23 Mar 2016

Iceland #10 - Day 3: Heading East, Alone, to Disappointment

And so the photography trip began. With the boys safely on a bus back to Reykjavik, I headed towards the gloom in the east. There had been a strange bluey-grey cloud hanging over the coast all day, and now I drove into it. I crossed the first sandur and saw some strange hillocks that I've noticed before, so turned right off the main road to get a better look. I passed a photographer who I thought was shooting in a slightly different direction but who clearly wasn't, as he shouted "for f**k's sake!" as I obviously wandered into his shot, in search of my own. I apologised and retreated and a couple of minutes later he waved me on.

I continued onwards past the snow-covered mossy lava fields and Kirkjubæjarklaustur, and then the wonderful Lómagnúpur loomed into view, the clouds high enough not to obscure the top, for once. There was a glow on the horizon and even sun visible on very distant snowy peaks much further east. I stopped to take a couple of shots, but the light wasn't great and I was excited to get to Jökulsárlón, so didn't hang around for long. I pulled in again on the far side of the bridge, as the view of Lómagnúpur is far better from the east side.

I raced on, passing the turn-offs to Skaftafell and Svínafellsjökull, only stopping to fill up with petrol at the station near Oræfi; otherwise it was straight on towards the ice. The glaciers were just visible, although covered with snow, so not as blue as usual. The roadsides were also incredibly snowy, and I never seemed to get any closer to the strange yellow glow in the distance.

Taken while driving, hence blurred - oops!

I soon passed the track up to Fjallsárlon, which was completely covered with snow - there was no way I'd be trying to drive up there until the snow had melted a bit - and then the pylons began converging towards the horizon on the right, and the moraine hills began rolling alongside me to the left and finally the top of the suspension bridge over the river at Jökulsárlón reared into view in the distance - I was back!

It is a very disappointing feeling to rock up at a place that is so beloved to you, only to find it missing the one thing that really makes it special. And this was how I felt after driving over the bridge, past a lagoon devoid of floating icebergs (there were some in the distance but not many), and then down a bumpy, potholed, snowy track to park at a beach in great anticipation, only to see almost no icebergs. I was bereft. Jökulsárlón beach with no icebergs! What was I to do?!! At least it wasn't raining, that would have rubbed salt into the wound. I wrapped up in all my warm gear and set off with the tripod down the beach anyway, to see if I could salvage anything from the afternoon.

It was still clear to the east, and the bottom of the Vesturhorn mountain and some other higher peaks to the north of it were illuminated by the sun - if only I'd been there instead... There were a couple of scrappy bits of ice on the beach but they were horribly dull, covered in patches of black sand and very unphotogenic. I felt pretty devastated. The fact that there was no ice floating under the bridge to the sea left me pessimistic for my few days there - the ice had to come from somewhere.

In addition to the lack of ice, I also realised - for the first time that trip really - that I didn't have the right equipment with me; I had a bit of a lens problem. I'd had a little accident back in December with my 24-70mm lens taking a little tumble against the side of the coffee table, resulting in a slight dent to the filter ring. As a result, I can no longer screw in any filters. As I hadn't got round to getting it fixed yet, I decided that this would give me a good opportunity to try out the next model up (the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II which has had rave reviews) to see if it was special enough to buy (and the wonderful Lenses For Hire always has a 50% offer if you book your rentals in February). I knew it wouldn't be perfect for the trip, as the filter thread is 82mm and all of my filters are 77mm. I bought an 82mm circular polariser and already had a step-down ring from a similar experiment a couple of years earlier with a rented Zeiss lens that I could use to put the smaller filters on. I tried them out when the lens arrived, only to find impossible vignetting at any focal length other than 70mm (ie the filters were pointless!). The other problem I discovered when the lens was delivered was that this newer model has a shallow tulip-style hood, different from the large, deep hood of the older model, which provides a decent amount of cover from the rain. Therefore this lens was unlikely to work for Jökulsárlón, given that I liked to use filters and needed the hood to protect the glass from errant raindrops or salty wave splashes.

The only lens I had with me that had any kind of weather protection, then, was my 70-200mm f/4, which had a similarly enclosed, long hood as my trusted, but dented, 24-70mm one. The problem with this lens, though, was that I have no filters for it, and it has a 67mm thread for filters. I have a step-up ring so I can use all of my filters without a hood, but with a hood I can't use any. Or so I thought. I'd had a bit of a brainwave thinking that the 77mm filters might just fit inside the hood, if I could somehow manage to attached them with the step-down ring, with the hood already attached. It turned out that it was just possible, sliding my fingers carefully in and moving the filter around in small motions to get it to catch onto the threads and tighten - enough to hold, but not so much that I wouldn't then be able to move it. I also had to avoid getting any fingerprints on the glass, also a challenge! It was all a bit of a rubbish set-up and I longed for my old un-dented 24-70mm (I must get it fixed!!).

As it wasn't wet I could live without the hood for now and was able to use the 70-200mm lens with any of the filters, so I set about trying to take some long exposure shots of the waves. The weather was still strange - with the intense bright patch along the horizon to the east, taunting me with its clear skies, and the thick bluey-grey clouds above me.

It was grey and uninspiring once the golden patch disappeared, to say the least, and even the waves were pretty dull.

There wasn't really any compensation for not having the icebergs there, so my time capturing the waves was definitely a bit begrudged. I got some moody shots, which matched my own mood. I was not a happy bunny.

The skies darkened and the weird light faded to nothing, so I headed the 13km east to Hali - my tiny home away from home, hoping for better weather and iceberg luck the following morning. It's always nice to get back to my tiny, cosy room there. The cloud cover that evening was 100%, with sleet or snow all night, and the forecast northern lights - fortunately - still hadn't arrived, with the data now suggesting that they would arrive the following night, when there might be a small patch of clear sky to the west. It was forecast to sleet until around 11am so I treated myself to a lie in, setting the alarm for 9.30am.

Click here for my blog from earlier in the day: Day 3 - Playing Tour Guide on a Snowmobile
Click here for my blog from Day 4 - Some Icebergs and Some Lights!

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