Last Day in Iceland (Day 6)
On the move early in order to get to Gullfoss as early as possible. It was supposed to be quite windy. Sure enough it was extremely windy. The landscapes I was passing were beautiful, but it was too windy to stop numerous times. At one point, I came to a scene that was too spectacular to pass up. I had to park my car to ensure that the wind would not rip the door from its hinges.
The sky was stormy and appeared ready to burst. In the foreground tall grass was blown by the strong winds; there were layers of clouds, each layer with different tones, moving at different speeds. Right above mountains further in the background was a bright white layer of clouds, above the white layer, were very dark clouds that appeared to be a majestic group of mountains. And atop everything were ominous stormy clouds. Wow!
I arrived at my hotel and it was raining. By the time I finished checking in the sun was out. The hotel was a short walk to Strokkur Geyser. So I took advantage of the stormy clouds to take a nice image of the geyser.
Since it was beginning to clear up I headed for Gullfoss, a 15-minute drive. The last time I visited there it rained the entire time. As I arrived the sun was breaking through the clouds.
The wind and clouds were making for spectacular scenery with Gullfoss in the foreground. I decided to go atop and hopefully get a broader shot.
Since it was my last day and sunset was only a couple of hours away I decided to stay put, ride the wind and rain storm and hope the clouds would break up at sunset. What I saw was well worth the wait!
No Vibrance or Saturation added to this photo! The scene brought tears to my eyes!! Next it was time to eat some delicious lamb stew, then go to sleep. The weather forecast clearing at 3am, my last opportunity to capture the northern lights. I was up at 2:30, all packed for my departure back to New York. Luckily, the forecast was right on. The sky began to clear and I was able to capture the geyser and the norther lights.
What a perfect ending to a spectacular 6-day trip to Iceland!
Day 5 in Iceland
This morning began very cloudy and then started to clear up, with the sun bursting through the clouds. I went back to one of my favorite spots near Vik, Kirkjufjara beach and Dyrhólaey. I had passed the very narrow road, with water on either side numerous times, but there was too much traffic for me to pull over. This morning was not very busy. I pulled over and began to shoot.
The day looked perfect for panoramas, but this was too low to capture the grandness of the scenery. (Also, others saw my car pulled over and many cars began to pull over and park. Before I knew it people were walking in front of me taking selfies with their phones! So after getting numerous images of the reflections of the clouds and some low-view panoramas I went up the cliff of Dyrhólaey. When I was there the last time there was too much cloud cover. Unfortunately, when I arrived atop the cliff clouds began to come in from the sea. So I quickly tried to capture a pano.
Before long it began to poor down. So I waited in my car. After a 15 minute downpour the sun broke through and pop, a double rainbow appeared...just a typical day in Iceland so far.
The rainbow was stable for a good 20 minutes! Once the rainbow dissipated the sky began to clear over the sea. It was gorgeous! I walked to different spots atop the cliff shooting from many angles. The weather was perfect for some long exposures: a clearing sky with fast moving clouds and wonderful white foam on the black beach below. I drove down to get a closer view. I positioned myself as close to the black beach as I could get, in an easterly direction. A rainbow appeared again just long enough during the long exposure (4 minutes). What a rewarding morning! It began to rain again, good timing for a lunch break...
The weather cleared up by the time I was finished lunch. So back up the cliff I went. Clouds were moving fast from the sea to the mountains...another long exposure with the black beach looking west. Nature had drawn a long white line down the beach to the horizon.
It was now getting closer to sunset. I was hoping to get a long exposure of the beautiful rock sitting on the east side of the beach; if I was lucky I may get a beautiful alpenglow. I took out my 70-200 f/4 to get as much detail of the rock--it looked like a sculpture with many hands reaching out--the black beach and the rapidly moving clouds. There was a little alpenglow but this was to be a black and white. I was ecstatic at the result.
This became my favorite image of the trip. While it was shot in color, I visualized the contrast of the lines on the beach crossing with the cliffs across the way, the moving clouds above and the Icelandic Sculpture in the foreground...stealing the show! The rock formations in the distance contrasted with the alpenglow on the sky.
