This may sound strange, but with one notable exception I did not find the lakes to be a particularly interesting part of the Lake District... but in fairness I can admit that "the Hills, Trees, Caves and Waterfalls District" would be a far less catchy title for this beautiful area. It may also be the case that visiting on a less windy week would significantly change my thoughts on this matter.
My trip continued with another early morning wake-up and a drive around Derwent Water to Brandlehow Bay where I hoped to photograph one of the old jetties which are still in use as stops for the boats which carry passengers to different points around this large lake.
The weather was quite attractive for a change on this morning but I was a bit disappointed to find that the old jetty was now a new jetty... the fresh clean flawless light coloured wood probably ushered in a new level of comfort and stability but until a few seasons have taken their toll it has been robbed of some of it's character.
My next destination was Rydal Water in the village of Rydal. This lake is another which has good paths allowing you to walk along it's length, either along the edge of the lake or slightly further back from the water allowing you to pass through some attractive woodland, I took the woodland path on an unusually beautiful (but stilll rather windy) day.
Another point of interest in the immediate area is Rydal Cave, another impressive cavern which is man-made in origin having been mined for slate many decades ago. Luckily this time there is no claustrophobic tunnel to travel through to reach it but there was a shallow water hazard to negotiate in order to get to what I considered to be the best shooting position.
After walking for a while at Rydal water I decided it was time for some more hill walking. The weather forecast looked semi-reasonable so I drove the winding road up the Honister Pass to the Honister Slate Mine where I parked my rental car and set off to climb up to Warnscale Bothy, a tiny old hut with clear views down the valley to Buttermere below. I told myself that the darkening clouds and hints of rain were not going to be anything to worry about and also told myself that the place would be easy enough to find based on the simplistic map I had in my guide book.
The walk to the bothy is not very long, about 2.5 kilometres, but the elevation change is quite significant for such a short journey, first you need to gain about 300m as you climb up the shoulder of Fleetwith Pike and then descend 200m town the other side to the bothy.
This route is not however provided with idiot-proof signposts and after completing the required ascent (plus some extra that I later realised was not required) I soon found out that my guide book was not sufficient to navigate to my destination while the offline maps in my phone (no signal here) were not sufficiently detailed to be much help... of course the rain was also falling and the clouds were darkening further. A perfect moment to remind yourself that you may not be a genius.
Although I was not 100% sure how to get to the bothy it would have been very simple to follow the trail back to the car so this was a frustration rather than any kind of threat of being lost in the hills. I continued in a direction which seemed plausible and was relieved to see a hut a few hundred metres ahead of me as the rain further intensified.
As I got closer to the hut it was pretty obvious that although this was a hut, it was not the hut I was looking for, there were no magnificant views down to Buttermere. I decided that it would have to do and took some photographs before retreating down the mountain for some coffee and a bacon roll... much needed if not particularly deserved.
As the storm set in for the evening it was pretty clear that sunset was cancelled so I called it a day and thought I could catch up on some sleep. The forecast was promising that the storm would disappear about an hour before sunrise the next morning so I planned a dawn mission to Buttermere.
My alarm went off at 0300 and I was on the road by 0310. I was not expecting heavy traffic so I decided to take a very narrow road through farms and a hill pass to shave a few minutes off my journey and be there in plenty time for whatever spectacular sunrise might await me once the storm stopped. This was good thinking and I was in position at Buttermere well before 0400... but the weather was not following the weather forecast.
There was absolutely no sign of the rain stopping so I decided to take a walk around the lake for scouting purposes. I completed the circuit in about 2 hours, including a detour caused by a bridge being out, and got a strong feeling that Buttermere was going to be my favourite of the lakes in the Lake District if only I could get some half decent conditions. I headed back to Netherdene Country B&B for breakfast.
Another strong feature of the Lake District is the pay and display car parks, there are many of them, very many of them. Most of the car parks at popular natural attractions are owned by the National Trust, some by local authorities, some private... but one way or another you are going to do a lot of paying and a lot of displaying. If you are a paid up member of the National Trust then you can park in all their car parks for free but as a short-term visitor from another country an annual National Trust membership does not make much sense.
