31 May 2013

Capturing Icebergs & Water Trails on Jökulsárlón Beach

1 second exposure, f/16, ISO 100

On my 2012 trip to Iceland I discovered Jökulsárlón, along the country's south-east coast. I'd heard a lot about the place, as the lagoon there is famous for having been featured in various films, including the Bond films View to a Kill and Die Another Day. It was also featured on many tours to Iceland, so I decided to head out there and see what all the fuss was about.

Having previously visited many other glacial lakes and coastlines dotted with icebergs (including Antarctica, South Georgia, Svalbard, Franz Josef Land, Greenland, Alaska, British Columbia and Southern Chile) I wasn't really expecting to be blown away by the lake at Jökulsárlón. And indeed I wasn't. I arrived in typically poor weather in the late afternoon and wandered along the eastern shore, watched the little icebergs floating past and seals playing around in the water, and captured a few shots of pretty-shaped icebergs on the beach (and plenty of Japanese tourists), before the weather got the better of me. No, I wasn't overly impressed and couldn't really see why everyone raved about it. I suppose that if I hadn't been spoiled by over a decade of trips to icy places then I might have been more appreciative. Some sunny weather and more of a view of the mountains behind might also have helped. I drove to my lovely little guesthouse (Hali) nearby for the night.

1/40th second exposure, f/11, ISO 240

It wasn't until the following day when I returned just after breakfast (no sunrise to speak of) that I headed to the nearby beach and suddenly fell in love! On the eastern bank of the river that leads from the lagoon to the sea were piles of icebergs littered across the black volcanic sandy beach, brought ashore by the crashing waves. This time I was blown away, and haven't been able to contain my love of the place since! I spent a couple of hours on the beach, first taking close-up shots of some of the icebergs, and then some serene shots with long exposure lengths. I became absolutely fascinated by the place, in spite of still-wretched weather! After two and a half hours, when my feet were definitely frozen, I tore myself away and fell in love with nearby Fjallasárlón (and then Svartifoss)!

5 second exposure, f/18, ISO 200

Unfortunately I was staying 50km away that night (near Skaftafell), so it was a bit of a trek back, but I still drove back to Jökulsárlón. I forced myself to head there for sunset, and gave the lake another chance - it did look lovely and ethereal at that time of day, in clearer weather. The following morning I drove through the dark in thick fog for the possibility of a glimpse of sunrise at the beach (promised by the weather forecast). It never happened, but at least I had another few hours at this wonderful place. The weather was freezing cold, as usual, but again I was fascinated by the waves falling over the uniquely-shaped pieces of ice that were washed ashore, only to be returned to the sea by big waves sometime later. The size of the icebergs was completely different from the previous day; they were much smaller, as the waves had taken the big ones with (or broken them up) them since my previous visit.

0.8 second exposure, f/20, ISO 100

And so I had to return this year. It was the main destination on my trip, and I planned to spend 3 or 4 nights there. I wish I'd spent a week there, so strong my love for the place is! I booked the trip fairly last-minute, so Hali was booked up on a night in the middle of my planned visit, resulting in me only staying for 3 nights. I arrived early in the evening after a long journey from Vik, stopping at a few other places along the way. To my horror, as I drove down into the parking area behind the beach I couldn't see any icebergs! I looked around and noticed that there were cars parked on the western bank, so was hugely relieved to see that there were icebergs after all, but they'd just been driven onto the opposite bank by the tide.

During my three days there I only visited the lagoon once, and was again disappointed (similar weather to my last trip). I spent hours on the beach though; a couple of sunrises, a couple of sunsets, and a couple of afternoon trips. It was amazing to see how different the icebergs were on different days. What struck me even more, though, was how many other photographers there were! The previous year I'd seen two others during my whole time there, and in spite of being there at exactly the same time of year, there were at least 10 at any time I was there. It seems as if everyone else has caught the bug too...

0.5 second exposure, f/18, ISO 125

My aim on this trip was to try out my new Canon 5D and get some shots of water trails over the icebergs, and hopefully some shots with a bit of colour in the sky, other than grey. My luck with the weather was slightly better than the previous year, although still not great, which gives me another excuse to return (as if I need one!). I played around with various of my neutral density filters, and finally settled on the 6-stop or 3-stop ones for most shots, as they gave me exposure lengths of between half a second and 3 seconds. On my trips just before dusk, I was able to get up to 10 seconds exposure without resorting to the 10-stop filter (which was barely used on this trip) and even longer as it became darker. On my second evening there I was treated to a short, sharp hail shower, which left beautiful wave-marks on the beach.

10 second exposure, f/11, ISO 100

I made a discovery early on during my trip, which was that the remote release I'd brought with me wasn't compatible with my 5D. I hadn't even thought about it, but as I opened the little area in search of a round hole to put the lead into I couldn't find one and realised that I needed a new remote release for my new camera (a stupid oversight)! In order to overcome this obstacle, but still be able to set the shutter off without using my finger (avoiding potential shake) I had to use the 2-second timer. My plan was to capture the water as it trailed away from the icebergs after a wave had crashed over them, which happened intermittently (some of the waves didn't come in far enough up the shore to create any trails). Using the 2-second timer therefore involved a bit of practise (and luck) in getting the shutter to open at the right time depending on the wave breaking over the iceberg and the water draining back to the sea. Sometimes a wave would be much bigger than anticipated, and either I'd get a bit drenched or would have to suddenly grab the tripod and head up the beach. Fortunately I was kitted out in wellies, ski trousers and a waterproof jacket, so no damage was done! 

1 second exposure, f/16, ISO 100

I got a few shots that I was very happy with, but wish I could have stayed longer, playing around with different lenses and more time/aperture combinations. If I had no husband and no dog, I'd be back there in a shot, and would stay for months!

3.2 second exposure, f/13, ISO 100

 I hope to return to Iceland later this year or next, and will obviously be revisiting this magical place...

6 second exposure, f/13, ISO 100

My photos are available as prints or for RM licensing  - please have a look at my website:

No comments:

Post a Comment