Westfjords - Puffins

I had a few items on my list that I wanted, no matter what, to photograph this summer (oh well you know the season where the roads are free of snow).

Puffins, or Lundi (Icelandic) were on the top of my list. But I did not want to go to Heimaey (westman islands). One reason is that I was already there and another reason is that with car rental, hotel and the ship it would cost more to go to Heimaey rather than to any other place.

Where else can you photograph Puffins? Westfjords, Látrabjarg bird cliffs. I was in the Westfjords already but in the northern part of them, Ísafjörður.

I really wanted to visit the southern part of the Westfjords and Látrabjarg is located exactly there.

Of course this was one of the last parts of Iceland that I had to visit before I can state that I have seen all of Iceland. Well yes, all of Iceland that is easy to access, Highlands and Askja is still whispering my name, but I will get to it.

The snow have melted and made all of the Westfjords accessible by normal car. So we planned it out to go on a long weekend, booked our guesthouse, booked the rental and off we went.

The one and only negative point about the Westfjords is the distance that they are located from Reykjavik. It takes you 6-8 hours of driving to get to them. But that’s it, that is one and only negative point. Westfjords are beautiful and you should visit them once you have the opportunity to do so.

You will find the pictures in the Westfjords gallery here on my page.

Here is my first attempt to do video blogging and I have blogged about our trip to Westfjords.

 

The trip was amazing. It was good to get out of Reykjavik and spend the long weekend in the Fjords. We nearly did not get any sleep at all during our trip, so much had to be seen.

But the lack of sleep was compensated by the Icelandic Spa. In this case Pollurinn which was just 4km away from our guesthouse in Tálknafjörður. Yep, I will be coming back to Westfjords.

Iceland Round Trip 2017

It’s been a while since my last blog post here. The reason for that is the last month was quite busy for me. My fellow photographer friend, Andreas and me, we both went on an 8 day round Iceland trip. And after that I was able to go for two another trips on the South Coast. Together with EVE Fanfest 2017, it was a very full packed month.

But now I want to take a few minutes and capture my experience in words about the trip around Iceland together with Andreas.

Andreas and me, we went on highland trip last year in October and after that we made the decision to go even on a longer trip together and visit the West fjords, North, East and return over the south coast back to Reykjavik. It was a tour with a lot of driving, flying and hiking.

We started our tour with a Helicopter flight from Nordurflug, Reykjavik summit. Esjan was covered in clouds, so we landed on nearby mountains. I still need to hike up Esjan but I am glad that we went to another mountain as Reykjavik city center together with Esjan covered in clouds, is just majestic.

Norðurflug Helicopter Tours - Reykjavik Summit

After that we continued our way to Ísafjörður were we stayed over the night. It was a very good day, with sun and clear view. But it all changed once we made the turn into the fjords. We drove in to a snow storm that was moving the same direction we were driving. But equipped with a good 4x4 car and constant monitoring of the road conditions, it was more impressive for us to drive in the storm rather exposing us to danger situations.

Near Ísafjörður we visited the Arctic Fox Center were we learned a lot about the beautiful artic foxes and it even spiked the idea to travel to Hornstrandir Nature Reserve for our next tour and stay there for couple of days and get really close to the nature. That is a new item on our “TO-DO”-list.

 

The Arctic Fox Center

After we left Ísafjörður, we had a long drive as we were staying in Akureyri over the night. But yet again we got a beautiful sunny day on our side and when we drove back we were able to stop and get really close to the lazy seals that were lying on the rock formation just before the beach. We were able to get really close and take a few pictures.

 

Seals near Ísafjördur

On our way to Akureyri, we stopped in Hvammstangi and visited the local wool factory, Kidka Woolfactory Shop. It was a very expensive stop as we were shown the hand knitted Icelandic wool sweaters, called Lopapeysur.

According to the sales specialists at the shop, the Lopapeysa finds you (something like the magic wand in all the popular wizard books). And indeed, I have spotted just a sleeve of one Lopapeysa, I liked the color and the size seemed to fit me. So I tried it on and it fit perfectly, it fit so perfectly that it was a bit longer in the sleeves and at the bottom, exactly how I liked it. Well I guess I have found one or the Lopapeysa has found me.

Andreas didn't have luck on the first time, but he spotted one under all the other sweaters and guess what, the color and the size fit. I guess there is some magic going on with the Icelandic Lopapeysur. Andreas and I wanted one for a very long time and now finally we could get our hands on some original hand knitted by Handknitting association of Iceland.

