Sunday, December 04, 2011

Iceland observations - independence and isolation

Ski week is a dangerous time for me. I rarely do much traveling, and that leaves me idle to search out summer travel opportunities. This year I found a photographer trip to Iceland offered by Andy Long of First Light Tours.

Iceland is known as a wonderland to landscape and nature photographers. It had been on my list for some time. I wanted to go, but I wanted to go with photographers. The First Light trip was a match, so I proceeded to book it.

Andy Long is a Colorado-based nature photographer who runs a variety of destination workshops every year. He partnered with Michael Kissane of f-Stop Tours in Iceland. Kissane was born and raised in St. Louis, but has lived in Iceland for several years. He's even fluent in Icelandic, and that's no mean feat.

The photo tour was June 24-July 2. I scheduled two additional nights in Reykjavik to extend my stay.

The forecast for Iceland was for temperatures in the 45°F–55°F, overcast with rain. I geared up and packed appropriately. David duChemin's observations in Iceland: A Monograph (iPad app) compelled me to upgrade my tripod. I did a bit of preparatory studying with Insight Guides' Iceland and Profilm's Iceland's Favorite Places.

The journey to Iceland was eventful due to less than professional performance by Delta Airlines. An FAA-imposed weather delay somehow resulted in a loss of my booked seat on the NY to Reykjavik leg of the trip. I'm sure I was supposed to count my lucky stars that I was able to score a bulkhead middle seat in place of the window seat I booked months earlier.

Upon arrival in Iceland, the group (6 photographers and 2 guides) was assembled and whisked off to Gardskaga, our initial shooting location. We got some bird shots, a couple of landscapes and a trip to the Seltún geothermal site in before dinner and rest in Reykjavik. This time of year the sun goes down at midnight and rises at 3am in Iceland. The sky goes somewhat dim, but never dark.

On Day 2, we journeyed north to Hraunfoss (Lava Falls) and Barnafoss (Children's Falls) (yeah, there's an unhappy story that goes with that name). before bedding down in Borgarnes.

On Day 3 day we hopped a ferry to Flatey (Flat Island) out in the Breiðafjörður Fjord. We spent our time on the island shooting birds and a bit of architecture. We returned and made our way to Arnarstapi for terns, fulmars, and a stone cold giant.

On Day 4 we headed for Þingvellir, a site of Icelandic historical significance and where you can straddle two continental plates (North American and Eurasian). From there, it was off to Geysir to take a shot at Strokkur geyser's pre-eruption hot water dome. Yellowstone has a better concentration of wild geothermal features, but I've never seen a geyser erupt like this one. Next was the thunder and mist Gullfoss (Gold Falls). We also took in a curious red-rock crater lake.

On Day 5 we spent some time in chilly solitude at the nicely appointed Flói Nature Reserve before stopping at Selfoss for lunch supplies and Sirius Konsum chocolate. Then it was off to Seljalandsfoss, an delicate, isolated, but popular waterfall. A slick, rocky, muddy, wet trail led around to the back side of the falls. Keeping gear dry and legs underneath were challenges, but image potential was great. Then to Skogafoss, a broader, louder, more popular falls. Then to Vík and Black Beach.

On Day 6 we got some morning puffin shots, then it was in to Jökulsárlón, a glacial lagoon. This was a treasure of great wonder; it was like a dynamic Bryce Canyon. More blue than red, but also in motion. We toured the lagoon in an open-air amphibious waterbus. Later we had a hay-wagon ride six kilometers across a tidal flat to Ingólfshöfði, a reserve that is home to great skua, razorbills, and puffins.

On Day 7 we went to Skaftafell National Park. We were able to hike out to the toe of Skaftafellsjökull. It was a nice trail through moss-covered rocky terrain. We missed Svartifoss somehow. I don't remember why.

On Day 8 we headed back to Reykjavik, retracing our route along the southern segment of Iceland's Ring Road and stopping here and there for pictures, lunch, and chocolate.

On Day 9 the photographer tour was over, but I stayed behind to wander the streets of the city. I got some nice architecture and graffiti shots.

On Day 10, I toured Þórsmörk with an small group and a local guide with a SuperJeep. It was nice to work up into the interior a bit. More of a nature tour than a treasure-trove of photo-ops.

Day 11 it was back to the US, California, and Sacramento. I saw a lot of Iceland and was lucky to have knowledgable guides. But I often felt a bit rushed (because I am, by nature, slow and deliberate). I'm sure the others considered me an impossible slow-poke daudler forever holding up the program.

I'd love to get back to Iceland; I feel like I missed more than I saw. I missed the Bare Landscapes fine art photography gallery exhibition by a few days.

My Iceland finalists photo album is on Flickr.


Andy Long said...

Very nice selection of images. I love the bubble from the thermals and the blue from the ice in the lagoon really pops. Hope you ended up with a lot of memorable images. You have to love the horses there - they were really photogenic.

Nancy said...

Iceland is one of my favorite places to visit -- the earth seems alive ! It's a great stopover on the way to Europe, too.

Great pictures you have there!