31 Oct 2015

Two Shots a Day - Back in Iceland!

I'm back in Iceland, yet again, for another photography trip along the southern coast. Instead of posting a first and last photo from each day (as I did on my last trip in February), I'm going to post a couple that I particularly like each day instead. That way they're not all of pre-dawn for the first shot and the blue hour/northern lights for the last shot!

Day 1 - From Keflavik to Vik

Today I took a lovely drive from the airport via my friend's house in Alftavatn for coffee, then on to Nesjavellir and the wonderful Ion hotel, then along the shores of Þingvallavatn, before heading back down towards Selfoss. I then headed east, stopping at a few spots, before deciding on the promontory at Dyrholaey as my place to photograph the sunset. Quite a stunning evening it was too.

Trees reflected along the southern shore of Þingvallavatn

The stack on Reynisfjara beach seen from Dyrholaey, with the earth's shadow providing the colour

Day 2 - From Vik to 

I left Vik in drizzly weather with limited visibility; it was easy drive, though, across the black sandur (sandy plains), with little wind and almost no other traffic on the road. I stopped briefly to capture Foss á Siðu, and Lómagnúpur, before continuing on to my beloved Jökulsárlón. I went to the east beach, which was packed with thousands of icebergs, and the tide was receding and only crashing over a few at the shore line. There was a constant drizzle coming in from the south-west. The sun began trying to come out, but the best light was in the same direction as the wind and drizzle, so I eventually gave up and headed across the road and the bridge to the west side of the lagoon. For a while the light was stunning, with the peaks appearing from the fog, but soon the wind picked up and it became extremely gusty and unpleasant, so I called it a day. Here's a couple of shots from the day.

Small pebbles and sand collect in pockets of the icebergs on Jökulsárlón beach 

The peaks behind Jökulsárlón Lagoon peak from behind fog

Day 3 - Jökulsárlón

Had a lovely day in Jökulsárlón, with a few hours on the beach first thing (and some lovely light and clouds), followed by a quick pitstop at the lagoon, home for a few hours while the weather was rubbish, and then back out for "sunset", although the weather was still mostly rubbish. Now desperately waiting for the storms to clear and a promised aurora borealis storm to appear!

The sun peaks above the clouds on the horizon over Jökulsárlón beach

A couple of tiny icebergs on Jökulsárlón beach at dusk - rather weird clouds around
Day 4 - Jökulsárlón

Another day at Jökulsárlón - didn't even bother checking out the lagoon (apart from a little post-sunset recce to see where might be a good aurora spot). So here are my two shots from today - both from the beach, and both with similar weather and cloud conditions!

Dawn on Jökulsárlón beach - there was some great colour in the skies, 

One of the few sunsets I've actually seen at Jökulsárlón - usually it's jut too cloudy!
Day 5 - Driving to Stafafell
I haven't gone very far today, only 90km, leaving Hali and returning to the yellow cottage at Stafafell. I drove to Jökulsárlón for sunrise (another nice one - I was being luckier than usual), back to Hali to check out, then eastwards, stopping at a couple of usual spots. For sunset I headed to Stokksnes, but the skies were dull and the light uninspiring.

A rather lovely morning at Jökulsárlón

For a country with no trees, occasionally there are some! This little patch is found between Hali and Hofn.

Day 6 - Stafafell

Today has been wet and miserable, so hard pushed to even find 2 decent photos! I spent all morning processing some star trails I took the previous night, and eventually forced myself out in the rain at about 2pm to Hvalnes. I wanted to capture some interesting things on the beach, but it was so wet and all my photos were pretty much ruined by the reflection of my tripod in the hundreds of pebbles! I played around with the polarising filter, but it didn't help much. There were some nice little bits of seaweed, shells, and dead fish and crab bits though. Back at Stafafell I noticed some pretty rain-covered red berries. Hopefully tomorrow will be a little less wet and miserable.

Yes, you can see the pan head and tripod reflected in every damn wet black pebble!

