The colder seasons of Autumn and Winter tend to be easier for photographers to visit Iceland. With fewer crowds starting from September you also get the beautiful winter light, Northern Lights and come winter, our workshops introduce Ice Caves into the itinerary. More often when you leave the South Coast of Iceland, you will find yourself away from the crowds. The East Fjords and parts of North Iceland are less known and too many workshop participants these areas become the highlight of the workshops as they are unexpected. Beautiful less known photography locations can be found all over Iceland, and with local knowledge, you will be able to see and photograph them.
Ice Caves – Highlight of Arctic Exposure Winter Workshop
In our main Winter Photo Workshops, we visit at least one Ice Cave. The caves come in many different forms and colors, they form in the summer, when the melting glacier rivers run and drain through crevasses, tunnels, forming incredible shapes, often with the wave-formed surface. Perhaps all of the glaciers in Iceland have ice caves at some sort, but most of the caves that are accessible are in the glaciers on the south coast, such as Vatnajökull.
Arctic Exposure runs all Iceland Workshops on modified Super Trucks. They allow us to drive to a reasonable walking distance from the caves, sometimes walking straight in on gravel ground, but other times crampons are needed to walk up on the glacier to access the caves. Ice caves can take many different forms; some are deep and narrow, some are broad. Often there is a river or water source because this is what creates the cave in the first place. Because of the river, Ice-caves can be difficult to enter. When temperatures are above freezing, the glacier can melt, making ice caves extremely hazardous. For these two reasons, it is advisable always to hire an experienced glacier guide who knows when it is safe to enter. When you travel with Arctic Exposure, we provide all safety gear for walking on ice, such as crampons and helmets, sometimes ice axes and ropes. Waterproof clothes are good to have as there can be dripping water. In some caves, we need waterproof knee-high boots to access through small rivers and streams.
Ice Caves – How do I photograph them?
For photography, it is recommended to use a DSLR camera or equivalent with a wide angle lens, in the range of 14-24mm. A tripod is important, Ice caves are quite dark, and it is usually possible to get a few second exposures inside an ice cave. A cable release is good to have. Please note, we never use any filters or artificial lights inside of ice caves, only use the natural light source.
There are many obstacles to Ice cave photography; the ice cave can be dark which creates issues very similar to night photography. The main issues when it is dark are composition and focus. The composition can be tough in any novel situation, but in Ice caves, the environment can be restrictive regarding space. When traveling with Arctic Exposure, you will be in a small group which works well in these circumstances, so you don’t have unintentional people in your shot. The simplest method is to shoot super wide angle towards the entrance and to follow the shape of the cave to create a balanced shot. Place the bright entrance on one of the third bottom points as a starting point. There may be areas of extreme dynamic range; the photographer should make the right decision about exposing for inside the cave or the sky outside.
Auto-focus can be difficult to achieve as it’s dark deep in the caves, there may not be enough light for the camera to focus, the other is that natural glacier ice has very few edges for the camera to focus on. For this reason, we recommend using manual focusing. At a Super wide angle, you should be able to get the whole cave sharp with your aperture around f/8. There is no reason to boost the ISO up, so for best image quality try keeping your ISO as low as 100, but leave your shutter open longer. When composing ice cave images no rule applies. With a wide angle lens, there will be some distortion, which is fine as there is normally no straight line in a cave anyway. Try some different compositions, shooting outside the cave, having the light reflecting in the walls of the cave, for scale it can be good to have a person in your shot.