Within Nature - Gljúfrafoss

We arrived quite late in Akureyri. We did a small stop at the groceries store to get something to eat but when we parked near the store we have already spotted the northern lights above us. We ran through the store like maniacs, trying to find something fast in preparing for our dinner. We got us some frozen pizzas and we rushed out of the store and continued driving to get to our apartment, in which we stayed for the next 2 nights. It took us 3 times to find the proper turn, I blame the northern lights and the wish to get to the apartment fast, not blaming Andreas for his navigation skills :) .

When we arrived, we got an amazing welcome by the northern lights in Akureyri. It was so amazing, that I totally forgot that I needed a bathroom for the last 1 ½ hours of our travel. Before we were even able to unload the car, we just took our cameras and tripods, put some warm jackets and started taking pictures of the amazing northern lights show just right across of Akureyri. This was really amazing.

Northern Lights in Akureyri

The next day started a little bit late as we did not have much to visit on this day. We drove down to Goðafoss and decided to make our way to one of the F-roads, F26 to be precise. We wanted to visit the Aldeyjarfoss waterfall. We knew that it was located on the F26 road and that the F-roads are closed in winter. But it was just 3.7km from the road 842. We knew we will have to leave our car behind and walk to it. And to be honest, 3.7km is actually not that much, you walk the same distance to the famous DC plane wreck….. on flat terrain….. with no snow and it takes you about 55 minutes to an hour to get there.

That’s where my navigation skills played a trick on me. I knew that we will have to hike to get to the waterfall, the F-roads are closed. Well guess what, I did not check the elevation. The road went in total over 3 hills, going up and a bit down and up again, and down and finally up to a parking spot, from where you need to go down to the waterfall. Well we all did hike a few mountains, what is special about this one. Well, it did snow quite a lot the night before. We had to hike in snow, so deep that it covers completely your boots and at some places, with the snow drifts, it is so deep that you hike through knee deep snow. If you ask Andreas and me now about how was the hike, we will tell you that it was wonderful, a very good experience, it was sunny, not so much wind and you were in the middle of nowhere, the farm located at the begging of the F26 and our parked car was slowly disappearing with each single step we took.

If you would ask us in the middle of our journey, you would hear quite a lot of swearing in both German, English, Russian and Polish. I think Andreas was quite pissed at me in that moment that I did not check the stupid elevation on the map. I was also pissed for making such a stupid mistake. But we continued and oh boy, I love snow. I really do love snow, for me there can’t be enough snow. The 51cm of new snow that came down in February in Reykjavik, made me quite happy. I wish it would be even more, but only if I don’t have to go somewhere. After this small hike to the Aldeyjarfoss, I don’t really want to walk on snow again, especially up a mountain where you take a step and you slide half a step back.

It took us about 2 ½ hours to get to the waterfall and about 1h and 18m to get back to the car. We were good prepared with our clothes and hiking boots, we had something to eat and drink with us. So it was a really good hike in the end. Ah just one more thing, on the last bit of the straight road that takes us back to our parked car, we saw 2 super jeeps coming our way. The drivers winked at us and nod their heads. They were taking two tourists groups over to the Aldeyjarfoss.

Aldeyjarfoss in winter

We drove back to Akureyri and had a well-deserved meal. On the next day we planned to drive up to Mývatn and visit the Mývatn Nature Baths to get that difficult hike out of our bones.

In the next couple of days we made our way over to Höfn to try and capture Vestrahorn in sunset or in sunrise. We did not have any luck with the weather so we did not stay long at the location, just took a few pictures and continued over to Jökulsárlón where we had an Ice Cave tour waiting for us.

We were actually very lucky with the weather, just a day before our arrival at Jökulsárlón, the wind reached there 40m/s, which is enough force to pick up small stones and catapult them into the cars, breaking windshields on multiple vehicles. Just take a moment and read / view the pictures over here Stríðsástand við Jökulsárlón.

The wind has calmed down to something around 20-25m/s. So nothing was in the way to visit the Ice Cave. However this was one of the last trips to the Ice Caves as the season was ending. But yet again, another item of my “TO-DO”-list.

Ice Cave with Goecco Reykjavik

We continued our journey back to Reykjavik over the South coast and made a small shower stop at the Gljúfrafoss to get soaked wet.

