19 Jan 2019

Iceland #15 - Day 7: Stokksnes and Friends

Day 7 started early (for a change); I actually managed to get out of the door and was at Stokksnes by 6.30am. I decided to park by the café and walk up the spit, as I wanted to see the lovely rocks in the lagoon that I'd discovered the previous night under the rising moon (and I wanted to avoid paying the entrance fee again, which still leaves a bit of a bitter taste as no-one knows if it's legal). As I walked from the car I heard a noise in the distance; in the twilight I was just able to see a couple of foals and an adult horse galloping past playfully - it was delightful to see them having fun. I continued on and didn't actually stop at the rocks after all - I wanted to find some decent ripples in the dunes instead. I'd used the blower on the back of the wide-angle lens before I left, so hopefully wouldn't have all my photos ruined from the errant hair. As I reached the dunes I noticed there was a very light covering of frost on the black sand, particularly in the ripples.

Trying to find sand dunes at Stokksnes these days without footprints everywhere is something of a challenge. I suppose the best time to come is first thing in the morning after a very windy night (which is a regular occurrence, at least). There had been little wind, however so any footprints from the previous few days were still visible. I managed to find a few and was careful not to make many more of my own, trying to follow in others' prints as much as possible (I wish other people would do the same!). It was a stunning morning, with almost completely clear skies, the moon about to set to the west and the sun about to rise to the east.

I found a few compositions I particularly liked, and settled down to watch the mountains and dunes light up before me.

The light on the mountains was lovely, but I was really waiting for the light to hit the beach.

Finally the sun was up and overly bright on the mountains within minutes. It's amazing how quickly the light can change and cast a completely different colour onto the landscape in front of you. With the arrival of the sun the frost soon disappeared.

I wandered back a little towards the lagoon, and found a last unspoilt section of rippled dune.

I ventured out onto the expanse of beach past the dunes, where you can walk to the lagoon's edge; the reflections were incredible as the water was so still.

There were a couple of people here and there, including an Asian couple with a drone, the man filming the woman walking along, so naturally... I took a few pictures before wandering on. The surface of the sand was streaked with yellow.

I saw a guy taking some photos and offered to take one of him and his wife on their iPhone. Afterwards we got talking; they lived in Arizona and had four kids and were super-friendly. The guy (Trent) said that he'd tried to take a full 180° panoramic view of the scene, with the setting moon on one side, the mountains (fully-reflected) in the middle, and the sun rising on the other side. He asked if I could take that kind of scene on my 'proper' camera, so I took a whole load of vertical shots on my 24-70mm lens, hoping to be able to stitch them together when I got home. I gave him my website address and off they went. 

Here is the finished shot. I wasn't quite happy with it, as the light changed so much across the sky, the stitching software was not happy with the frames with the sun in it, and the sun caused awful flares. It took a lot of work, correcting the white balance and exposure of each raw shot before trying to do the stitch.

(Trent sent me an email a couple of weeks later and bought a copy so this should be printed out HUGE and hung on a wall in Arizona!)

I took a few more reflection shots before calling it a day at 8.45am; I needed my tea!

In case you didn't notice, this is a reflection turned upside-down

I came home and had breakfast (the usual - blueberry skyr and Icelandic granola with lovely roasted hazelnuts in it) and a couple of cups of tea, while downloading the photos and recharging the batteries. The first thing I noticed was that the fail from the previous night had been repeated. ALL of my wide angle shots taken with an angle of wider than about 30mm had the huge hair across the lens. I was devastated and really angry with myself. I had thought the hair was at the rear of the lens, but all the time it was stuck to the glass on the front of the lens. It was from the lopapeysa :( Usually I clean my lenses each morning before setting off, but this time I got up so early I hadn't bothered. Lesson learned!! 

I took the rest of the day fairly easy, somewhat lacking the energy to go out and do too much more. I eventually ventured out again at midday (lenses properly cleaned!), my destination being Skutafoss, a little waterfall just off the road back towards the tunnel. First, however, I went across the main road and down the little lane to the river bends. I stopped to take a few shots of the beautiful horses. Some of them I'd presumably photographed on my previous trip in the winter.

I had been concentrating on capturing a couple of horses on the hill to the east of the road and looked round to see a few of the horses surrounding my car. I wandered a bit closer and noticed that they were licking it, which was a bit odd. 

I shooed them away when I noticed one of them beginning to nibble on the trim of the driver's door! Licking the wheels and bonnet was one thing, but nibbling, no. I got back into the car and headed further down the road. This was where I had walked after a snowstorm in February and the shades of grey and bends of the river had given me one of my favourite shots from the trip. How different the conditions were today, with blue skies overhead and an almost balmy temperature; the views were just lovely. I longed to have a drone to see the river braids from above, but hate them with a passion, so will just have to enjoy the view from ground level until I've reconciled myself to the fact that they make an incredibly annoying buzz (and maybe eventually they'll find a way to make them quieter!). The views back to the cottage and entrance to the canyon were wonderful too.

On the way back up the road I noticed some sheep running at the side of the road, so stopped to get a couple of shots.

Next stop was Skutafoss, which I'd only visited once before. It is a nice little waterfall, at the entrance to a wide, shallow cave. I drove up a gravel road a little way, parking before it got too bumpy, and continued on foot. It was 1.20pm by the time I arrived at the falls and the sunlight was bright on the water. I took a few shots from the river bank with filters on before heading into the cave.

