Iceland Day 11: South Coast Return

Iceland Day 11: South Coast Return

It was the final day of the Iceland Workshop, and it felt like we had some locations to catch up on. Although the storm had faded, it left a sky that couldn’t decide if it was going to be a backdrop of interest or a curtain of gray. We’d try to make the most of it before heading back toward Reykjavik and the departures at Keflavik.

We dropped to the beach at Vik where dawn unfolded. The shore was blue and breezy as wet mist clouded the sea-stack Trolls just off shore. I worked a variety of compositions and played with exposure times, long and short, trying to capture the trolls in their habitat. The muted sunrise kept the scenes somewhat flat, the foamy sea providing the only highlights against the dark rocks. High clouds would bloom with color momentarily, but their distance relative to the rocky subjects made them feel disconnected. I worked hard without much success.

Trolls at dawn. Long exposure at the Black Beach below Vik; stopped down so the long exposure time produced the feeling I wanted. 5 sec, f/18, ISO 100.

Then I noticed Jeremy or Erno, can’t recall who, maybe it was Mike or Quinn, shooting straight down at their feet. The troll scenes had called for the telephoto, so pointing my 100-400mm at the repetitive texture of the perfectly rounded beach gravels, uniformly dark with misty highlights, created a mesmerizing but relaxing composition. I loved it. Here and there, a random red stone highlighted the gray-black clasts, and a wet sheen revealed a self-reflection in each of the million stones. Oddly, one of my favorite compositions of the trip, right at my feet and I might have missed it had others not suggested a look.

One of red. Simplicity at my feet; 8 sec, f/8, ISO 100.

Quinn at his craft; seeing it differently.

A portrait at Kvernufoss. Photo by Nick Page.

Capturing Kvernufoss image, see below. Photo by Nick Page.

Then came the waterfalls, the icons of the South Coast. Having been a generally rag-tag workshop group operating mostly away from the crowds over the past several days, it was disheartening to pull into the crowds of Skógafoss (I can’t imagine the summer scene). I know we are an element of the crowding and the falls are certainly an accessible attraction, but being surrounded by the bustle of busses and their denizens changed the vibe of the day.

The light had turned flat. I waded into the stream to work some foreground rocks and ice into the looming Skógafoss. I could not get the mid-ground figures—sightseers and photogs at the iconic falls—out of my frame. Worse, and all my fault, I did not pay attention to the mist collecting on my lens and all my images were spotty, even though I was happy in the moment with the live view on the camera-back. This haunted me endlessly as I reviewed my waterfall photos later. Nick had warned me, but I didn’t dry the lens often enough. When I did remember, it wasn’t the composition I’d hoped for. When I’d forget, the composition was good. No keepers from Skógafoss!

Thor had a better idea. We’d drive a short distance south and hike the similarly short distance to Kvernufoss. It is wonderful how the necessity of a hike allows an escape from crowds—and this was not a long or difficult hike. I got a little mojo back as the walk invigorated our small group, and the sharp falls pouring through a small grotto appealed to me more than the massive curtain-like falls. I waded into the stream to capture the energy flowing at me. It was amazingly fun. Leaving the stream, I climbed along an icy trail behind the falls to gain a perspective I’d never experienced before at any waterfall.

Back streamside, I watched from a distance as Ken lost his grip on his Nikon D850. It tumbled toward the rapids, but he and Quinn dove toward the water, Ken grasping the fumbled camera on its last bounce before the water. The two men sprawled on the grassy terrace, water flowing at arm’s reach. That was close!

Kvernufoss. Exposure blend to show the power of the falls and its outflow stream; 1/80 sec (falls), 1/6 sec (stream), f/8, ISO 320.

Behind the falls. A difficult perch in cold mist, a fun shot, 0.3 sec, f/8, ISO 100.

On our short hike back, Quinn and Jeremy scattered along a field to get a composition of a languid Icelandic pony. The horse was pretty far off, but their effort established the idea of looking for some close-up horses to photograph. I think plenty of folks were hoping to capture a few pony images so we were soon traversing some side-roads and approaching small herds grazing in winter pastures. The afternoon light was kind to our group and several folks took to it happily. However, we soon realized our light was fading on our last day and we had at least another iconic waterfall to visit. So, with a little more scurrying we were soon at Seljalandsfoss. This typically popular spot wasn’t too busy in the fading evening and I was able to wander the paths and enjoy the light. Ice coated the viewing platforms and, in one exhilarating moment, Randy, Robert, and I found ourselves skating and scrambling for foot-holds, crashing together on the wood planks, tripods skittering. We carefully retreated.

