Looking back: The Land of Ice and Fire

Ever since I came back to the UK from Malaysia last December I've been busy with researching and catching up with my dissertation topic and report, so I sort of took a break from photography for the past few months.

It's also time for a very very long overdue post... despite the delay I feel I should continue on with this post as I've promised myself to keep this blog up to date whenever I travelled to a different country.

Last year November I received an invitation from a friend to join a tour to Iceland with his family. Usually I won't be too keen on joining in a huge group for travelling, as I usually go solo or at most a partner or two, makes everything easier and more freedom towards my planning (usually photography related). 

However this is also probably my only chance of getting to Iceland (at least for now), so it's an offer hard to resist. I took the whole trip as a first hand experience on Iceland, taking note of the transportation options and other useful information for when I return in the future.

The whole tour took 5 days 4 nights, with planning sorted by my friend's sister so I won't go into details. Basically it's a self guided tour with 2 hired cars, all the way from the capital Reykjavik travelling eastward on the southern part of Iceland. 

Just a small part of Iceland... very small

Since there's not much to talk about the planning I'll jump straight to the few attractions I've been to and stuffs I've done along the way:-

Seljalandsfoss

Probably one of the most famous and photogenic of all waterfalls in Iceland. Unfortunately the weather was really bad on that day, so there's not much I could capture. It's getting really wet so we didn't spend much time here either, I'm the only one who get to walk around towards the back of the waterfall. Sunset here is gonna be amazing.... maybe next time.

 

Reynisfjara (Black Sand Beach), Vik

The coolest beach in the world, and also one of the most dangerous despite it's beauty.

There's a cliff with very tall basalt columns called Gardar, where most tourist will loiter around and also a cave just behind. Not many are aware that waves can actually reach the columns and cave at its strongest, and the waves do get strong most of the time! There's also a term called "sneaker waves", meaning a large wave that could appear without warning from a wave packet. Not much can be done if you get caught in these waves even if you're a strong swimmer, the rough and icy water will kill. The latest reported death is on Jan 2017

Weather was still very bad on that day (Day 1), we just left Seljalandsfoss like an hour or two ago hoping the weather would improve but luck wasn't on our side. Still, it's much more manageable to photograph compared to the waterfall as the fog and light rain gave a little mysterious aura to the whole scene, sort of something like a scene from Lost World or Jurassic Park. 

The mentioned cave seen here, there's another one at the back of the cliff

It's actually alright to take one of the black pebbles as souvenir, never saw any restrictions for it

Really strong waves, this girl here is taking a huge risk 

Gadar, the famous basalt columns

The basalt sea stacks far ahead are called Reynisdrangar. Local legend says there were two trolls pulling a three-mast ship to the shore unsuccessfully, and were caught by the sunlight at dawn turning them into stone

Another risk taker....

There's a cliff nearby where you can climb to the top for a birds eye view of the beach, again because of time constraints and weather I never got there.

 

Jökulsárlón (Glacier Lagoon)

It's day 2 now, and lucky for us the weather is much better compared to yesterday. We actually had a very clear morning as we set for the first destination of the day - Jökulsárlón, the famous glacier lagoon in Iceland. 

Another hotspot during Winter season in Iceland, but make sure you come with suitable and sufficient clothing as it can get really freezing cold! You can walk along the coast around the lagoon where you can find shards and chunks of ice on the beach which is kinda similar to black sand beach. I've heard that the further you go down the better the view, but I only make it through like half way or less because of limited time.

You can also purchase ticket for a boat tour into the lagoon, it's the only option to get close to the icebergs. Not sure how much was it but we didn't opt for it, I'll probably go for it in the future.

You can find ice of different shapes and sizes along the beach

Trying out my new ND8 filter, not too bad but was hoping for extra time for more shots

More ice

There's a small hill where you could walk up and look out towards the lagoon

Icebergs formed from the nearby glacier

The morning sun rises, good day for all the photographers and tourists 

Generally a very photogenic spot but again, entirely up to the weather (as with every single location in Iceland). If you're lucky enough you get to see the Aurora here at night as well.

 

Along the way...

Everyone who've been to Iceland will probably say it's a must to have a hired car, instead of relying on tour groups with a few exceptions. 

Iceland is such a beautiful place (if you're into nature especially) it's not only the tourist hotspots that will draw attention. Driving along the only major highway you'll mostly come across scenes that will prompt you to either drive slower or pick a safe stop at the side of the road for a few snaps. 

It's also this reason not many would recommend visiting Iceland during the peak Winter season as heavy snowstorm could render certain parts of the highway inaccessible. 

Perfect for a roadtrip

You'll occasionally drive past sheeps and horses of Iceland, which are mostly easier to photograph. They even have an official website and Instagram!

The perfect weather for the perfect roadtrip

You'll drive past some moss fields as well. Not really a tourist attraction per se, but features in lots of photographer's portfolio

A random hut that we came accross. There's many more along the whole stretch of highway, some with even better surroundings and scenary

 

Gullfoss

Another waterfall in Iceland, noted for it two tier drop and powerful current.

