In March of 2018 we took a photo tour of Southern Iceland with Jarrod Castaing and Luke Tscharke. The trip took us to various portions of Southern Iceland.
Hali had been to Iceland two years prior (without Mike), and she was anxious for a return trip. This time around, the trip included various waterfalls and scenic locations as well as a trip through some amazing ice caves, and of course some time spent in Reykjavík. The weather was clear, cold and windy every day. The unrelenting and strong winds were a significant factor. We were glad that we brought good cold-weather gear — it really made the trip more pleasant than it might have otherwise been. Despite our preparations, staying warm was a constant challenge!
At first, we spent some time in Reykjavík
It's a pretty little city with some great artwork on the buildings and some REALLY expensive restaurants. You could tell who lived there and who were tourists by the layers of clothing, or lack thereof. It was funny to see the locals go around with bare heads and hands while the tourists were bundled up with warm gloves, neck warmers, hats and hoods.
Hallgrímskirkja is a Lutheran (Church of Iceland) parish church in Reykjavík, Iceland
At 74.5 metres (244 ft) high, it is the largest church in Iceland and among the tallest structures in the country. The church was named after Hallgrímur Pétursson, the Icelandic clergyman who was the author of the Passion Hymns. The church is one of the best known landmarks in Reykjavik and was built in 1937. The architect was said to have designed it resemble the mountains, glaciers and trapp rocks of the country. (Trapp rocks are dark, fine grained, non-granite igneous rocks such as basalt, peridotite and gabbro).
The Einar Jónsson Sculpture Garden
We spent some time in this wonderful statuary garden near Hallgrímskirkja - The Einar Jónsson Sculpture Garden. It is the home and studio of Iceland's first sculptor. The museum had a fee to get into but it was free to roam around the beautiful sculptures in the garden.
Reykjavík City Pond (Tjörnin)
Near the Harpa (Concert Hall)
Reykjavík Cathedral (Dómkirkjan í Reykjavík) is the seat of the Bishop of Iceland and mother church of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland, as well as the parish church of the old city centre and environs. Since Iceland's parliament, the Alþingi, was resurrected in 1845, each session of parliament has begun with a Mass at the cathedral, and from there the dean of the cathedral leads the members of parliament to the parliament house. (From Wikipedia)
One afternoon we tried to find someplace to shoot sunset landscapes. We wound up by this pier with the wind blowing like crazy. We actually had to find shelter in the lee of this little lighthouse so that the camera and tripod would be stable enough to shoot.
Bruarfoss was our first major stop after leaving Reykjavík
Some of us went down to the rocks at the base of these beautiful falls and jockeyed for position standing in our gum boots as the water poured over our feet. The sky was overcast which was perfect for the falls, unfortunately it was the last clouds we would see on the trip.
Gullfoss is another popular waterfall destination, but none of our images from there made it past the editors
The video below (shot from Mike's phone) give you an idea of the location and conditions that day.
There was an unplanned stop to photograph some Icelandic horses
Icelandic horses were first brought to Iceland by the Vikings in the 8th century. They are considered the strongest horse breed in the world when you consider their strength to weight ratio. They are only 4-5 feet tall and can weigh between 600 and 900lbs. Unlike most other horses that have 3 gates (walk, trot, canter) Icelandic Horses have up to 5 gaits. Walk, trot, canter, tölt, and flying pace. They are known for their tölt, a smooth lateral four-beat gait, which is both fast but very comfortable. The breed has now been bred pure in Iceland for more than 1,000 years. With effort -- it is illegal to import horses to the island, and once exported a horse is not allowed to return. There are about 80,000 Icelandic horses in Iceland (compared to a human population of 317,000), and around 100,000 abroad.
Gljúfrabúi and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls
Gljúfrabúi waterfall (on the left) is a little hidden gem near the famous Seljalandsfoss waterfall. It is inside a cave that was tricky to enter. Going inside required some wading into the icy water. Hali and her camera were both soaked by the waterfall spray in the 5 minutes they spent inside. And then she cracked the top of her camera display when she stood up and lifted the camera without checking the rock above her head. What's a trip for Hali without some damage to herself or her camera equipment?
Starfall at Skogafoss. We went out for a night shoot at Skogafoss. It was our first night shoot and even though there was no aurora the stars were amazing.
We followed our late night shoot at Skogafoss with an early morning shoot at the same location. Despite a cloudless sunrise there was a lot of nice light. There were just a few of us there for the first 15 minutes then it got very crowded very quickly. L-R Low angle view of Skogafoss and the ice on the river outflow from the waterfall. Hali in front of Skogafoss. Sunrise reflecting on the river, rocks and ice.
