Iceland is the land of fire and ice, but what happens when there’s neither? Travel plans can change at the last minute due to many factors, the weather being a big one, lost luggage another. So, how do you adapt and make even a short trip memorable? Do you push your creative boundaries and try something new, or do you just step back and enjoy experiencing each new adventure?
When the second volcanic activity happened back in August, we, like many other photographers, jumped online to see if we could book flights to see the creation of new land. However, due to flight prices at the time, we decided to look further in the calendar, hoping that the new fissure in the Meradalir valley would still be active around the end of September. Fast-forward to the end of September, with no volcanic activity and everything booked, we had to rethink what we were going to do and quickly.
This may not seem a difficult task considering it’s Iceland, but as we had everything booked within a short distance of the now-dormant fissure, our plans had to change. I’m almost sure you will have had to do the same at some point if the focus of your trip has been compromised by weather conditions or other factors.
Keeping It Simple
We stripped everything right back and only took minimal gear with us this time, deciding that we would slow down and not try to cram in as much as possible in such a short time. Instead, we would just plan a couple of places and spend the time taking in whatever we could.
We now no longer needed to use the longer focal lengths, instead of opting to take only two lenses per camera, a set of filters each, and, of course, our tripods. Doing this enabled us to keep things simple and pack only the minimalist kit per camera, which consisted of:
Landscape photography is a cathartic experience, a time to slow down and take in all that is around you. Sure, we want to get that stunning vista with the glorious light, but sometimes, when weather conditions are not what they are predicted to be, you have to just appreciate what is around you and enjoy the experience.
We have been very fortunate when it comes to Iceland and have visited on several occasions, and this time, we had the opportunity to really appreciate, as if we didn’t already, more of what was going on around us, to take it all in, and to spend time just observing instead of trying to get to every conceivable photographic location. That’s the beautiful thing about Iceland: everywhere is photographic. It’s like Scotland on steroids.
Focusing on the details
This is something I do a lot of and yet still shoot the wider vista, so this time, I made the conscious effort to get a quick shot of the location and then spend my time looking for more intimate aspects of the scene. Bruarfoss was our first destination, but as you travel along the 3.5 km walk, you will come across Midfoss and Hlauptungfoss, with the latter being the largest of these two. The waterfalls are fed by the Bruara river, which is a glacier melt from the Langjokull Glacier, and the color is something to behold.
After a few shots of Bruarfoss itself, I put my camera down and just sat and looked around, not because the shots weren’t any good, albeit they weren’t, but because I had decided to focus on the things that I usually admire for a while and then automatically revert to shooting the wider scene. I am guilty of this in newer locations, as I want to capture the entire surrounding area, whereas in locations I am familiar with, I tend to do the opposite and pick out the details that appeal to me.
Bruarfoss provided plenty of these, with its intimate waterfalls cascading over the rocks, the vibrant green moss covering them, and the blue glacial water swirling around; it was a symphony for the eyes. I am under no illusions that these are in any way good images, but I did come away from here with a further understanding of the landscape and the details that make it up.
Photograph and Record
Recording your trip allows you to reflect upon the lighting at the time and the compositional elements surrounding your main focus, which lets you plan for future trips. Yes, a lot of the images you come back with are quickly deleted, but others provide a reference point for a composition that you may have missed or indeed just act as a narrative of your experience. I’ve actually found having this type of image helps when doing presentations or explaining to students what to avoid when photographing; a physical example is better than an explained one.
On this trip, I opted to shoot using the X-T instead of the Nikon Z 7II. I did this for two reasons, the first being the 18-135mm lens, which I think is one of the best all-around lenses I’ve ever used, and the second being that I had never spent a full three days shooting with the Nikon.
I recorded everything and anything that caught my eye, from people in the landscape, electric scooters awaiting their next hire, to the colorful houses in Reykyavik. This is something you should always do, but I do sometimes feel that I pigeonhole myself, so again, I found this quite liberating and quite amusing when I’d catch a glance of my partner’s confused expression as I photographed something quite obscure.
Enjoy the experience
This ultimately goes without saying, but wherever you go, don’t beat yourself up because you didn’t get the right light or weather conditions. There may be other opportunities to do that in the future. Take something away from your trip, whether that is the entire experience, a greater understanding of the landscape, or what not to do if the same circumstances present themselves again.
From our last two ventures to Iceland, I think I have two photographs that I’m particularly fond of, one being a whiteout in the snow captured on my phone and the other, the image below, not that the image is anything to write home about. Perhaps it was the solace of being in the landscape and watching the rain clouds move in. Perhaps it’s the knowing that if I ever visit again, I can see further potential compositions. I’ll have to wait and see.
Wherever you go to do your photography, whether that is close to home or further afield in another country, just enjoy the experience, and don’t let the lack of stunning light hamper your experience. Adapt to your changes and enjoy what the experience gives to you and what you can take away from it.
For myself, the biggest takeaway from this trip was that when things don’t go to plan, change the plan and don’t be disappointed. I’m quite a positive person anyway and see most things as positive experiences. I really wanted to see the formation of new land with the fissure, but that wasn’t to be. The chance may arise again in the future, but then again, it may not. At least I’ll be happy in the knowledge that I tried.
Have any of your planned trips not gone as planned. What did you do to adapt to the changes? I’d love to know.