When we arrived back in Reykjavik, the tour was not done yet. We still had some northern lights to hunt and together with my friend and pilot Snorri we went on a sightseeing flight over the south coast, into Thórsmörk, Landmannalaugar and return over the golden circle tour. It was really amazing. Thank you Snorri! You are the best!

On the very last evening we went over to Þingvellir to capture some northern lights with a reflection in the water and I think we have nailed it.

Black mirror - Þingvellir National Park

Summary:

In total it was an amazing trip around Iceland. We had everything, wild animals, northern lights, sun, waterfalls, sunsets, stars, snow, snow storms, hiking and relaxation in hot baths. Even if the weather was not on our side with a clear sky for northern lights, we always improvised, used what we had at hands and had a very good time.

The tour was quite expensive and we drove about 3 100km, visiting all the well-known (but not only) photo locations. Andreas and I had this good synergy going that even after a few days of spending a lot of time together, we still had topics to speak about, jokes to make and complain about the one or other driver on the road. That leaves room for longer tours :) . Hey Andreas, what should we do next? Should we go into the highlands and turn of our phones, leave our watches at home and just spend days in the midnight sun? Or should we prepare for the next volcano eruption?

Grjótagjá cave

Iceland in March is beautiful in its own way. But I need to advise you if you are planning to undertake similar round trip. Iceland in March does not have stable weather. It can be sunny in the south but as soon as you drive up into the west, the weather can change and can change really fast. You will need a 4x4 car, experience in driving on snow / ice and in bad weather and you will need proper winter / hiking clothes with proper boots. You will need to monitor the weather and the road conditions every hour and you will need to have an alternative plan ready if the weather will pin you down at one location.

Be careful, plan in advance what you will be doing and always remember, take care of Icelandic nature, leave nothing behind and take only photographs.

How does a huge geomagnetic storm (Kp6 – G2) look like?

This week was very good for catching the northern lights here in Iceland, not only of geomagnetic storm (huge activity of the aurora borealis) but also because the weather was really good, with clear skies and very little wind.

Those pictures were taken on 01.03.2017 and I think the northern lights were the strongest this year so far. Let’s hope, that in the remaining time, before the nights will stay bright, we get a chance to see more of them.

We were lucky on Wednesday, clear skies and very good visibility. Also we arrived at Grótta Lighthouse in a very good time, just before the northern lights become very active. They were around Kp4 and then suddenly the night was turned to a day, northern lights illuminating the ground and just dancing all over the place. It happened so suddenly, that I did not have the chance to adjust the camera settings properly and that caused that the pictures are a little bit overexposed but due to that they show really good how a huge geomagnetic storm (Kp6 – G2) looks like.

The shape of the lights just disappeared the same way it appeared, very suddenly. Leaving behind just like a cloud cover but made of northern lights, pulsating and behaving like waves.

More than a couple of my pictures was also published by Iceland Magazine and can be found here: Photos of the magnificent aurora caused by yesterday's geomagnetic storm.

Geomagnetic storm (Kp6 – G2)

Northern Lights dancing at Grótta Lighthouse

Canon Professional Network – Editor’s Choice 2017 – Public Vote Nomination

To my surprise, I have found out that my picture is nominated, in the category nature and is now online for public voting.

There are 4 different categories for this year’s Editor’s Choice: Nature, Portrait, Sports and Photojournalism.

There are many very good submissions and you should check it out and leave a vote for your favorite:

Canon Professional Network – Editor’s Choice 2017 – Public Vote

Again to my surprise, there are quite a lot of Iceland pictures in Nature category. I can easily spot 3 pictures from Iceland, 2 pictures from Markus van Hauten, ice on the beach probably taken at Jökulsárlón, another picture is the beautiful Vestrahorn.

Another picture from Iceland is taken by Andre Erlich, a beautiful combination of Icelandic lava rocks, hot springs and northern lights. I am not quite sure, but I think this picture was taken at the Blue Lagoon (also on my “to do” list).

I wanted to take some time and write some lines about my submission for this contest. The picture that I have submitted is called “Looking for Þrasi’s chest of gold”.

The idea came in the beginning of January 2016, on my first tour of the year, the South Coast up to Jökulsárlón. We stopped for the night at the famous Skógafoss.

After a nap, to charge the energy for the hunt of Northern Lights at this same location. Unfortunately, Icelandic weather does have its own behavior and was not looking promising, with snow, clouds, hail and strong wind.