The way the payment terms work out (e.g. £5 for up to 2 hours, £7.50 for a day) is quite reasonable if you stay in one place for the whole day, but if you want to visit many places per day then it gets very expensive... so after breakfast I returned to Buttermere to use up some remaining parking hours from my failed dawn mission.
The weather was still unpleasant and not very photogenic but by now I at least started to know what I would want to shoot at Buttermere if I got a proper chance... and I had walked 20 kilometres by the time I had lunch.
I continued my journey, deciding to visit Blea Tarn, another potentially lovely little lake near to Little Langdale. First I had to endure a 25-30 minute detour along a horrendous hill road (due to the navigation system in my rental car having some "special ideas" about where the Blea Tarn car park was located) but eventually i got there and paid yet another £5 parking fee. The wind was once again too strong, even in this more sheltered destination, and all thoughts of reflections were removed from the equation, which removed all interest from shooting the tarn itself. The views over the Langdale Pikes were still spectacular however.
Well, that was one of those days, a lot of effort for no reward. It wasn't the first and it won't be the last.
The next day it was rainy again. Instead of imagining for the third consecutive day that the weather would bend to my will I decided to tailor my activities to the conditions (a much more sensible appraoch) and seek out some waterfalls. Overcast conditions are ideal for waterfall shooting. I drove to Ambleside and walked up the hill to Stockghyll Force, a lovely waterfall in leafy green forest.
From here I took a bit of a longer drive to Wasdale Head from where a few other waterfalls can be found.
As the rain continued to fall I decided to climb part of the way up Kirk Fell to get a good view over the sheep fields down below... I suppose that if I had a drone I could have got the same shot with a great deal less effort.
Ritson's bar in the Wasdale Head Inn provided an excellent hot meal for me after I returned to ground level and I reflected on how much better my results had been when I was taking my lead from the weather rather than fighting against it. Hopefully I can put that learned lesson to good use from now on.
Until next time,
Having spent my time over the past couple of years exploring the rest of Europe I started to realise that I had not really seen much of what my country of origin (the UK) has to offer. I have seen quite a few Scottish highlights but things that lie south of the border were more of a mystery to me. As spring started to think of giving way to summer I headed for the beautiful Lake District in the north west of England. I took advantage of the convenient direct flight with Finnair from Helsinki to Edinburgh and made the 3 and a half hour drive south to the Lake District, starting my trip by exploring the sights around Ullswater.
Before my visit began I imagined that I would be spending a good deal of time shooting lake reflections and waterfalls, but in practice both of these things were slightly limited by the prevailing weather conditions. My visit coincided with a period of quite heavy wind causing choppy water surfaces which spoiled almost all hopes of shooting reflections on any large body of water. The weeks preceeding my trip were also unusually dry, reducing many of the beautiful waterfalls to an unimpressive trickle. This was to be one of those trips where the weather was not on my side.
One slight hardship when travelling in late May is that sunrise starts to be at a very inhospitable hour. With the sun due to rise at about 0430 I tried to be in place at my sunrise destinations by about 0345 each day... on this trip I seldom got any reward for this, but it is a good habit to get into. I have never found weather forecasts to be a great predictor of whether the weather will look interesting or not so unless it is 100% horrendous I usually try to be in position in case something good might happen.
This first morning was one of the best ones of the whole trip and the sky was filled with a multitude of small clouds in the hours following sunrise. There was some wind but not so much that all reflections were completely ruined, allowing for at least a partial mirror effect in longer exposure photography.
The outcome of the sunrise photography session has a noticeable impact on the feeling of the day. With a decent image in the bank you can feel like anything else that you can take from the day puts you into profit, while a difficult morning can put extra pressure on the rest of the day. I have tried to persuade myself to just accept whatever I get and carry on but that does not always come easily. On my way back to the Great Wood car park I became interested in the flowers on the forest floor and stopped to capture another image before heading back for a well deserved breakfast.
