Wonders of Iceland: Jökulsárlón

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
—"Fire and Ice" by Robert Frost

I've always loved this Frost poem, but I gleaned new meaning from it during my two week photo adventure in Iceland, the land of fire and ice itself. The famous Jökulsárlón area in particular seemed to personify this yin-yang relationship. Jökulsárlón is a large lagoon filled with drifting icebergs calved off a nearby glacier. The icebergs gather near the lagoon's outlet to the sea; when the ice jam periodically breaks up, smaller chunks of ice are swept out into the ocean. When tides and winds are favorable, the small bergs get pushed back on to the shore near the outlet, making great photo subjects when the light is right. Although most of Iceland is often gloomy, for some reason it seems that Jökulsárlón is favored by the weather gods, and when rain or grey skies prevail elsewhere, this tranquil lagoon is often at the center of good light.

For this first image, I donned a pair of fishing waders and got chest-deep into the chilly waters of the lagoon. The small berg was adrift, so I secured it in place as best I could by strategic placement of my tripod. I got close to the ice with a wide angle lens, using the interesting shapes as my foreground, with a stunning sunset sky as my background. "Fire and Ice"—Jökulsárlón, Iceland. Canon 5DIII, Canon 16-35mm lens, polarizer filter, 2-stop graduated neutral density filter, ISO 200, f/11, 0.5 seconds.

One evening, there was a colorful sunset on the beach. Luckily, there were also plenty of small bergs washed up on the shore. I hate to admit it, but I struggled a bit to find a good compositions. My good friend and travel companion, fellow Dreamscapes blogger Kurt Budliger, kicked my rear and got some great ice beach shots, despite leaving a critical piece of equipment behind (his electronic remote). "Remnants"—Jökulsárlón, Iceland. Canon 5DIII, Canon 16-35mm lens, polarizer filter, 1-stop graduated neutral density filter, ISO 200, f/11, 1 second.

Iceland light seems to last forever (a virtue of being in the far north). I made this next photograph of drifting icebergs in the lagoon almost two hours after sunset. The mirror-still waters allowed me to include a reflection of the sky in the lagoon itself; the small iceberg marooned in the shallows near the shore gave me a much needed visual anchor which provided a logical starting point for the viewer's journey through the image. "Time Stands Still"—Jökulsárlón, Iceland. Canon 5DIII, Canon 16-35mm lens, polarizer filter, 1-stop graduated neutral density filter, ISO 400, f/8, 82 seconds.

Each piece of ice is sculpted differently by the sun and the water; while most erode fairly evenly, some pieces take on interesting and evocative shapes. There was something vaguely sinister—almost demonic—about the ice in the next photo (perhaps it was the two horn-shaped protrusions). Undeterred, I waded into the water to shoot outgoing waves streaking past the marooned berg. "Ancient Ice"—Jökulsárlón, Iceland. Canon 5DIII, Canon 16-35mm lens, polarizer filter, 1-stop graduated neutral density filter, ISO 200, f/11, 0.4 seconds.

One morning, I was surprised to find a walrus hauled up on the shore, sleeping away without a care in the world. The light was low (it was another gloomy day in Iceland, and even weather-friendly Jökulsárlón was in its grip), so I bumped up the ISO in order to stop down for some extra depth of field. It was amazing being so close to this Brobdingnagian creature. "Sleeping Giant"—Jökulsárlón, Iceland. Canon 5DIII, Canon 100-400mm lens, ISO 800, f/11, 1/80 second.

For this final image, it was my only shoot at Jökulsárlón which didn't have great light, but I actually think the overcast greys and blues work great for the ice. If you catch the ice at the right angle, it sparkles as if lit from within. I waited for an outgoing wave to almost completely pass (in order for the ice to stand out against the black sand underneath), catching just the tail end of the wave to add a little bit of motion and texture to the image. "Blue Ice"—Jökulsárlón, Iceland. Canon 5DIII, Canon 16-35mm lens, polarizer filter, 1-stop graduated neutral density filter, ISO 100, f/13, 2 seconds.

Iceland is a wonderful place, a “must see” location that should be at the top of every photographer’s bucket list. I found one resource in particular to be incredibly valuable during my recent tripForever Light: The Landscape Photographer’s Guide to Iceland by Sarah Marino and Ron Coscorrosa. Written by people who deeply know and love their subject, this fantastic photo guide allows readers to easily find the best scenic beauty that Iceland offers. For more information, please visit my eStore.

5 Comments

    A walrus in J̦kuls??rl?_n? Wow… I believe that’s extraordinarily unusual, if not absolutely unprecedented in modern history. That animal was far, far, far out of its normal range. The ice photographs are lovely, evocative images.

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