9 Days in Iceland, Part Two: The Sexy South

The drive south from Akureyri had been eventful, to say the least, but the snow subsided and we managed to stop briefly and get some minimal shots every now and again. As color began once again to show in the landscape we began to feel more hopeful as we headed towards Vestrahorn. If you are reading this and wondering what is going on with Fstoppers articles, I’d go back and read the preceding article 9 Days in Iceland, Part One, and this all might make sense. The south coast contained more than its fair share of bucket list shots that we wanted to revisit. Iceland’s weather had different ideas from ours, however.

Vestrahorn: The Shot Is Not Worth the Glass

We had only spent limited time in Vestrahorn on the other occasions we visited and so this time we had planned to spend the remainder of the day into the sunset, giving us at least 5 hours to move around for different compositions. Had we photographed this time we would have been a couple of lenses down for the rest of the trip due to the very strong easterly wind that was sandblasting everything in sight, even the skin on our faces was raw after the adventure. I’ve had first-hand experience in the past of sandblasted lens glass, well a UV filter to help protect for the shot, and I know the damage it did to that. However, we did spend a couple of hours there sheltering and looking for compositions, hoping the wind would drop. Just when you thought it was looking promising, it would unleash again and the gear would be hastily packed back into the camera bags. The image below may help provide an idea of ​​the conditions but it doesn’t show half of what we experienced.

Phone shots it was then, and to be honest, no complaints as it was good to experience the environment in other conditions, preparing us for the next time.

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach

I would love to say that this made up for the wind experience at Vestrahorn, but unfortunately, I can’t as it continued on into the next morning making difficult shooting conditions. The waves in the lagoon were quite high and the blocks of ice were moving quite a bit, making compositions difficult. We wandered around taking in the scenery, and as we had been very fortunate on our other visits it wasn’t disappointing at all.

Incidentally, the beach had very few ice blocks on it at the time we arrived. This again was due to the strong easterly wind which I was later informed by a guide, was pushing them further round the coast. The beach opposite the main car park was totally void of any ice whatsoever, and the other beach had a very minimal scattering. We captured phone shots as a reminder of the conditions.

Close and personal wide-angle shots can make for great compositions here and a slow shutter accentuates the water receding back over the black sand. As you are on a southerly-facing beach with little to no background elements except for other blocks of ice, the sky can play a very important role in the composition depending on what’s happening with it.

Ice Caves

We had a fantastic time experiencing the ice caves with a local tour, the guide was very knowledgeable about the glacier area and had an answer for every question asked of him. The whole experience lasted around 3 hours including the drive there, the walk-in, and then the return. On the return, after about a kilometer the guide stopped and showed us a photograph of the cave he had taken ten years prior. The large boulder he had stopped us at to show us was in the cave, now in the open air. The cave had receded 1 km in 10 years due to global warming.

Can I suggest that if you want to experience the caves for yourself that you book a smaller party and an experienced photographic guide? Our time was limited in the caves, and although worth it in every respect, we never had time to set up the tripods and get the compositions we were after, so again phone shots it was. The caves are stunning to see and I assume with smaller parties of people you would have more time to capture the images you are after, so I’d look into that.

Kvernufoss

This was our first encounter with this wonderful waterfall, so I couldn’t recommend the best shooting times, although I have seen some stunning images at sunset from this location. What I can say however is be careful at what time of year you visit. The path into the waterfall was clear of any snow or ice as we made our way in. Behind the waterfall was a totally different experience and we took our time getting to the spot we wanted. A very low center of gravity was required due to the ice. Crampons would have made for easier access and egress so perhaps depending on the time of year you visit throw a pair in your camera bag.

With water droplets galore at this waterfall, it’s well worth taking a blower brush for the longer exposures. I tend to use a blower brush more often than not when shooting longer exposures in conditions like this as due to the lens coating the water droplets run off very quickly. Whereas a cloth can sometimes smear the lens. However, on this occasion, nothing could stop them, as you can see by the image above.

Solheimasandur Plane Wreck

This was the highlight of the trip for me on this occasion. We had visited before both times, but this time we headed out early and that really paid off as we had the whole place to ourselves for the entire time we were there. In fact, the first people we met were as we headed back towards the car park an hour and a half later.

There are so many images of this plane wreck and I do love what remains of the fuselage, isolated and tormented by the ravaging Icelandic weather, this time we had it to ourselves on a clear crisp morning. I spent the first 15 minutes or so flying the drone and then after getting a couple of the bucket shots, I put on the 85mm and took some detail shots. This was something I hadn’t done on previous occasions and honestly due to the number of other tourists, like ourselves there.

The best time to photograph the plane wreck, I can now say, is when you have it all to yourself. In all honesty though, once you have photographed it, you’ve photographed it. What will make the difference is the weather conditions or the northern lights. On our trip, we only had a brief spell of the lights in the south with a low Kp index so it wasn’t worth venturing to the wreck to photograph it this time.

Seljalandsfoss

The walk behind Seljalandfoss was closed, and for good reason. The entire area was a sheet of ice. Even the slope to the right of the stairs below was thick sheets of ice. Although we carefully made our way up, there was no space for two people to set up and shoot without one of us hurtling down the slope at breakneck speed and probably ending up with broken equipment and bones. We carefully made our way back down and took a shot from the bridge as a reminder of the conditions.

Variouss can be found here, behind the waterfall for example, but probably the most photographed composition is from up the slope to the right of the waterfall, when there is a spectacular sunset composition it really is a stunning shot.

Dyrhólaey

Another of my favorite locations this time around and simply because I was no longer looking for photographs, and yet I kept taking shots. The Viltrox 85mm came back out to play once again and I walked around observing and recording which was really cathartic. Again after checking the Vedur weather app and seeing that nothing was changing, sunset-wise, there were no hopes of a sky to be dashed spectacular. This allowed for more time to take in the environment, something I do at home, but very rarely when on trips away as time is short.

At the Reynisfjara black sand beach, we watched everyone getting up close and personal with the waves to bag a shot. That’s even after seeing the warning signs as you enter the beach, which includes a photograph of a tourist caught in a creeper wave. We spent most of this time perched on the fallen rocks at the far end of the beach just observing the surroundings and people watching and again the 85mm was attached.

Until Next Time

Compositionally, if you have never visited Iceland and it’s on your radar, go for the bucket shots if time is tight. There are so many others doing the exact same, and that’s not a bad thing as you are recording it from your perspective. The images in this article are not the highly polished artworks of stunning sunsets and aurora that you can see online. They are simply a record of our trip. This was our nine days and we made the best of what was given to us at the time. Personally, I’d love a month in Iceland to explore further and experience more of the changing weather and locations to see how that changes my perspective on everything there.

So, did I get any of the shots I was hoping for? No, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great nine days. I took phone shots to record the trip and some camera shots. I didn’t fill up my SD card on this occasion, and to be totally honest I don’t mind at all as I really enjoyed the whole adventure. The ever-changing weather conditions allowed us to experience Iceland from another perspective, to take it all in, and that’s what counts as far as I’m concerned.

So until next time Iceland, it’s been fun.

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