I was hoping my last night in the Vik area would bring some more Northern Lights. The KP index was supposed to be high. Instead it rained. That meant an early start to head north. I was looking forward to seeing Gullfoss again. The last time I was there it rained and was blanketed by clouds during my visit. Maybe I would get lucky.
Day 4 in Iceland
Since it rained the night before I took the extra time to plan a road trip to the gorgeous Fjadrárgljúfur canyon (about 90 minutes from Vik). I left early. How long I stayed depended on the weather. On my way the weather conditions changed quite a bit. There was snow on the ground; not a lot, but just enough to paint the landscape in white powder. When I arrived at the canyon it began to rain. I hiked a short distance to a nice spot overlooking a beautiful waterfall pouring into the canyon. I had to wait for the rain to subside and I captured a long exposure that looked very suitable for a greyscale image. The curve of the waterfall was almost symmetrical to the cliffs.
I captured some more images and left when the rain turned into sleet. I drove back to Vik and the closer I got the better the weather became. I decided to go back to a different area of the black beach; I hadn't seen Dyrhólaey, another beautiful rock formation that attracts lots of tourists. By the time I reached my destination the sky was clearest I had seen it since my arrival in Iceland.
There were storm clouds approaching from the southeast so I photographed the storm at sea.
I've placed the color and the greyscale next to each other. I'm not quite satisfied with the greyscale yet. The scenery was quite beautiful.
The storm then began to push northward over the black beach. Another spectacular scene materialized with storm clouds over the sea and moving over the glacier.
The forecast and weather maps hinted it was time to leave, get something to eat in Vik and come back for the Northern Lights. The maps showed the sky would clear after 9pm and the solar activity forecast was pretty good at 4 Kp. After waiting out the clouds and wind the Northern Lights made an appearance but the intensity was not strong enough. I checked the weather maps and it showed more clearing back at Skógafoss, near my hotel, so off I went. I was fortunate to enjoy another light show at Skógafoss. Around midnight it began to rain for the rest of the night...
Day 3 in Iceland (October 2018)
My second day was quite long; from sunrise to 3am. After a brief sleep I had breakfast, the rain had stopped and it looked like the sky was clearing. I was out and on my way to the black beach. By the time I arrived the sky was blue with gorgeous textured clouds: perfect for greyscale (black and white) photography.
The clouds' were very shapely and translucent. As the sun was rising behind the clouds, the backlight was gave clarity and detail to the clouds. I was visualizing a dark sky with moon light; thanks to my my 4-stop filter I captured "Morning 'Moonlight' at the Black Beach."
For this image the subject of the image was the spectacular cloud over the rocks that appeared like a flying saucer about to land. The shutter speed couldn't be to slow or the beautiful shape and texture of that cloud would be lost and the sun would loose its round shape. The white rocks on the beach sparkled just enough.
It was a Monday, so the crowd of tourists was not too bad early. With the low tide I could walk east on the beach and capture more images with a dark, unworldly theme. I found an area surrounded by rocks and took some long exposures.
I wanted to capture the contrast of the different rocks and the black beach, the beach and black rock formations in the sea against the white-foamy crashing waves and the dark and light clouds. The 30-second exposure helped with the clouds and the sea. The 50mm lens allowed for the detailed texture of the rocks on the beach. 800 ISO gave me enough light sensitivity for post processing. The result is a "Haunted Black Beach."
After many takes at the rocks I headed west on the beach. The waves were now quite powerful, leaving lots of white foam contrasting against the black beach. The clouds were twirling and the sea was wild.
It was a beautiful day so I made the spot decision to go to Seljalandsfoss. I've been there twice and both times it was raining hard. The weather maps showed a relatively clear sky, so off I went. I was hoping I could photograph a sunset from behind the waterfall...
The weather was wonderful. Perfect for a few portraits of this gorgeous waterfall. I planned for protecting my lens from the wind spray, and with less tourists I was able to capture a nice profile of the waterfall.