To be honest I don't find this waterfall as photogenic as the rest, maybe it's the weather again or I'm just not looking hard enough for alternative viewpoints and angles. I've seen pictures that it'll look nicer during Spring, Summer and late Winter when the water completely froze.

The morning sunlight breaks the cover of rain clouds, illuminating the water mist resulting from the powerful current

 

Geysir Hot Springs

Geysir derived from the Icelandic term geysa meaning "to rush",  whilst the English word Geyser derives from Geysir. 

Geysir is the tallest geyser in Iceland but it erupted much less frequently in recent years due to decreased volcanic activity. The whole area which we visit here is called the Geysir Hot Springs, although we don't get to see the actual Geysir.

There's a few geyser located in this field, in which you'll also get a strong scent of sulphur. 

Litli Geysir... literally meaning Little Geysir. Cute

There's also a few hot springs on the field, but they get really hot so don't try to dip yourself into it

Strokkur geyser erupting from a distance, humans as scale. This is probably the most famous geyser in Iceland due to it's frequent eruption and height. Not as tall as the original Geysir but still pretty tall. It's a pretty impressive sight considering it's all resulting from natural force.

Strokkur on dormant state before or after erupting

Strokkur on dormant state before or after erupting

Hot steam coupled with the morning sun gave a unique mood and scene to this place

While you're here, do check out the souvenir store located in the visitor centre. Remember to grab some fresh air if that's your thing.... 

 

Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa

I'm usually not a fan of places or attraction that's too "touristic" (if that's the word?) due to several reasons, usually because of the commercialization and marked up prices. However the Blue Lagoon despite falling into such category is still a place I would recommend visiting if you happen to be in Iceland, infact I don't mind paying a second visit in the future.

The hot spring itself isn't actually natural but the water being blue is, due to the mineral compounds. You'll need to book a ticker in advance otherwise be prepared to join a long queue at the visitor centre depending on period. The standard ticket costs 5400 ISK (around £40 or 46 EUR), which includes entry and also a silica mud mask service. There's also comfort, premium and luxury tier tickets with more goodies included. Towel is not included with the standard ticket but you can rent one easily. 

The water is really blue

It's actually pretty damm relaxing to soak in the hot spring during the colder periods of Iceland eg: late Autumn, Winter. I enjoyed the time here despite being sceptical at first. Although I'm still skeptical with the reported benefits of the mineral compound in the water (helps with curing certain skin diseases apparently) I actually find the included silica mud mask pretty good, I could feel some difference with my skin after washing it off. Was tempted to buy a bottle for use but it was too expensive for a budget tourist like me. Yes they have their own cosmetic brand selling face masks and other skin products, most of them made using minerals found in the area.  

There's also a restaurant, hotel and spa service available but be ready to spend a lot.

 

Aurora Hunting

We spent the last 2 nights in Iceland on Aurora hunting but luck was not on our side. We actually had a pretty good chance into experiencing one but unfortunately left that area due to the planning. On the last night itself there's actually weak activity and the Aurora is present, but its too weak that the human eye won't be able to view it, and the surrounding light pollution made it worse. Your best chance is to set up a tripod and use your camera for long exposure. 

From what I could say after this first hand experience, getting to see the Aurora is all down to luck. By luck I mean literally the weather in Iceland or more specifically the area you're residing for Aurora hunting. Honestly there's nothing more can be done, the clearer the sky the better your chance of getting to witness the phenomenom. Some would argue the online activity monitor helps as well but it's just more or less a guide since it's not a 100% guarantee, I've read stories from people who saw the Aurora during nights where prediction is at it's weakness. 

Some also argue that there's a higher chance for the Aurora to happen in the Northen part of Iceland (it's called the Northen Lights afterall). I do feel there's one thing you can do if you want to guarantee a view - stay as long as possible in Iceland. 4 nights is honestly a really short period of time and we could've been really lucky to be able to catch a sight on such short period of time. Maybe a week or more could've been ideal.... and that's up to my future planning.

 

That's pretty much it for 5 days in Iceland. On the last day before flying off we spent the morning in the town of Reykjavik. Nothing much to see here but there's a few local specialties around such as food and culture related stuffs. The cathedral in the centre is worth visiting, pretty interesting architecture if you're into that topic. 

I'm actually pretty lucky since my friend have a relative who's into photography as much as I am, otherwise I don't think I'll have that much opportunities for pictures in this post. 

A very beautiful country as many had said, and I'll definitely be back in the future, hopefully soon enough. 


From here on I'll be very busy with the last few months of my course, so I don't expect to post anything photography related soon (or perhaps not as frequent). Currently I'm looking forward to a long trip planned for June to Spain, Portugal and Morocco, hopefully it pan out according to plan. Until then, take care and hope you enjoy the read!


Gear - Sony a7 + Sony Vario-Tessar T* 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS
Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge

Post processing - Capture One Pro 9