Iceland – Photographer’s Paradise

Iceland, the very name causes a shiver as you conger up a view of this harsh and rugged country. Located midway between Scotland and Greenland between the North Atlantic and the Sea of Greenland, this island nation is a relic of Nordic exploration and conquest. 

We were fortunate to visit Iceland in September 2014 for a 2 1/2 week photo shoot. Seeing an entire country the size of Kentucky (or half the size of Wyoming) in a short time requires significant advanced planning. After reading the tour guides, searching the web, and speaking with two friends who each visited more than once, we decided to rent a small RV so we could haul gear and stay at a location to shoot in the evening, night, and early morning allowing us to travel between sites during the mid-day. It was a perfect choice.

Iceland-6165Iceland-6165

Because of our short time table and the fact that an active volcano threatened to close a large portion of the island, we chose to limit our travel to the south coast, the western peninsula, and the north coast skipping the east and northeast coasts and the remote north western peninsula. It took only a few minutes of driving to realize that this rural, volcanic land gave visitors opportunities to visit small villages with tiny churches, majestic coast lines, towering waterfalls, mountains, and huge glaciers all in a couple of hundred miles of driving.

Unnamed Waterfall SouthUnnamed Waterfall South

Wild rivers and streams with spectacular waterfalls are literally everywhere in Iceland, not just the dozens of named falls that are popular tourist attractions but hundreds of unnamed falls that are equally magnificent. Nearly every farm in the sparsely populated agricultural areas is at the base of its own waterfall.  When planning a photographic visit one needs to think of camera and wide angle lenses but also a good tripod, neutral density filters, and cable shutter release for dreamy, long-exposure shots.

Iceland-7665Iceland-7665

Iceland is not a place with abundant wildlife so a long telephoto lens is not necessary. However, at certain times of the year sea birds are common so an avid avian photographer might want to bring the long glass. The beautiful Icelandic ponies and the hilarious, overly hirsute sheep may be other reasons to bring a moderate telephoto lens.

In addition to the rugged landscape and many waterfalls, I wanted to capture the harsh glaciers and a unique freshwater lagoon of icebergs calving from the Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður glacier. Yes, Icelandic is a difficult language (!) but nearly everyone speaks perfect English.

JokulsarlonJokulsarlon

The last item on my shooting list was almost too much to hope for, the Northern lights. As luck would have it, cold, rainy, windy weather prevailed almost the entire trip but by totally dumb luck and no planning or forethought, we found ourselves camped at the iceberg lagoon on the night of a full moon and relatively clear skies. I hoped to capture the bergs by moonlight. After some early test shots I went to bed for a few hours and awoke at midnight. I put on about 5 layers to survive the wind and frigid temperatures and stumbled out of the RV with a full pack of gear for night photography. I shot the full moon over the landscape and the lagoon and then set out to capture the bergs in the cold blue water. After about 20 minutes of shooting my eyes had finally adjusted to the light and I notices strange clouds in the northern sky.  The clouds were actually a phenomenal aurora borealis.

JokulsarlonJokulsarlon

Our trip was complete - great hiking, mountains, glaciers, rivers, waterfalls, and the northern lights.

Plan your trip, Icelandic Airlines has direct flights from Denver and the east coast at very reasonable cost. The people are friendly, the scenery beautiful, and the variety of photographic opportunities is amazing.

For many more images in color and monochrome, please check out the Iceland gallery on this site.

Iceland – Photographer’s Paradise

Iceland, the very name causes a shiver as you conger up a view of this harsh and rugged country. Located midway between Scotland and Greenland between the North Atlantic and the Sea of Greenland, this island nation is a relic of Nordic exploration and conquest. 

We were fortunate to visit Iceland in September 2014 for a 2 1/2 week photo shoot. Seeing an entire country the size of Kentucky (or half the size of Wyoming) in a short time requires significant advanced planning. After reading the tour guides, searching the web, and speaking with two friends who each visited more than once, we decided to rent a small RV so we could haul gear and stay at a location to shoot in the evening, night, and early morning allowing us to travel between sites during the mid-day. It was a perfect choice.

Because of our short time table and the fact that an active volcano threatened to close a large portion of the island, we chose to limit our travel to the south coast, the western peninsula, and the north coast skipping the east and northeast coasts and the remote north western peninsula. It took only a few minutes of driving to realize that this rural, volcanic land gave visitors opportunities to visit small villages with tiny churches, majestic coast lines, towering waterfalls, mountains, and huge glaciers all in a couple of hundred miles of driving.

Wild rivers and streams with spectacular waterfalls are literally everywhere in Iceland, not just the dozens of named falls that are popular tourist attractions but hundreds of unnamed falls that are equally magnificent. Nearly every farm in the sparsely populated agricultural areas is at the base of its own waterfall.  When planning a photographic visit one needs to think of camera and wide angle lenses but also a good tripod, neutral density filters, and cable shutter release for dreamy, long-exposure shots.

Iceland is not a place with abundant wildlife so a long telephoto lens is not necessary. However, at certain times of the year sea birds are common so an avid avian photographer might want to bring the long glass. The beautiful Icelandic ponies and the hilarious, overly hirsute sheep may be other reasons to bring a moderate telephoto lens.

In addition to the rugged landscape and many waterfalls, I wanted to capture the harsh glaciers and a unique freshwater lagoon of icebergs calving from the Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður glacier. Yes, Icelandic is a difficult language (!) but nearly everyone speaks perfect English.

