5 Mar 2015

Iceland Feb 2015 - Day 7: Lon & Stokksnes

Again I missed a sunrise opportunity, only able to capture the orange skies from around the cabin. I really should never trust a weather-forecast, and always be up and out before dawn. Even if I plan to, though, it just doesn't always happen - sleep sometimes gets the better of me, in spite of my good intentions. A small gap in the clouds overhead gave way to pink and orange reflections on distant clouds. I bunged on my down jacket and hopped outside the cabin and managed to get a few shots, wishing that I was down at Hvalnes or Stokksnes. Within minutes the gap in the clouds had gone and the sky was blue-grey; if I'd got up ten minutes later I never would have known...

I was sad to leave my lovely warm cottage, but I didn't have far to go; I was staying just outside Höfn, so at least I got to spend another day in the area. On check-out the owner actually charged me less than I thought it would be, as I'd been there for two nights, staying alone; a very nice, unexpected gesture.

I decided not to return to Hvalnes, but to see if I could get the reflection shots in the Lon lagoon that I'd foregone on my journey there due to the headache. I passed the small canyon that I'd seen another photographer enjoying a few days earlier, but the previous day's rain had washed away most of the snow and it looked dull and uninspiring - another annoyingly wasted opportunity (note to self: see a photographic opportunity - stop!). I drove on towards the lagoon and could only find one track where it was possible to pull in and park, and then set out across a grassy field towards the shoreline, armed with all my lenses and tripod - I didn't want to have to make a return trip to the car as it was a good few hundred metres down to the beach. The clouds were still lingering, but the air was still and it wasn't too cold, for a change. Not warm, but definitely not as cold without the wind.

I reached the shore and headed out across a muddy beach, my feet becoming bogged down from time to time - it was almost like quicksand in places. I managed to secure the tripod (and my feet) on a relatively non-sinking spot. I was very disappointed, again, that the snow had gone from the slopes of the hills on the other side of the fjord, leaving a rather characterless landscape. I started off using the long zoom, still trying to capture the reflections of the slopes, including a couple of tiny huts along the shore that I remembered from last year, but it had looked so much better with more snow.

After a while the sky began to brighten up and I started playing around with my filters, hoping to get some good clouds streaked across the sky. I tried out a few different options with the 10-stop ND filter and the variable ND one. I'd left my spare body in the car, so took a shot on the iPhone of the Apex filter in action (square photo, below).

Finally the sun came out properly and the clouds lifted to reveal blue skies. The sun moved slowly behind Vesturhorn, casting rays down into the V-shaped valley below.

Behind me, there was a striking triangular mountain that I managed to capture reflected in the fjord as the sun hit it. I played around with the polarising filter once the sun came out, but it was tricky to get a consistent blue across the sky. It looked more dramatic converted to black & white.

From time to time I'd wander further along the beach, nearly losing one of my boots a couple of times when I stood on a particularly squelchy spot. I was having problems with sun flares, as I was shooting almost directly into the sun, so spent a while trying to find the perfect spot to put my hand in front of the lens to avoid the sun, without getting a black gloved hand in the shot! It worked from time to time, but was time-consuming. The midday sun in front of you is not an easy subject, that's for sure.

I also tried out a few shots with the sun and flares directly in the shot - gave an idea of what a stunning day it had become (although not ideal for photography).

After three hours I wandered back to the car, past lichen covered rocks and lines of grass, feeling dehydrated and hungry, as well as acheing from carrying the large lens (as well as the others).  The sky was becoming more hazy, with low clouds gathering on the horizon.

After some water and a pre-made rye-bread sandwich I took a few last shots of the road (just love those Icelandic road views!), before heading west through the tunnel.

I took the turn down to Stokksnes; the road was now completely snow-free and easily passable. I stopped along the way when I saw a large group of horses in the sun, some munching away at grass, others just standing still, looking contemplative. Some of them came up to me, and - like others I'd encountered - seemed intent on eating my lens, or my gloved hand. I tried some silly shots from below - horses look very strange from that angle!

The views along the road were really spectacular, with jagged peaks jutting high above, with massive scree slopes leading right down to the road. Sea-birds flew around the cliff tops in large numbers. There was the odd derelict farm hut along the way. As I got back into the car a couple came down the road tolting on horses - a funny sight. I still haven't been on the back of an Icelandic horse - next trip...

I drove on to the car-park where the landowner was doing some repair work to the roof of the Viking Café. I couldn't get out of paying him, but only had 5,000 and 500 notes, so offered him the 500 - seemed to suffice. I would liked to have argued the toss, but this wasn't my country and I didn't really know what the legal position was, so just let it go. I drove along the spit, stopped to take a couple of shots, but the sun was right behind me and wherever I stood I cast a long shadow.

