Ice caves

One of the key features of Iceland's winter landscape is its ice caves. They are formed by glacial movement and melting ice, and continuously change year-round. They are simply awe-inspiring to behold, but when temperatures are above freezing, these wonders of nature can quickly turn into death traps. Never venture into an ice cave without a local expert! Fortunately, during the winter months, temperatures in Iceland are usually safe for ice caves, and with a professional guide, we explored two of them. 

3-shot manual HDR f/16, ISO 100
Canon 5D Mark II, Samyang 14mm F2.8 IF ED
In this shot looking out from the entrance of the cave, notice the low angle of the sun. This was at high noon!
3-shot manual HDR f/14, ISO 100
Canon 5D Mark II, Samyang 14mm F2.8 IF ED
This shot was taken from the same spot, but facing the cave's interior.

Ice caves present many photographic challenges. Huge global contrast (bright sky, very dark cave) means that you can't get the entire range of brightness in a single exposure. Forget about using filters - the irregular shapes that make ice caves so appealing also make filters useless when shooting them. The solution then is to exposure bracket images and blend them together via software; manual HDR. If you only associate HDR with hyper-stylized imagery, I hope the examples on this page show that blending highlights and shadows from multiple exposures can produce realistic-looking images as well.

Vatnajökull Ice Cave  3-shot manual HDR f/16, ISO 100
Canon 5D Mark II, Samyang 14mm F2.8 IF ED
What makes this shot stand out is the nautilus-shaped ice combined with the sky and yellow-tinted ice reflections in the foreground.

In the image below I included my fellow photographer in the scene to provide a sense of the immense size of this cave, found in Svínafellsjökull, Skaftafell national park. Giving viewers a sense of scale can be very effective in landscape images where we often have no reference point for size.

Ice Cave Interior 2-shot manual HDR f/14, ISO 100
Canon 5D Mark II, Samyang 14mm F2.8 IF ED

Click here to continue reading our Winter in Iceland article...