The Land of Fire and Ice
After visiting Iceland on a private photography trip in 2015 I resolved that it was the perfect location for Episode One of Photo Number 6. This tiny island sitting high in the arctic circle is one of the most diverse and scenic environments in the world.
My 2015 trip was mentored by landscape photographer Mark Andreas Jones and he kindly agreed to guide us through the Iceland episode. Mark has guided photography tours to the country for years so he was ideally placed to seek out the very best opportunities for wonderful photographic experiences.
In the spirit of the show we determined to seek out 5 unique experiences that would, as a whole, sum up this magical island.
Our first experience was to explore the fundamental of Iceland’s name – ICE. Óskar Arason was our go to guide to get up close and personal with the country’s frozen elements.
He took us deep into the Vatnajökull National Park to go canoeing on a glacial lagoon and delve into the island’s volcanic geology. Gliding through the freezing still water of the lagoon surrounded by towering icebergs was a surreal experience. The sense of solitude and isolation was calming but also intimidating. And, when I took a tumble into the ice-cold water, the danger always present in these environments became obvious. Although we joked about my mis-hap at the time I became quite concerned when the frigid water began to numb my hands and feet! Needless to say photographing this experience was incredibly testing. My lens and camera were being bombarded by snow. Many shots were ruined by moisture on the lens. I came away with sufficient captures to be pleased particularly my shots of Óskar through the ice cave.
Our next experience took us to the fishing village of Olafsvik, departure point for whale watching tour company Laki Tours. In April the best chance for whale sightings would be Orca. The chances of not seeing any whales is an ever-present danger and our optimism was not supported by the news that only two of the animals had been sighted on the morning tour that day.
Perhaps the Orca knew there was a film crew on board and they were keen to get their heads on telly because we had barely left the harbour at Olafsvik when up to 15 whales made an appearance. Up to 3 family groups could be seen working together to capture fish in a feeding circle.
Photographing wildlife is challenging enough on dry land but a rolling sea and pitching boat add another level of complexity. So many attempts to capture these amazing mammals were either soft of badly framed. In the end I felt that I had a few images to present in the Red Room for appraisal that really summed up the experience.
Iceland is a scenic paradise and our next experience called on our photographic guide Mark Andreas Jones to take us to all the amazing landscape views the island had to offer. Without a doubt the brief we set him was immense. How could we possibly experience all the majesty of Iceland’s rugged and spectacular scenery in our short time there? The answer is we could not. Iceland requires, no, deserves many visits. However, Mark gave us an amazing overview. Let’s talk waterfalls. From the cascade before the majestic Kirkjufell mountain in the West to the hidden and rarely visited waterfall Bruarfoss. East to the teeming and powerful Skógafoss and the amazing Seljalandsfoss where we were able to walk into a cavern behind the cascade to capture truly remarkable images. Mark had so much more to show us – the Jökulsárlón ice lagoon where massive chunks of ice break away from the Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier and float through the lagoon only to run aground on the black sand Diamond Beach. An unforgettable photographic location. He took us to the windswept beach in the shadow of Vestahorn Mountain that took my breath away and, to round out an amazing journey, sunset on a cliff face overlooking the arctic sea.
After feasting on so much spectacular landscape it was time for a little R&R in Iceland’s capital city Reykjavik. Given there are only 345,000 people living in Iceland it would be easy to imagine Reykjavik to be a sleepy hollow. Far from it. The city offers novelty as we discovered at the Penis museum, high tech industry serviced by amazing high speed internet as we discovered at gaming company CCP Gaming and incredible fine dining as we discovered on a Reykjavik by Night tour with Magnús Árni Gunnarson. Our experience in the capital was completed with a moving chance encounter where we had the opportunity to chat with Mr Christenson about what it was like living in Iceland way back to World War 2 and British occupation.
In 2015 my trip was a little earlier in the year which made for colder temperatures but an improved possibility of catching the elusive Northern Lights. This time around, being April, we had longer days and slightly warmer temperatures but our nightly attempts to capture the Lights were a total washout. To be honest we were getting desperate. On our penultimate night we were preparing for bed when Mark had an intuition. We rushed to the vehicle and drove to a tiny lighthouse at the tip of the Akranes Peninsula. Our guide’s intuition was spot on because the moment we spilled from the car the skies erupted with the trademark green swirls of the Northern Lights. Our Iceland adventure was complete and all that remained was the agonising task of selecting Photo Number 6 to sum up our journey.
If you plan on visiting Iceland for photography then engaging a guide is invaluable to ensuring successful shots.
Mark Andreas Jones frequently runs tours to the Land of Fire and Ice
Check out his site at https://www.markandreasjones.com/iceland-tours