Wednesday 13 March 2013

Photography in Iceland............expect the unexpected

last light before the snow arrives on the Snaefelnes peninsula

I am sitting at home while it snows outside.

Dog and I have been around the block.

The fridge has been cleaned. Many jars of dead chilli sauce have been chucked. The orange pepper that challenged the label on the inside of the fridge saying 'antibacteria' is now on the compost heap. Health and efficiency have been restored behind closed doors.

I have no further excuses for addressing the many photographs that I carried home from Iceland just eight days ago.

work in progress

And yet I am struggling. Having a crisis of confidence. Wondering what I am trying to achieve?

I have learnt a valuable but painful lesson in Iceland. I have realised that going to a place with preconceived ideas of what I wish to achieve was a big mistake.  I now understand that, for me, making images is a meditative process that only works if I am being spontaneous, responding to the feelings of elation that wild and beautiful places bring.

I travelled with two incredibly talented, respected and highly entertaining landscape photographers, David Ward and Daniel Bergmann. They are masters of the craft of traditional landscape and outdoor photography.

Daniel Bergmann and David Ward on the road - literally and metaphorically

 I intended to build on my collection of snow and ice images, and hoped to achieve some abstracts from the winter landscape. I had the idea to create a body of work suitable for my portfolio.

I was foiled in my desires mainly by completely misunderstanding of what the weather might be; that Iceland in winter is not a guarantee of snow. That torrential rain is possible and that snow does not lie on the ground off the mountains all through winter. I assumed that there would be a low tide on the beaches where I had hoped to create abstracts of tidal recession.  More fool me! Preparation was not done properly.

That is not to say that I didn't have a great time. Being away from work and able to relax into going with the flow and accepting what came along in terms of tides and weather was a privilege. Once again the journey around the island was full of memorable vistas of emptiness, space and colour.

colours reminiscent of the Hebrides in the sky and the sea

David Ward introduced us to a quote by Bill Brandt

It is part of the photographer’s job to see more intensely than most people do. He must have and keep in him something of the receptiveness of a child who looks at the world for the first time or of the traveler who enters a strange country… We are most of us too busy, too worried, too intent on proving ourselves right, too obsessed with ideas to stand and stare… Very rarely are we able to free our minds of thoughts and emotions and just see for the simple pleasure of seeing. And so long as we fail to do this, so long will the essence of things be hidden from us.
Bill Brandt

Going on a trip like this, with the ability to leave daily routines and worries behind allows one to indulge in the simple pleasures of seeing.

snow clouds arriving on the horizon at dawn

 I do spend a lot of time drawn to the horizon, either by light or colour. I hope to capture the mood that I felt when sitting quietly with my camera. Standing is massively over-rated. If I get stuck in a new location I sit with my flask of tea and my tripod in front of me and wait until I see something that I wish to consider photographing.

compulsory ruined house photoshoot

I did struggle a bit when we got to the ruined house scenario; I walked off into the field in the hope of getting some graphic grass images, as I found it hard to identify a subject with everyone working in a small space. They were a disaster. But it turned out to be the beginning of a new venture into corrugated iron photography, something I allowed myself to divert to later in the day when I realised that I had to embrace what was there rather than fighting against subject matter that appeared initially unappealing.

I branched out into multiple exposure photography on a shed, and later on the church at Hellnar, getting some of my favourite images from the trip.

Church at Hellnar © Caroline Fraser 2103

The highlight of the trip was a hike on the Svinafellsjokul glacier. Low cloud made for beautifully atmospheric conditions, and we stayed as long as we dared until it was almost dark.

For a sense of scale, see further below.

the trip highlight; a glacier hike complete with crampons and full photographic kit

 I learned a useful lesson about colour on this trip. By setting the camera white balance to 'daylight', the camera records colours of early morning and late evening as they really are, rather than trying to correct out the colour cast. When we look at a scene our eyes will tend to correct casts, but the camera sees them as they really are, with exciting results.

 David Ward is a master of the use of colour in outdoor scenes, using them to dramatic effect.

These images from the glacier are uncorrected. On a sunny day it would be a very different, less colourful view. The dull weather brought out the incredible intensity of blues in the ice.

So now I shall rethink myself as an 'outdoor photographer' , who is no longer afraid to tackle the challenges of bits of old metal, and who now needs to return to Iceland in her own vehicle so that she can stop wherever the mood fancies, and can stop to take a picture of an Icelandic pony if the mood takes her.

using colour cast to create an abstract from corrugated metal ©Caroline Fraser 2013

And just in case you were wondering, we did get to photograph some ice.

glacial fragment, Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon © Caroline Fraser 2013

And even more wonderful, we got to see the Northern lights on the penultimate evening of our adventure.

starry starry night over the glacier; a long exposure of the lights to emphasise the stars

Northern lights photography is  a whole new skill set, requiring perfect climactic conditions and the ability to work in complete darkness. I am not even going to try and go there.

It might rain............... !

northern lights explorer

So I am back in my ordinary life, having enjoyed the extra-ordinary beauty of iceland once more.

My thanks to Daniel and David for their boundless energy, enthusiasm and entertainment.

Another unforgettable trip.

Daniel Bergmann Iceland Nature Photography

David Ward Into the Light

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