Raindrops cling to little red berries on a tree in Stafafell

Day 7 - A Detour back to Jökulsárlón

The weather was ghastly again today - rainy, low cloud and mist, and windy to boot. I was supposed to be enjoying the region around Höfn - hoping to get some better shots from Stokksnes - but the weather was so bad I decided to make the 130km round trip to Jökulsárlón instead, as I know that even in rain it's wonderful. It pissed down the whole time I was there, but with the cover of the lens hood I managed to keep the lens and filters dry for long enough to get a few shots. I may have damaged the camera, though, as it doesn't now switch off (I need to take the battery out). Oops. Tomorrow is back that way again, but onwards to Vik. Gales are forecast here for the morning, which may scupper plans...
Not very pleasant driving conditions today - at least it wasn't pissing it down at that point!

Back to Jökulsárlón which still looks very lovely in the rain

Day 8 - A Windy Drive to Vik

Gales were forecast for part of the day, so I didn't head out to Stokksnes for sunrise (there wasn't one), but headed out a little later on. The sun was trying to come through, but not shining on the mighty Vesturhorn. I struggled to get any decent shots. By the time I left the sun was out, but I had to leave (needing to make a detour back to the Yellow Cottage, having found the key in my car...). I then drove straight to Vik, stopping only briefly to take the odd shot. The weather was windy, sometimes sunny, mainly rainy, and pretty unpleasant. I got to Vik just in time for sunset, but there wasn't much of one!

Looking east near Hali, with huge clouds above the mountain tops

A long exposure shot of the post-sunset skies above Vik.

Day 9 - Vik to Alftanes

My last day was another one for rainy driving. I awoke in Vik to a beautiful view of the crescent moon aligned with a couple of stars, but within minutes it was raining. I packed up and left, drove to Reynisfjara beach for sunrise (disappointing but some good moody clouds), before heading to the crashed DC3 (love that place - and a brief moment of awesome light to boot!), a quick stop at Skógafoss, onwards through more rain to Urriðafoss, before arriving at my friends' house on the Alftanes peninsula for tea time. Sigrún treated me to a fantastic dinner of home made sushi - a wonderful last meal on my trip.

Rain about to hit me on Reynisfjara beach at 'sunrise'

A moment of wonderful light, illuminating the distant Pétursey, at the DC3 crash site

Day 10 - Flying Home

Obviously the weather as I left Iceland this morning was amazing - a severe frost and clear skies allowing me a last glimpse of northern lights, and then a glorious view from the plane of the freshly-snow-covered hills and an intense sunrise glow. But hey, I'll be back again :)

Tripod packed away so this was taken with the camera sitting on the roof of the car - not ideal!

After days of mostly rain it was annoying to see a beautiful clear day in Iceland - just as I left :(

18 Oct 2015

Back to Japan - Day 9, Part 1: Tsukiji Fish Market

I first visited Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo back in 2004, on my first visit to the city. Things were very different then; while it was reasonably well-known, the crowds of tourists hadn't really discovered it and you were able to just rock up on your own and wander around at leisure, trying not to get in anyone's way. From memory, I'd got an expensive taxi there at about 5.30am and caught the end of the frozen tuna auction (the fresh one was earlier; too early). Now things are a lot different - get there after 4.13am (or possibly earlier) and you'll miss the opportunity to have an early-morning visit to see the spectacle of the auction and all the prodding and sampling that goes on prior to it.

I first read the official guidance on the market's website, which basically said that you had to be there at 5.00am in order to register. 120 visitors were allowed each day, split into two tour groups - the first would visit the market from 5.25am until 5.50am and the second from 5.50am until 6.15am. I decided to check a few blogs to see if this was still the case and for any further guidance on timing and queues and read a few stories of people showing up at 4.30am and all of the slots had already been filled. You needed to get there before 4am, one blog suggested. It would be pretty annoying to get up super-early, get yourself there, only to find you were 15 minutes too late. Part of my strategy for visiting the market was to stay as close as possible, which meant that we only had to walk for 5 or so minutes to the entrance (we'd been given a map and instructions on how to get there by the hotel). The other strategy was to just get there as early as possible - if we were going to get up in the middle of the night, half an hour less sleep wasn't going to make much difference.

