Brian Rueb, Day 7
We woke in a random campground, as was becoming the norm for our nomadic lifestlye. I broke down my tent, Adam sat his seat back upright (he slept in the drivers seat each night), and like that we were off again.
We made a brief stop in Reykjavik for fuel, food, and to check the weather before heading out towards the coastal town of Vik, our destination for photography that evening. We stopped briefly in a small town along the route at another campground where we showered, and had more ice cream. One thing I had learned during my previous trip was where the showers and ice cream were located in most every town along the main road.
You may not know this, but spending as much time in a car as we did takes a toll on your body. The lack of changes of clothes and severe lack of amenities make the whole vehicle smell like an infected foot. That smell abosorbs into your very essence, partly becuase you’re responsible for the odor, but also becuase you spend so much time in the car you can’t help but soak it up. When you do get out of the ca,r you’re walking in and rolling around on the dirt and ocean trying to make photographs...this adds another level of dirt, stink, and grime to you. You absolutely have to bathe at some point...
Showers are amazing. When the water is heated geothermally as it is in Iceland, you never run out of hot water. Funny, but some showers actually run low on cold water. I think I actually prefer the shock of a shower that runs out of hot water. Boiling is not fun.
The coastal town of Vik has numerous opportunities for landscape photography. There are iconic sea stacks, arches, black sand beaches, rustic churches surrounded by fields of lupine, and giant walls of hexogonal basalt. There’s enough to photograph here to spend 3-4 days easily. We were going to try and do it in one night.
We started first at the famous black sand beach and the interesting Reynisdrangar sea stacks there. The seat stacks are iconic, and resemble a ship made of rock. Legend goes that a giant troll was dragging a large schooner to land when the sun came up and turned the whole mess to stone. We walked the beach looking for something to make our compositions. Unfortunately, the beach was void of any interesting rocks to use for a foreground, and by our best guess the more impressive clouds were going to be in another direction. We qucikly loaded back into the Ford and set off for a different part of the area, Dyrhólaey, a 300 foot tall cliff and archway with a lighthouse on the top.
We drove down a rough dirt road to the other side of the huge cliff where we found a small rocky cove to shoot. The waves action in this tiny cove was stellar, and a bit scary. The interesting rock formations were very slick with seaweed and water - to avoid being accidently swept into the churning sea Adam and I climbed up a nearby shelf to a higher vantage point. This not only gave us a safer (and drier) place to shoot, but it also gave us more speration in our images between the rocky outcroppings and the sea cliffs in the distance. The sunset was fabulous, and we both came away with a few keepers from our precarious perch on the cliffs. I ventured down to the edge of the rocks once to try some interesting exposures with a clorser foreground; unfortunately, being so close compromised the vantage of the background cliffs, and also nearly got me swept to sea by a large wave. I was much better off up high.
When we left the rocky cove it was time to drive to the top of the cliff to photograph the view of the iconic archway in the area, as well as the local lighthouse. The drive up the road was rough. Iceland paves the main roadways around the country and in the cities. Once you venture off of those you’re on your own with the dirt. The view from the top was worth the teeth-rattling drive. The time I spent on the edge trying to photograph the arch was not. Why is it that the good views in Iceland seem to be RIGHT on the edge of death drops. I mean DEATH DROP. There’s no, “maybe I could grab a rock or a root and stop my fall.“ IF you fell it’s STRAIGHT down.
I’m always a bit relieved when I’m done photographing anything on the edge of a cliff. Surviving is almost better than any image I could possibly come away with. I’m amazed I’m able to even compose images when I’m on the edge.
On the way down the cliff we noticed a great reflection of the cliffside in a tidal pool. Another stop. When the light is so impressive, and the landcscapes equally or more so, you could literally be stopping to photograph every mile. Some days it felt like we did.
One hour later we were on our way west, and the light was still decent so we made a stop at Seljalandsfoss, one of the more iconic southern waterfalls. During this time of year the hillside surrounding the falls is covered in purple and yellow flowers. We chose these flowers as foregrounds for our images, and set up shots to try to incorporate them as best we could. Even though the flowers were new to me, the location was no,t and I found the effort I put into capturing images at this location was minimal because I was already very fond of the images from the previous year.
One of the biggest downfalls for me professionally is my lack of ability to continue to shoot a location when I have past images I consider top notch from a location. It cripples me. Sometimes I don’t even go out.
“This isn’t going to be as good as (insert time) I couldn’t possibly get anything that would compare, shooting is a waste of my time.“
Really I’m trying to push myself to continually learn. Try different exposures, depth of field, compositions, etc. Which is why I even went out at Seljalandsfoss. The sunset I had on my first trip was so good. There aren’t many times (even in Iceland) where conditions are that good. I tried to practice on different exposures and depths of field to try and blend them in post-processing to remove motion blur due to the wind. Even though I know how to do it, I can always learn. Granted, I didn’t stay out long, I was back in the car within an hour waiting for Adam - but I did go, which is a start.
We ended our first week driving to Gulfoss, probably the most visited waterfall in Iceland. The goal was to make it there by sunrise. We’d spent 5 hours that night photographing already, and with any luck after a couple more hours in the car we’d be photographing again...
That’s a week in my life. It was the first of two weeks in Iceland. The second week required similar effort. We kept at it as solid the second week as we had the first. There wasn’t a night where we weren’t out photographing. It was exhausting. I slept in a tent most nights, got up early, went to bed well after midnight each night. We drove over 4300 miles during our two-week stay and photographed nearly 60 hours. There were very few times we weren’t shooting, or driving to somewhere to shoot. It was all worth it.
The photography process is different for everyone, depending on their subject, dedication, and personality. I don’t always have the opportunity to be in the field solid for weeks at a time, but when I do I make the most of every moment.
Brian Rueb is a professional landscape photographer and lead instructor at the Aperture Academy in California (www.apertureacademy.com) In addtion to the numerous workshops he teaches in the United States, he’s also teaching a workshop in Iceland the summer of 2012 where his group will visit many of the places described int he passages you just read. He is also working on a full length book from his previous trip as well as several other photographic projects. He lives in Northern California with his wife, 2 kids, and 3 dogs. You can follow him on twitter, facebook, or his website http://brianruebphotography.com