Hoping that there will be an opening in the clouds, we still stayed outside and came up with light painting to not waste the time just standing in the cold surrounded by darkness and the strange deep noise of water masses rushing down the hill.

I knew there was a legend about that waterfall and this is how the idea was born: According to legend, the first Viking settler in the area, Þrasi Þórólfsson, buried a treasure in a cave behind the waterfall. The legend continues that locals found the chest years later, but were only able to grasp the ring on the side of the chest before it disappeared again. The ring was allegedly given to the local church. The old church door ring is now in a museum.

We had a quite strong light source with us but many different aspects just did not fit to capture good results. But the try gave me an idea of what settings to use and what weather conditions need to be met to capture the picture I wanted.

A month later, another South Coast tour up to Jökulsárlón. We stayed at the same hotel and went to bed to get out again later in the night and try to capture some Northern Lights.

But yet again, the weather was not on our side, sky covered by snow clouds and opening again in 10-15 minutes interval. But this time the moon was out and did share some light on the surroundings of Skógafoss.

Equipped, this time with a much stronger light source, we started to recreate my idea of the past visit. It actually did not take us that long to capture a picture that I had in mind. Main difficult part of this picture was, to try and hit that cloud opening to get the light of the moon and have some snow so it reflects the beam of the light source, a little bit of clear sky above the waterfall AND standing still for a 30 seconds exposure. Try that some time when you are in Iceland with strong winds, standing still for 30 seconds is not that easy.

But enough writing, here is the picture: “Looking for Þrasi’s chest of gold”.

Also, don’t forget to cast your votes for the public vote of CPN Editor’s Choice, there are some really good ones.

Reykjavik and live music events

One topic on my “to do” lists is to get more into band photography. And Reykjavik opens a lot possibilities to get into that.

Every weekend there are lots and lots live music going on the in multiply bars and venues. Small bands, big bands, new comer bands. You name it. Lots and lots of bands are playing weekly in the city center.

To keep track of that is also very easy, a few groups on Facebook and the official ticket reseller page like tix.is

Next event that is coming up, just for example, that I am very interested in, is the Nirvana Tribute Band that will be playing in Hard Rock Café.

For the small events and bands, nobody will make any comment about your big and bulky DSLR that you bring with you. Grab your camera, go out and snap so many pictures as you want.

I use the opportunity not only to enjoy the concert but also brush up a few photography skills, as the light is different from venue to venue, finding out the proper combination of lens and camera settings, with each concert you will get more experience and you will get faster in finding those proper settings for every venue, every light situation and every band.

Yesterday I went to the concert of Röskun. A small band that just released a new album Á brúninni. It is also available on Spotify. I really like them.

Armed with some ear plugs (to protect my ears) and my camera with two different lenses, I went to the concert to check Röskun live and snap some pictures.

I try to snap a few pictures, try to learn something new and if the results are good enough, I upload it to the cloud and share it with the band so they can use it on their social media or other things. It’s a win win  for everybody, the band gets some pictures and I get to enjoy their music and learn something new about band photography.

 

Röskun presenting their new album at Hard Rock Café

Fast drummer with slow shutter speed

The Winter Lights Festival 2017

The festival was held for the 16th time this year in Reykjavik and is an annual event and celebrates both the winter world and the growing sun light after a long period of darkness. It takes place on the first Weekend in February.

The program is a mixture of art and industry. There were multiple lights installations across the downtown area of Reykjavik.

The opening ceremony was held on the Thursday, 02.02 at the Hallgrímskirkja church with a Volcano eruption projection on to it.

But this was just the beginning, the Museum Night follows on the 3rd of February follows, with open doors to all of 45 museums.

The Pool Night, takes place on the 4th and welcomes the visitors to relax in thermal heated water.

On Sunday, the 5th, the city turns off all the street lights from 21:00 to 22:00 to draw attention to the concept of the quality of darkness and to let people experience the sky in its purest form.

However the weather did not want to play and it was cloudy over Reykjavik that night. But still it was very interesting to see the stars and the moon. I think, Reykjavik should turn off the lights more often.

More information about the Winter Lights Festival you can find here:

http://winterlightsfestival.is

Opening ceremony of Festival of Winter Lights at the Hallgrímskirkja

This year, the annual Festival of Winter Lights will take place from 2nd until the 5th of February 2017. There are a lot of different lights installations in Downtown Reykjavik, Iceland. The opening of the festival took in center of Reykjavik Downtown, at the Hallgrímskirkja church with a Volcano eruption projection on to it.

