Landscape

European Travels: 48 Hours Photographing Iceland

I want to start off apologizing to my regular readers for no general post last month, I had my hands full finishing up the edits to bring you this!  Sadly I have not shot terribly much this month either but will have another full location post on the way as well as another Okinawan Adventures throwback hopefully so you can look forward to that.

 

Moving forward lets cover some basics of this trip and how I came to spend a weekend in one of the most beautiful countries I have visited so far first.  A good friend who I met on my trip to Taiwan contacted me at the beginning of August and stated that he would be traveling to Iceland at the end of the month for 5 or so days.  I was ecstatic, Iceland was near the top if not at the top of my must see while living in Europe list!  However, due to some tight manning constraints, I was only able to go up for a weekend during his time up.  

I quickly asked if it would be ok if that while I was in country we rent a 4x4 to free us up and lessen the costs of the trip by just sleeping rough in the jeep.  Carsten had no issues with it and even hooked us up with a discount on one due to working for an airline!  I also got ahold of another photographer friend from Okinawa who is stationed in the UK now to tell him about the opportunity and see if he would be up to split the jeep costs with us and go on the trip.  Cody was quick to say yes and so began my planning process.

I knew what I wanted to see and I knew everyone else would be happy to see even half of my list so as usual I just kinda took over the agenda and planning aspect.  I think you guys will really approve of the amount we managed to cover in honestly a little less than 48hours time in Iceland.

As soon as we hit the ground we were on the move.  Carsten had arrange the rental company to grab us at the airport and to meet us there so after a quick reunion / introduction we were off to grab a pretty decent Toyota Rav4.  I think we paid 300 Euro for the two days we had it so not terribly bad considering how expensive everything else was, and fuel turned out not to be much above costs in the UK even if that is still significantly higher than my American standards!  Once we got the car and loaded our gear I punched in the first location and we were off.

 

Blue Lagoon

 

Blue Lagoon was a must hit, it's one of the most talked about spots in Iceland and is right on the way to anything else due to its proximity to the airport.  Maybe a 20min drive at most!  I will side with the rumors stating that this is most likely caused by the factory nearby but that doesnt take away from how alien and cool the area is!  The milky teal water, the rigid and barren earth surrounding it.  Blue Lagoon is worth the stop, Plan ahead if you want to use the spa area as its pretty popular and full of tourists!  All these shots were taken in the surrounding no-charge area so don't be off-put that you have to pay to see some of it, there is still plenty to check out without paying the cover fee.
 

After walking around and snapping some shots for twenty to thirty minutes we decided to head off as the drive to the next spot, Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, would be a bit on the long side.  We did stop more than a few times however and did plenty of shooting out of the car along the way.  unfortunately, most of the shots did not turn out due to getting hit with some Icelandic weather along the way!  

A stop at some beach café will always come to mind when telling this story though.  Perched on one of the famous black sand beaches Iceland is talked about for the café really had the spirit of all the other stops.  Small, and to its self out in the middle of nowhere, but beautiful and full of friendly folks.  The co-owner was actually American, having met her spouse after moving to Australia to teach folks how to surf.  Talk about a turn of events with her now living in Iceland!  I suppose she does still live on the beach though and seemed very happy to be living the simple life.  I loved the roof of the café it was styled like the bottom of a boat and was really brought a lot of life into the building.

 

Seljalandsfoss

 
 
 

Seljalandsfoss is right off the road, you can literally see it from a mile or so off if your looking!  The Saddest part about these falls is they are popular and the buses will take you here so expect a crowd.  That being said the crowds are not massive and most folks respect that this is nature and seem to be doing a really good job of keeping things nice or the locals are doing a great job keeping things cleaned up!  Either way awesome job, nice to see things given some respect.  The falls are pretty impressive.  Rather large and as most waterfalls in Iceland very picturesque.  The main highlight of Seljalandsfoss is that you can walk in behind the falls and I highly recommend doing so.  Just be prepared to get a little wet!  From Seljalandsfoss we headed to number two on my list Skógafoss!  luckily now we were in the area around Vik so most of the following stops are not too much of a drive until we headed to Haifoss that night!  Something to think about if planning your own trip.

