I love Iceland. Nowhere else that I know of can you hike a glacier, watch a geyser erupt, swim in a geothermal spa, see puffins fishing, tour a lava field from horseback, go whale watching and then stand at the edge of the most powerful waterfall in Europe all in the same trip. Then, depending on the time of year, gaze at either the vibrant dancing aurora borealis or the magical light of the midnight sun and capture it on camera!
Of all of the amazing activities and scenery that Iceland has to offer, one of my favorite places to explore is the Jökulsárlón glacial lake and nearby beach of black sand. Located at the foot of Vatnajökull National Park, it’s here that huge icebergs calve from the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier into the lake. These icebergs are then carried by the tide out to the Atlantic Ocean where most are just dragged right back to shore by the waves. This phenomenon results in the black sandy beach being covered in hundreds to thousands of ice chunks of varying size, shape and color. From bright blue to pure milky white, each iceberg is unique. Some of the ice is even still speckled with rich dark volcanic ash from ancient eruptions.
As a photographer, my hope was to create an image that would give the viewer the sense that they were right there with me at Jökulsárlón. I wanted to translate my own feeling of awe and wonder into a single photograph. How could I do that? I used perspective, shutter speed and lens filters.
One way to visually add impact to a subject or scene is to photograph it from either very high or very low. While most people capture images from standing height, instead I set my tripod super low. This perspective change makes your subject appear much larger. In my case it added visual drama to the scene by bringing some of the icebergs and waves above the horizon line.
The second technique that I used to create my photograph was shutter speed. I wanted to freeze the motion of the waves and suspend the water droplets as they crashed over the icebergs. With a stormy sky and not much light to work with I had to balance how high I could bring my ISO so that I could increase my shutter speed without introducing too much noise. Some cameras handle noise better than others. Knowing my gear from using it for so many years, it didn’t take me long to select just the right settings to achieve what I was looking for. However, with digital cameras trial and error is easy when you can view your images right in the field on the screen. Don’t be afraid to take as many photos as you need to get the one you really want, then try a totally new angle and take even more.
The last technique that I utilized was to tie the scene together by using filters over my lens. A common problem with landscape photography is balancing the exposure of the sky and ground. The sky usually ends up too bright or the ground too dark. I achieve that balance by using graduated neutral density filters. These filters are pieces of glass or resin that are tinted like sunglasses on one edge. The tint gradually goes to clear across the filter, hence their name, and they come in different tint strengths and types. All you do is expose for the foreground and hold the filter so that the tinted area is over what was once a too bright sky. It makes such a huge difference!
By utilizing a low perspective, fast shutter speed and graduated neutral density lens filter I was able to create a unique and dynamic photograph of Jökulsárlón beach. I hope that viewers can feel the wonder that I felt to be standing there at the edge of the ocean watching ancient ice in crashing waves on a beach of black sand. By reading this Behind the Shot, my further hope is that you as photographers are inspired to pick up your own camera and try a new technique in a place that speaks to your heart.
Equipment & Settings: Canon EOS 7D, Sigma 17-50mm at 18mm, 1/640 sec., f/11, ISO 800, Formatt Hitech GND 0.6 Soft
Kate is leading an upcoming educational photography tour to Iceland in July 2016 with Udesign Photo Tours. For more info about this trip visit udesignphototours.com/photo-tours/iceland-photo-tour.html