One feature which will rapidly become apparent to Lake District visitors is the network of very narrow roads with tall leafy hedges at either side. When this is combined with large numbers of visitors you very quickly get to the situation where nobody is able to go anywhere in any sort of hurry. A morning drive to beautiful Tarn Hows was a prime example of this, crawling along the roads on a journey which seemed to take for ever.
A tarn (not a word I had encountered before) is a mountain lake which forms in a hollow left behind by a retreating glacier and there are a few tarns dotted around the Lake District. Tarn Hows is a particularly beautiful example, surrounded by small hills and offering wider views towards the Helvellyn range and the Langdale Pikes. The Tarn has a level and accessable path which follows the lake shore in a 2.5km circuit, making for a very pleasant walk.
One of the thing that I was struck by during my first days in the Lake District was the beautiful old trees which were in full leaf all over the area. Trying to photograph these is always an attractive idea but it can be rather hard to find good compositions, especially if there are other trees in the vicinity.
Exploring a sequence of rapids near to the tarn revealed the extend of the drought... but "luckily" there would be a horrendous amount of rainfall in the coming days to restore some normality. Unfortunately while I was able to witness this cure being administered I was no longer around to see the results.
Despite some slight disappointment with the weather and the light I very much enjoyed visiting Tarn Hows and I hope I can return one day, it seems like it would be at it's absolute best with autumn colours so maybe I will try and make my second Lake District trip at that time of year.
After my morning at Tarn Hows I headed for the town of Coniston where I had a quick lunch before embarking on a climb towards Levers Water, a high mountain lake above the village. The guide book i had with me said that it was a fairly easy round trip of about an hour to get to and from the lake... which turned out to be highly optimistic. After climbing steadily for nearly an hour on a pretty warm afternoon I reached a sign telling that it was only another mile, a mile which coincided with the path becoming significantly steeper. Eventually, I made it to the lake... where I took precisely zero pictures as the wind made the surface of the lake completely useless for reflections and I did not see any other interesting compositions. It is always the case on any trip that some locations just don't offer what you hoped for in the conditions of the day.
The walk down again, gravity assisted, was somewhat easier but I was pretty sure that the sheep roaming the hillside were giving me judgemental looks as I went past.
According to my fitbit the walk from Coniston to Levers water and back had taken over 12000 steps... but I was not done for the day. I drove to Lake Windermere and had a look around that area.
With dull and lifeless skies, branches blowing in the wind and disrupted water surfaces it was necessary to find alternative things to point my camera at if I was going to rescue the day.
My final stop on this long and tough day was the lovely stone bridge at Clappersgate. This was my sunset destination and I was treated to slightly better conditions as the sun actually came out for a little while and the well-sheltered, slow-moving river was somewhat calm... it did cross my mind that I could easily have stayed in bed until sunset time without missing too many great photography opportunities, but it is always a lot of fun for me to explore new places even if they don't lead to great photos.
The following day, after observing a miserable and colourless sunrise at Derwent water (the dark grey became medium-light grey), I made my way to the charming, tiny and slightly in-accessable village of Little Langdale. From there it is a short walk to Slater Bridge, an ancient stone bridge over a small river, connecting the village to an area used for quarrying on the other side of the water. The bridge itself was an interesting subject, but I was a bit put off by the metal poles and wires which are attached to it nowadays and also by the metal fences which are in place to keep you from parts of the surrounding area. Not everyone was respecting these barriers but I felt that I should, which limited my possibilities for shooting.
Having crossed the famous old bridge I continued onwards to the old quarrying area, suppressing my discomfort as I ventured through a narrow tunnel into Cathedral Cave, a large chamber with a hole in the roof which lets the daylight stream in.
For sunset on this day I walked to Friar's Crag, a viewpoint over Derwent water which was described by 19th century writer and art critic John Ruskin as offering one of the finest views in Europe. With all due respect to Mr. Ruskin... I somehow doubt he would have been similarly moved on this particular evening. While the view itself (not helped by the deeply unattractive light which was on offer despite the sunset hour) left me rather cold, I found something more interesting at my feet, a single red rose which had been discarded and trodden into the dust. This hinted at a million possible stories of rejection and heartbreak (and a few million less interesting tales), perhaps a earnest proposal of marriage or a devoted declaration of true love had been rejected in a cruel manner, crushing someones dreams for eternity. Whatever the unknowable story, I deemed this to be a more interesting subject than the famous view in front of me.
