Notes from Iceland (The Place)

If you’re flying to Iceland one day, it’s likely you’ll take Icelandair because there’s not too many services that connect Reykjavik with the continental Europe. In such case, don’t miss your chances to browse though the on-board entertainment options and listen to the Icelandic music (not talking about folk, which I avoided by miles). Apart from the usual suspects as Sigur Ros and Bjork (remember Sugarcubes? :-)), you can get to hear less known bands and musicians that are often nothing short of pure reflections of a meditative remoteness of the island. There’s no better preparation for ambient mood of the place than giving ear to Ampop or Blindfold in your headphones and watching icy toppings of volcanos, wrinkled faces of glaciers, black sand beaches framed by white lines of crashing waves or countless veins of rivers deltas as the plane have reached Iceland.

And yes, if tired by the melancholy, play Emiliana Torrini.

We flew couple of hundred kilometers across the entire island and I was so amazed by spectacular and constantly changing landscape graphic designs and rhythmic patterns running below us that if we were to turn back right then, I guess I would still feel content about the trip. Obviously, picturesque sceneries down there swiftly drew the attention of all my visual fantasies. Within minutes, I took hundreds of mental photos. Soon I began more excited about getting there with my camera than I was when first had kissed my wife (okay... it was similar). I knew at that point of time that the decision to travel and photograph Iceland was right whoever' idea it was. What I didn’t know was that the obsession triggers its shutter.

Little no-name lake near Hveravellir. Camera: Hasselblad H1, Lens: Hasselblad HC 35mm, Film: Fuji Velvia 50, Filter: Lee ND 0.6, Exposure / Aperture: unrecorded.

It was quite cold and very windy hence a decent visibility. This allowed me to use the wide angle lens in an attempt to emphasize the distance and communicate the space. Warmly colored sunset lit the small rock nicely. It got strong enough to be employed as the basis of my composition, together with distant mountains in the background. Also, I noticed the breeze leaving scars on the surface of the water. I knew I needed the smallest possible exposure time to capture the movement so I went a bit off the rock to reduce the aperture to somewhere around f/11 if I can remember. The sky played with me, too, and actually forced me to break the classic rule of thirds and try the sort of a “T” design. I found it graphically most pleasing from all of the options. Placing one of the subject in the middle can often get very static but I think it was not the case here as the dynamics of the image was built on close foreground - far background view angle and the contrasty relationship between the rock and the mountain, supported by movement on the water and the strong sky.

The main road from the airport is a great intro to what you can expect to see here. It’s surrounded by endless black lava fields with rare green spots. It was a strange feeling to watch the out-of-this-world parched moonscape in combination with the asphalt road and piles of the same cars that I left behind in Prague. You looked to the side and felt like Mr Armstrong but one glance to the front woke you up - commuting to work again. There are plenty of interesting spots near Keflavik where we landed that are surely beautiful (or better interesting) enough to start a photographic journey with. But we were thinking that it would be better to familiarize with the landscape and get true feel of it before we commit to anything else. Hence we had this cool plan to leave the ring road (main road around Iceland) as soon as it gets to go inland for one or two days with Hveravellir being our vague destination.

Another little no-name lake near previous lake. Camera: Hasselblad H1, Lens: Hasselblad HC 80mm, Film: Fuji Velvia 50, Filter: Lee ND 0.6, Exposure / Aperture: unrecorded.

We moved further down south to find another beautiful spot. The colorful light created some nice patterns on the rocks and the interesting contrast to the blue surface of the lake. For this one, I chose 80mm lens (approximate equivalent of 50mm focal distance in 36mm systems) to allow volcanos pop up in the background and to make some good use of lines, areas and contrasts which to me played well together, also by excluding any distracting elements from the scene.

It proved to be the right way to start our adventure. After couple of hours, we found ourselves deep in the middle of nowhere surrounded by nothing but absolute silence. As the dusk was approaching, we noticed vehicles and cyclists we had been meeting every now and then slowly disappeared. Instead, strong winds little by little flew any thoughts of civilization away from our heads. In the midst of all this we stood watching sceneries and visualizing shots that shortly lifted us to the photographic trance and we were shooting like there was no tomorrow...

A glacier river. Camera: Hasselblad H1, Lens: Hasselblad HC 80mm, Film: Fuji Velvia 50, Filter: Lee ND 0.6, Exposure / Aperture: unrecorded.