It's a rather challenging waterfall to capture, and I'd come at the wrong time of the day, as the sun was just about to set behind a hill to the west, even though it was hours before the actual sunset. I obviously hadn't checked The Photographer's Ephemeris properly, which showed the best light on it from about 9am until 1pm. I just caught the sun setting behind the mountain as I tried to get the tripod as close to the back of the cave as possible. Big black clouds behind would probably help.

I'll try to visit on my next winter trip, but this all depends on the accessibility of the road and how deep the snow is on the track. I headed back home for some tea, greeted by a sheep basking in the afternoon sun.

As I sat in the kitchen downloading the photos I noticed something intensely red catch my eye out of the window. I looked out and noticed a cockerel, with its wattle backlit by the low sun.

I didn't really know where I wanted to go for sunset, but as I hadn't been to Hvalnes that day I decided to head there, to do some beach-combing, and have a little photo session for my new jewellery! I realised that I talk a lot about my incredible Icelandic jeweller, Orr, so decided it was about time I photographed some of the amazing pieces I've acquired. Before I set off I went up to the farmhouse to pay up, as I was planning on an early start the following morning. Sigurdur's wife was there and we chatted briefly as I paid, before setting off on the lovely short drive to the point. The light wasn't particularly interesting; still a little harsh even though sunset was approaching. I arrived at Hvalnes and another couple was there on the hill near the lighthouse photographing the view west. I headed down to the beach, stopping to take a couple of shots of the magnificent first peak of Eystrahorn.

The first thing I saw when I reached the beach was a carcass of something. At first I thought it might be a seal, but closer inspection showed a massive bulbous skull and long toothed beak. I checked the anatomy of a dolphin when I got home; this is what it was. It made me feel rather sad. Bits of bone were strewn along the beach too, among seaweed and stones.

The view from the beach is always amazing though. I think Eystrahorn wins the prize of second-favourite Icelandic mountain, after Lómagnúpur.

Photographing jewellery is not easy, and I struggled with too shallow depth of field and reflections of me and the tripod in the shiny silver.

It was getting close to sunset, so I headed back to the car, checking that I had all the pieces of jewellery still with me!

I often get in a bit of a flap about where to go for sunset. It's always better if I have a firm plan and then just stay there, but sometimes I just panic a bit and head somewhere else (I also have dreams like this, where I end up completely missing the sunset, or decent light, or lose my camera...). I decided to head back through the tunnel, where there was at least chance of seeing the setting sun (on the east side of the tunnel the sun disappears behind the mountains ages before actual sunset). The light on the lagoon on the way back was sublime.

I know, horrible flares, but it was just glorious!

I pulled over a few times, but still hurried on. Looking back at Eystrahorn I wished I'd stayed there as the mountain glowed a warm orange.

Most of the rest of the drive was in shade; it wasn't until after I drove through the short tunnel that I was reunited with the setting sun. I took the left turn-off down towards Stokksnes and parked a little way down, knowing that there were always some nice patterns on the beaches along the lagoon's edge. There were indeed some lovely patterns in the sand, and pink and orange reflections in the water from the clouds above.

I walked along the beach a little and was amazed at how quickly the tide was coming in. Within minutes of taking that shot the water had completely covered the sandbanks. The water was lapping quickly at the shore, so long exposures didn't really work. The rocks along the shore had some interesting patterns on them; something to explore on a future trip :)

I drove back home and rustled up a quick tuna pasta. There was the possibility of clear skies and a tiny amount of aurora, so I kept a constant eye on the conditions. Just after 10.30pm it seemed that there might be something, so I got my gear together and headed up the hill behind the hostel, along the trail that led to the canyon. It was still moonlit, but the moon was still relatively low in the sky and not lighting up the skies too much. And there is literally no light pollution there! I was pleased to immediately notice some green glow. I walked for about ten minutes and set the tripod up. I turned the camera on and realised that I didn't have a memory card in the damned thing! I lugged the tripod back to the hostel, picked up my memory card, and headed back out - I considered driving to Stokksnes but I didn't have the energy (and I'd had a strong beer already). As I walked up the hill the lights began to get brighter.

I continued on up the hill and along the path for about ten minutes again. Occasionally I got a bit spooked when my torchlight shone in the eyes of some sheep, suddenly awoken by my light! It was a bit unnerving, that's for sure, with these large sheep staring at me in the dark! I found a spot where I quite liked the outlook, and it wasn't too far away from the warm hostel. And then the lights came out to play for me.

There was quite a nice selection of colours; not just green, but some purple, pink, yellow and red.

Eventually they died down, as they do, and I wandered back down the hill to my nice warm room. Obviously I stayed up a little later, reviewing the shots and doing a little editing. I had to get up early, though, as the following day a big storm was forecast from about midday onwards and I wanted to get most of the drive out of the way before it arrived. For some reason I'd been a bit careless in my planning and had decided to drive all the way back to Geysir to stay at the horse farm there - a whopping 464km! It was going to take some time (just under six hours according to Google Maps), so I decided to set off at 7.30am. I could have done with more than six hour's sleep before such a long drive, but the main thing was to try to avoid the storm, and I could always catch up on sleep when I arrived at Geysir Hestar.

My route on Day 7 - back and forth around Stafafell!

Click here for my blog from Day 6: Exploring around Stafafell

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