In the hope of avoiding reader fatigue I think I will sign off for this post and return to the lake district once again in my next blog.
Thanks to everyone who reads this, I hope that you have enjoyed this post. Please feel free to comment in the comments section below or via my Andy Fowlie Photography facebook page.
Until next time,
As my Scotland trip neared it's conclusion I decided that I wanted to spend those final days back on the beautiful Isle of Skye.
On my way I decided to visit Eilean Donan castle, a 13th century stronghold which was destroyed in 1719 after a failed Jacobite uprising. An early 20th century restoration project brought the castle back to it's former glory and it has operated as a tourist attraction since 1955.
I approached the castle as the sun was going down and the waited for the time when the declining brightness of the sky matched the brightness of the artificial lighting on the castle, allowing for an even exposure. I used a 6 minute exposure to give the sky a more dreamy appearance.
Accomodation was not that easy to find on Skye at very short notice during the off season, which gave me a good excuse to stay at the excellent Cuillin Hills hotel even though it was (deservedly) a bit more expensive than I would have normally wanted. The location of the hotel on the north-east of Portree was a good fit for my purpose as I wanted to focus on shooting the Trotternish peninsula on these few final days.
The Trotternish peninsula is the northernmost part of Skye and it's unique features were sculpted by massive landslides (the largest known to have happened in the UK) which occurred after the last ice age.
As you leave Portree and head along the coast of the peninsula one of the first attractions that you come to is the Bride's Veil waterfall, a small series of hillside cascades which offer a view with the Old Man of Storr in the background provided you are willing to jump across the stream.
Continuing the journey you come to the beautiful Loch Fada with it's single lonely island.
The Storr (the mountain in the left-centre of the picture above) is the highest point on the peninsula and the iconic rock pinnacle on its lower slopes is known as the Old Man of Storr. The Old Man is clearly visible as you approach Portree and is recognisable feature from many vantage points in the area.
To the north of the Storr there is a vantage point where you can view Mealt Falls cascading down Kilt Rock. The vantage point is somewhat limited when it comes to photographic compositions, this is one spectacle which might be better viewed from the sea or the air.
Before visiting Skye one of the places I was most looking forward to was the Quiraing, possibly the most dramatic of the areas sculpted by those ancient landslides. It is unfortunate that the weather turned instantly unpleasant on each occasion when I made the meandering ascent to this spectacular location. I still spent many hours walking here with my camera but when the light is really against you there is not always a huge amount you can do about it.
I hope, one day, to be at the Quiraing in some better light as it was a truly stunning place.
On the opposite side of the Trotternish peninsula you can find a zone known as the Fairy Glen due to it's interesting but relatively small features, almost like a miniature Quiraing.
My short visit to this place was a bit odd. Firstly I was a bit concerned about ending up trapped there - the narrow winding road passed over a cattle grid and there were signs saying that the cattle grid would be replaced, causing significant delays for traffic, and indicating that the work would happen on that day... this contributed a bit of a rush to proceedings as well as a "this could be a bad idea" feeling. One of the things I like most about being out in nature is the peace and quiet, but my visit to the Fairy Glen coincided with the visit of an extremely loud family and their similarly high volume canine companion. I could hear every word of their exchanges from at least 300 metres away and that added to my irritation.
My time there was more based about maintaining maximum distance from the loud people than it was about photography, and the impact of that was obvious when looking at the images later. This is another place I should revisit in different circumstances, but I did at least have a bit of fun processing the images.
During all my time on Skye I was very much hoping that at least one morning would give me suitable conditions to take best advantage of the 45 minute climb up to the Old Man of Storr. On one of the days, early in my trip and very early in the morning, I made my way towards the Storr, hoping that the cloudy twilight would give way to something interesting.
