Iceland 2016 report - north, west and south!

Memories of my winter/spring trip from 2015 still fresh in my mind, I set out in early March 2016 to visit the north side of Iceland rather than the south from last year.  This took a whole lot of planning, as the established photographic spots are fewer and further between, plus some can't be accessed depending on the weather conditions.  In the end I spent a few days up north then travelled back west and eventually south, to make the most of the conditions available (which, as is typical for Iceland, weren't always great!).  I was hoping for ice, snow, frozen landscapes and waterfalls and I kind of got that but, as always, the shots I got were nothing like I envisaged!  Here's a short, picture-based report of how I got on!

First off was a visit (well, several) to Godafoss waterfall (foss being Icelandic for fall) right up in the north of the island.  There was thick snow everywhere and the skies were just as grey as the land, so I concentrated on the details of the falls and the contrast between the silky water and the sharp icicles rather than open out wide and incorporate the (quite blank) landscape around it.

Godafoss waterfall, north Iceland

Having been impressed by Godafoss, I ventured down a valley to see a couple more, less-photographed waterfalls which are reached by road.  As it turned out, the road conditions (and land conditions) meant it was too dangerous to reach them, meaning I had to turn back.  On the way back, though, I came across this lovely scene by the roadside, which made up for the disappointment!

Saplings peeking through the thick snow blanket in small valley, north Iceland

Next up was a great show of the northern lights (aurora) which I wasn't expecting but nevertheless dashed out to photograph as the forecast held and the high clouds cleared.  I was somewhat lucky with the location I found, having little knowledge of the area I happened to be in.  It wasn't forecast to be a very strong show but it certainly was - incredibly so at times.  Strong aurora doesn't necessarily mean great photos, as the patterns shift quickly and can overpower your attempts to compose, so I chose this shot because of its simplicity and beauty, even though I captured more 'spectacular' ones in the same shoot.

Northern lights near Akureyri, north Iceland

On a very remote peninsula in north Iceland, I saw this lighthouse on the map and went to investigate.  The skies were a quite strange dark shade of blue and the lighthouse stood out quite distinctly.  Although I took lots of shots with just the snowy ground and tufts of grass sticking out, I liked this one the best, using an old plough (?) in the foreground to give scale to the scene.  On this whole drive to the lighthouse and back I saw one other car!

Plough near lighthouse, north Iceland

After I'd somewhat exhausted the available sights in the north (due to heavy snow cover and inaccessibility), I decided to venture back around the island to the snæfellsnes peninsula and its most famous sight; Kirkjufell mountain.  There was a crowd of photographers down by the foot of the mountain, trying to incorporate the usual waterfall scene in the foreground but I really didn't feel that was a good view with the large, featureless pockets of snow and ice.  I was much happier over on the eastern shore, using the rapidly-disappearing snow patches as part of the composition, instead.

Kirkjufell mountain in the early morning light

A strange location provided an image a really liked - down below the roadside and looking back up at the mountains, with interesting patterns created by the disappearing ice and snow.

Ice patterns by the roadside on snæfellsnes peninsula

Another morning by Kirkjufell mountain but this time the skies were quite blank and the snow patterns I'd liked so much the previous day had melted.  So I was trying some different perspectives when I did what I always tell other people to do - look behind you - and saw this very nice scene instead!

Early morning light catches mountain peaks near Kirkjufell, Iceland

Next up is the result of a very difficult morning shoot on Vik beach in south Iceland.  I can't describe just how challenging it was to even get any shots off without your lens instantly being covered in rain, snow or hail - assuming if you could stand still in the gales first!  Lots of storms came and passed; this was a brief interval in between them and a very large wave gave me the chance to pull off the shot I was waiting for, with water streaming back over the rocks on the black sand beach and the tripod miraculously staying firm for 1.3 seconds!

Breaking storm on Vik black sand beach, Iceland

The evening at Vik was spent trying to get a different perspective on the usual scenes and led to a hard slog up a large hill when the initial plan of driving up in a Humvee didn't pan out!  here I should say thanks to Callum and the guys from Tinged Memories Photography for giving it a go - good to meet you all!  We were running back down the hill to escape yet another hailstorm when suddenly this vista opened up and the balance between day and night was just right to capture the light trails through the town and out into the distance.

Car light trails as twilight descends on Vik in south Iceland

A few more photos now from other assorted parts of the trip - Icelandic churches are famed for their beauty and simplicity - hopefully this shot captures that nicely.  

Church in western Iceland looking out across the sea during an overcast day

During one particularly bad snowstorm (whiteout conditions) while driving in the north, I just had to stop and photograph the pylons going into the distance.  They were about the only feature that could be seen!

Electricity pylons during a snowstorm, north Iceand

Finally here's a scene I really loved - the famous plane wreck of a US Navy Douglas R4D-8 aircraft that ditched here in the 1970s.  While usually crawling with tourists, the truly awful conditions that day meant that they were not out in force, allowing me some space and time to capture it (using a nice deep lens hood!) and also use the spontaneous puddles and streams to enhance the depth of the scene and reflect the light.  You can hardly tell from the picture but there's almost horizontal rain!  I think the gloomy conditions reflect well the feeling of abandonment you feel where there.

Plane wreck of Douglas D4D-8 number 17171 abandoned on south Icelandic beach

So there we have it - twelve photos that sum up a huge and quite exhausting trip but a very enjoyable one that I won't forget in a hurry.  Despite the increasing numbers of photographers in the country, even during the winter months, I feel like I put my own stamp on the photos and took my style further along the journey.  I rarely look at many photos of locations that I visit, for this reason, else I may end up being drawn to what other people have done.  It's impossible not to have seen photos of Kirkjufell before, for example, but I'm happy that I got there and used the conditions on the day to make my own images.  I would have liked some spectacular sunsets - or even any sunsets - but maybe next time!