This "Profile of Seljalandsfoss" was my favorite image during my visit to the waterfall.
I did get my sunset image; though, the sunset was not to colorful. The lighting was quite nice for a greyscale image, thanks to the contrasty sky. Next it was back to the hotel for a bite to eat before some more Northern Lights hunting. However, by the time I was eating the weather made a turn for the worse; and all my weather maps showed 100% cloud cover for the night...another good nights sleep to be ready for day number 4.
I recently returned from my trip to Iceland, which was spectacular. I stayed most of my time in South Iceland and one day near Gullfoss.
I was in this area once before, but it was part of an 11-day trip around Iceland. The visits to Vik and Gullfoss were too short. It was pouring rain in both places the entire visit, which meant there was not enough time to wait out the weather. In Iceland, one needs time to be able to wait for the inevitable weather change.
As a sidebar, the 11-day trip around Iceland was wonderful for seeing the highlights of each area—an introduction to Iceland. A large chunk of every day is driving, though. It is very difficult to really enjoy any one area, especially if it happens to intersect pouring rain for the day.
For this trip I wanted to spend some quality time at the black beaches at and near Vik, Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss, and Fjadrárgljúfur (canyon, about 2 million years old). Since I didn’t have to worry about leaving for another town every morning, I could relax, take my time and photograph a scene and explore the area, as well. I was able to find a couple, off the beaten path spots.
Of course, for any trip to Iceland, one has to have very good rain gear for yourself and your camera equipment. Having the right gear enables you to focus on the scenery and not worry about being cold or wet. Having two camera bodies is also very useful; you don’t have to change your lenses in wet weather. The new camera rain jacket I used worked well for changing settings.
While South Iceland is quite beautiful it is also very popular for tourists; so part of the time is devoted to finding spots to shoot away from the throngs of tourists. For the photo below I walked over a mile to distance myself from the people admiring the beautiful basalt rock formations. The contrast between the beach, the rocks on the beach, the foam from the waves, the clouds, the sky and rock formations make this an exciting scene to shoot. You have to be careful of sleeper waves, as well, that can knock you down and sweep you into the sea.
In addition to the beautiful landscapes and scenery I was hoping to see the Aurora Borealis, since it was October. During my trip in 2016, one of our travel guides recommended October as the best month for the Northern Lights. There is usually not a lot of snow and there is plenty of darkness.
As I documented in my previous post, before I left I studied about the Aurora Borealis and how to hunt for them. The forecasted KP index during my stay was, luckily, very high. The first night was supposed to be a 6 (out of nine), which is very high…but the forecast (at 6pm) was for rain and 100% cloud cover all night. It was a good opportunity to catch up on sleep.
A sidebar on weather forecasts for Iceland: DO NOT COUNT ON ANY WEATHER FORECAST MORE THAN 24-36 HOURS IN ADVANCE. The weather forecasted for my trip was 99% rain every day with possible clearing at night ONE night. As you will see in this and future blogs on my trip, while it did rain every day, many hours included gorgeous partly-sunny skies, stormy skies, fast-moving clouds all wonderful material for a photographer/artist.
Back to Northern Lights hunting. The rest of the time I was in Iceland the KP index was either a 5 or a 4, great solar high solar activity if you are in Iceland. Of course, you can have very high KP index, but if the sky is not clear you will not see the northern lights. I used two very good aurora apps on my iPhone: Aurora Pro and Aurora Alerts. I also used a very good weather radar app—critical for determining where the skies are clear—Weather Pro. Also, I used the Iceland weather web site: www.en.vedur.is. Both aurora apps also include cloud-cover maps.