I continued to drive along the spit, hoping to get a little further round so that my shadow wouldn't get in the way while the sun was still directly opposite Vesturhorn. As the afternoon went on, obviously the sun would move further round towards the west, and my shadow wouldn't be a problem, but for the first shots it was an issue as I'd got there a little early. I parked the car at the end of the road, at the entrance to the radar station. As I walked down towards the shoreline I passed a small pond which had one of the distinctive black sandy dunes with grass on the top in the middle of it. Trying to position the tripod without the tripod and me in shadow was a problem here too, but I managed to work it by setting it on the timer and then jumping out of the way and crouching down, with my shadow hidden in the water!

The sun began to disappear behind some annoying clouds that were lingering above the horizon to the south and west as I ventured onto the beach. I took a few shots of the beach with the waves crashing over rocks and large stones, with Vesturhorn in the distance, but the light was poor. 

While I on the rocks I noticed a few other photographers arrive - first a couple, and then I noticed that the dunes and beach were swarming with them (there were probably around fifteen others); it was 4.30pm by now, just over an hour before sunset. I gave up on the rocks and wandered along to some dunes and found a couple of nice ones that mirrored the shape of the peaks in the distance. The clouds behind Vesturhorn were building quickly, so a long exposure with the big filter worked quite well, particularly as the sun came out around us for a while, and looked even better converted to black & white.

The light and shadows were still challenging - any time anyone walked past behind me, they cast a shadow on the dunes I was photographing. Fortunately most people stayed put for a while, so it wasn't too much of a problem, and a couple of seconds didn't show up in a long 30-second+ exposure. The sun also didn't want to illuminate the whole scene - either the dunes in the foreground or the mountains in the distance, but not both. I wanted to catch more wave shots so went back to the beach near the rocks. At that time the sun came out on the colourful scree slopes of Vesturhorn and its neighbours (but not on the beach, of course), and the mountains shone orange, reflected in the wet beach, reminding me of the sandstone arches and mountains I'd seen in the US last year.

I climbed a little higher onto the rocks I'd been on originally. From there I got a great view to watch the waves coming in and gracefully receding back to the sea, as well as being protected if a large wave came. The other photographers were all on the beach apart from one Kiwi woman on a photography tour who I chatted to. From time to time the others would suddenly scarper up the beach when a series of bigger waves came in and threatened to wash over their feet and tripod legs. I checked frequently just in case a stray spot of foam had splashed onto my lens and was inadvertently ruining my shots (which had happened in Jökulsárlón a few years earlier). The light kept changing, and the snowy hills in the far distance became illuminated briefly, as did the clouds above. The large stones on the beach looked as if they'd been especially placed there for optimal photographic opportunities (and indeed perhaps they had - I'd seen a few photographers move chunks of ice and rocks on Jökulsárlón beach a few times to get that "perfect" shot!).

The light on the mountain faded and the sky darkened quickly, with pink clouds in the distance. I was captivated - it was one of the most beautiful views with unexpectedly wonderful and ever-changing light.

Eventually the colour drained from the sky to leave the mysterious blue hour and the photographers slowly started peeling away. Clouds now covered the sky, as forecast - there wouldn't be any northern lights tonight. Because of the low light, increasing exposure times were necessary, and eventually I could only take really long exposures (without bumping up the ISO) and the foam just blew out each shot, so I called it a day.

I drove to my guesthouse for the night - Hafnarnes, where I'd stayed the previous year. I was greeted by a welcoming committee of small dogs and a fluffy cat, including a one-eyed, short-haired white chihuahua which eyed me strangely with its one remaining boggly eye. When I mentioned that I'd stayed there before the owner was delighted. They were just finishing off renovations and I was given a lovely double room, which was nice and unexpected. 

I drove down into Höfn and had a delicious lamb shank in a restaurant in town. I asked the waitress if I could buy a beer to take with me and she said no, so I told her that I was driving, to which she responded "Oh, no-one worries about that here in Iceland!" - not quite what I was expecting her to say; I ordered a Borg porter anyway and drove home afterwards very sheepishly. In the restaurant I chatted to a photographer who had refused to pay the landowner to use the road at Stokksnes and the police had been called; the result of which was that no-one knew the legal position, so he didn't pay and the police didn't press charges. It still remains an annoying mystery for the visitor, but does leave a slightly bitter taste in one's mouth, especially given how generous and friendly the Icelandic people are otherwise. I guess there will always be people trying to grab an opportunity to make easy money if they can...

No comments:

Post a Comment