BEHIND THE SHOT – REYNISDRANGAR SEA STACKS IN ICELAND

BEHIND THE SHOT – REYNISDRANGAR SEA STACKS IN ICELAND

With an upcoming photography workshop on the calendar I made my way to Iceland with a solid two weeks dedicated to scouting for the tour.  No matter how tall the tales you’ve heard about Iceland and its breathtaking landscape, the stories were underrated.  The island is simply one of the most incredible places on earth to visit, whether you’re a landscape photographer or an avid traveler.  This, more than anything, is why I decided to focus on the location for one of our upcoming workshops.

The most westerly country in Europe, Iceland sits between the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans.  At just over 700 miles southeast of Greenland and 900 miles west of Norway, the country experiences some of the most unpredictable and dramatic weather in the world.  While this can create some obvious challenges, it also produces some of the most unique backgrounds for landscape photography.

Everything that makes Iceland a landscape photographer’s paradise is due to the geologic activity that has occurred over the last 10,000 years. Waterfalls fed by snow-capped mountains, basalt sea stacks, this island is truly unique and an outstanding place for a photography trip.

500 EARTHQUAKES PER WEEK

To say that Iceland is a hot spot for volcanic activity is an understatement.  Sitting on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, Iceland is located directly on top the seam where the Eurasian and North American plates have been separating for millions of years.  Over the last 10,000 years, more than 30% of all magma released in the world has come from this small island.  Everything that has made the country of Iceland unique derives from this geologic activity, whether it’s the snow-capped mountains that supply their seemingly endless number of waterfalls or the basalt stone columns and sea stacks that find their way out of the ocean.  From a photographic perspective, Iceland is a dream come true.

THE DRAW – THE ICELANDIC LANDSCAPE

You could stand in the same spot at the same time each day for a week and not capture the same photograph.  One minute you could be shooting a scene with dense cloud cover.  The next could be backlit by a dramatic sky with the sun peeking through the atmosphere.  From a photographer’s perspective, the draw of photographing the Icelandic landscape is unparalleled thanks to the variety of each scene.

One of my favorite locations is the area that surrounds town of Vik.  Located on the southern coast, the town offers several opportunities within 1-hour’s drive.  The Atlantic Ocean can be extremely violent in this area.  Combining this motion with the steep ascent of the Reynisdrangar sea stacks always provides a winning combination. 

Reynisdrangar Sea Stacks of Iceland. Nikon D850, Nikkor 24-70mm 2.8. 5-second exposure at f14.0. ISO 160.

BEHIND THE SHOT – CAPTURING THE REYNISDRANGER SEA STACKS

White balance can be challenging due to the seemingly endless changes in the light source.  This can be easily corrected in post-processing but the sepia tone nature of the end result was a happy accident.  I initially corrected it with Nikon’s NX-2 software but ultimately reverted back to the original color balance due to the unique tone that Mother Nature provided out of the gate.

While the sun didn’t appear to be at the “ideal” angle for photography at first, the backlit nature of the scene actually made the sun one of the focal points of the image.  This also helped to minimize the detail in the sea stacks themselves, adding the dark tone for some dramatic contrast with the clouds.

COMPOSITION

The rocks in the foreground were kept within the frame to add depth to the scene.  This can be challenging in Iceland due to the fact that each wave seems to crash into the shore line with varying intensity.  More than 40 photos of this location were captured, mostly to ensure that the amount of water in the foreground was pleasing to the eye. 

Exposure settings were a point of experimentation.  While shutter speeds ranged from 1/30th to 15 seconds, this image was captured with a 5 second exposure.  Aperture of f14.0 was used to increase depth of field and ISO was reduced to 160 to ensure noise was minimal.  A circular polarizing filter was used to reduce the sun’s reflection on the water. 

GETTING THERE

Getting to Iceland is probably easier than one would think.  A mere 6-hour direct flight from Minneapolis on Iceland Air (www.icelandair.com) with pricing generally under $500, Iceland is one of the most accessible countries in Western Europe when flying from the United States.  While gasoline prices are much higher, there are countless rental car companies that offer highly efficient options to reduce fuel consumption.

For more information about our upcoming landscape photography workshop in Iceland, visit https://ajharrisonphotography.com/workshops-chilkat-bald-eagle-brown-bear-alaska-haines-kenai-peninsula-leclair-iowa/

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-AJ Harrison

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