Iceland Workshop – Day 3 and 4

This blog is part of a series of blogs about my time on a landscape photography workshop run by Tom Mackie in Iceland. Read the first in the series about day 1 and 2 or skip to the end and read about day 5,6 and 7.

Day 3 – Iceland bares its teeth

We’d stayed in a beautiful hotel in Vik and woke in the morning to a horrible day. The wind was up, the sky was overcast and the snow was steadily falling. We decided there was no real point heading out and hid in the hotel and looked at photos. It was great for me as I got to see some of the superb work of my fellow photographers, genuinely inspirational stuff, and I don’t say that often. If you haven’t already I recommend you check out their photos, ignore mine, they suck in comparison –,, and Peter’s Flickr feed. I could only find a site that was obviously still in development for Paul so, sorry, you haven’t been included!

After that we headed out to check out some of the locations we would have shot had the weather been less harsh. There were some potentially beautiful locations, but the dark skies and, most of all, incredible wind, meant all we could do was have a quick look and move on. On our way to our hotel in Hali, East of Jökulsarlón, the wind was starting to threaten to knock us off the road. With slushy roads and gusts of 100mph there were a few moments when it started getting hairy and we started sliding across the road. Eventually we came to a part of the road that had been closed, and had to take shelter in a different hotel for a few hours. We later found that the wind had been so powerful that some cars had to be abandoned after wind picked up rocks and smashed them through their windows, so we got away lightly. Soon the road was reopened and we made it (barely) to Hali, hoping the next day would bring us some more luck.

Day 4 – A break in the weather, mountains and Fjallsárlón

The day started gloomy but calm. We decided to head to Jökulsarlón beach, a black sand beach that is littered with icebergs that have floated out of the Jökulsarlón lagoon and crashed onto the beach. The weather meant photography was still not on the cards, so we had a nice look round there and the lagoon, then headed off to Fjallsárlón, a much more out of the way frozen lagoon littered with icebregs broken off the same glacier (it’s a really big glacier) that feeds Jökulsarlón. It was a great spot surrounded by mountains and, of course, the glacier, so we took our cameras out and got shooting. I also somehow got persuaded to pose for this.

Me…Yup. Photo courtesy of Michael Blanchette Photography.

Still, the weather wasn’t great so it was all a bit gloomy and uninteresting. We headed back to the hotel at Hali and had some lunch. Peter and I stepped out and suddenly spotted something we thought we’d never see, a break in the clouds. It was a tiny break, but it was something. As the others came out we pointed at the sky and pretty soon we bundled into the van and chased it down. On the way there we stopped at the side of the road to shoot this great location.

Mountains. 1/80s @ f16, ISO 125, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 24mm
Mountains. 8s @ f22, ISO 50, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 24mm

No idea what the areas called, it was just on the side of the road and looked pretty. These mountains are on the edge of the biggest glacier in Iceland, which you can just see to the left and right. This was the first time we’d seen a nice break in the weather all week, so we wanted to make the most of it. We decided to head back to Fjallsárlón lagoon for sunset, mostly because it is a lot quieter than Jökulsarlón but I was also happy because I thought it was actually a slightly nicer spot, perhaps because it was a little more tucked away. The whole area looked completely different with blue skies and a nice setting sun, so we wandered around to try and find the best angle to shoot from.

Fjallsárlón at sunset. 1/60s @ f18, ISO 100, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 36mm
Fjallsárlón at sunset. 1/30s @ f20, ISO 160, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 70mm

I loved the blue of ice and the snow you can see blowing off the mountains in the distance. I’d already used a graduated filter to bring out the sky more, but for all of these I needed to do a bit more post processing to balance out the exposures of the foreground and the sky. I used the graduated and radial filters in Lightroom to gently even everything out, without anyone hopefully noticing…?

Mike photographing Fjallsárlón at sunset. 1/50s @ f16, ISO 160, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 24mm

So the day ended well. After a couple of days of inclement weather it finally looked like things were on the up. There was one small hiccup. I’d already lost one of the handles off my tripod head at Fjallsárlón and not been able to find it again, but it turns out I also somehow managed to lose an entire leg section of my tripod. God only knows how, but somehow an entire leg section just fell off somewhere, so if you’re in Iceland and find a black aluminium leg from a Manfrotto tripod, give me a shout.

Read the last in the series about day 5,6 and 7

Iceland Workshop with Tom Mackie – Day 1 and 2

I recently went on a photography workshop run by landscape photographer Tom Mackie along with 4 other photographers to the fascinating, beautiful and sometimes brutal country of Iceland. In one week we experienced first hand Iceland’s changeable weather and even more changeable landscape. We visited frozen waterfalls, abandoned plane wrecks, ice caves inside one of Europes largest glaciers, frozen iceberg lakes, black sand beaches and even braved freezing midnight temperatures to capture one of the most stunning natural sights the world has to offer, the Northern Lights. This series of blogs will document where we want, what we did and most importantly, the shots I took. You can also read the second in the series about day 3 and 4 or skip right to the end and read the last in the series about day 5,6 and 7.

