Ice, Ice , Baby...
Visiting the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in south-east Iceland for the first time is one of those very rare experiences which simply leave you speechless and awestruck... it is so other-worldly and alien that it is hard to comprehend what you are seeing.
Iceland is a significantly glaciated country with ice covering approximately 11% of the land area all through the year. These glaciers are mostly concentrated in the southern central highlands with Vatnajökull in the south-east quarter of the island being by far the largest, occupying a surface area of over 8000 square kilometres with a thickness of over 1000m in places. Breiðamerkurjökull (one of Vatnajökull's outlet glaciers) winds its way down to sea level before calving huge icebergs into the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon.
The glacier lagoon started to find wider fame after being the shooting location (pretending to be Siberia) for the pre-title scene of the James Bond movie "A View To A Kill" in 1985. Commercial boat tours on the lagoon started immediately after that and Jökulsárlón has become one of Iceland's biggest tourist attractions. Not content with pretending to be in Siberia, Jökulsárlón has also pretended to be in Tibet (Batman Begins) as well as featuring in numerous other movies.
Icebergs spend a period floating majestically in the lagoon, occasionally colliding, splitting or capsizing as they slowly melt. The lagoon is also home to a number of grey seals which are often to be seen playing in the desperately cold water.
One surprise is the range of different colours that the icebergs display. Some contain ash and sediment and take on a fully grey or mottled appearance, some are close to white, some are a very bright blue. All are the children of the same glacier.
Some small fragments of ice gather on the shore of the lagoon, where their interesting shapes can be observed more closely.
As with many places, the softer light at the start and the end of the day provides some of the best photographic opportunities. On my last trip I was finally lucky enough to be at Jökulsárlón for a nice sunset.
As the sun went down the prevailing hues went from orange/ pink towards purple and blue as a lovely evening began.
The glacier lagoon connects to the North Atlantic via a narrow (and highly dangerous) channel, a channel which flows under highway 1 which traverses the gap using a suspension bridge. Once icebergs are small enough in size to pass down the channel the strong current pulls them towards the North Atlantic, sometimes forming traffic jams as a declining tide temporarily runs them aground on the channel floor.
The forecast for strong auroras that night meant that I spent the next few hours around the coast at Vestrahorn, but I was back at Jökulsárlón shortly after one in the morning to see the remnants of the aurora show.
A few hours later I was back at Jökulsárlón once again, by which time the traffic jam in the channel had almost cleared.
As the tide recedes a large number of icebergs are drawn out into the ocean, many of which are depisited onto the beach (near to the ocean, on both sides on the channel) when the tide turns. This beach gets referred to as the diamond beach as a consequence... it could just as well be called the photographer beach as the ratio of photographers to diamonds is usually about 1:1 - it is perhaps the most photogenic part of this location.
The different shapes, sizes and compositions of the ice fragments provide a lot of potential interest.
The constant lapping of the waves also gives some opportunities to play with the shutter speed in your photographs, showing the motion of the water to a greater or lesser degree.
Jökulsárlón is a very popular and busy destination. For those who find themselves in the area but want to have at least a bit less of a crowd around them then there is animpressive alternative just a few kilometres down the road.
The Fjallsárlón glacier lake... (a lake is a body of freshwater surrounded by land, a lagoon is a body of water separated from a larger body of water by a reef or other barrier)... sits at the foot of the Fjallsjökull glacier, which is another outlet glacier for the huge Vatnajökull glacier.
At Fjallsárlón you can find many of the same facilities (icebergs, refreshments, toilets, boat trips among the icebergs) but with (for now at least) a fraction of the amount of tourists. It doesn't have its own diamond beach and as a lake it is a lot more calm... which removes the possibilities of "waves breaking against the icebergs" or "iceberg in receding waters" pictures... but on the other hand the still water makes it a lot easier to photograph the icebergs themselves with a bit longer exposure.
For wider views of this kind of glacier lake/lagoon I think that Fjallsárlón offers a bit better opportunities than it's more famous neighbour. The glacier in the background is angled a bit more steeply and appears to be slightly closer, both of which make it a little bit more prominent in any pictures. The outlet glacier's path is flanked by some interestingly shaped rocky mountains, this helps to make the background a bit more interesting and also to make the glacier's route stand out a lot more than in similar pictures at Jökulsárlón.
Well, thats it from me for 2018. I hope that you have enjoyed this post and my many other posts throughout the year and I wish all my readers a happy new year and a terrific 2019.
All the best.
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