Colorful Reykjavik Downtown

South Coast in January

The weather in Iceland can be very difficult to predict. Sometimes the weather forecast shows one thing and you actually get a completely different thing. But with the time, the Icelandic Meteoservice has drastically improved. If you check the forecast, you can prepare yourself for that kind of predicted weather, it is sometimes slightly of the time frame, but you can get the idea of the weather for the next couple of hours.

I have checked the weather on Friday and saw that Saturday will be a very sunny and beautiful day. I packed my sunglasses (did not need them for a while now) and my gear and off I went on a January South Coast tour. And it was beautiful. Not exactly a good weather for taking landscape pictures as the sky was nearly completely clear. The best weather for Iceland and taking pictures is still the "Partially Cloudy". But the winter sun offers a special kind of light that you can see in the pictures.

 

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach

Behind the Scenes

Local Farm at Þorvaldseyri

Snæfellsnes in December

This year is a very strange winter here in Iceland. It is very common that Reykjavik does not get so much snow as other parts of Iceland, like for example Akureyri. Last year on the December the first, Reykjavik was experiencing lots of snow, other parts of Iceland even more. But this year, whole Iceland is completely snow free, with exception of highlands. But even the mountain tops are snow free. Esjan (the mountain that you can see from Reykjavik) has nothing white on top of it.

The weather is also not so bad. Not so many storms with strong winds. We still get strong wind with rain but it’s by far less than last year.

The weather situation brought me on the idea to go for a quick tour over to Snæfellsnes. Last time I was there, was 2 years ago. The weather forecast looked good, with partial clouds and a lot of sun.

The only thing that was an issue was the sun light. 4 hours and 13 minutes. That was the time between the sunrise and sunset.

But still it was a really interesting experience to travel in Iceland in mid-December with no snow.

I was happy to see the seals again at the Ytri Tunga beach. Lying lazy on the rocks, lifting their head to see me and probably think “another crazy photographer”.

I have decided to meet the sunset at Lóndrangar cliffs. Try something new with long exposure and just take a moment and enjoy the elements of sun, wind, landscape and huuuuge waves.

I was even happier that the cloud front slowly started to roll in.

This picture was taken with the new Canon EF 16-35mm F/4 IS. I was testing it out and I am very happy with the results. The camera was 5D Mark IV.

Settings: ISO 640, F/5.6, 15s at 24mm. In front of the lens was a B&W 10 Stop ND filter with B&W circular polarizer.

Lóndrangar cliffs with Sunset

Behind the scenes

Búðir - Black Church

Antonov AN-225 Mriya

I do like nature, but I have a weak spot for engineering, especially when it comes to space.

Antonov AN-225 is the largest Aircraft in the world. The first and only AN-225 was completed in Soviet Union in 1988.

 Why is it so special? It was initially developed for the task of transporting the Buran Orbiter (Russian space shuttle). Now it is used for commercial operations of carrying oversized payloads all around the world.

It should have arrived in Keflavik for refueling on Friday, 11.11.2016, but due to engine fire (left wing, center engine) in Leipzig, the arrival was delayed. It finally made to Keflavik on Saturday, 12.11.2016.

It is an impressive aircraft, I am glad to share same year and origin with this aircraft. When it passed over us, on its way to landing runway, the sound that those 6 engines produced was very impressive.

Unfortunately, the aircraft was lading something around 19:03 in Keflavik, Iceland and at that time it was already dark here in Iceland. I wish I could snap a picture of it with sunlight but you can’t have everything. But it was still impressive, to see the aircraft with landing lights on.

After the aircraft has landed, it made its way over to it parking spot for the refueling, we tried our luck and were able to score. We were just 50m away from the aircraft.

Of course, I wish I would have less noisy images from the aircraft, but you need to work around with what you have.

For this picture, I used the 70-200mm F/2.8 lens at 130mm, aperture of F/4, shutter speed of 1/100s and ISO 12500. I got quite a lot of flaring in the image and that’s because of the lights of the aircraft, but I think it actually adds something to the image. It’s a beast in the darkness.

Until next time Mriya, I know you will return back to Keflavik.

 

Antonov AN-225

Mriya on the way for refueling