In February 2015 Mick Ryan went to Iceland as a guest of Wild Photography Holidays.
This is the diary of his trip.
click on the images to view them full size
Day 1: Friday 20 February.
Met everyone at Restaurant Reykjavik and we all enjoyed an excellent and high quality buffet meal of fishes, lamb, vegetables and a rich desert.
Then with a clear night and a good aurora forecast we didn’t go to bed.
Aurora borealis at Kleifarvatn (lake), south west of Reykjavik. Clear night, stunning display, partly frozen lake in a snowy basin surround by low rocky hills. Infinity focus, large aperture, high ISO, tripod, self-timer and a wide-angle lens were required to catch this stunning natural display. Most of us got great photographs and a great introduction to Iceland, quite emotional really, made you feel close and part of the cosmos.
Day 2: Saturday 21 February
The drive to Snaefellsnes from Reykjavik stopping for photo opportunities of Icelandic ponies and varied mountain views. Reminded me of driving through Nevada, endless straight roads passing mountains and farmsteads, with pit stops at gas stations.
Arrive at Budir and the hotel; great hotel, good rooms, hotel decorated in Jules Vernes’ Journey to the Center of the Earth style – we are Victorian steam punk explorers – staffed by lumber-sexuals in plaid shirts and well-trimmed beards: stuffed animals, dark wood, brass telescope, prints of beasts and plants of the land, old photographs and books, leather couches and huge windows with magnificent views of the sea and mountains. And a chocolate labrador called Nagli.
Around Budir: black church, estuary, lava fields, small crater, rocky promontories washed by crashing waves. Views across lava fields to Snæfellsjökull and other mountains.
Visit to Djupalonssandur: black beach, lifting stones, sea stack, arching beach, big waves, biting cold wind, mysterious sea. There are turquoise lagoons here. Shark teeth cold.
Back to hotel. Wonderful food, if a little short on the portion for my appetite
Day 3: Sunday 22 February
Late start because of very windy and cold weather. But no time wasted, we had an introductory talk by Martin about developing in Lightroom – now I’ve got to really get to grips with the cataloging and learnt even more about Lightroom.
There was a mild Lightroom versus Photoshop discussion. Lightroom does have layers you know.
Geraldine gave us a humorous safety talk, especially about the sea and how getting too close and being narrowly focused can end in a soaking and lost camera gear, or even divorce.
Lunch in restaurant that used to be the town hall of this hamlet: full of antiques, photographs, books, curiosities and random Icelandic stuff. Fascinating. An Icelandic woman called Olena cooked us a hearty lunch of soup, pancakes, fish and desert. Lovely place.
Then we wandered by a troll-like stone installation to the Gatklettur sea arch viewed from a platform then onto a columnar basalt cliff and black sand beach again viewed from a platform. In summer you can explore the beach, cliffs and coves.
We then moved on to the nearby Londrangar and Malarritseya
Londrangar are a pair of troll like sea stacks. Everything is troll like in Iceland, I even found one hiding under my bed. We discussed Nietzschen philosopy whilst sipping mint tea into the early hours and decided that is best to live on a remote island somewhere living off the land and writing poetry rather than being immersed in the cruel suffering world that we have created.
As well as the Londrangar stacks there was a big boulder beach, rock platforms and crashing waves, seaweed, iced up pools on a grassy shore with mountain views, a volcanic island and birds, an adventure playground, and the Malarritseya lighthouse.
Day 4: Monday 23 February
A sunset shoot around Budir. We wondered around hopping and hoping for colour on the horizon, a little appeared for a short while.
We then drove from Budil hotel along the coast road passing small fishing villages and towns to the town of Grundarfjordur and Kirkjufell (pointy mountain from some angles)
Kirkjufellfoss – frozen trident waterfall
Photoshop user Peter fell and slipped on ice and was rescued by good-looking Icelandic rescue services and transported to Reykjavik hospital for a successful hip operation. Peter is in good spirits, vows to return (he did the following year) and is now using Lightroom as it provides more friction on icy slopes as well other benefits. The view at Kirkjufellfoss was somewhat impeded by Pete’s body (wrapped in my jacket!) but outwardly no one complained, apart from David, and it did provide some photo-journalistic photo ops. Gorgeous blue ice and frozen stream with a classic viewpoint of Kirkjufell.
After lunch we photographed this lovely pyramid mountain from the west on a tidal mud flat with broken ice plates, sweeping grasses, mud and pebbles or a stream inlet as foreground.
After bumping into the other group we travelled further up the road to a neglected stone farm building surrounded by mischievous and hungry Icelandic horses; with a frozen inlet with wavy bands of ice and more views of Kirkjufell. A happy few hours before the maelstrom.
We had dinner in a small restaurant then…..
The drive back was marked by strong winds which picked up and threw ice and snow creating almost white out conditions. Driving was challenging; the van was buffeted by the wind and visibility was close to zero at times. Slow progress in second gear, staying on the road was only possible by following central road markings and roadside stakes. When these markers disappeared on the final road to Budir a scout was pushed out into the storm to lead the way to safety.
The lights then warmth of the hotel were a welcome sanctuary from the elemental forces of nature. Sleep came easy.