Day 1 – Arrival in Keflavik, Sea Stacks and Öxarárfoss

I arrived at Keflavik International Airport, just south of the capital Reykjavik, in the midst of a minor snowstorm. The wind was howling and the snow was thick on the ground. I thought this was pretty bad, but the worst of the Icelandic weather was still to come. Me and the other photographers met at our B&B for the night. I soon worked out I was going to be in very good hands for my first proper shot (excuse the pun) at Landscape photography, these guys were good. Along with workshop leader Tom Mackie, an American who now lives in the UK, well known for his stunning ‘Angry Aurora’ shot, there was Mike Blanchette, an ex software developer who now shoots stunning landscapes in his home state of New England and anywhere else he can get to, Alistair Wilson, an Australian who also shoots some stunning landscapes along the beautiful Australian coastline (seeing a pattern here?), Paul Harmon, another Australian who used to work in the film and television industry and has an eye for the unusual shots no one else sees, and Peter Looper, a fellow Brit who shoots great wildlife, landscape and aviation photographs and also runs a local camera club (well, we didn’t meet Peter at first, he ended up sleeping on a bench at the Airport for the first night). Looks like I was going to be learning a lot this week.

Our first full day of photographing started in the south west corner of the island. After a bumpy ride through a landscape you could easily mistake for the moon we arrived at the coast by a set of spectacular sea stacks. It was a bit gloomy and overcast but the waves were crashing about so I decided to try out my new Lee Little Stopper 6 stop ND filter to slow down the shutter speed and go for the misty look.

Sea Stacks. South West Iceland. 10s @ f22, ISO 100, Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 @ 70mm
Sea Stacks. South West Iceland. 4s @ f22, ISO 200, Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 @ 70mm

I like the contrast of the dark, angular rocks and soft, white misty sea. The Little Stopper allowed me to slow it down significantly enough to get a nice effect. I won’t claim I knew these would come out like this, as with a lot of what I do, trial and error was the way forward. I did also attempt to get some fast shots to capture the power of the waves but they didn’t come out as I wanted, they were just a bit boring.

After some lunch in the capital Reykjavik we headed to Þingvellir (apparently pronounced ‘Thingvellir’) National Park and went to see the Öxarárfoss waterfall. Once we’d navigated the lethally slippy paths we were greeted with a spectacular half frozen waterfall.

Frozen Öxarárfoss waterfall, Þingvellir national park. 3s @ f22, ISO 100, Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 @ 155mm
Frozen Öxarárfoss waterfall, Þingvellir national park. 1/15s @ f22, ISO 50, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 24mm

Using the Little Stopper again I was quite pleased to get these with the movement of the water offset against the frozen icicles. Nothing too mind blowing though, after all, this was my first day doing this.

Day 2 – Gulfoss, Seljandfoss and an eerie crashed DC-3

So day 2 began with a trip to Gulfoss, a massive tiered waterfall which forms part of the ‘Golden Circle’ of popular tourist locations including Þingvellir and the geysers of Haukadalur. If you want to see photos though you’re gonna have to look for them yourselves, as when we were there the wind was so strong that the paths closed and you couldn’t even set up a tripod without it blowing away. But it was great to see anyway, and I did get one of Alistair (the lone Canon user in our little group) fighting the wind.

Alistair fighting the brutal wind at Gulfoss. 1/2000s @ f6.3, ISO 2500, Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 @ 70mm

So it was off to another waterfall for us, Seljandfoss, but not before we stopped on the side of the road to photograph these awesomely pretty Icelandic horses.

Icelandic Horses. 1/1600s @ f2.8, ISO 640, Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 @ 180mm
Icelandic Horses. 1/2500s @ f2.8, ISO 640, Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 @ 150mm

These guys crop up everywhere and are super friendly, if anything they are a little too friendly, immediately walking up to you and ruining the perfect shot you had. I kept my distance with my favourite lens, the super versatile Nikon 70-200mm f2.8, gave me some lovely soft, falling away focus on the first shot and kept the horses face and wild mane pin sharp in the second.

Anyway, back on the road and off to Seljandfoss. This one was a bit more sheltered but there were a lot more people there. The only problem was the snow had started, and the shot I was attempting to get involved pointing the camera up. Needless to say that didn’t end well, with no amount of lens covering and wiping able to combat the relentless snow. I did manage to get one half interesting shot that included the blurred figures of three of our group stood on the bridge by the waterfall. Would have liked to have got the left side of the river in the shot as well but by that point I was ready to get back to the van and dry off (I half fell in the river mistaking relatively thin ice for solid ground).

River by Seljandfoss. 4s @ f22, ISO 50, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 50mm

The next part of our journey (ignoring a third waterfall that was chocka with people) involved a little cross country drive to the site of a crashed US Navy DC-3 plane by the beach at Sólheimasandur. In 1973 the pilot of the DC-3 switched to the wrong fuel tank and was forced to make a crash landing after it ran out of fuel. Everyone survived but the plane was abandoned and the shell still remains there today, albeit stripped off it’s tail which is rumoured to have been sold by a local farmer. It’s a truly surreal sight seeing this still fairly well preserved husk of a plane surrounded by nothing but black sand quite literally in the middle of nowhere. The sky was very gloomy but we made the best of it and got some nice atmospheric shots including the stunning mountainous backdrop, as well as a quick group shot on the wing, of course.

The Crashed DC3 at Sólheimasandur. 1/4s @ f22, ISO 125, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 50mm
The Crashed DC3 at Sólheimasandur. 0.5s @ f20, ISO 80, Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 @ 98mm

It was a great spot to visit and something I really did not expect to see. A great way to round off day one and two. Not too many shots to show for them thanks to the weather, but plenty learnt regardless. We also soon learnt that the weather we’d had so far was just a taster for day three.

Read the second in the series about day 3 and 4