made me realize that I just had to make it happen.
As is often the case with preconceptions about a location, I imagined Skógafoss to be much more remote, but there were quite a few tourists that invariably walk into the scene as you are trying to capture it in just the right light, but they have as much right to be there as we did, so it’s just a case of being patient and we were rewarded with a few shots that I am very happy with.
Unfortunately, there was a drop of water that had trickled down between my protector filter and the ND8 filter that I’d screwed on and just sat in the middle of it, and sandwiched between the ND8 and my protector filter, so for a while I couldn’t figure out why there was a drop of water right in the middle of my shots. I lost a bunch of what would have been OK images before I unscrewed the filters to find the offending droplet. Luckily though the first frame that I made here was fine, and that is the image we see here (above).
I should also note that I only leave the protector filter on when I’m only using one Neutral Density filter. If I stack two NDs, I remove the protector filter because otherwise you start to see vignetting, which is a darkening of the corners, and on wide angle lenses this can be very severe, and should be avoided when possible. I only used the ND8 here, because I just wanted to make the waterfall smooth over a little, so I shot this at 0.4 seconds at f/16, ISO 100.
It had been chucking it down with rain in fine Icelandic style for the time were were at Skógafoss, but just as we were about to leave, the sun came out and lit up the falls, and caused the rainbow that we see in this next shot (below). I heard from our friend Morton Goldberg on Google Plus that he prefers this color version over the black and white, which is nice to know, as that makes me happy to have included this in my final selection, but personally I prefer the black and white.
I’ve included this today though not only because I know some people will prefer this, like Morton, but also to show how differently we can process what are essentially almost identical photographs. The black and white version doesn’t look at lot different to this, if you remove the rainbow, so I hope you can appreciate how much the black and white processing is effecting the final image here. Exposure wise, the sun had come out, so I changes the shutter speed to 0.3 seconds and reduced the ISO to 50, and the aperture was now at f/22.
Next up, we have another of my favorite shots from the trip, a side view of the Seljalandsfoss falls (left). I had more trouble with the rain while shooting this. Firstly, realize that I had walked up the track besides these falls and was basically standing in the spray from the falls.
I started out with my 16-35mm lens with the ND8 fitted, but could not for the life of me get a sharp shot, so I changed lenses to my 24-70mm for this. It turns out that the inside of my ND8 had misted up, so I could have gone back to my 16-35mm, but I was standing in a downpour from the falls, and decided to just go with the 24-70mm, to save changing lenses again.
The result is although perhaps a couple of millimeters more tightly cropped over what I would have done, but I still like it very much. Note too that I decided to still go with this image despite the large droplets of water on the filter. I have a few with droplets in various places, but for some reason I like the immersive feel to this shot, pun very much intended, as it really feels like I felt standing in the mist from the falls, getting soaking wet.
Again, this was a 0.3 second exposure at f/16, ISO 50. As with all the other black and white images, I converted this in Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro, to help me create this dramatic feel and really bring out the texture in the wonderful Icelandic skies.
This next shot (left) is the same falls, from a footbridge across the river that flows off front left of the falls. Because I was not pointing the camera up, including the bright sky for this image, I changed the exposure from 0.3 seconds to 0.6 seconds, and you can hopefully see how much smoother doubling the shutter speed makes the water of the falls.
I like the effect in this image, but this is something that I control closely for waterfall shots. As much as I like really long exposures, I don’t want this level of smoothness in all of my images.
This was actually our last photography stop of the tour, and so as I stood by the bus door, watching the group back on board, I found it quite ironic to see a lone bus trundling along the road in the distance, with the sun bursting through the heavy clouds above, and yet rain pouring out of the bottom of those very same clouds.
I composed this shot (below) with the road running along and very close to the bottom edge of the frame, so that I could include as much of the dramatic sky as possible. The scene was quite a way off, so to ensure that we could actually make out that there’s a bus at the bottom there, I zoomed in to 50mm, and this allowed me to also include a nice chunk of that awesome sky.
Of course, I also needed to freeze the motion of the bus for this shot, so I took the neutral density filter and increased the ISO to 100, and the shutter speed to 1/400 of a second at f/11. Luckily I had a few seconds to make these changes before the bus got into what I consider the optimal point in the frame, heading into the heavier part of the rain.
As we drove away from this last stop, I couldn’t resist reaching for my iPhone to record the customary round table interview with the participants, which I’d like to play you now.
So, that’s it. We’ve concluded our four part travelogue series from my first tour of Iceland. I’d like to thank any of the participants that listen to this. You were a great group, and a pleasure to travel with, and I hope enjoyed Iceland as much as I did. I’d also like once again to thanks Tim Vollmer, my partner and guide for this tour. You did an amazing job Tim, and I can’t wait to work with you again next year!
And on that note, we are already taking bookings for the 2014 Iceland Tour which will be run from September 22 to October 3, 2014. These are great dates, as the days will be shorter, giving us better light in the morning and evenings, and it gives us a better chance of seeing and shooting the Aurora without eating into too much into our sleep time. It’ll be great to see you there, so take a look at the details of our 2014 Iceland Tour if you are interested.
Iceland Portfolio: http://www.martinbaileyphotography.com/portfolios/iceland/
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