Iceland

This summer I was out for two photo shoots to Iceland. On this occasion, I took also some landscape images, and I want to show these.

Many years ago I visited Iceland for the first time, and a had taken my first modern medium format camera with me. I was very disappointed when I discovered most pictures were overlapping due to a faulty film transport. Meanwhile, I mostly use the iPhone for my travel photography, but this time I had also my Fujifilm GFX 50s with me, along with three lenses. The images are quite different from those I take with the iPhone, but I hope they are nevertheless of interest.

Þingvellir

Þingvellir (Thingvellir) is a national park near Reykjavik, and it is a historic place. One of the oldest parliaments was founded here anno 930, and the republic of Iceland was declared here in 1944. Thingvellir itself consists of a small church and five distinct gabled houses. Nearby is the Allmänner gorge, which also leads to the Öxará waterfall. The gorge and the Öxará below the waterfall are geologically remarkeable: the Eurasian and the American tektonic plates meet here and are slowly drifting apart.

Gjáin

Gjáin was my next visit. Despite the tourist boom in Iceland, it feels mostly lonely when driving there. The last stretch is an unpaved road, which changes to a very coarse gravel road before it reaches Gjáin. Those who use a regular car need to park it beforehand  and need to walk to Gjáin on the other side. I slowly continued on the road and arrived in a short while at the parking spot at Gjáin. When leaving the car, it is not evident what will become visible behind the barren landscape: a paradise valley with waterfalls and lush green plants. The view from the edge of the valley is rather impressive. Those who walk down can enjoy a close look at this marvellous nature.

From here, the rough road continues, and I asked myself: is it really possible to continue driving there? It is, but an appropriate car is mandatory. After reaching a somewhat better unpaved road, it is not far until the waterfall Háifoss, the third highest in Iceland. But: the closer I got to the waterfall, the more it became foggy. At the viewpoint, the fog was so dense that I could hear the thunder of the falling water, but fog was all I could see. Maybe it was the Granni waterfall which was louder because it is closer to the viewpoint. Unfortunately, I can not provide any picture of these falls.

Þjófafoss

Continuing to the south, it was easy to drive for 10 miles on the nearly straight gravel road. Hardly any other car came across. The Þjófafoss (Thjofafoss) can be reached from a small unpaved side road. I had read that big offroad cars a required to drive there but this was not quite true. Elsewhere, travel operators have good reason for their remarkeable Superjeeps, though.

Gljúfrabúi

When driving on the ring road in the south of Iceland, the Seljandsfoss can be seen already from the road, and many parked cars as well. It is possible to walk around the Seljandsfoss, but I intended to go to the Gljúfrabúi (“gorge inhabitant”) which is close by. When walking up there, only a narrow crevice is visible, with a small creek running through it. Behind it, a hint of the waterfall can just be seen. It is possible to walk on the stones in the creek without getting overly wet feet. A cape is adviseable, though, to avoid getting wet throughout. It is just a few yards, but they are absolutely worthwhile. The water falls down through an opening into the cave, which also has a large rock. It is a remarkeable natural spectacle.

Kvíárjökull and Svinafellsjökull

I drove down a long strech on the ring road towards Skaftafell to visit two glacial lakes. While driving there, I enjoyed the gorgeous scenery towards Skaftafell. This is the area of the Vatnajökull, Iceland’s largest glacier. It has numerous lobes which end in glacial lakes. I visited first the Kvíárjökull glacier, along with its glacial lake. I was more impressed by the Svinafellsjökull (Svinafell glacier) and the glacier lake Svinafellslón. The 1.5 mile road is very rough, requiring slow driving even with an off-road car. However, it is worthwhile to take this challenge, offering a remarkeable view of the glacier and the lagoon. Although every glacier slides down very slowly and releases icebergs every now and then, the glacier and the lake with the icebergs seem deadly silent. I was there on two days, and I was rather surprised to see that the icebergs had significantly changed in short time.

Along the Way

On the drive backe towards Reykjavik I encountered several remarkeable  sights which are shown here.

Fjaðrárgljúfur

The awesome gorge Fjaðrárgljúfur is just a short side road away from the main ring road. From the middle of the gorge, the waterfall of the Fjadra river can be seen on one side. A really breathtaking view can be had twoards the other side, looking towards the exit of the gorge. When I took these pictures, it was drizzling once again. But it was the perfect weather not only for this picture. Sunshine just does not fit well to archaic landscapes as these are.

Þakgil

Another highlight can be reached from a side road starting near Vík í Mýrdal: Þakgil (Thakgil). The about 10 miles long unpaved road is easy to drive with an off-road car. With a regular car it takes at least longer. While the destination is only few miles away from the ring road and from civilization it seems left far behind.  The rivers formed by the glaciers run in numerous meanders across black lava fields. Only at the very end of the lava fields a campground can be found, which also rents huts for overnight stays – although at prices corresponding to a fairly comfortable hotel room in my area. Still, it has to be considered that the season is very short in Iceland, and earning money in other times of the year is difficult.

