1 Mar 2015

Iceland Feb 2015 - Day 4: A Blue & Green Day at Jökulsárlón

I managed to get up early, not wanting to make the same mistake as the previous day (missing impressive purple dawn skies). I arrived on the east beach at Jökulsárlón at 8.15 and sat in the car for a while, watching heavy snow come towards the car at me, horizontally, as I'd parked facing the wind (better for opening car doors). There wasn't a spot of colour in the sky; just dense greyness. It definitely looked as if there was going to be no sunrise to speak of, and conditions weren't exactly pleasant, or easy for photography. The wind was still blowing strong from the south-west, so any photos would have to be taken facing east to prevent the lens being covered with snow.

The beach looked different with a light covering of snow and hail, most of the black sand covered. The snow nestled in the nooks of the icebergs and footprints. The beach was still covered with a dense amount of icebergs - the tide hadn't carried them away as it had in previous years, and it was actually difficult to get down to the shore-line. Surprisingly, I was the only person there for a good half hour - it's a great place to be alone!

I wandered along through the scattered icebergs and noticed some beautiful "still life" arrangements of icebergs with the sand and the snow, as well as beautiful patterns in the icebergs themselves.

After a while concentrating on the ice detail I continued down the beach, as the skies lightened a little and a few other photographers arrived.

As usual, the weather was mixed, with occasional breaks in the cloud and a few storm clouds passing over bringing a short snow-shower (that was the forecast for the whole day).

The beach was cluttered with icebergs, so I was unable to get any pretty shots of nicely-sculpted individual bergs with water trails over them, and had to be content with "group" iceberg shots! I managed to get a few massive waves crashing over the bergs too, as the sun finally came out from behind the clouds.

Within minutes it was gone again, the skies dark and very ominous once again, the next snow-shower only minutes away.

Before the shower arrived I thought it would be a good opportunity to head to the lagoon for a change of scenery, not to mention a few minutes in the warm car, a chance to clean the filters, and a nip to the loo in the café! I'd already been out for 2 hours and my feet were their usual chilly selves. Again I spent an hour in the café, warming up with some hot chocolate and chatting to a couple of fellow photographers. The sun came and went as I sat inside, lighting up the icebergs in the lagoon and the glacier that feeds it. The café has been done up a bit in the past year, with more things for sale, but it even has wifi now, so I was able to put a real-time photo of the spectacular view on Instagram from there! When I headed out again it was cloudy and dull, but I knew that this wouldn't last for long as the clouds were moving over very quickly. I took the long lens out with me again, hoping to get some closer shots of the distant ice. The light was dreadful for a while until the sun finally came out again, first in patches, and then lighting up the whole scene.

Almost as quickly as it had come the sunny spell was over, the wind returned and everyone hurried back to the comfort of their cars or the café.

After an hour and half out there I headed back to Hali for a little rest. I stopped along the way at a small pool next to a narrow bridge, where I'd stopped a few times in the past; the pool was frozen and a strange shade of green. The sky was impressive when I got home, with snow shower clouds swirling around the sun. I wandered back to see the horses, who were for a short while bathed in Icelandic sunshine.

I can never stay indoors for long when Jökulsárlón is so close by, so after a couple of cups of PG Tips (which I always carry with me now!) and recharge of the batteries I was back at the beach for 4.15pm, a good hour and a half before sunset. As earlier, the sun continued to come in and out of snow-shower clouds, and although the skies weren't very colourful, they were dramatic at times.

I wandered to the end of the beach where the river dumps out the icebergs into the sea. Here there was a large number of enormous icebergs bobbing around in the pounding waves; I guess it's here where they're smashed against each other and are broken into the smaller pieces that then wash up a little further down the beach at high tide. I was able to stand on some rocks and get a slightly higher view of the beach.

I headed home at 6pm, the dark clouds preventing enough light being available for twilight photos. Again my feet were too cold - my new boots really weren't doing their thing. The forecast for that evening was good - both for clear-ish skies and for a decent aurora display, so I made sure I had all the right equipment to hand (charged batteries, memory card with space, head-torch, foot warmers, and clean, non-filtered wide-angle lens). After another yummy home-made pasta and skype call home I eventually headed out at 10.30pm, as the detailed short-term forecast I was using showed a KP of over 3 due by that time (up from 1.67 earlier).

I parked at the café car-park, together with about a dozen other cars and a campervan, quickly turning off my lights, so as not to ruin the light for everyone else. I walked up on to one of the hills overlooking the lagoon, from where I had a good view across the lake to the north and west, and over the mountains to the north and east. The lights were out, but not very brightly visible to the naked eye. The camera, as usual, captured a lot more! There were a few annoying and persistent small clouds that got in the way of the lights on the horizon. It was extremely dark, and therefore difficult to compose each shot. On my trip there last year I'd developed an easy method to get around this, though, by bumping up the ISO to 25,600, taking a shot (only a couple of seconds), then recomposing and focusing and trying again, and when I was happy with the composition and focus I'd put the ISO back down (to 2,000-3,200 generally) and take a longer shot, knowing I wasn't wasting time on a poorly-composed, out of focus one! Later on I'd delete all the grainy high ISO shots.

The lights became more visible to the naked eye occasionally, but from time to time people along the shore of the lagoon below me would shine their torches or cars would shine their headlights across the icebergs in the lagoon, reducing the visibility of the lights above. I found it really annoying and inconsiderate and wasn't the only person to shout down from the hill for people to turn their lights off. At least there wasn't a coach-load of Asian women like last year, screeching with delight every few seconds! I moved around a bit, eventually heading down to the beach, hoping to get some shots with the aurora reflected in the lake. While I was down there someone put their car lights on, shining a horrible bright white light on the icebergs across the lagoon for about 10 minutes. At least from on the hill I'd been able to turn and photograph the scene behind, but down on the beach I had nowhere else to point my camera! Eventually they turned the lights off and the place felt a little more natural again. The reflections in the water were disappointing; a slightly moonlit night probably would've helped for providing more (natural) light in the foreground.

The foot-warmers were helping a little, but I still felt very cold. I had my down mittens with me and would put my gloved hands inside them to keep them warm between shots, which was a bit fiddly, but effective in keeping my fingers alive. Eventually, though, the clouds were getting a little thicker, so I decided to call it a night and head home. The lights would probably go on all night, but there's only so many pictures of northern lights you can take in one spot!

As I parked at Hali I noticed that the lights above me were extremely active, dancing green lines above my head. I wandered along the track towards the horses and took another couple of shots before turning in for the night. I should have stayed out all night, as the display was in full force above me and there were fewer clouds here, but I was too tired and too cold. It had been a pretty good night after all and it had to end somewhere. I did manage to have a quick beer while I had a quick look over my photos!

Click here to view Day 3: A Day at Jökulsárlón
Click here for Day 5: Heading east to Stafafell

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