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I had a great year of travel this year. This past spring I managed to squeeze in a couple of trips that I had been hoping to do for quite some time. In March I spent three weeks in Iceland. Iceland has been on my bucket list for many years as the place to go for landscape photography. It would seem that Iceland is also on every other photographers list as well as there seems to be an overabundance of workshops, tours and photographers hitting the small island. I chose March as it is a quiet time for me and I was hoping that the weather might be a little more forgiving than say February (boy was I wrong) I was also hoping to get some images of the Aurora. My other spring trip was to Patagonia in Argentina that I’ll report on in my next segment.
Images from Iceland can be found here in the new images section.
Landing at Reykjavík was definitely the start of my adventure. As soon as I landed and left the terminal I was blown off of my feet into a 4 foot snow bank. My first objective was to find the bus that would take me to the car rental place in town. To be honest the weather was so bad that I felt like jumping back on the plane and heading home, it was an all out white out. I finally found the bus and was on my way. The trip into town usually takes about 45mins, it took us 3hrs.
Iceland is not exactly cheap so my first task before the trip was to find a reasonably priced camper. On average camper vans are about $200.00 per day and up to rent, more if you want some luxury. As you can see over a three week period that adds up. I found a somewhat obscure company called Ku Ku campers. The campers are relatively cheap (mine was around 70 euro per day, but like most things in life you get what you pay for. My camper was the Billy Idol Mobile. They’re called campers but in reality the vehicle I had was a crudely converted Renault Kangoo van. However I did find the van to be perfect for my needs and not much unlike the vehicle I use at home. As long as I am warm, dry and have a place to lay my head it’s all good, The “Flesh for Fantasy” mobile was home from home.
I traveled around the island for about a week and then went back to Reykjavík to pick up my partner Karin. Karin was a pretty good sport about the whole trip and great company as always. The weather was not ideal and Karin not being a photographer wasn’t as keen as I to face the elements all for the glory of getting the shot. Squeezing the two of us into the van proved to be a bit of a challenge but after a few days we got into a routine and figured out how to convert the van into a camper in good time. It’s amazing how quickly you learn to do a task efficiently when you’re freezing your ass off. Once we both got settled the bed was exceptionally cozy except for those pee breaks, man I hate those.
Probably the biggest challenge was dealing with the weather. On more than one occasion we were faced with whiteout conditions. On one particular evening Karin and I decided to stay at a guesthouse and go out for a meal to a restaurant called the Cow Cafe in Mývatn, about a ten minute drive from our guesthouse. The meal was excellent but as the light began to fade the weather outside worsened. By the time we decided to leave it was an all out white out. It took me an intense ten minutes just to get out of the parking lot and find the road. If you have traveled in Iceland you will have noticed orange markers every dozen or so meters along the side of the main roads, they’re there for a very good reason. We found our way back by driving from one marker to the next, very tense driving.
Iceland is a land of contrast and has a incredible landscape photography opportunities. Did I mention the weather? The weather proved to display some remarkable forces of nature of which I have never encountered before. Wind is a part of what Iceland is all about, the wind is always with you and on a couple of occasions the wind was so strong it was hard to stand. On one memorable morning near Vik I decided to try to get some images of the Reynisdrangar rock pillars. The waves and wind were intense. At one point a large group of photographers shuffled out of a tour bus towards the beach with their tripods flapping in the wind, after I had failed miserably at trying to use a tripod it was tremendously amusing to see others gripe with their equipment in gale force winds. Hand holding proved to be an easier affair. The great thing about Iceland’s extremes in weather is that it changes constantly, these drastic weather changes sure make photography exciting.
As mentioned earlier one of the reasons for traveling to Iceland in March was to capture the Aurora, March seems to be a good time. I was not disappointed, the northern lights were spectacular. Probably the best show was an evening down at the famous sea stack Hvitserkur. Despite the intense cold it was an amazing display and I spent many hours down at the beach watching the waves of light dance over the iconic sea stack.
Would I travel to Iceland again? Well, yes but I would do things a little differently. Part of the problem that I have traveling to a new area to photograph is unfamiliarity. It often takes me quite some time to get a feel for an area and work out logistically the areas that I want to photograph. While I am happy with the images that I did take in Iceland I don’t really feel as if I came back with the unique images that I often search for. I found myself going to many of the areas that many others have photographed before and while these areas are worthy and in many cases spectacular I ended up taking more or less the same images that everyone else does. Ideally I would have liked to spend more time exploring the interior of Iceland, preferably by foot. Logistically and expense wise it is a very hard place to explore in the midst of winter. A four wheel drive vehicle is a must for the interior and with that comes a hefty price tag.
I loved the land, the people and the overall vibe throughout Iceland. I especially enjoyed the basic approach to what people really need to live in this part of the world. In North America it is all about choice, most of the time too much choice. I often find myself getting lost in an endless sea of product and wastefulness. In Iceland the choices are slim but the people have all that they need.
I was surprised at the amount of photo workshops and photographers, in some areas like Jökulsárlón the place was a zoo and this is in March. In all fairness though it is easy to get away from the crowds and make your own way around the island. There are many spectacular locations to discover and photograph without lots of other people around.