26 Mar 2016

Iceland #10 - Day 6: The Icebergs Return

Another lazy morning; I just didn't seem to be able to get myself out of my little bed at Hali! This time I only made it up and out to the beach by 11.30am - not exactly early. The weather was pretty uninspiring again, with overcast, grey skies with little contrast. I drove to Jökulsárlón beach and was delighted to see icebergs; it was a great relief after a frankly dreadful day the previous day.

I drove down to the parking area, still unbelievably snowy and bumpy, and for some reason - I'm not sure why - I decided to drive a little further and continued on towards the beach in the tracks of another car, before turning the wheels to the left to come back around. The car ground to a halt, the wheels spinning beneath me. I turned off the engine and got out to assess the situation. Yes, I was grounded in deep slushy snow. Three Californian girls came past and offered to help me. We tried to dig out as much of the snow as we could from underneath the wheels with our feet, and then I tried again, with the three women pushing the car. I tried a couple of times, both forward and reverse, but the car wasn't going anywhere. I was nervous about the car jolting forward or backwards suddenly into them. A few minutes later, after thoughts of calling for someone to tow me out, a nice Canadian guy came along, and with four people pushing I finally managed to get the car moving forward a little. I got stuck again, but as my wheels were now straight I was able to reverse a little in my own tracks and then go forward again, full throttle, and continued on to safe ground. I thanked my saviours profusely (saved me about £200!) and parked up next to the other cars. I took an iPhone photo of my tracks, as a keepsake of the experience...

Panic over, I got my gear together and walked down to the beach which was teeming with visitors. There weren't enormous numbers of icebergs, but enough for me to photograph. The sky brightened from time to time and the sun even came out a few times. There were some massive extremely blue icebergs sitting in the surf, which got tossed around a lot as huge waves crashed over them every couple of minutes. I was happy again.

I stayed out ages - making up for the previous day's lack of icebergs, and only headed back to Hali when the batteries ran out and the feet were thoroughly cold (as usual). I realised that I'd been out on the beach for over four and a half hours (not quite my record)! As I drove towards Hali, only 13km, the skies began to clear and the views of the mountains behind the settlement looked glorious in the afternoon sun.

I had a sandwich, downloaded the hundreds of photos I'd taken in the morning and recharged the camera batteries, before setting out again, back to the beach for sunset. Before I headed to the beach I parked near the lagoon, nervous about driving into the snow-covered carpark on the far side of the bridge. The sun illuminated a tiny part of the glacier and mountains above the lagoon; it was glorious. 

I took a few shots there before driving back across the bridge to the carpark for the beach. There were a group of Italian photographers, tripods lined up in a row, and now the tide had come in a little there were only a couple of icebergs visible on the beach. They chattered away noisily and drank beer; it wasn't exactly peaceful. Had there been any other icebergs along the beach I would've happily gone off to find a bit of solitude. They were all waiting for waves to come over the icebergs, and then there would be a racket of everyone's shutters, desperately hoping to capture some cool water trails. I liked the icebergs stark against the black sand too. As usual I played around with different filters which produced some different results, with the 6-stop ND filter making the sunset look a bit more intense. There was some nice visible rain over the horizon, which fortunately didn't come towards us. I tried various different angles too, but given the number of other photographers there my options were limited. I was using my 70-200mm lens and played around with different focal lengths too.

Some Chinese tourists arrived and wandered up to the icebergs, to wails of annoyance from the Italians, as they didn't want them in their shots.

Eventually the light was almost gone and the Italians packed up and headed back to their vehicles. There were still clear, bright skies behind the bridge, but stars were beginning to come out to the south, over the sea.

The tide had been going out extremely quickly and began to reveal larger icebergs, sitting on the seabed.  These two shots were taken 7 minutes apart:

I switched lenses, putting on the 16-35mm one to see if I could capture some shots of the icebergs in the waves, underneath the stars. I began to worry about being on the beach, alone, in the dark, and so decided to call it a night. I don't normally worry, but after the morning's car incident I wanted to get out of the carpark as soon as I could. If I'd got grounded then I'm not sure what I'd have done, since everyone else had left.

I stopped in the usual spot on the way back and decided to take some more star shots, with the mountain reflected in one of the road-side pools, that had fortunately more-or-less thawed and was now lovely and glassy. Even the stars were perfectly reflected. I'd found myself a lovely little spot! Every time a car approached bits of the hillside and snowy ground between me and the mountain were lit up; when they were very close the whole of the foreground was illuminated.

I was warm enough, so decided that I'd stay there a while, take some more star shots, hope to capture the milky way, and hopefully some northern lights might also come out. The clouds had mostly disappeared and it was a spectacular, wind-free night. I pushed up the ISO in increments, eventually as high as 6400, as I'd read that with more noise, more stars are captured, and lo and behold the milky way was visible. There was also a vague green glow on the horizon.

I drove the last couple of km to Hali and made myself some pasta, before heading back outside, wandering down the track away from the lights of the guesthouse. I'd checked the northern light forecast and there wasn't much to speak of, but I still wanted to get some more stars shots. I tried a few compositions before finding a view I liked, and started to do a series of 30-second exposures. I hadn't really planned to do star trail shots initially and therefore hadn't brought my intervalometer outside with me, or even my remote control, so I was pressing the shutter for each shot, with it on 2-second delay so as to avoid any movement. Cars and massive trucks came by every few minutes, which resulted in some quite nice light trails, but there was a point at which the headlights shone right at me for a few seconds which was a little too bright for a decent shot.

Eventually I stopped the sequence (after just over an hour's worth of shots), and remembered to take the dark shot with the lens cap on (helps to get rid of any heat-related noise in processing). Annoyingly almost immediately after I stopped the northern lights started appearing a bit more, so I stayed out a little longer to capture them. I've had quite a lot of luck seeing the aurora at Hali, but then given that I usually stay at least 3 days I'm improving my chances. The lights were nothing like two nights earlier, but it was still nice to see them again. I took my last shot of my little temporary home and headed inside at 1.30am. 

I had an early start the following morning (dragging myself to Jökulsárlón for sunrise!) but decided that it would be a great time to start playing around with the star trail software and see what the star trail shots looked like (while enjoying a well-earned beer). This involves saving the applicable shots as jpegs (from Raw files), which itself takes forever, so it wasn't until around 2.30am when I finally got my first stack done. I then played around with the software, removing a few frames that were too bright. Finally I turned off my light at around 3am, with the alarm set for 7.15. I was back on the beach 5 hours later!

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