Day 5: Tuesday 24 February
In the morning we drove to Reykjavik hospital to drop Peter’s belongings off and say hi. We then continued south east, in sometimes snowy conditions.
We stopped at a bridge under which flowed the glacial river of Markarflot and to photograph the estuary and the sunlit distant islands of Vestmannaeyjar or Western islands once home to uppity escaped Irish slaves who escaped from their Viking captors. The Irishmen had killed one of their Norwegian Viking masters Hjorleifur and then ran off with all the women. Hjorleifur’s foster brother Ingolfur then sailed to the islands killed all the slaves and rescued the women; it would make a good Hollywood blockbuster I’m sure.
Nearby we stopped at the impressive and frozen 200ft/60m Seljalandsfoss, the waterfall that you can walk behind if you like. Busy and with a burger stand, nonetheless it was impressive.
Next stop was Vik and its ‘black’ beach (west side) and the basalt sea stacks or needles of Reynisdrangar – they are really a three-masted ship dragged there by internet trolls, relatives of the one under my bed. The black beach, the large pebbles, and sea mist made this an atmospheric place, but a tad busy – it is one of the most famous places on the south coast.
The hotel was something else, the rooms luxurious, for a dirtbag climber this was like being Maria Anthonette; we even part-eyed a little and I snuck out for an outdoor hot tub to look at the stars, but it was cloudy.
Day 6: Wednesday 25 February
We continued to drive east and had a short stop off near Núpsstaður, an abandoned farm.
High winds were forecast and we were advised to get across the glacial planes before the road closed and that we did, foregoing lunch. As we got to the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon the road closed behind us.
Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon
Now this is a special place (and popular). Conditions were very harsh and cold: alternating hail, rain and snow made photographing the lagoon uncomfortable. The cafe was a welcome sanctuary.
We continued to Hali and our accommodation. Another special place and once home to the Icelandic writer and free-thinker, Þórbergur Þórðarson (finally getting the hand of these Icelandic characters, thanks google). Bought one of his books, reminds me of Henry Miller, but more readable and cultured. Quite a revolutionary was Þórbergur.
In the evening we all chose five of our photographs from the trip and Martin put a slide show together of our work. Each person then had to explain why they chose their particular images and we all gave feedback. It was very edifying, not just to choose five photographs, but to see everyones approaches. Learnt a lot and it was great fun; always the best combination – all that missing was a table tennis table.
Day 7: Thursday 26 February
Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon and ice beach. Tony and Andy got a soaking. Not easy photography.
Geraldine gave us a tutorial on ice beach photography: extend bottom legs of tripod first, make tripod stable by pushing in sand, wash tripod in shower when you return, shutter speed .25 to 2 seconds depending on speed of tide, hand held OK, get low, get high, get close, contrast with black sand, get big waves, composition of ice, watch your frame edges, spacing/negative space, use ND 6. Above all keep your eye on the waves and watch out for others.
When we had our second ice beach session in the afternoon sun, I managed to remember some of her advice, but not all. Slightly better photographs for me.
Day 8: Friday 27 February
A gorgeous morning, one of the best, the light was magical, beautiful warm alpenglow on the mountains and the sea; but cold and windy as we drove out in a very weird space transporter across the glacier to the ice caves of Breiðamerkurjökull an outlet glacier of the larger glacier of Vatnajökull. What can you say: blue, bulbous ice, yellow light, wind blown snow, crystal. Oh to spend a day here by yourself or with a small group of friends. A special place.
Fjallsárlón glacier lagoon next was a hauntingly beautiful place, moon-like stony morraine and ridges, a running stream, azure bergs in the frozen lake stretching to the icy chaos of glacier, cravasses and twisted snowy and rocky ridges – with their troll sentinels watching us – my eye followed the ridges up to whipped ice-cream covered summits wishing I was up there.
In the evening we again chose five shots each and Martin put together a slide show. Another very enjoyable evening spent reflecting on what we are doing. What was it some Greek guy said? An unexamined life is not worth living?
Day 9: Saturday 28 February
The day started with breakfast and a colourful sunrise at Hali. Then we headed back west to Reykjavik.
First stop was Svinafellsjokul glacier and mountains. It was beautiful to get up close to a proper glacier, and walk on it – I had spent a morning here alone a few years ago on a whistle stop press trip. No sign of glacial retreat here like other parts of the world.
Then it was back to Núpsstaður, the abandoned farm, turf buildings, sheep shelters and turf church built 1650 or so. Until recently the farm was home to home to Filippus Hannesson and before that Hannesson’s father, Hannes Jónsson, who died in 1968, local postman, farmer and navigator who guided people across the sands and crossing the rivers of Skeidarársandur. Much to photograph and think about.
Next stop Vik Town beach and a different view, into the sun and sea spray of Reynisdrangar sea stacks.
The last stop was Skagarfoss rainbow waterfall, busy but very worthwhile. The challenge was to keep your lens clean from all the spray.
Dinner was on the road as the aurora forecast was good, it didn’t disappoint, and nor did this fantastic ten days exploring Iceland.
Thank you to Geraldine and Martin of Wild Photography Holidays and everyone on the trip.
7th March, 2015