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Travel Stories

Photographing Iceland - Part 6: From Jokusarlon to Geysir

Russell Whittemore (rosewood_ltd)


Keywords: photographing_iceland, rosewood_ltd, landscape, travel_photography, travel, iceland, russell_whittemore, jokusarlon, lomagnupur, fjarargljufur, vik, seljalandsfoss, geysir

This is the final part of a six part series on Photographing Iceland

The next morning is one of the most anticipated in the trip.   We will be at the Ice Beach, followed by a return to the lagoon, hopefully before the majority of tourist buses arrive.  We are given an actual sit-down safety lecture on shooting at the beach.  Given the somewhat cavalier attitude about risk-taking for images that has been evident so far, which included allowing photographers to get into positions of fairly extreme exposure at Londregangar, Godafoss and Aldeyarfoss, the actual emphasis on safety stands out as being unusual.  

It turns out that the Ice Beach is a seriously dangerous place for a variety of reasons.  Like most Icelandic beaches, sneaker waves are common and there is a strong undertow. The surf is always powerful and rough and the water is incredibly cold.  The powerful surf tosses ice chunks around with abandon.  These range in size from ice cubes to huge pieces the size of mini-vans. The risks of crush injuries, contusions, broken limbs and out and out drowning are real.  Risks escalate further when inexperienced solo photographers come to the site.  Another newer problem has arisen in recent years, with the advent of non-locally guided workshops showing up in country, sometimes with leaders that have little or even no experience with certain locales.

The combination of surf conditions, unstable ice and single-minded photographers is a volatile one for a number of reasons.   First and foremost is the tunnel vision that comes with pursuit of “The Image,” to the exclusion of everything else.  The second is the specific goal of obtaining the iconic long-exposure image of water receding around ice blocks.  This involves the necessity of a 2 to 3 second exposure (tripod obviously required), waiting for a lull in the surf and rushing out to the target, planting tripod and snapping the image, making sure the tripod is stable and at the same time, choosing a position where it is easy to escape the surf in the event of a sneaker wave.  Third is the transient morning light, which lends a degree of urgency to the already complex proceedings.  Even with the relatively prolonged golden hour, the window where various chunks of ice are trans-illuminated by the rising sun is brief.  This lends additional urgency to the proceedings, to the detriment of appropriate risk assessment.

In reviewing my own situation, it is clear that my bad knee will significantly restrict what I can do in this setting.   I am definitely not in a condition to be playing chicken with dangerous surf and my limited agility also dictates that I should stay well away from large, mobile hunks of ice.  Accordingly, I try to pick spots to shoot from that are away from the high extent of sneaker waves and have easy ingress/egress.  I know that I will have to rely on patience and a bit of luck to get good images, but I am rewarded with a few nice captures.

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4 comments

Kathleen Caswell (Katcas) on May 6, 2019

Your photographs are inspiring. The information invaluable! Thank you.

Bonnie Christensen (BChrisRad) on April 16, 2019

Donor ribbon awarded for her most generous contribution to the 2017 campaign. Ribbon awarded for her most generous support to the 2018 fundraising  campaign

Really great series, Russ. I have thoroughly enjoyed all of the articles not to mention the fabulous photos. What a great keep sake you have created for yourself. Thanks for writing this and sharing with Nikonians.

Russell Whittemore (rosewood_ltd) on April 13, 2019

Donor Ribbon awarded for his support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017 Awarded for his in-depth knowledge and high level of skill in several areas. Ribbon awarded as a member who has gone beyond technical knowledge to show mastery of the art a

Thanks, Tom. Much appreciated. The knee was dealt with as soon as I got back. My orthopaedic surgeon did indeed find a mensical tear and cleaned it up nicely. Haven't had any problems since. It was a bit of a marathon article, but I wanted to try and give more of a sense of how much there is to do outside of the most iconic destinations.

Tom Jacob (sevendayimages) on April 13, 2019

Awarded for his continuous knowledge and images sharing with community members Awarded for his win at the Best of Nikonians 2016 Photo Contest Awarded for his in-depth knowledge and high level of skill in several areas.

Thanks for putting this Mega Article together Russ...I enjoyed it very much, and got to see some mage of you I didn't see until now. Fabulous work as always. I am sure we will all enjoy your next travel report...but take care of that knee :) Cheers

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