In all of the articles I read to prepare for the Northern Lights, they said the best time to see the Northern Lights was between 10pm and 2am. But, as we all know, rules are made to be broken sometimes. After being totally washed out on my first day, my second day was perfect. I began photographing at sunrise (a reasonable 7:45) and the weather for the rest of the day was beautiful. I returned to my hotel for a late dinner and retrieve my winter boots so I could be comfortable watching for the northern lights in the cold. However, as I walked to the hotel’s dining room to eat a late dinner at 8pm there they were! Fortunately, I had all my gear packed in my car and both of my cameras ready for the northern lights. One camera had a 16-35mm f/4 lens and the other had a 20mm f/1.8 lens. The former aperture was set to f/4 the latter’s at f/2.8. Both had a shutter speed of 4 seconds and the ISO was set higher for the f/4 at 2500. I ran back to my car and drove to the closest spot near the hotel with a decent foreground and began to shoot with the fear I would miss them.
I was lucky. I read that the aurora may appear grayish to my eye. These were bright green, alive and vibrating.
The collisions between the electrons of the solar particles and oxygen atoms and molecules was intense. They then began to dissipate or fade…only to come back into another shape. Once they fizzled out where I was—again this was just after 8pm, not 10pm, I just drove to my planned spot—Skógafoss, only a five minute drive from my hotel. I had no dinner that night; just trail mix and fruit. As I got out of my car in the parking lot they returned with a vengeance
I plopped my tripod down and aimed a little too high—I didn’t want to miss any of the sky. I almost missed the waterfall. My eye could not see the purple (from the nitrogen atoms and molecules), but the yellow-green was intense and vibrating. The colors, high in the sky simply looked grey, but they were moving. The combination of the bright stars and the electric light show was incredible. If I didn’t see them the rest of my trip I would have been content! However, three of the six nights I was fortunate to see and photograph them.
More to come.
September 30th, 2018
All ready for my trip. While the weather is unpredictable, it looks like there will be a lot of rain. Rain is a very good thing for black and white photography, especially if it is windy, stormy, and/or partly clearing. I am not a fan of blue skies with no clouds.
When I was at Seljalandsfoss in May of 2014 I had to constantly wipe off my lens with a microfiber cloth while it rained, but I was able to take some nice images. I used Op/Tech's 18" Rainsleeve, which protected my camera and lens, but made it a little difficult to change my settings. (I use a wireless shutter, as well, all the time.)
For this visit, I will have a rain jacket that fits over the camera and lens and allows me to make any changes to my settings with no difficulty. In addition, I built a little "umbrella" that straps onto my lens over the camera/lens rain jacket so I can shoot in pouring rain or snow and limit the rain drops or snowflakes on my lens, as long as I am not shooting against the wind.
In addition to a lot of rain, the very good news is that the KP index (algorithm for the global geomagnetic activity index) forecast for the time I will be in Iceland is good. One can only hope that the winds are blowing at night long enough to open the cloud coverage so I can shoot images of the northern lights.
During my visit in June of 2016, I met some very nice people from Iceland. They recommended coming back to Iceland in October for seeing the Northern Lights. They gave two reasons: the weather is not too bad (there is usually not much snow at that time) and there is enough darkness. In order to increase the chance of darkness I chose 6 days to be around a new moon. The sun will rise around 7:30 and set around 18:00; so if the sun does not oblige the days of my visits with a lot of activity I can shoot both sunrises and sunsets.
Of course, there is a good chance I will see a lot of rain. When I was there in May of 2014 my friend and I saw rain 8 of the 10 days we were there. But the scenery is so spectacular...and the weather changes so fast, we were still able to capture some wonderful images. I love black and white and stormy weather can create a wide gamut of tones. Of course, having very good clothes to be comfortable is critical to focusing on one's art...and not how cold or wet it is.
The reading about auroras is very interesting; there are plenty of websites with succinct information. I learned about the solar cycle, which lasts approximately 11 years. (The cycle we are in now began around 2012.) It is measured by the amount of solar activity. The cycle we are currently in is regarded as a relatively weak cycle. The bottom line is the particles produced by solar activity pass through the Earth's magnetic poles (north and south) and mix with the atmosphere's particles. Collisions with oxygen particles emit yellows and greens; with nitrogen particles red, violet and sometimes blue. One has a higher probability of seeing an aurora the closer one is to one of the two poles in darkness.
