Day 1: This LightOpt Series is a photographic journal of 12 days (mostly nights) in Iceland.
Invest in yourself – sage and true advice if there ever was any. So rather than believing the next new piece of gear was going to spark some hidden creativity, I decided to travel for a landscape photography workshop. I’d get some first-hand instruction, collaborate with other photographers, and visit somewhere beyond the Great Basin. But what workshop? It had to be a cool place with maybe a few iconic locations, but it also had to have potential for interesting conditions. And yet, most importantly, the instructor had to be someone I am familiar with, has an informal and proven teaching style, and exudes a creative vision that I could (and may forever) aspire to. In the day of YouTube, where tutorials abound, it’s relatively easy to wade through personalities and styles and, ironically, “get to know” someone. Sort of. I had also purchased a few paid video tutorials and image critiques, giving me first-hand experience of teaching styles.
When, last spring, Nick Page offered up an Icelandic Winter Adventure, I had confidence it would check all the boxes. I’d gouged around Iceland several years ago and have always planned to return. The workshop also emphasized that Nick would be accompanied by Thor Jonsson who would bring invaluable local knowledge; a collaborative team that also basically halved the participant:instructor ratio from the start. Seemed perfect, I immediately signed up, and then… The day after I invested in myself all the Iceland news and commentary shifted immediately from the wonders of Iceland to how it was basically and completely overrun with tourists and not a few too many photographic workshops. My confidence in this decision began to wane. Would the conditions meet my hopes—I can take bad weather, but will it be all tour buses and tripod entanglements? What are the real chances of aurora? And, lastly, would the workshop group be interactive, open-minded, and, well, nice?
I left Reno in late November with these questions lurking in the back of my mind. I had created an itinerary that would get me to Iceland with a couple days to spare at each end of the eight-day workshop. I’d rent a car and do some solo travel, my preferred idiom. But over the summer I learned that a good friend trekking around the world would be ending his two-month sojourn by flying into Keflavik as a homeward stopover. We wrangled with flights and hotels to time arrivals so that we could, at least, share an Icelandic dinner and beer.
I hit my connecting flight in Seattle and found Mr. Page—he’s easily recognized, I mean, that beard—at the Icelandair gate. As I introduced myself, he instinctively reached out his hand but had this weary look in his eye, “get away from me, man.” The first words of one-on-one instruction from one of my heroes of photography.
I’m often most happy on travel adventures when the itinerary breaks down. Things get interesting when you get off the main road, find sketchy lodging, stumble into a village market, and meet the real people. It is sometimes a bit (or a lot) scary but it is all about how you respond, and the rewards can be huge. Nick was incredibly ill and kindly did not want me to catch his bug. He had the worst flight imaginable. I had the best.