The van was stuck. We walked from the hotel in the blue light of pre-dawn mid-morning to find Thor shoveling and sweeping a deep, wind-blown drift from the half-buried van. Even four-wheel drive would not get it out and the wind was howling, the piles getting deeper. In the shadow of the guesthouse the snow was deep, but beyond the building’s wind-shadow, the gust could only blow it to the sea. Away from the van, the parking area was almost bare. Some more shoveling, a quick tug with the smaller rig, and the van was free.
It was difficult to recognize individual team-members dressed in their cold-weather gear. Gortex colors became identifiers, and the variety of hats important clues. The temperature wasn’t unbearable, but the wind-chill bit at anything and everything exposed.
We were headed down the coast, peering into the horizon as the clouds thinned and the dawn teased. By the time we turned into Búðakirkja (black church), the clouds lifted and the sun greeted us—the wind would remain our compulsory companion for the day. We gathered around the back of the van, excited to be at our first location. Nick talked about capturing the icon, while also reminding us to consider the variety in the location – from lava flows, to the seascape, giving the dark church building some context. Expose for the sky, consider your foreground. Let the wind add character. Although the church sits in a picturesque location, its construction of dark wood (shipped in long ago, of course) sets it apart from the typical white and red church buildings that pop up all over Iceland.
The group scattered once we adjourned the huddle at the van. Nick and Thor wandered between participants and composed shots from their own perspectives. Almost immediately one could start to sense the personalities of the group. Some sought one-on-one instruction, some gathered in small groups to compare and share, and others wandered independently. On the first days, I was in wandering mode. I wanted to take it all in. The iconic shots are seductive, but I didn’t feel that interested in shooting buildings. I convinced myself of disinterest in the church, but that only lasted until the sunrise started to play on the contrasting dark building. Here’s a regular, common shape—a church any child would draw—rising from treacherous black lava flows and getting bashed by the wind-blown snow. We were soon all lined up to capture the gaussian sunrise as backdrop to the strong little building.
After an hour or so, we clambered into the calm warmth of the van to move west to an abandoned building on Dagverðará. A setting similar to Búðakirkja but with appropriate drama created by the backlit blowing snow and the lonely shape of the worn structure. The wind was deafening and, if anything, increasingly so. We huddled on the banks of a frozen, snow-covered stream and just about everyone composed a similar shot. Once in place, it was almost too much effort to move against the wind for something different, and this just looked so good. While the composition was static, the lapping clouds and glowing gusts of snow made each exposure different. It was perfect time to plant the tripod deep in the snow, let the wind blow, and watch what happened, capturing shot after shot.
A side trip for some lunch and coffee led us to brief stops at Hellnar and Arnarstapi. The skies continued to clear and the new lack of clouds seemed to free up the wind. I’ll stop mentioning the wind when it drops below 50 mph; this won’t come soon. In the Iceland winter, the slow transition from sunrise to sunset happens without an intervening day, allowing us to take our time, watching perfect light dance around us. The mountain-front to our back, including the prominence of Snaefellsjökull remained hidden, while the seascape drew us onward. A short hike took us to Lóndrangar where volcanic plugs eroded from surrounding rocks remained perched as seastacks, black pedestals in the stormy seas. We found a precarious perch to watch the sunset and the few remaining sea-side clouds. It was almost impossible to talk to each other now, even though we were huddled together on a steep spit of land and a small viewing platform. A few pieces of equipment, lens caps, remotes, hats, gloves, and the like, threatened to or actually did get lost to the wind and sea. We were, however, awarded with another highlight stop on a singular day on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.
We had only been “on location” with the workshop for six hours and we already had stunning conditions. It took some effort on the part of each participant—the wind can kill patience and composure—but Iceland was serving up her best and it was only the beginning. In fact, the “day” was far from over.