The last item on my shooting list was almost too much to hope for, the Northern lights. As luck would have it, cold, rainy, windy weather prevailed almost the entire trip but by totally dumb luck and no planning or forethought, we found ourselves camped at the iceberg lagoon on the night of a full moon and relatively clear skies. I hoped to capture the bergs by moonlight. After some early test shots I went to bed for a few hours and awoke at midnight. I put on about 5 layers to survive the wind and frigid temperatures and stumbled out of the RV with a full pack of gear for night photography. I shot the full moon over the landscape and the lagoon and then set out to capture the bergs in the cold blue water. After about 20 minutes of shooting my eyes had finally adjusted to the light and I notices strange clouds in the northern sky.  The clouds were actually a phenomenal aurora borealis.

Our trip was complete – great hiking, mountains, glaciers, rivers, waterfalls, and the northern lights.

Plan your trip, Icelandic Airlines has direct flights from Denver and the east coast at very reasonable cost. The people are friendly, the scenery beautiful, and the variety of photographic opportunities is amazing.

For many more images in color and monochrome, please check out the Iceland gallery on this site.

Solar Eclipse 2014

Click for a larger picture

Click for a larger picture

We enjoyed a lunar eclipse just a few weeks ago but today we in North America were treated to a much rarer solar eclipse. The spectacle today was quite enjoyable in Jackson, WY, even though there were clouds obscuring the event right up to the peak. Then, miraculously, the clouds parted and we were treated to quite a sight.

The peak time in Wyoming was 4:23PM MST.  I’m betting someone got an interesting shot over the Tetons. I’ll bet Mike Jackson or Mike Cavaroc got something good, even though it was pretty overcast over there.

Click for a larger picture

Click for a larger picture

One of the most interesting parts of this event was the very large sun spots nearly in the middle of the sun. As we are in a peak of the sun spot cycle, this made for an especially interesting event. These sun spots are -only- at 2,700–4,200 °C compared to the surface of the sun at a comfortable 5,500 °C. This is the reason they appear so much darker. It isn’t that they’re not that hot, it’s just everything around them is that much hotter.

Live viewing with special filters for those in overcast and invisible areas can be seen on www.space.com. Of course! The most interesting thing visible in the online view was the solar flare or prominence. These are 1,600,000,000 times more powerful and the biggest atomic bomb ever made.  They are 10′s of millions of degrees celcius. Wrap your head around that one. The best part is no scientist knows why they occur. There are still mysteries out there.

One of the best tools for viewing a solar eclipse are these solar eclipse glasses. They’re sold on Amazon and such. Using these, you can actually stare straight at the sun. I have a pair and it’s pretty amazing that you can do that, as they block both the UV and visible light spectrum. You can look at the unobscured sun as well. Of course put them on BEFORE looking at the sun.

Click for larger picture

See the sunspots? Click for larger picture

How did I get these photographs of the solar eclipse? Here’s the gear I used:

Nikon D800

Nikon 80-400mm f/4-5.6

Hoya 77mm NDx400 9 stop filter

Hoya 77mm Neutral Density (NDX8) 0.9 3-stop filter

Manfrotto Tripod and Kirk BH-3 ball head

These filters in combination were dark enough to look at the maximum eclipse without and problems. Once the moon started moving away from the sun, I had to use the DOF preview button on the D800 to keep viewing the event safely. Even adding on my Singh-Ray polarizer on top of these filters wouldn’t have been dark enough without either solar glasses or using the DOF preview.

I then shot all of my images on RAW and the above three are the best that came out. Other than shifting the color a bit to look more natural, these are as they came out of my D800. Normally I photograph jewelry, advertising, architecture and such, but fun sky displays always bring me outside.

WARNING: As always, NEVER look straight at the sun, ESPECIALLY through your camera. Permanent eye damage isn’t fun.

Southern WY Along 191 and Dinosaur National Monument

Juniper Log and southern Wyoming sunrise
Juniper log resting below a fiery sunrise near Highway 191 in southern Wyoming

I’m currently catching up my connected life in Moab, Utah where I’m having a delicious sandwich at Pantele’s Desert Deli (thanks for the recommendation, Bret!), downloading photos, and going through emails. Thus far, the trip has been great! My only regret is not getting a quick interview from a guy named Steven that I met in Dinosaur National Monument when he told me about someone going door-to-door in Grand Juction, Colorado offering to pay residents to put up shielded lighting and having the vast majority of them refuse, even though it came out of his pocket and would cost them nothing. Lesson learned. Thanks for the great conversation regardless, Steven and Bill!

Night sky above dead juniper tree
Stars and night sky spin above dead juniper tree, southern Wyoming

After a late start on Tuesday, I found myself driving south along Highway 191 in southern Utah, a spectacular high desert region blanketed with juniper trees with the occasional bare spot exposing millions of years of erosion along ancient seabeds in the form of badlands. I had always wanted to camp here, and thanks to what seemed like setbacks, were the perfect excuse to get me to only see the tip of the iceberg of the region. I could spend weeks exploring the entire area and still not tire of it. The sunrise the next morning only whet my appetite for more, but it was also time to move on.

Geologic Uplift and Erosion
Layers of sediment and rock uplifted into steep, eroded hills, Dinosaur National Monument, Utah

I didn’t go that much farther, relatively. I only went down the highway to Dinosaur National Monument, found straddling the border of northern Utah and northwestern Colorado. Having never been to the Colorado side, I decided to continue that trend and see the Utah side again. After all, it had been several years.

Rather than sticking to the main roadside attractions, I found myself exploring game trails, guiding me to unusual and different views of the park that simply fascinating me as the vistas of the uplift demonstrated throughout the park became more and more evident. The entire region appears as a massive rock shoved out of the ground, eroded over eons, creating immense wavy canyons deep into the stone. Because the area was an ancient seabed, the ground is littered with dinosaur fossils from 149 million years ago, as demonstrated in the Quarry Exhibit.

Fall colors abstract
Fall colors changing near the Green River, Dinosaur National Monument, Utah

What will Moab and beyond bring? Time to go find out!