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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