Kvernufoss waterfall was one of those over the fence, through the dale, up the hill and around the bend to get to but it was worth the hike. A few of us actually went behind the waterfall and got wet (again!), but the best shots were on the path into the waterfall and the river leading up to the waterfall. The water really was that blue!
Jökulsárlón is a glacial lagoon with icebergs of various sizes floating as they break off from the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier on their way to the Atlantic ocean.
Hundreds of seals often take to the lagoon in search of the Atlantic herring, Atlantic salmon, Brown trout and Capelin that live there. Sadly we didn't see during our visit. We got to the lagoon in late afternoon which was a great time to photograph these formations.
Something a bit different, monochrome images of the icebergs.
Jarrod was kind enough to take a shot of us on the ice.
It was a bit unnerving walking around on the ice in the lagoon. Although it was mostly thick ice, it did shift in spots and the edges were thinner. There were a few places that we jumped from flat berg to flat berg only to feel it sway under our feet. Fortunately we managed to avoid taking a dip. It was beautiful to see the light shining through the ice!
Jökulsárlón is famous not only for the lagoon where the icebergs calve, but for the beach beyond it. It is a beautiful black sand beach where many of the icebergs that flow out of the lagoon wash up onto the shore leaving chunks of themselves on the beach to be gradually eroded or swept away into the ocean. The waves are dangerous there and for the second time (out of two visits) Hali ended up soaked by a wave. This time was because she was trying to save her rented camera and slipped as she stepped backwards away from a large wave. According to Hali there is nothing quite so refreshing as a dip in 1 C water and having your pants, shoes and backpack filled with cold water and super-fine black sand. It took 2 days but we got all her stuff dried out. Cleaning out the room of all of the black sand was a bit of a challenge, but we left the room nearly as clean as when we arrived.
Mike shot the phone video below of Hali heading back to the vans. He didn't know at this point that she had taken a little swim and was retreating to get warm and dry.
Mike took another phone video (below) on the following morning at the guest houses where we stayed.
The next morning was our very anticipated trip to the ice caves
We started out before the sun was properly up and had an amazing visit to the first cave. We were so early that we had the cave to ourselves for over an hour. Normally the ices caves are more crowded, but that is why we went very early. In the two images below we are putting on the required safety gear (helmets, harnesses and crampons) before entering the caves.
Our visit was to a glacial ice cave under the Vatnajökull glacier. These caves are only accessible from November to late March and change from year to year. Glaciers are always moving and so the ice caves within them are always changing size and shape. In spring and summer glaciers melt and the resulting meltwater drains through shafts in the ice called moulins. These moulins can be up to 10 meters wide, which means that literally rivers of this meltwater flow within the glacier which causes the ice to erode. When this happens, ice caves form. Lower temperatures in autumn and winter then harden and stabilize the caves. There are some caves that appear year after year, although they are never quite the same. There are other caves that may only exist for one season only. It is important to note that ice caves are dangerous; there is water still running in them even in winter, and they do sometimes collapse.
The two shots below of the first cave we went into shows the beauty of the blue ice (left) and you can see how the tunnel is formed from the meltwater (right)
The image below shows us at the mouth of the cave looking out onto the glacier. The image is actually "blended" from 3 images with shutter speeds ranging from 0.17s to 10s.
More shots from the front of the ice cave showing the incredible blue color of the ice. The black inclusions in the ice are pieces of volcanic ash that got swept up as the glacier was moving and got compressed into the ice.
We all got some time to spend in the back part of the cave. There was a small temporary bridge (well, a plank) leading from the front part of the cave it was only big enough for two at a time, it wasn't even tall enough for me to stand up and we were cautioned not to step beyond the rope. The pictures on the right and left (below) were taken looking straight up at the ceiling of the cave. The ice formations were incredibly beautiful. In the areas with thinner ice, the light was allowed to shine through which resulted in spectacular glowing blue colors. The picture in the middle shows why we couldn't go past the rope - it was a river of meltwater filled with ice. The guide for the cave said something about it possibly being 10m deep. Watch your step.
A brief phone video (below) showing the terrain above the ice caves.
After exiting that cave we walked on the glacier for a while to get to a second, smaller cave. The picture of Mike below (left, top) is from above the first cave we were in. You can see how the glacial ice is all cracked and striated with layers of ice and then some black volcanic ash. Over time this all gets crushed together and when it is exposed to water then refreezes it makes those beautiful patterns you see in the cave. Below (left, bottom) is a 2 image blend from the second, smaller cave looking upward. Hali was able to capture the moment when a plane was flying across the opening and blended it with a longer exposure for the darker ice. Below (right) is a picture of a small moulin from the second ice cave.
