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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Glacier Trekking


Iceland’s other worldly landscape is constantly evolving

Around Vatnajökull there are several glaciers flowing off the icecap that are easy to access for photography. Some are covered in black volcanic rubble, others are white ice, others are fractured, jumbled messes. My favorite glaciers are those that form a glacial lake at their terminus. This gives you a chance to photograph icebergs and ice chunks floating in the water, as well as those beached on the shore. Some lakes in Iceland are tidal, so as the tides rise and lower, the beaches are replenished with new, amazing ice shapes. The most famous of these lagoons is Jökulsarlon and is particularly nice for several reasons: The lagoon’s water is clear, it’s filled with huge icebergs, growlers (medium-sized bergs) and bergy bits (small pieces of ice), it empties onto a beautiful black-sand beach littered with ice, and the tide rushing in and out is absolutely mesmerizing. Watching the seals hunt fish is an added bonus. The ice photo that appears with this column was made of a beached growler that had been floating in the Jökulsarlon Lagoon. A few hours after I made the photo, this berg was sent out to sea on the high tide.

My lens of choice for shooting on the glaciers is the 24-70mm ƒ/2.8, which both Nikon and Canon make. What makes this lens so versatile, in addition to its wide to telephoto focal length, is its close-focusing abilities. The lens has a rated minimum focus distance of 15 inches, but by using the lens in its wider focal lengths, you can focus on objects half that distance. And, if you use the hyperfocal distance at, say, ƒ/16 to ƒ/22, you can focus on objects just an inch or two away. I always carry a polarizer when shooting around water, and I used one for this photo to reduce reflection on the water. I also used a Singh-Ray grad split ND filter to allow me to open up the detail in the water. I likewise carry two- and three-stop split ND filters when shooting on glaciers as it allows me to keep details in the clouds when a storm moves across.

When I set foot on the surface of a glacier with my camera, I look for the places where the sun hasn’t touched the ice. It’s in these places where you find the beautiful blue color. In Iceland, you’re likely to be on a glacier when it’s cloudy and overcast, which is a great time to look for the subtle blues of crevasses and moulins. Because of the way the sunlight passes through the ice, shooting inside crevasses or in ice caves is best on sunny days.

Photographing in and around glaciers is challenging since negotiating the terrain is never easy, the weather is often bad and being on the back of this living, creeping sheet of ice can be scary. But shooting in this dramatically changing landscape is a rewarding adventure of exploration in a beautiful and unusual environment.

Visit Bill Hatcher’s website at www.billhatcher.com.

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