Iceland Through a Long Lens

On a recent trip to Iceland my main lens jammed on the first day and I was left photographing that big-picture landscape country with just a long lens.  And while my 70-300 is a good lens it's not the one I reach for first, and certainly not for a place like Iceland.  First disappointment, followed by mild panic, and then I simply had to get on with it.  So two weeks to go and an opportunity to practice longer focal length photography.  Not ideal and It was a challenge.

Iceland is known for the size and scale of its waterfalls.  Broad and high, cascading over massive rock formations, they are impressive.  With this lens I had two choices:  shoot from further away or focus on just a section of the waterfall.

 150 mm, 1/40sec  @ F9, ISO100

150 mm, 1/40sec  @ F9, ISO100

A tall, narrow waterfall a short walk away from the massive Skogafoss waterfall.  It was the small tree, growing in a rock wedged into an opening that caught my eye.  

 70 mm, 1/15 sec @ F16, ISO100

70 mm, 1/15 sec @ F16, ISO100

A small section from Skogafoss, a large waterfall in the southern part of the island.    Capturing the entire scene wasn't possible but this shot gives a sense of the volume and power of the water cascading from the river above.

 108 mm, 1/8 sec @ F20, ISO100

108 mm, 1/8 sec @ F20, ISO100

Hraunfossar Falls, or really just a small part of it, is a series of cascading falls that stretch along the lava fields.  The landscape above was a riot of fall colours.  And because it's off the beaten track it gets fewer visitors and can be enjoyed almost in solitude.  That said, it's difficult to capture without getting unwanted twigs and shrubs in the foreground.  So this time the longer lens was an advantage.

 70 mm, 1/8 sec @ F16, ISO100

70 mm, 1/8 sec @ F16, ISO100

A struggle at Oxarafoss Falls in Pingvellir National Park.  There was no way to get the right angle on the falls and also be far enough away.  At 70 mm, the widest angle I had, I focused on the lower section and the water cascading over the rocks in the foreground.  Vertical shots or closeups provide a different view.  

 79 mm, 1/5 sec @ F22, ISO100

79 mm, 1/5 sec @ F22, ISO100

 300 mm, 1/10 sec @ F16, ISO100

300 mm, 1/10 sec @ F16, ISO100

Lava fields, rock formations, black sand beaches, ice formations - Iceland has it all.  Rock formations jutting into the seas, formed by lava and shaped by time and weather, are remarkable.  Here a longer lens often worked well, as in the image below, taken at Vik in the south of Iceland.

 128 mm, 1/20 sec @ F16, ISO100

128 mm, 1/20 sec @ F16, ISO100

"Drinking Dragon" rock formation with mountains behind.  

 135 mm, 1/20 sec @ F11, ISO100

135 mm, 1/20 sec @ F11, ISO100

Ice formations on a black beach taken in the "blue hour" just before dark.

 81 mm, 0.5 sec @ F16, ISO400

81 mm, 0.5 sec @ F16, ISO400

And the same place at dawn the following morning.

 124 mm, 2.5 sec @ F16, ISO100

124 mm, 2.5 sec @ F16, ISO100

The Blue Lagoon.  Large chunks of ice and small icebergs break from the glacier, stay in the lagoon for a while, then make their way to the sea.  The black markings on the ice are ash from volcanic eruptions that occurred in ages past.  The longer they're in the lagoon the smoother the ice surfaces become, shaped by all kinds of weather.

 182 mm, 1/50 sec @ F11, ISO 100

182 mm, 1/50 sec @ F11, ISO 100

Blue skies and snow-capped mountains with glaciers moving down them are part of the unique beauty of this place.

 244 mm, 1/800 sec @ F7.1, ISO100

244 mm, 1/800 sec @ F7.1, ISO100

Lava fields are slow to regenerate.  It takes years for earth to accumulate sufficiently for moss to grow, and the hardy plants, bushes and few trees that are able to grow in this environment take much longer.  

 70 mm, 1/50 sec @ F16, ISO100

70 mm, 1/50 sec @ F16, ISO100

 112 mm, 1/6 sec @ F16, ISO100

112 mm, 1/6 sec @ F16, ISO100

Fishing nets along the shore in the northern part of Iceland.  

 93 mm, 8 sec @ 16, ISO100

93 mm, 8 sec @ 16, ISO100

 300 mm, 13 sec @ F16, ISO100

300 mm, 13 sec @ F16, ISO100

Winding roads along the fjords and small communities built along the water or nestled up close against the mountains, common sights as we travelled through the country.

 78 mm, 1/160 sec @ F9, ISO400

78 mm, 1/160 sec @ F9, ISO400

 90 mm, 1/80 sec @ F10, ISO100

90 mm, 1/80 sec @ F10, ISO100

 124 mm, 1/50 sec @ F8, ISO400

124 mm, 1/50 sec @ F8, ISO400

 100 mm 1/250 sec @ F8, ISO1000

100 mm 1/250 sec @ F8, ISO1000

Churches like this are found all over Iceland, brightly coloured, with a few buildings nearby.

 300 mm, 1/200 sec @ F8, ISO400

300 mm, 1/200 sec @ F8, ISO400

The abandoned herring factory at Djupavik in the north of the country.  Built in 1934, closed in 1954 when the herring were gone, and recently painted and refurbished as a setting for part of the superhero movie "Justice League" in October, 2016.  A beautiful location.

 105 mm, 0.3 sec @ 11, ISO100

105 mm, 0.3 sec @ 11, ISO100

 70 mm, 1/30 sec @ F10, ISO100

70 mm, 1/30 sec @ F10, ISO100

The harbour in the town of Patrekskfjordur.

 116 mm, 1/2 sec @ F8, ISO100

116 mm, 1/2 sec @ F8, ISO100

 100 mm, 1/160 @ F8, ISO400

100 mm, 1/160 @ F8, ISO400

Iceland's famous black church in early morning.  And a full view of the church at dawn.

 300 mm, 1/15 sec @ F13, ISO100

300 mm, 1/15 sec @ F13, ISO100

 70 mm, 0.6 sec @ F16, ISO100

70 mm, 0.6 sec @ F16, ISO100

Spending two weeks in Iceland was a treat.  Being there without my regular landscape lens was a challenge.  Just an unlucky break.  I had an extra camera body with me, extra cards and batteries, a second cable release, but it wasn't practical or feasible to take a duplicate of each lens.  So I struggled to overcome my frustration, worked with what I had, and learned more about shooting with a long lens.  Despite the setback I had a great time and the images I wasn't able to capture with my camera are firmly tucked away in my memory.