Icy Iceland

Date 2024/03/13 14:51:42 by Ruth Nussbaum

There are no direct flights to Reykjavik for us in winter, because all the "normal" people go there in summer. We leave on January 29th, the sun will rise at around 10:00 and set at 17:00 and won't get higher than 10 degrees above the horizon. The bad thing is we can't pronounce any of the names of the places we are going to see, and we'll barely have 9 hrs of light per day. The good thing is you can do sunrise shots and sleep late.


The flybus gets us to town in about 45 min and is rather cheap too for Iceland, at around 20€ per person. Reykjavik, especially the old part is a cute little town, and our hotel is right in the middle of things. We can easily walk to all the sights. Our favourites are the Harpa Concert Hall with the blue and green waves of its ever changing light show at night, looks almost like a small local northern light, and the Sun Craft sculpture which is like a Viking ship. The food here is good and there are many cool places to choose from.


Our photo tour starts with a shopping trip. We are all going to buy Viking Ice Fighter boots and a set of spikes to match it. They are huge rubber boots with a furry inside, guaranteed to keep our feet warm and dry, and soon we all grow to love our boots, they are the best buy on this trip. We walk through town like good tourists do, and photograph all the sights. In the evening we have a nice dinner with the whole group to end off the day. Tomorrow the photo part really starts. We will drive 190 km to the tiny town called Vik which is famous for its black sand beaches.


We leave Reykjavik at 08:00 to get to the Skogafoss falls at sunrise which is at around 10:00. Now we know why we need the waterproof boots.... Hougaard makes us stand in the river which is flowing from the falls, to get a nice piece of ice in the foreground. The boots are amazing, you don't even feel the cold, I could stand in the river forever.

Only an hour's drive more and we get to our gorgeous Icelandair Vik Hotel. As beautiful as it is, we prefer to go outside and check out the beach. We photograph the troll rocks they have here, called Reynisdrangar (see what I mean with the names, we will call them troll rocks from now on) and the waves crashing in on the black beach.

In the afternoon we go to Dyrholaey, the icelandic " Hole in the Rock", and photograph it from the eastern side with a milky sun setting in a very cloudy sky. Not finished yet, we move back to our black beach and do the trolls again, this time standing in the water and with very slow shutter speeds to make it look nice and "flowy".


The plan was to go to the waterfall again but this time an hour earlier to beat the crowds. The extreme wind won't allow travel to the west, a mountain road is closed. Plan B gets us back at our troll beach, standing in the waves again. So we do rocks and frozen puddles and snow. Looks great too and we get some great composition tips from Hougaard. Hafi, our driver, turns out to be quite good fun as well, and is probably the most talkative Icelander for miles around.

The light is getting better so we put on the Graduate Filter and get into the waves again. Wait till the water flows back for the really good shots with nice lines in it. As the water is retreating we move forward a bit more, and a bit more.....and then the big wave came and now the water is sloshing in my shoes with every step I take. The boots are fine but my waterproof pants are not quite as good, so I spend most of our lunchbreak in the bathroom with my boots and a hairdryer.

The afternoon we move on to the Dyrholaey where we were yesterday. Only this time we hike to the top of the cliff to the little lighthouse, which is not so little when you stand beside it.

We climb over the fence as good photographers are supposed to do, to get the shot, of the Hole in the Rock, it is really big from up here ! The sky is not the best of colours but with help from Hougaard and Isak it turns out rather nice after all. After dinner I spend another hour with my hairdryer, the boots should be okay for tomorrows outing.


Up at 07:00 to beat the crowds, and this time we can go see the waterfall, the wind is gone. Too much spray there now that it is not being blown away, so we shoot from further away which is real pretty too. As we leave at 10:00 there is still nobody in sight, good for us!

We now get in the bus for the 210 km journey to Hali near the Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon. After we check in to the guesthouse we drive to the ice beach. This is one of my favourites, it is so scenic ! Imagine a long black beach with blocks of ice strewn all over it and big white waves crashing in on the beach creating lines and patterns in the black sand. Some blocks are like tennis balls, the big ones are easily 1x2m. We do our shots which are not the very best,  but we will be back here a few times and we are learning.


Another morning at the beach. We could sleep late and only leave for the beach at 08:30 to get there in time for sunrise. It is even better now than in the evening, the sky glows red and pink and this reflects on the wet parts of the beach creating a lovely pink glow.

By 10:00 we move to the other side of the road where the lagoon is. First a coffee, then we go to photograph the ice. It is quite hard to find a good composition, the light is awful and there are no scenic ice blocks close to the shore. But we do manage to find a few cool spots.

The afternoon shoot is again at the beach which  looks different once again. A fine cover of snow has made the beach and the ice blocks white, the part where the waves wash ashore is still black, the sky is a drabby grey. The whole thing looks like a black and white photo, without having to set B&W!

After dinner just as we are about to go to bed there is a knock on the door. Northern lights! We walk a bit away from the lights of the guesthouses and set up. In the beginning it is just a faint light, luckily the camera sees it much more clearly than the human eye does. The lights come in waves which flow over us, at times they are a bright green, mostly a soft glow, but once you know where to look they are all around and above us. I have been telling Jürg I would get him an aurora for his birthday, boy is this great timing.... At midnight he turns 50 under a sky full of green lights ! Happy birthday my love!


A storm is blowing in and getting worse and worse, snow is piling up against the buildings and the snowflakes rush by from right to left at incredulous speed. We are not going anywhere today! Well, except for a short walk to the museum restaurant which turns out to be a rather adventurous outing. The snow has formed big heaps on the road which we have to cross, the wind is blowing so hard we hold on to each other not to get blown away, the snowflakes come at us at such a speed that it really hurts when they hit your face. We can't stay too long, says Hafi our driver, or we will not be able to get back !

In the late afternoon we get a presentation by Hougaard and Isak and reviews of our shots which we continue after dinner. We all go to bed at 21:00 as the power is off, once again and there is nothing better to do in the dark with a storm at 9-10 bft howling around the building, it sounds like an endless freight train driving past.


The ice cave day! As we wake up it is dead silent, the storm has died down! We leave at 08:15 in a big red monster truck on extra high wheels. Our guide Einar says he has never had so much snow to drive through, and he's been in the business a long time. After 45 very bumpy minutes and almost getting stuck twice, we finally get there. The cave is much smaller than we had expected, a very narrow path leads way to the back. There is a hole in the roof but to see it you will have to overcome any claustrophobic fears, the tunnel you wiggle yourself in, is as narrow as if you are in an MRI, tons of ice overhead....just don't think about it. As the next group approaches we leave the cave and head back to Hali for lunch, the sky looks promising.

Unfortunately the weather changes for the worse, we have to leave the car at the road and walk to the beach. There are loads of new ice blocks, to tell the truth, too many and too close together to get a good shot. It snows heavily. We walk further along the beach to where the ice is a little less dense and get in a few good shots before the snowstorm gets so bad that we give up.

So another afternoon spent in the room, followed by a session of lightroom editing and photo reviews. Will give the ice beach another go tomorrow and hope for a sensational sunrise. If we succeed we'll be in part 2 of the ICY ICELAND story.

Text and Photo's By: Astrid and Jurg Bluemel