An hour before sunrise, as I was approaching Loch Fada, there were some beautiful pastel colours in the clouds and heavy snow on even slightly higher ground.
The climb up to the Old Man of Storr is not a particularly challenging one, but it is steep enough for long enough that you certainly notice that you are doing some exercise, the elevation gain is about 300m to the Old Man himself, perhaps closer to 400m to get to the higher vantage point that offers some of the best views.
The climb starts from the car park and goes through an area where a non-native forest has recently been felled in order for indigenous vegetation to be re-established in it's place.
The path makes it's way steadily upwards, sometimes over rather boggy ground and sometimes requiring more of a scramble over loose rocks.
The sun rose as I was still climbing, but the most interesting light was still to come as the cloud and fog which were gathering over the area continued to act as a giant diffuser for the golden light of rising sun over the next hour or so, an effect which varied in intensity from minute to minute.
The rocky pinnacle of the Old Man of Storr is 164 feet (50 metres) tall and stands proudly on the hillside. The area around it is surrounded by warning signs suggesting that one should not get too close due to the danger of rock falls. I usually pay attention to such signs but obviously not everyone takes the same approach. As I was loitering near such a sign a runner appeared around the base of the Old Man, coming towards me at a fair speed, dressed in shorts and a singlet (the temperature would soon be above zero after all), and rather irritated that some stupid photographer was standing on the narrow ledge which he had designated as his running track. He sprung off the path and proceeded through the boulder field without noticeably reducing his speed.
In order to get the best vantage point it was necessary to continue the climb up to a high plateau, slightly above the Old Man.
While making my way up to the higher ground there was a short period where the cloud intensified and the light was at it's most stunning and I was able to get the kind of shots I had been hoping for.
From the top of the plateau you can get a very good angle to see the individual rock towers, and the presence of other mortals helps to show the scale of the scene.
As you move closer to the towering rocks you can get a bit of a different view, but it is probably wise not to get too close.
Despite the early hour, and the snow, and the fact that it was very much out of season, I was not alone on this beautiful morning. A number of other photographers and a few tourists were also able to witness this beautiful spectacle. A visit to the Old Man of Storr in the summer would mean that you share the experience with many hundreds of other people, assuming that you could find a place to park your car in the first place.
Before bidding farewell to Skye I decided to make one more trip to the remote village and beach at Elgol. I always enjoy shooting at beaches and trying to make good seascapes, but it is also something that i am very much still learning.
Some of you may have noticed that I keep finding excuses to use very long exposures in my photography. At Elgol, as the weather deteriorated towards a dreary sunset, I became interested in the slipway beside the beach and decided that a 250 second exposure woudl calm the waves and the clouds to give me a peaceful and minimalist view.
My time in Skye was at an end and I had to start making my way back to Edinburgh airport to return to Finland. In a moment of nostalgia I decided to spend my last night on the other side of the country at the home of golf, the city of St. Andrews. I have played golf at St. Andrews dozens of times and visited on a few other occasions to observe professional tournaments, it is a place which is special to me, as it is to many other golfers across the world. At the same time my visit was tinged with a certain sadness as my back no longer lets me play golf on a reasonable level and I still feel that loss whenever I bump into reminders of my former hobby.
For the last hours before heading to the airport I left my cameras behind and took a long walk on the beach at St. Andrews, reflecting on the experiences I had enjoyed on what had been an excellent trip to my homeland.
Thanks for reading.
Until next time,
Water plays such a central role in your experience when visiting the beautiful country of Iceland.
Surrounded on all sides by the Atlantic ocean, the 4970km of coastline provides amazing opportunities for interesting seascapes, while fans of freshwater can spend countless hours visiting over 10,000 waterfalls. Water also plays a key role in providing electricity through hydropower (~73%) and geothermal power (~27%).
In this post I will share some water themed pictures from my autumn trip to Iceland.
Iceland's beaches are fascinating, beautiful, and in some cases very dangerous. It is wise to heed the warning signs in some popular places and to treat unfamiliar places with caution - never turn your back on the ocean.