Gýgagjá

Almost across the road which leads to Thakgil there is another unpaved road leading to the huge cave Gýgagjá. It has two openings which resemble church windows, allowing a view towards the black sand near the sea.

Geothermal Activity

Almost back to Reykjavik, the main road passes an area with geothermal activity. The ski resort was apparently not in use, and despite the close distance to the main road it had no visitors. Only my car animated others to take a look. The ground was crackled and released hot fumes – a last reminder that Iceland is an area with high volcanic activity.

Conclusion

My journey to Iceland was rather short, and at temperatures near 13 degrees Celsius (55 degrees Fahrenheit) with frequent drizzle this is not a destination for sun seekers. However, those who like archaic landscapes and those who can live without sun, will find a rewarding destination, despite the tourist boom. It is a paradise for landscape photographers. Weather-resistant equipment does not hurt – my camera looked quite often as shown above. Unfortunately, Iceland is expensive. This starts with accomodations, high cost for food and does not stop with high cost for car rentals. Those who do not depend on comfort can find affordable accomodations – provided they are booked early. An off road car is more important, because otherwise interesting areas can often not be visited. Even a regular SUV as I had is not always sufficient. When a river crossing indicates “only for big 4×4” this should be taken serious. However, during my travel I had only one destination I could not reach:  Þórsmörk (Thorsmörk).I had already passed six river crossings, but the last one was too deep for my taste. I almost got stranded, though, on my trip to Þakgil. Fortunately, this was only 10 miles away from the next tire service, and I just managed to get there before the tire was entirely flat. In this context, it is pleasing to see that even remote areas usually provide telephone access, mostly even with LTE. This is better than I am used to see in Germany.

Overall, this was a very rewarding journey, occasionally with slight touch of adventure, at least for sombody living in a city, as I do.

For those technically interested

Other than usual, I had my Fujifilm GFX 50s with me for the trip to Iceland. The sensor is not much larger than the so-called full frame, and the camera is actually a little smaller than a conventional full frame DSLR. The lenses are much larger and heavier, though.  Since I had to carry everything with me, and because the complete equiment had to fit into carry-on luggage I restricted my equipment to three lenses: the Fujinon lenses GF 4/23, 4/32-64 and the 5,6/100-200. I had purchased the tele zoom specifically for this journey. All three, particularly the tele zoom, are slow lenses, despite of their size. I do not need fast lenses for landscape photography, other than with portrait photography where I like to isolate people by limited depth of field. Due to the image stabilizer of the tele zoom the system is easy to work with even with poor lighting conditions. The restricted zoom range of 1:2 is more limiting, when compared to the usual 70-200 zooms for full frame.

In my report about a portrait shoot with Anna I mentioned that the Canon EF 4/70-200 L IS may be used with only small restrictions on the GFX. A used lens costs only one quarter of a new Fujinon GF 100 -200, which is rarely found as a used lens. I still bought the Fujinon lens because I did not like to encounter a similar problem as I had during my first travel to Iceland. A journey like this is way too expensive to take that risk. Since then, I always carry a spare camera with me, but I do not own one for the GFX system for cost reasons. However, I travel to other countries often with my Fujifilm X-T2, which, along with the small 18-55 zoom serves as an excellent backup system which does not take much space. One of the pictures above was taken with the X-T2. On that day I had to cross a river, and I had not taken the GFX with me. I assume it is not that much water resistant to resist an incidential drop in the water. Otherwise, the water resistant construction was highly useful – every day. But despite that it is robust in this regard: rain drops on the front lens are hard to avoid. It gets even more difficult when the lens has to be changed in drizzle or at the Glúfrabui waterfall. It is necessary then to turn the rear lens and the camera bayonet downwards when taking the lens off, otherwise rain drops will fall on the rear lens or even on the sensor.With this precaution a lens change is feasible – I tested it several times ;-).

Those who take some equipment along for a journey have to think about an appropriate bag. Here, I had also an unpleasant experience: during a journey to Northumberland one of the main straps  of my Lowe-Pro backpack was about to tear. I could carry only the most important pieces of my equipment in a regular backpack, which I had with me for other purposes. I own an evoc CP35 backpack now,which has a way better build quality. It is also the best backpack I could find for flights. It is only 20 cm thick, but other than most backpacks it makes use of the carry-on allowance for width and hight. The complete GFX system along with the spare camera and other accessories can be stowed away easily. The lenses 4/23, 4/32-64 and 2/110 can be stowed upright, despite that the backpack is comparably thin. Only the 5,6/100-200 requires a longer compartment. The upper part can hold the spare camera, which is accessible also from the other side when the main opening is closed. The backpack is also very comfortable to carry along. Those looking for a good travel backpack may be happy with this one. It is only to be hoped for that the fully packed backpack will not be checked for weight.

Details

Landscape photography from a short trip to Iceland