3 Apr 2017

Iceland #12 - Day 7 - A glorious day and night at Jökulsárlón

Some days in Iceland are truly magical, and this was one of those days. I got up early (managed to get up for once!) and headed down to the beach, arriving at 7.15am. There was some low cloud but clear skies above. There were three photographers already on the east beach, capturing the blue hour light. A spectacular sunrise didn't seem to be on the cards, as the cloud on the horizon looked a bit dense.

Eventually there was a slight pink hue on some wispy clouds, but the rising sun was hidden behind cloud.

Eventually it got a bit lighter and the clouds on the horizon glowed pink, which was reflected a little in the wet black sand.

Finally the sun burst through the cloud, and within a couple of minutes there was a lovely yellow light over the sea and the beach. It was amazing how the scene was transformed by the warm glow of the morning sunlight.

I pointed the long lens out to sea for a while, to capture the sun catching the waves - I was mesmerised!

As the yellow glow faded I turned my attention to trying to capture waves crashing against a couple of icebergs - the spray was quite impressive!

The sun was now fully up, and illuminated some of the icebergs beautifully.

I wandered along the beach and decided to try some panning across the water, lit up by the sun. 

Next on the agenda was to photograph the patterns in the icebergs. It wasn't easy as most of the decent icebergs were constantly battered by waves, but I eventually found some that I could capture - the patterns are just amazing. I put on the macro lens and got as close as I could.

I noticed some little pieces of ice on the beach casting cool shadows in the sun.

I changed back to my 24-70mm lens and took some photos of the waves and the clouds. The waves were an incredible green as they broke, backlit by the sun.

I then tried something I haven't tried before - hand-holding long exposure shots. I always use a tripod when I'm using the ND filters for long exposures (unless I'm panning), but I decided to see what happened if I just held the camera. I was quite pleased with the results, the shake catching the light on the waves.

I started to feel a bit hungry, not having had breakfast before I set off. I looked at my watch and was surprised to see that it was already 11am - I'd been there nearly 4 hours!! I decided I should head back to the guesthouse for something to eat, but got sidetracked when I found a partly clear, hollow iceberg. I'm always amazed at how different each iceberg is - in colour, texture, shape; the diversity is really incredible. This one had some amazing patterns and I took quite a few photos of it! I loved the fact that I could see the coloured pebbles below.

I headed back up the beach towards the car, but got side-tracked - once again - by some pebbles, bits of seaweed and a couple of dead things.

As I left I noticed a woman wearing a wedding dress having a photo-shoot. It was far nicer weather than I'd seen a few years ago, when the bride hurried from the car to the beach, then a hailstorm arrived and she was ushered back into the car.

It was 12.30pm by the time I left - so I'd been there five and a quarter hours - definitely a record for me on that beach! I drove back to the guesthouse, passing a group of white ptarmigan along the driveway that flew away as I approached. I had some late breakfast, tea, downloaded the hundreds of photos and recharged the batteries. Not surprisingly I was a bit photoed-out, so I decided to have a bit of a longer break than I'd normally allow myself. The weather and northern lights forecasts for the evening were both rather promising, so I decided to make my pasta and eat before I went out, so I wouldn't be worrying about my supper when I should've been photographing northern lights!

I headed back out just before 5pm. I decided to go to the lagoon, rather than the beach. It was crowded, as usual, but that doesn't spoil it - there aren't any people on the ice, at least (although there have been before!). The light wasn't great, with a bit too much grey-white cloud; sunset didn't look as if it would be that good. The surface of the lagoon was pretty flat, resulting in excellent reflections.

I headed up the hill for a while before returning to the shore, where I became a little obsessed by the perfect reflections of a couple of the icebergs - it reminded me of a Rorschach test.

The sky finally began to turn pink in the distance and the sun even illuminated some snowy peaks for a minute.

At 7pm I had a choice to make - stay there until it got properly dark (not for another hour at least) or go home and come back later. I didn't have my torch with me (not very well-organised!) but I decided to stay anyway (the iPhone torch and moonlight would have to do). I headed around the lake shore, away from the remaining photographers. Within a couple of minutes I was completely alone. There was a layer of ice along the edge of the lagoon and occasionally I'd hear a rather eerie crunching noise as the ice moved slightly (perhaps from a seal plopping into the water in the distance). From time to time I'd hear weird snorting noises too, which I knew to be coming from seals, but they sounded far closer than they could have been.

There was a red glow in the sky to the south and west, but in front of me were blue mountains. The moon was already out.

At 7.40pm, when it wasn't even dark yet, I noticed the first streak of northern lights behind the mountain - this was exactly what I'd hoped for! Now I just needed it to get properly dark. I popped on the wide angle lens and stood around waiting for more.

Ten minutes later and the lights intensified briefly, reflected in the lagoon below (I'd made sure I was stood at an area where the water was free from ice, in order to get the reflection).

They subsided pretty quickly until only vague streaks were visible, although I could just see them dancing. Another strip appeared above the mountains on the horizon. The snow on the mountains started to glow slightly pink from the moonlight.

I decided to head back towards the edge of the lagoon, given that there were more icebergs there. A faint line of light was still visible. As I passed the first group of photographers another couple of arcs appeared in the sky to the north. Under the moonlight, a long exposure shot made it look as if it was daylight.

I returned to the area below the car-park, which was bustling with photographers. From time to time someone would annoyingly shine a light onto the icebergs. With the light from the moonlight there was plenty of natural light. By now it was also dark enough to see the northern lights properly (being 9.30pm). They were getting stronger by the minute...

A few minutes later and the real show began.

They began dancing around, swirling quickly, the edges of the lines showing a little red.

The show didn't last very long, and after about 10 minutes they'd subsided. I waited around, hoping that they'd return. I didn't have to wait long - a couple of minutes later they were back, in different formations. In spite of the moonlight, I still struggled with my focus - and now I need reading glasses to see close things I found reviewing the shots in the dark quite challenging! I finally managed to get the focus right while the lights danced away for another ten minutes before fading again.

The lagoon looked divine even without the lights - the icebergs still on the mirror-like lagoon.

I headed back to Reynivellir at 10.15pm having been out for another five and a quarter hour stint - this was becoming something of a habit! I pulled over on the way home to try a couple of car trail shots. There were some cool finger-like clouds stretched across the sky over the mountains behind Reynivellir.

I got home, had a beer, downloaded the photos, and checked out the window intermittently to see if the lights had returned. At just after midnight I looked out and saw the green streak of aurora, so geared up again and headed outside, on foot, carrying the tripod with me. There was a bit of cloud, which was annoying, but I caught the end of a little light show. There was a little river not far from the guesthouse, winding its way down towards the sea.

The moon came out from behind the clouds, casting iridescent light on the edges of the clouds.

I stayed out for about an hour, hoping that the lights would return, but the moonlight was too bright anyway, and they didn't make much of an appearance again. I decided to try some star-trail shots (which I could use as time-lapse too), even though I didn't have my intervalometer with me. Instead I stood there, pressing the shutter every time the previous shot had finished. I couldn't keep it up for very long and eventually headed in to bed, knowing that I had to get up a few hours later to go out again for sunrise!

Click here for Day 6 - Stokksnes & Jökulsárlón

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