This image represents how exciting, and how exasperating photography can be…..
My wife Jennie and I had quickly planned a trip to Iceland over the upcoming Christmas holiday. In researching places that we wanted to visit, I found a few cryptic references about a place called “Jokulsarlon”. Most of the images I could find showed a small bay with a glacial tongue entering the water on one end…..but every once in a while I would come across a piece of ice sitting on a black sand beach, with the ocean in the background. However, I couldn’t find any info on whether or not these two wholly different scenarios were happening in the same spot or not.
As out trip got closer, we were able to schedule some time at Jokulsarlon on our way to the east side of the island, and maybe some additional time on our way back to Reykjavik. We were only going to be in the area for a couple of days, and our lodging was going to be a couple of hours away. I felt that I had a pretty slim chance of getting a chance to shoot there. Along with those difficulties, we were only getting about four hours of daylight, and the sky was normally dull and grey all day long. I put my chances at around 20%…..
We woke up in the morning and had breakfast, then loaded up the car to continue our trek east across the southernmost coast. We made a quick stop in the town of Vik where we explored their black sand beach, along with a red roofed church that overlooked the town. From there, I figured it was only about an hour drive to Jokulsarlon.
The night before, I had gotten on Google Earth and investigated the area where I thought I might find what I wanted. The glacier calved into a small bay, where the icebergs floated around before flowing out a very short river to the ocean. I could see that the beach along the ocean here was indeed black sand, and assumed that the melting icebergs would sometimes wash up on shore. That would explain the few images that I had found of beautiful white/clear pieces of ice on a black sand beach.
Much to my dismay, our one hour drive turned into almost three. The sun started to dip below the horizon and I came to the realization that it was not my lucky day. Soon the sun would be down and it would be too dark to shoot anything….if I could even find what I was looking for. Jennie offered to drive, and I took her up on it and sat in the passenger seat dejectedly.
About thirty minutes later, we started to see signs for Jokulsarlon. I perked up a little as dusk lasts a lonnnnnnggg time during this season in Iceland. The sun doesn’t drop perpendicular to the horizon, rather it skims along just below the horizon for a while. Jennie looked at me a little suspiciously when I asked her to turn right towards the beach, and not left into the parking lot when we arrived. It was all snow, but there was a rough pathway with other tire tracks that headed towards the ocean. One hundred yards later, I jumped out of the car to be greeted by a number of gleaming pieces of ice reclining leisurely on a black sand beach. There were a couple other photographers on the beach, and I quickly got my gear out and joined them.
I was totally blown away. The ice seemed to shine like diamonds and had tremendous inherent contrast with the black background of the beach.
It’s a really tough situation to be in…… amazing photographic subjects everywhere I looked….but the sun was already well below the horizon making the amount of light low enough that I needed a tripod for all exposures. My brain went into overdrive as I scurried around the beach and picked out angles to photograph. It was a delicate balance. The ice emitted the best light if you were facing the sunset, but there were other people that were also there and sometimes in your background.
I had been thinking of something similar to the above photo, and was keeping that in mind as I was looking over the various pieces of ice. Some were too close to the ocean, and would move as waves hit them (thereby ruining my one to four second exposures). Others were too far from the ocean, and resulted in beautiful, but not quite stunning images.
When I found the piece above, I set up my tripod and tried to guess how far up the beach each wave would travel. The ice was perfectly positioned, but it was really hit and miss on the waves. In the end, I spent probably ten minutes photographing in this spot. I have a number of images that have different blurs of the incoming wave. In some, the wave is barely evident, and in others it is too overbearing. This image, I felt, had the perfect amount of movement.
Thanx for listening.