Vik

The village of Vik is very conveniently located right on Iceland's route 1, but venture out just a bit further, to the shore and you'll see the stacks of Reynisdrangar, a great photographic attraction. This group of huge spires adds significant interest to any shot of Vik's coastline.

Vik shoreline 20sec, f/16, ISO100
Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II, Lee GND and ND filters, Heliopan CPL
The beautiful stacks of Reynisdrangar under ominous clouds. Just minutes later the entire beach (along with three cold photographers) was blasted by a terrible sleet storm.

The two images that follow are great examples of Iceland's rapidly-changing weather.

Sleet storm 5sec, f/16, ISO100
Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II, Lee GND and ND filters, Heliopan CPL
During the sleet storm visibility was terrible, and my colleagues and I basically huddled like penguins, cursing the moment we had left the car. Yet the combination of the white sleet and black sand was truly unique, and seemed to have huge potential. I had never seen an image of Vik's coastline under such conditions, and was determined to get a good shot...
...and then, literally less than a minute later, the clouds had cleared just enough to allow a good view of the stacks. Another unimaginable stroke of luck hit when a passing wave swept some of the sleet into a zigzag pattern, ending exactly at a small rock, just inches from where I was standing. I quickly took aim, with the same camera settings as the shot above, and managed to capture the wave receding from the foreground.

In Iceland's winter, the sun barely rises a few degrees above the horizon. And when it is shining, it moves to the west very fast. So fast that if you want it aligned with another element of the image - as in the image below - you have to adjust your camera position after each and every shot to maintain alignment.

Reynisdrangar stacks 1/13sec, f/22, ISO100
Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 70-200mm F4 L, Lee GND and ND filters
These Basalt stacks are great photographic subjects, and here I chose to shoot the sun peeking from behind one of them. Shooting into the sun with a not-so-clean filter (due to harsh weather), created a very strong flare, which actually enhances the mood of the image.
30sec, f/16, ISO100
Canon 5D Mark IICanon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS L, Lee GND and Big Stopper filters
Even on a very cloudy day, there are good photographs to be had. I chose a long exposure with a telephoto lens to get this framing of the stacks and the delicate patches of color above.

Getting the shots

Below are two of my favorite images from Iceland. I'll talk a bit about the circumstances involved in creating them.

Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon

Getting the shot you see below was as much a result of patience and fortitude as photographic know-how.

30sec, f/16, ISO 100
Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II, Lee GND and ND filters, Heliopan CPL.

To create this composition, I had to stand inside a freezing-cold stream, and get the wide-angle lens really close to the icy crust. It wasn't long before I'd completely lost sensation in both my feet - wearing thermal fishing waders didn't help much. Yet getting close to the frozen crust enabled me to get a sense of depth in the image - an important aim in landscape photography. Using a circular polarizer enabled me to get rid of the reflection on the stream, revealing the rocks underneath, thus getting a better representation of the surroundings. The shot was well worth the pain of defrosting feet that followed!

Lake Thingvellir

The image you see below is actually a two-exposure composite. Unlike the HDR composites you saw earlier, the issue here was not one of dynamic range, but simply of timing.

Two-image composite, both exposures @ 120sec, f/11, ISO100
Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II, Lee GND and Big Stopper filters, Heliopan CPL

The red vegetation makes for a fantastic foreground. Taking advantage of the natural shape of the snow-covered bank I made a composition that leads the viewer's eye right to the mountain in the background. Having three strong components: foreground, background and a midground creates a sense of depth and a well-balanced image.

I used an ultra-long, 2-minute exposure to get this dreamy look. This was made possible due to the use of a Lee 'Big Stopper' filter, which allows just 0.1% of the light to hit the sensor. I also blended two images, one for the foreground, and the other for the rest of the image, as I couldn't get the combination of a well-lit red plant in the foreground and pleasing light in the clouds in the same shot. Cheating? Perhaps for a purist, but never forget that photography is a creative endeavor.

The images you've seen here are but a tiny part of Iceland's photographic potential. It's a place I will definitely return to year after year, both to guide workshops and to shoot. I hope I have inspired you to visit this magical landscape.


Erez Marom is a professional nature photographer and photography instructor based in Israel. You can see more of Erez' work at Erezmarom.com and follow him on his Facebook page and deviantArt gallery. See Erez' Iceland gallery here.

In January 2013, Erez will lead his 'Land of Ice' Iceland winter landscape photography workshop, during which you will be able to experience and shoot south Iceland's most incredible sceneries under dedicated, professional guidance.