Again, some no-name river featuring colors of melting glacier water as witnessed in the soft early morning light. We took about two-hour nap in the car parked nearby. When we woke up, the feeling of emptiness was really deep and very new to me. The silence was broken just by the river flow. I first tried to capture the large space around and the curve of the river with the wide angle lens but could not get rid of too many disordered fragments that had to be included in the scene, mainly a strange rock formation below me. And also, the mountains in the background were too small again. Freezing, I changed the lens and chose the frame and enjoyed a sudden feeling that this is how this place wants to be documented. :-)

I started to slowly realize that from the two elements required for a good landscape photograph to come together (right time @ right place), one was there constantly wherever we went or looked - I just was in the right place all the time in Iceland.

The only piece left to take care of was time...

Near to Pingvellir, very near. Camera: Hasselblad H1, Lens: Hasselblad HC 35mm, Film: Fuji Velvia 50, Filter: Lee ND 0.9, Exposure / Aperture: unrecorded.

Sometimes you can get an interesting image when you leave behind any perception or own visualization of a very known place that is usually natural destination when shooting landscape that we have not visited before. We stopped at Pingvellir, the popular spot with a thick atmosphere of an ancient history. There is no other place in Iceland which has been more important for the story of Icelandic nation. This is where it began and then all major events took place... I made few attempts to capture the old-time mood of Pingvellir but I suspect with a little to no success. Unsettled, I went for a short walk the opposite direction by the river of Őxará and got attracted by flowers showing up here and there.

In case you are a passionate plantsman, you will not choose Iceland as an ideal destination for your business trips. For many reasons, there are vast areas of sparse vegetation there and nothing else. A combination of an intriguing plant embedded into an epic scenery, so popular amongst landscape photographers, was of very short supply. Actually during the whole trip, I was dreaming of a shot with a violet lupin field and a huge glacier in the background, lit with early sunlight. Instead, this is called \\\'arctic riverbeauty\\\', very typical Icelandic plant that you won\\\'t find elsewhere in Europe. I waded the river, lied down and worked out the composition with poor hills, pretty confident that I will get much better flower shot later as we go. How wrong I was...

Nowhereland. Camera: Hasselblad H1, Lens: Hasselblad HC 80mm, Digital Back: Phase One P30, Filter: Lee ND 0.9, ISO: 100, Exposure / Aperture: 10s / f11, Date: 18/07/2009 @ 2:12am.

One of our inland trip led from beautiful waterfall named Barnafoss having taken the road F550 and then direction to Pigvellir. All night spent in the car (the same repeated this summer), we met numbers of unbelievable sceneries that were crying for being shot. Wandering through endless fields of lava, watching volcanos passing by, being totally alone in the midst of eternal landscape cooled by freezing air, letting the time blow over all of it is like returning back in time. Far back in time to when the world began.

We made plenty of stops that night and I guess I finished two rolls of Velvia and experimented a lot with my digital back. Here I loved the colorful twilight that had been hanging around in my back mirror for all the time as though it was my last day on Earth that I don’t want to end. I found this striking set up of graphic elements supplemented by some snow leftovers that delivered the smooth flow for a viewer’s eye throughout the frame.

Near to Pingvellir, very near. Camera: Hasselblad H1, Lens: Hasselblad HC 35mm, Film: Fuji Velvia 50, Filter: Lee ND 0.3, Exposure / Aperture: 0.3s / f11.

Having spent three days and two nights in a fishermen’ village near Landmannalaugar waiting for ANY light, surrounded by all those beautiful and untouched places, was an experience that I would perhaps enjoy if we had more time. But there were events that I loved - as there was not much to do while it was raining, we decided to drive couple of routes that seemed to go to nowhere. And most of them proved to. This one ended up by a lake of which a large part had no water. The volcano that attracted my attention looked like a sphinx. I walked through the half-dried mud trying to find a good spot to photograph it from. To emphasize its shape, I wanted to create a simple composition that would be very static by placing everything in the middle. Thanks to the reflection, the bottom half found its content, too. The lighting was gloomy enough to fit the scene and add the mood I felt in this bizarre environment.

The images included here were made on completely unknown and unfamiliar spots that you won’t find named in any of the tourist guides. I chose them from dozens of others to demonstrate that there’s incredible amount of opportunities in Iceland in ANY place you might end up being to.

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