Volcanic basalt rock which makes up much of the exposed rock in the whole country, leading to the beaches with black sand instead of the golden or white sand beaches that are common on geologically older land masses.
Some of the spectacular Icelandic waterfalls have become huge tourist attractions, but with over 10,000 to choose from there are chances to get some of the less popular ones to yourself, at least for a few minutes.
This trip took place in the middle of October and the autumn colours were strongly visible at that time, providing quite a beautiful colour palette at many locations. Iceland is generally not a land of trees and forests, but the abundant mosses and grasses cover the volcanic landscape with a blanket of yellows, oranges and reds at this time of year.
On this trip I made a first (and probably last) visit to one of the more popular tourist destinations, the waterfall at Svartifoss. Searching for a parking space took quite a few minutes, it was very full despite the massive capacity (I guess maybe 1000 spaces), but I followed the trail upwards through some nice scenery to the waterfall, surrounded by hexagonal columns of basalt. The area around the waterfall had a population density similar to downtown Manhattan which made photography somewhat challenging, particularly because many people completely ignored the fences and signs informing you where you could and could not go. I set up my shot and waited quite some time for a break in the rule-breaking human traffic... a wait which included being asked to take phone pictures of some of the trespassers... and eventually managed to get a shot. It was great to see Svartifoss, but I will not rush to see it again.
On the walk up to Svartifoss there is a vantage point for another waterfall, Hundafoss. The crowds did not seem to be so interested in it, but I thought there were some nice colours in the bushes near the top of the waterfall.
Moving water can create great interest in landscape photography, but sometimes it is preferable to have things totally still - a smooth and calm body of water can work as a perfect mirror. With a wide-angle lens, low to the ground, you don't need much more than a puddle to get a full reflection of your scene.
I am always drawn to these reflection shots (I sometimes feel like I do too many of those) and usually manage to spot opportunities for them, perhaps trying to rely on that a bit less would make me pay more attention to getting interesting foregrounds for my pictures and give better results... something for me to think about in future.
My journey continued round the southern coast of Iceland and when I passed through the tunnel just past the turn-off to Stokksnes (see previous post) I was into new territory, in previous trips I had not gone further around the coast than Vestrahorn.
The coastal road (still highway 1, the road that goes right round the whole country) goes through quite beautiful scenery between Vestrahorn and its less well known twin - Eystrahorn.
Eystrahorn has a rather similar shape to Vestrahorn, the mountains are a little higher and maybe more dramatic, and there is a similar bay in front of the mountain backdrop. The bay cuts in from the left when facing the mountains whereas it cuts in from the right at Vestrahorn, so if you see a "Vestrahorn picture" where the ocean is on the wrong side then you probably actually saw an Eystrahorn picture.
Continuing round the coast, moving north up the east side of the country, the waterfalls just keep on coming, one after another. I stopped at the side of the road to shoot this next one, it was very beautiful but as far as I can tell it does not have a name... in another country perhaps it would be more of a highlight.
My Iceland trips have usually been arranged at quite short notice and that has led to a variety of different accomodations... not all of which I would be desperate to revisit. The east of the country starts to be remote enough to at least slightly reduce the amount of visitors and those who do venture there are probably doing the full circle around the country, so maybe this is an area which is more passed through than stayed in.
I spent one night in the small town of Djúpivogur at the Hótel Framtíð, which proved to be a perfect place to stay with a good restaurant and very comfortable rooms. The price:quality ratio was much better than any of the other places I stayed on this trip and I definitely recommend it for anyone who visits this area.
While having a morning cappucino in the reception area of Hótel Framtíð I was surprised to hear a familiar voice addressing a group of asian people that had been gathering nearby, it was Mads Peter Iversen. I have never met or spoken to Mads, but I have listened to many of his YouTube videos, he has a lot of great material about different locations, including practical information such as where to park and all the other things which it is hard to prepare for without seeing a location.
I was interested to hear how he explained the coming day to his workshop group, and I thought I might say hello after he had finished his business, but he disappeared before I had an opportunity. Anyway... check out his channel, he is a good explainer and a great photographer also.