Island pony. Just had to take one, 1/50 sec, f/5.6, ISO 400.

Seljalandsfoss. A frozen deck at sunset, 1/8 sec, f/14, ISO 100.

And then the quiet drive to Keflavik. We’d done a lot on this last workshop day. Maybe too much, trying to fit in several stops and a variety of scenes as we traveled to the end. It was nice to see the sights, and I love my intimate beach gravel image, but it really wasn’t a day for mindful photography. We had experienced many gifts from Snaefellsnes to Vestrahorn; you can’t win ‘em all. That’s a given with photographic journeys.

Our group gathered late into the evening at the Keflavik guesthouse, reminiscing and trading stories about future plans. An endless, own-rules snooker game kept Ian and me occupied. Most were soon packed for their stateside returns, but a few of us prepared for one additional excursion to visit an icon. We were on our way to Kirkjafell.

Back to Day 10. Click here for Iceland Gallery. Up next: Last light at Kirkjufell…

Seascape Photography is Difficult — Stinson Beach, CA

Seascape Photography is Difficult — Stinson Beach, CA

An open beach on a calm morning is basically a simple pattern generator. No big breaks, just repeated wave-sets, steady and calming. The sun had just cleared the headlands, getting first-light on the foam. 1/100 sec, f/11, ISO 100; Canon 80D, 18-135mm.

Every couple years the Far Western team of directors gathers for biannual retreat to re-group under our core principals and plan for the future. It is an intense long weekend of collaboration and brainstorming. Our biannual retreat is long tradition of organic growth and excellent motivation.

The 2017 retreat had an auspicious beginning. One of the larger, intense storms in a series driven by a well-established atmospheric river deluged the coastal ranges, making for difficult travel and dramatic conditions on the beach. Our rental was cold and leaky, but we settled in to work against the storm. The storm cleared by the second morning.

In the midst of our gathering there is ample time to explore the beach and the hills of the Marin Headlands. The coastal landscape provides the opportunity to practice in an unfamiliar environment. This images reflects my early attempts at coastal photography in a variety of conditions — from the storm’s morning-after to the brightness of a weekend sunrise. The images also archive the immaturity of my processing skills. As always, it was important to be out there, experimenting and trying to capture the motion of the ocean and the serenity of the beach. 

Before sunrise on the morning after the storm; my first attempt at a seascape long exposure; really, my first long exposure ever. I purchased a 6-stop ND filter especially for this morning. I struggled with focus while using the filter, and battled the fog while processing, but I do like the mood that came through. This is not a compelling composition, however. 2 sec, f/8, ISO 200; Canon 80D, 18-135mm.

Another long exposure try with a bit more emphasis on processing for what the scene looked like; it’s less blue and I used a slightly faster exposure to isolate the clouds and fog. Or that’s what I thought I was doing. Very fun morning getting to know my camera, and getting my feet wet in the rising tide. 1 sec, f/8, ISO 100; Canon 80D, 18-135mm.

I was still learning my camera (I still am) and had probably jumped to long exposures and neutral density (ND) filters prematurely. My focus and depth-of-field feels off, especially when viewing the images a year later. The compositions are working better, but Stinson is not a dramatic landscape. It is basically a long, crescentic curve of sand, but the openness is calming. I would like to learn to express that story.

This is the photo that taught me about zooming in on a composition using a basic cropping tool in processing. It was one of the first photos taken with my new 70-200 lens; with the APC sensor of the 80D, the focal length is effectively 360mm. Very cool. 1/200 sec, f/11, ISO 200; Canon 80D, 70-200 f/4L.

You cannot pass up a brilliant, post-storm sunset at Stinson Beach. After waiting for over an hour, I wasn’t sure the sun would get through the mid-level clouds; I almost wasn’t ready when it did. There isn’t any foreground interest, but I like the two people (and two gulls) for scale. 1/25 sec, f/11, ISO 200; Canon 80D, 18-135mm.

I tried to catch some light on the breaking waves but that over-exposed the sky. A graduated filter in processing helped, but I don’t care for the subdued sky when the reflecting blue in the water is a more accurate expression of the morning sky. I like the image because it reminds me of the morning, but the processing is heavy-handed. Seascapes are difficult. 1/250 sec, f/11, ISO 100; Canon 80D, 18-135mm.

Please let me know which long exposure you prefer in the comments below. And comment on any of your experiences with seascapes, I’m looking forward to getting back to Stinson, and elsewhere!  

Click for Full Image Gallery. Keep going…