It was still a struggle though, as we pulled on our clothes at just after 3am and headed out into the mild night. Being the rainy season meant that tourist numbers were relatively low, so we were confident of securing a place. We met an Israeli guy walking along the road who was also on his way; he'd cycled and tied his bike up nearby. The entrance wasn't well marked, but there were some security men guiding us to the brightly-lit office. As we went in we put our names on a list and were handed yellow high-vis vests to put on. We went into a room, where there were already about thirty people already waiting; the two at the front were standing, eager to get to the auction action as quickly as possible and get the best view. It was 3.25am; we had another 2 hours of waiting before that was possible. People arrived regularly and by 3.50am the first group was full. The next people arriving got blue vests and came in quickly; by 4.13am it was full! Given the advice on the website says registration is at 5am there must've been some annoyed people showing after 4.13am! (I just read a review on TripAdvisor by someone arriving at 3.45am on a Saturday morning and it being full already). People chatted, took photos, but generally it was a dull wait, sitting on the floor of a holding room, checking the clock regularly.

Finally at 5.20am (after 2 hours of waiting) we were led out across the market roads, dodging motorised trolleys and carts hurtling past, before arriving in a tiny corridor between two tuna areas which was our viewing spot for the next 20-25 minutes.

On either side were rows of steaming frozen tuna with the ends of their tails cut away from the bodies for the salesmen to test the quality of the fish. The men pottered about in their wellies, prodding the flesh with hooks, rubbing bits between their fingers, tasting some, shining flashlights on the flesh to examine the quality more closely, scribbling notes down, discussing with colleagues. These men were buying tuna for some of the world's best restaurants, so it was a serious (and lucrative) business. It was as I'd remembered, only this time I wasn't able to just wander through the rows of tuna at my whim. I switched lenses to try to capture different views, but it was challenging with little light (high ISO so grainy photos).

After a short while on the other side of the corridor a man rang a bell and the auction started. We couldn't really see much (good view of other peoples' iPhones videoing it), but there wasn't much to see anyway - one man stood with his hands moving about, shouting numbers and prices (presumably), while salesmen raised their hands and shouted back.

When it was over our time was up and we were ushered out into the daylight, back across the busy roads, to the entrance where we gave back our vests and headed off. Visitors were allowed back into the market after about 9am. We said our goodbyes to the Israeli guy, took a few last photos, and then headed back to the hotel for a few hours' more sleep.

We were up again at 9am and went back to the market, to catch the end of the morning's activity. Most of the stalls inside the market were closing shop, cleaning up the remains, doing the books, readying the place for the following night's work. It was quite calm in there now, and still fascinating, watching men sharpen knives (gave the hubby a few ideas), heads being chopped off massive frozen tuna bodies, huge crates of ice being delivered, buckets of fish remains, and a few beautiful fish still on show for sale. The market is moving next year, I believe, to a purpose-built building on the outskirts of the city - it'll be interesting to see if they make provision for visitors (building a viewing gallery, perhaps), and whether people will still go if it's miles away. It'll be a sad end of an era, as the market is quite unique. Here's a selection of shots from our hour milling around the market.

Eventually we headed out and back to the outer market streets, looking for a place for a sushi breakfast, past the stalls selling all sorts of things.

Some places had lines of tourists outside (presumably the places in the Lonely Planet or TripAdvisor) but we found one a bit further out that was quieter and we went straight in. It wasn't nearly as good as Sushisay, which was disappointing. We also tried a few more adventurous items, like sea urchin and some dried roe that made us gag, before wandering back to the hotel to pack and check out, before heading across the city for the next part of our Tokyo adventure.