Back to my waterfall hunt... I continued round the coast on a day where the weather slowly deteriorated.
My new "furthest point anti-clockwise around highway 1" came when I visited Folaldafoss... yet another waterfall, by which time the weather was a full-on snowstorm. Normally I don't like to have any people in my images but on this occasion I felt like it helped the picture to include the guy making a video call live from the scene.
It is always a little sad to be making my way slowly back towards the airport instead of heading out into the unknown, but in Iceland there is always something interesting to shoot.
The interest is there no matter the time of day, as darkness falls the possibilities for stars and auroras arrive.
On the morning of my final day I decided to head for one of the most popular tourist destinations, the mighty Gullfoss waterfall. My idea was to try and beat the main traffic of the day by arriving well before any bus tours starting from Reykjavik could hope to be there.
Gullfoss is a remarkable sight. The Hvítá river makes a sharp turn and falls down into a deep canyon with an average of over 100 cubic metres of water per second cascading over the falls.
Following the path down to the rocky platform was a treacherous affair as the mist generated by the falls coats every surface in ice, there was advice to use crampons on this path and that was good advice. The view once you get closer to the drop into the canyon made quite an impression due to the enormous power of the water.
As much as I like trying to capture the grand wide views of these places, my favourite pictures usually come when focusing on a more intimate part of the landscape, giving an almost abstract impression and making it hard to identify the location.
Another advantage of these more intimate landscape shots is that there are still possible compositions, even at very famous places, which have not been shot a million times already, so there is more chance to come up with something interesting and original.
My final stop in this Iceland trip was in the geothermal area area at Geysir, the place which gave rise to the english word geyser. The original Geysir geyser is largely dormant now, but a number of its neighbours are still active to some degree, the Strokkur geyser being the most impressive and reliable of those, bursting forth every ten minutes or so.
The difficulty with photographing a geyser, especially these geysers at Geysir, is that for 99.9% of the time the geysers are just a hole in the ground surrounded by mud, fences and people... not an ideal recipe for a great composition. The best that i could come up with was to find a "least unattractive" patch of mud as a foreground and then try to time it so that I could catch the geyser in full eruption (waiting until it seemed to be "due" and then shooting continuously).
Well, that's it for this time. Next time I will conclude my Iceland trips with a post focusing on ice.
I would like to thanks all my readers for liking, sharing and commenting on my posts during this year and to wish you peace and happiness during the festive season.
In October I made my 3rd trip to amazing Iceland and during that trip I made multiple visits to the Stokksnes peninsula to photograph beautiful Vestrahorn. As this is one of my absolute favourite destinations I decided to give it a blog post all of its own.
When flying to Iceland you will probably land at Keflavik, the main international airport, which is right on the south west corner of the country. Stokksnes on the other hand is right on the south east corner of Iceland so you need to travel just over 500 more kilometres to get your first view of the beautiful peaks of Vestrahorn. It is worth it.
Many Icelandic hot-spots receive an overwhelming number of tourists, no matter the season, and that creates a lot of challenges for photography as well as for the local environment. Vestrahorn seems to suffer slightly less from that for a few reasons.
The result is that this place has a less frantic feeling to it than many other destinations and allows you to relax into your task a bit more easily.
Over the past 18 months I have been entering some online photography competitions on various different platforms, including "GuruShots" and "Photocrowd". This has sometimes been a boost for my photography as it has encouraged me to shoot more and I have also found that the results provide feedback of a sort... and in other ways it has been a distraction because all the time spent entering the competitions could instead be spent taking more pictures. One of the most positive things has been that I have got to "know" (mostly through related facebook groups) a few other photographers from all over the world who participate in the same competitions. On this trip I had the opportunity to actually meet one such friend/rival in person at Vestrahorn.
Unnur Arnarsdóttir is an Icelandic landscape photographer who lives just a few kilometres away from Vestrahorn and has a number of very beautiful images from this part of the world. In my opinion her pictures from the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon are as good as any of the many thousands of images I have seen from that famous location. I encourage all my readers to go and have a look at her pictures on flickr. Unnur's other hobby might also provide benefits for anyone who is starting to feel the bite of winter, her Etsy store contains a variety of items hand knitted from Icelandic Lopi wool.
