First stop was Reynisfjara beach, where I was hoping the skies would throw me some decent light. It was a typical day - heavy grey clouds with short, sharp showers lasting a couple of minutes each and passing quickly on. Sometimes good for photography, but not so great when they hit you. There was one other car in the parking lot when I arrived, a good hour before sunrise. It wasn't particularly cold, but I knew it was likely to rain, so was wrapped up in my waterproofs. I was still using the spare camera, with the 5D in its home of basmati for a few more days.
There were some good moody clouds in the distance, coming quickly towards me, with sheets of visible rain getting closer and closer. When the storm was about to hit I rushed back to the car to sit it out for a few minutes. It was over quickly, and kept myself and the 60D relatively dry.
Then it was back out on to the beach where I mainly photographed the waves, with the ever-grey clouds in the distance. Soon the crowds started arriving, and by the time I left at 9.45am it was heaving.
I tried a few long exposures, but the clouds weren't really going in the right direction, and the bright patches of cloud blew out parts of most images.
I wandered back to the car and sun poured tiny rays over the sea before it started to rain again. Onwards.
Next stop was Skógafoss, which I usually make a brief stop at when I drive along the south coast. It was particularly busy, teeming with people in brightly-coloured waterproof jackets. There was no sun to give a rainbow, and it began to spit. Always nice to have to worry about not only the spray from the waterfall, but also rain droplets from the sky too. I took a few shots, playing around with various filters and exposure lengths, before continuing on.
I thought about stopping at the pretty rocks out in the bay again, but the light was drab, so I just carried on with my westward drive. I stopped at the side of the road to capture Seljalandsfoss in the drizzle and continued onwards.
I drove on through the towns of Hvolsvöllur and Hella, the traffic thickening as I headed west, and made a left turn down to Urriðafoss. I wasn't surprised to find five other cars there (usually there's one or two, or maybe none) - everywhere else is so busy these days so why not here? I was surprised, however, to find that there were lots of new signs and ropes cordoning off the pathway. One sign stated that you weren't allowed to go across to the island. Because of the large amount of recent rain the water levels in the river were high, so access would have been impossible anyway. I'd loved clambering over there on previous visits - the view from the little island was my favourite. I guess the Icelandic rescue services are fed up with having to come to the help of tourists and photographers who've slipped over and hurt themselves in these places. I imagine it's now in the Lonely Planet guidebook too - it doesn't even get a mention in my 15 year-old one. I wandered along the path and took a few shots, but still the light was grey and there was an irritating light drizzle. I spoke to another photographer who was trying his luck without a tripod - not ideal in this light. He was from Texas, so we had a chat about how my in-laws were from there. It was his second trip to Iceland - when most people come once, I find, they have to come back.
It is quite a tricky waterfall to photograph - with no perfect spot along the bank to capture the whole scene (as I said, the view is better from the island slightly downstream, inaccessible today). The sun came out briefly so at least the hills on the far bank looked a bit brighter. Then it was gone and everything looked drab again, so I concentrated on photographing the wave movements over the shallow rocks (cropped and saturation altered a little in post-production!).
And then it was on my way to Álftanes, where Johannes' coffee and Sigrún's sushi were awaiting me. I'd done that same journey before and knew it took about an hour, and this time I knew exactly how to get there too. There was nothing else to see along the way, and I didn't even bother going into Reykjavík to see the Sólfar sculpture (a first), since the weather was grim. I reached Álftanes at around 4pm as the light was fading. It's always lovely to be welcomed by friends after 9 days of pretty much talking to no-one, or just grabbing three minutes of conversation with other photographers a couple of times a day. Sigrún was busy making dozens of pieces of sushi and rolls - this was the first time I'd had home-made sushi before! Johannes told me how upset their son was when he found out on Sunday morning that they were having sushi (it's his favourite!) but that they'd have to wait until I arrived in the evening. It was worth waiting for!
After a lovely evening of sushi and catching up we all went to bed early. I had to get up just after 5am in order to get to the airport and drop the car off before my early morning flight home. As I opened the front door to pack the car the first thing I noticed was how cold it was (something I hadn't really experienced on the whole trip). The car was covered in beautiful ice. I looked up and noticed some pale green lights in the sky - the northern lights were up to see me off! Once I'd loaded the car I got out a store card to scrape the ice off the windscreen. It took longer than I thought and it was truly freezing. I eventually scraped enough to be able to drive and drove the car a little way along the road to where there was a gap in the street lights. The big tripod was safely back with its owners and the little tripod was packed away, so the only option was to balance the camera on the roof of the car, propped up slightly on my purse! It didn't exactly work, but I managed to get a last shot of the northern lights before continuing on - hands frozen - to the airport.
I was disappointed with the newly renovated airport departure lounge - the fantastic sculpture had gone, and the Icelandic coffee and food places had been replaced with international chains. At least the duty free shop stocked some of my lovely Borg beer, so I picked up a 6-pack of the Icelandic Stout to take home to the hubby (and the usual blueberry and birch liqueurs). The plane took off on time and I was treated to a beautiful view of the sunrise over the lovely freshly-snow-covered hills along the south coast - I could even see the stacks at Reynisdrangar. After days of pretty dreadful weather and no snow it was so frustrating to see the country looking beautiful and white-capped, with clear skies above. Oh well, that's just the way it goes - you're always dependent on the weather and you have to take what you're given!
It had been a great trip, but I felt it went by too quickly - mainly because of the short daylight hours. Everything felt a bit rushed during the day, as I had to pack my photography into fewer hours. The weather was a bit disappointing too; I don't think I'd go back in November. The magical cold winter's light was missing, and hills weren't white yet, the ground wasn't frosty and the waterfalls weren't frozen. It just wasn't cold enough for me, and I realised that this is what I love about my winter trips - the feeling of crisp cold air through my nostrils and the warmth of getting back inside after a long shoot. There were still a few late autumnal leaves, though, the weather certainly wasn't as harsh as it is later in the winter, and I'd had a good show of the northern lights, so it wasn't bad. But I'll save my winter trips for late February and March next time. In fact the next trip needs to be booked - it might be a short one -with friends - in March, so fingers crossed that the weather Gods will be a little kinder.