land of fire & ice ICELAND PHOTOGRAPHY EXPEDITION
After breakfast at our guesthouse, we said goodbye to Reykjavík and drove off into a grey morning, along the south coast. Within a couple hours, we arrived at Seljalandsfoss waterfall and armed ourselves with microspikes on our boots before piling out of the van. We snapped some photos from various angles with many other tourists, but then a couple of us decided to go for what I believe is the most interesting shot: behind the waterfall.
We precariously climbed stairs hidden under 5 inches of solid ice, battling wind and icy mist. Eventually, we found ourselves alone and sheltered in an alcove behind the waterfall, surrounded by shattered fallen ice. After taking our photos and drenching ourselves (and our lenses), it was on to the next photo stop.
We wandered around the dunes, searching for the perfect set of leading lines to complete our compositions, all while freezing, getting sandblasted, and having trouble standing in place. Just when we got comfortable and unshielded our lenses from blowing sand, another massive gust would come along and force us to cover up again.
When my eyes, mouth, and camera were adequately filled with this fine, black sand, I decided it was time to head back to the van before any more damage could be done. Another client, Beth, was making her way to the van alongside me when the wind literally lifted us off our feet and carried us up and over the road. For the first time in my life, I was truly afraid that I would get blown away. After being thrown down, I huddled close to the ground, hugging my camera to protect it from any more sand, waiting for a calm to make a run for it back to the van. By the time Beth and I reached the van, we were shaken, the van was rocking back and forth, and we had now turned our attention to a tourist completely determined, yet hopelessly chasing his jacket that was blowing across dunes at 75 mph. By the time we left, the man and his jacket were both specks on the horizon.
I spent the next few car rides painstakingly picking sand out of every crevice in my camera and spinning my focus and zoom rings back and forth -- until the nails-on-a-blackboard crunch of sand was ground into a usable, yet still less-than-optimal state.
As we continued on our way, we were surprised by such great light that we made several impromptu stops: mountain views, streams winding through the white landscape, and a pack of Icelandic horses near the side of the road. We eagerly climbed over the fence to play with and photograph a group of 20+ friendly horses, perfectly placed with a stunning mountain backdrop. Next, we went to the harbor of Höfn, where we ate a quick gas station lunch (standard when on the go) and took some photos of old boats. Making our way back west again, we stopped a few more times for reindeer, an abandoned farm, and other scenic landscapes.
At one point, we stopped to take videos of snow blowing wildly across the road. I carefully got out of the van, but made sure to stay sheltered behind it. It was just not my day, though, because I was whipped around the front of the van, unable to even hold in place while gripping with all my strength to the side mirror. My camera slammed onto the hood of the car, breaking part of my lens, and I was thrown to the ground...again. I was shell-shocked for the rest of the day, and had bruises on my legs for the rest of the trip. I'm always willing to give it my all to capture a great photo, even if it means stepping out into unwelcoming weather. But, I did learn a lesson about the power and unpredictability of Iceland's wind, and made sure to be a little more careful from then on.
We arrived at Jökulsárlón and the iceberg beach for an awe-inspiring sunset. We pulled on our rainboots and waded in the surf to capture glowing icebergs tumbling around on the black sand -- their color shifting from gold to red to aquamarine with the falling sun. Hundreds of chunks of ice littered the beach, some towering over me. Of everywhere I've been in Iceland, this place feels the most transcendent, otherworldly.
Experiencing the ice cave was nothing short of magical. Rippling rainbows of luminous blue. Layers of history streaked with black volcanic ash. Scalloped edges of ice ablaze with golden sunlight. We took panoramas, detail shots, portraits, and a group shot, of course.
We couldn't resist stopping to see some more horses along our drive to Dyrhólaey, which was our sunset destination. When we arrived at Dyrhólaey, the group convinced Johnathan that the van could make it up the steep, icy mountain road to the top of the headland, mostly just to avoid a treacherous hike. We did make it, but others weren't as lucky when it came time to go back down. We spent a couple hours photographing our surroundings. Cliffs, seastacks, rock arches, black sand beaches, and mountains, all orbited around the Dyrhólaey lighthouse. Wispy clouds drifted in right as the sun was setting. The sky then shifted from one pastel to the next, as we continue to snap away.
We started the day at Kirkjufell again, and then made our way up through a winding mountain pass to a rustic a-frame shack alone in the barren white wilderness -- used as a respite by hikers and travelers in need.
On our last full day on the tour, we were all completely drained of any energy, and my health was rapidly deteriorating from a cold I developed a few days earlier (I was later diagnosed with pneumonia). Luckily, the dangerous winds and cloudy skies presented us with a break in the afternoon. In the morning, we explored the geothermal area of Námafjall, which was like a lunar landscape, with eerie drifts of steam blowing through the air. The colorful boiling mud pools and active steam vents proved to be interesting subjects, even with a lack of good light. Johnathan warned us to be careful about where we stepped, as the ground is unpredictable and new pools are forming all the time.
Krafla geothermal power station was our next stop. We stepped out of the van into the Ice Age -- everything was encrusted in inches of jagged, windblown ice. Steam and loose snow whipped around us, as we struggled to keep our feet planted on the ground to take photos.
Dimmuborgir was our first stop of the day, where we watched the sun rise through arches of rock. We took one final group photo and were on our way back to Akureyri. Along the way, we stopped at Laufás, a small turf village and church that took us back a couple centuries in Icelandic history.
By the time we arrived back in Akureyri, it was lunchtime, and Johnathan took us to his favorite Icelandic bakery. After lunch, we headed to the airport, which ended up being about the size of my home grocery store. It took us a minute to read over the security instructions and prepare to go through the security line, and then a whole 5 seconds to walk down the 10 foot empty, security-less hallway until we were surprised by already being at our gate. From the lack of metal detectors and luggage scanners and any actual security guards, I guess they're pretty trusting in Iceland?
We boarded our propellor plane back to Reykjavik and watched as the edge of the arctic faded behind us. The rugged landscape of Iceland passed slowly below us, until the colorful buildings of Reykjavik appeared in the midst of mountains and curving black beaches.