In order to simplify our search for auroras there is a KP index (see www.aurora-service.eu ). On that site there is a map showing what the minimum index needs to be in order to have a chance to see an aurora in your area. According to their map southern Iceland requires an index of KP3 (the index goes from 0 to 9). The higher the KP index the further south an aurora can be seen (in the northern hemisphere). However, you can have an extremely high KP index (>KP5) on a night, but if there is cloud cover no aurora.
I have found two very good apps to help my hunt: Aurora Pro and Aurora Forecast. My preference is Aurora Pro. In a nutshell its forecast page is divided in two: "Forecasts" gives you the Viewing probability in percent; the Cloud Coverage; the next hour's realistic KP index and upcoming days KP index. "Solar Winds" gives you wind speeds (we want high speeds); wind density (we want more density); Solar wind Bz, is the measurement of the interplanetary magnetic field, which we want to be a negative number (see www.auroranotify.com ), which means the magnetic field is tilting south. The more it tilts south the higher the probability and higher KP index.
Just in case there is not enough solar activity or clear skies I am planning to spend a lot of time at two beautiful water falls, Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, the black beaches of Vik, Reynisfjara basalt rocks, Dyrhólaey, and Kirkjufjara beach. Weather permitting I may try to reach the canyon of Fjadrárgljúfur, Svartifoss waterfall in Skaftafell National Park.
Since I have been to Vik (and many of the sites around that area) before I can plan a lot of my shots. I highly recommend another app, PhotoPills, to help plan your shots. Its "Planner" section allows you to drop a pin in the spot you want to shoot and see the exact position of the sun during the day and the milky way at night. The month before I went back to Kirkjufell mountain in 2016 I would have dreams of the images I wanted to take, the placement of my tripod, and the different exposure times. More on specific preparation of my images for the upcoming trip to Vik in my next blog.
August 07th, 2016
After the sun set more clouds began to move in. They were spread across most of the sky. I shot a long exposure that would hopefully capture streaking beams of light behind the mountain. I enjoy shooting for black and white, which leaves more to each individual's imagination. In the case above, the streaks of light underscore the majestic quality of Kirkjufell Mountain and waterfalls.
Next post...headed for the West Fjords.
July 27th, 2016
There was lots of room for photographing. (Kirkjufell mountain is to the left of this view.) I arrived at 10:30 and soon made a new friend (who was from Germany). We chatted as we prepared for the sunset. About an hour later a number of people (about 30) from a photo club arrived. Several rushed to be where my new friend and I were. One person nearly slipped off of the edge (I helped him gain his footing) just so he can be near the spot we were at. Many people in this photo group seemed only interested in taking a picture. The experience of enjoying where you are is critical to composing an image. So it is not simply a "picture" snapped with your camera. The image can be a way to share your experience with others.
Next post on the lighting change, perfect for black and white...
2nd Trip to Iceland (including West Iceland and the West Fjords: 1st Night, 18-19 June 2016, Kirkjufell Mountain and Waterfalls
Two years ago I was here (Kirkjufell Mountain and waterfall) briefly and my friend and I only encountered thick clouds and rain. I vowed I would return. Before my trip back last month I planned for this shot. Thanks to PhotoPills I was able to calculate the exact position of the sun during the 1 am sunset, the position of the mountain and the waterfall. Golden hour(s) lasted from 22:30 to 3:30 and I was there for all but the last hour. I arrived about an hour before a photo club arrived with some 20-25 photographers. (More on that next post.) Luckily the weather cooperated. (While it is worth it to look at weather forecasts, you must prepare for the worst and best of weather conditions...it was the best!) It was perfect for my long exposure technique for clouds which enables the colors of the sunset reflecting off of the clouds to appear like paint splashed on a canvas (my camera's sensor).
Next post: more from my first night. In upcoming posts, I will cover my photography from my entire trip, most of which was in the gorgeous West Fjords.
Keith A Manning
Photographer specializing in Cityscapes, Landscapes, Portraits and Fine Art.