VestrAhorn (also called Vesturhorn) is one of those iconic locations that everyone wants to visit. There's a good reason for that -- it's beautiful!
One of those things that makes Vesturhorn so beautiful is the juxtaposition of the steep cliffs of the (454M) mountain, the black sand beach, the ocean and the dunes. Vesturhorn is one of the two most often photographed spots in Iceland, day and night. The beach and the dunes are on land owned by a local farmer. It has become so popular to photograph and visit that the farmer has been charging to get into the area. He has recently installed a gate and ticketing mechanism which allows people to enter day and night. It is a small, but worthwhile fee to go down to the dunes and beach there to experience Vesturhorn, making it one of only two places in Iceland where there is a charge to see a natural attraction. (The other is Kerið crater, a part of the Golden Circle)
As the sun was setting we kept hoping for more clouds but they didn't oblige us, just these wispy things that were barely visible, at least in color, this is a color image rendered in B&W, Hali thought it was a bit more dramatic.
After a nice dinner in Höfn where we each had a Reindeer burger (tasted just like a regular burger) we headed back to Vestrahorn with high hopes of seeing an aurora. Hali had rented a Sony AR7III for the trip and wasn't all that happy with the aurora pictures she made so she turned one into b&w. To the left in the image you can see another member of our group slightly illuminated by the back of his camera.
It was pretty cold this night (nothing new), and we had an early start this morning to shoot the ice caves. Mike had taken some shots of the aurora and was thinking about heading to van to get out of the wind -- and maybe close his eyes for a few. Right about then, Hali and Nicole spoke up saying "you might not want to walk away right now". Mike went back down and got this shot below.
The next morning saw us headed back west towards Vik. Along the way Hali took some shots from the van (left) of some barns and silo's we passed. We also made a stop at Hofskirkja, one of only 6 turf churches still left in Iceland (the middle and right images). Hofskirkja is also the youngest turf church in Iceland that was built in the original style. The church was originally built between 1883-1885 but rebuilt in 1953 by the National Museum of Iceland and reconsecrated in 1954. The walls are rock and the roof is stone slabs covered with turf. All shots are infrared (720nm converted camera)
The next stop was the church at vik.
This shot of Hali was taken next to the cemetery overlooking the church at Vik. It's one of Mike's favorite shots of the trip.
Not far from Vik is Dyrhólaey. We arrived in time for some afternoon light. A key element of the area is the arch of lava standing in the sea, which gave the peninsula its name (meaning: door hill island). At one point this peninsula was a lava island.
After a visit to the arch at Dyrholaey we went down to Kirkjufjara beach to photograph the sunset over the famous sea stacks of Vik and Reynisfjara beach.
A night stop a the church at Vik, hoping to see more northern lights.
We had a nice dinner at a Pizza place in Vik while we waited and hoped for the aurora to put in an appearance, it was wasn't supposed to be big but the sky was clear and we were hoping. When we got out we could see the green in the sky and we took a quick drive up to the church. It didn't last very long but there were some good green spikes for a half an hour or so. This was a blend of 3 exposures, one for the aurora and two for the church and the town.
The next morning was the last one of the photo tour. We had a great time, met some great people and we were sad to see it end. But before that some of us got up early to go down to Reynisfjara beach to photograph the basalt columns and the famous sea stacks. Hali got up early to go and came back with this one shot. You can see the trails of the dozens of birds that were flying around the basalt stack closest to the beach.Reynisfjara beach is even more dangerous than the beach at Jökulsárlón, and responsible for a few tourist deaths over the years. Given her track record with the ocean in Iceland, Hali stayed pretty far back from any chance of rogue waves.
After returning to the guest house and having a nice breakfast we headed out to the Blue Lagoon. But first was one last stop with some Icelandic horses.
We drove from Vik down around the Reykjanes peninsula to the Blue Lagoon
Those clouds that were nowhere to be found all the rest of the trip showed up in force as we drove down the desolate highway next to the ocean. The wind was doing what it did for the entire trip - blowing like crazy and to add to that for a short period of time it snowed intensely, quite different from the clear blue skies we left behind in the Vik area. We paid to go into the Blue Lagoon, changed into our bathing suits and put our stuff in a locker but it was so cold and windy that we didn't last too long in the geothermal bath. The water was wonderful, but just keeping our heads out of the water was almost painful from the cold and wind. It was nice to get warm and dry and all bundled up again.