Unnur and I met at Vestrahorn in the late afternoon, hoping for interesting colours in the sky after sundown. The atmosphere of our planet did not quite perform to its full potential on this occasion but we were at least treated to some soft and gradually darkening shades of blue.
After my previous visit to Vestrahorn I realised that every single one of my Vestrahorn pictures had the entire set of mountains in the frame, which seemed to be a rather limited interpretation of the possibilities. This time I tried to also find at least some compositions which did not need to include the whole mountain range.
The hundreds of small dunes on the black volcanic sand beach, each covered in long wispy grasses, provide many different possible foregrounds in your composition, although getting just the right arrangement of dunes in the frame is rather challenging.
One thing that I worry about is whether the dunes will survive many more years of visitors, there were many areas where the banks of dunes had hundreds of footprints and the grass was getting rather trampled... without the grass roots to provide some structure and solidity to this shifting landscape it might be too easy for this environment to disappear on the wind.
Searching for the perfect shot needs to be balanced against being respectful of the beautiful places that photographers like to visit. I have started to pay more attention to the potentially damaging behaviour of tourists and photographers and I have also seen some consequences as more and more areas are fenced off or obviously damaged at different locations. The role that photography plays in this is also a concern, beautiful pictures from beautiful places just encourage more and more people to visit those places and the rise of social media has just accelerated the whole cycle.
If, for some reason, the tidal reflections and the grassy islands in a sea of black sand don't appeal to you, then there is still the possibility to be fascinated by the waters of the Atlantic washing relentlessly into the bay on the eastern side of the area. This is one of the more subtle and gentle beaches in Iceland allowing you to operate under the fear of getting slightly wet rather than the fear of getting slightly dead which keeps you on your toes at places such as Reynisfjara.
There is something fascinating and hypnotic about shooting seascapes. Every wave is unique and the pattern of its arrival and departure provides a personal fingerprint of a moment that will never be repeated. A slightly longer exposure can give a sense of calm by blurring the water while also showing the patterns of movement... but with a too long exposure you can lose all sense of the dynamic action.
As you move further away from the mountains you come to a rocky area at the end of the beach and the ground rises to a higher plateau where an air defence radar station is situated. This radar station is one of four which jointly provide coverage of the whole of Iceland and a sizeable surrounding area. From the top of the hill you get a more panoramic view of the bay.
As the light faded away we went back to our cars and I talked with Unnur for a while before she headed for home. It was a great pleasure to meet her! I decided that I should go back out into the darkness and try to get a few more shots as the stars started to appear.
A few hours later I was back among the dunes at Stokksnes again, waiting for the moment when the sun first hits the top of the mountain, bathing it in a warm glow while the lower parts of the scene remain in shadow.
There were a lot of clouds on this morning, providing very interesting conditions as the sun came and went every few seconds with different parts of the scene being illumiated in turn. Mixed conditions like this sometimes offer the best opportunities for photography.
I required 2 cappucinos from the nearby Viking Cafe just to get acceptably awake before spending my day doing other things (stay tuned for details in upcoming posts) but I was back once again at Vestrahorn for the sunset... and this time the light was more cooperative. It started well before sunset with some lovely pink highlights in the wispy clouds.
As the sun neared the horizon I tried to catch the moment when the grassy dunes were illuminated for the last time that day.
The sun soon passed out of view below the horizon in the west and beautiful orange and pink colours intensified in the east.
Over the following hour the orange and pink turned into purple before finally giving way to a normal night with no trace of what had just happened.
I thought at the time that I was leaving Vestrahorn behind for this trip... but a couple of days later a remarkable aurora forecast (Kp 6) made me take a 3 hour detour in the late evening. I was a little late for the most active and well defined auroras, but it was still a magnificent sight.
Well, I hope that you have enjoyed this post from Vestrahorn. You can follow my future posts by returning to this site, signing up to my mailing list (below) or by following my new photography page on Facebook.
Until next time!
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