 

Skógafoss

 

Walking up to Skógafoss is awe-inspiring.  You see this waterfall everywhere, its fame alone is enough to make you stop and appreciate that somehow you have come to be standing in front of this beautiful piece of Earth in life.  It really does just force a moment of self reflection on you.  The falls themselves are incredible and actually rather hard to photograph due to folks rushing up to take selfies or just bask in the spray.  What really surprised me though was that there is a path leading up to the top and beyond.  The view from the top is almost as beautiful with is mountainous backdrop and well worth the stop.  This is another must see if you plan to visit Iceland, no trip would be complete without it.  If you can or at least are the type there is a wonderful campsite nearby just at the base full of some wonderful traveler types.

 
 

Solheimasandur Plane Wreck (DC-3)

 

Another popular sight but unpopular stop in Iceland is the US Navy DC-3 crash.  I got so much hate for having us stop here!  I think it was mostly because of the unplanned 4km walk out to the site (you used to be able to drive most the way up to it).  It was the last stop of day one and I will admit is not on my must hit list or even something I recommend unless your specifically interested in stuff like this but to me it was still worth it in general.  I got some cool shots of a genuinely historic place and who knows how long it will be left there!  The surrounding landscape was really wild as well, very flat open almost moonlike except for the awesome mountains way off in the distance!

 

After the DC-3 we had to make a choice,  Where did we want to wake up?  Did we want to start to circle back and sleep at Haifoss so that we could shoot it when we woke up and move to continue north to Kirkjufell for day two hitting whatever is on the way as we go?  We ended up going on this option but the other option was we continue on to Jökulsárlón waking up to the glaciers and spending the rest of day two backtracking to Gullfoss hitting sights like Fjaðrárgljúfur, Svartifoss  and Dverghamrar along the way.  I can't say I regret the option we took but I do really regret not having the time to do both!  I cant wait to make a return trip and spend a week so that I can see everything I want.  As you will see below there are worse places in the world than Haifoss to wake up.  It turned out to be an excellent start to the day.

 

Haifoss

 
 

Nothing like sleeping in a car and waking up to raindrops on the windshield when you were hoping to shoot sunrise over Haifoss.  The feeling of dread washed right over me, quickly however healed by the knowledge that I had an excuse to go back to sleep and wait out the rain.  When I woke up next it was around 830am, the jeep was significantly colder than when we shut our eyes during the night and the windshield had fogged totally over but I didn't hear any rain.  I grabbed my camera and put on some extra layers and opened the door of the jeep stepping out into some fierce wind.

As soon as I stepped out this was the view..  I was in shock.  The night before when we drove up it was pitch black so we had no real idea of what to expect.  I quickly woke the guys up and said you gotta check this out, its insane.  The area was so lush and green.  There were two massive falls roaring only acouple hundred meters from us.  I quickly grabbed the rest of my kit and got to work shooting!

 
 

Looking back I think this spot was my favorite, and funny enough it was a spot I just stumbled upon, most folks do not visit due to needing a 4x4 to get up to the area.  Sometimes places really surprise you I suppose.  I do regret not having the time to take the long trail down to the bottom of the falls and into the gorge, I am sure the views from the bottom of these falls with the huge walls of the gorge would be breathtaking..  I will return to Haifoss on my next trip for sure.

 

After warming up from shooting Haifoss we got headed on our way, next stop, the mighty Gullfoss.  On the way we decided some gloves would be a must and opted for the Icelandic wool variant at a gas station when fueling up for the first time.  Really impressed with the gloves honestly, they are super warm.  If you need a souvenir my recommendation goes to something out of Icelandic wool.  I got a scarf and some gloves.  Cody got a watch cap, gloves, socks, and even a poncho for his woman back home.  Carsten also opted for a pair of gloves if I remember correctly.

 

Gullfoss

 
 

The spray from Gullfoss travels far and wide.  From the moment you park at the falls its covering you and everything around you.  easily one of the hardest falls to photograph on the trip due to the massive amount of mist it throws off Gullfoss was a real treat and a real challenge.  I would say it makes the must see list for sure, I think its Iceland's second most powerful set of falls actually.  I love that you can walk right down onto the rock in the center of the falls as well.

 

Geysir park

 
 

Shortly after Gullfoss you can hit the Geysir park.  Maybe a twenty minute drive from Gullfoss it is worth a stop.  When we headed over we had no idea that the large geysir goes off almost every ten minutes so when we were walking up and it went off we all thought we might have missed it!  However, when the crowd stuck around and we started asking it became pretty clear we would have another chance to capture something like below.  The hill at the back of the park is really worth a climb as well.  It offers some amazing views of the park and surrounding area!  All around I would not say it is a must hit as some places in the highlands would be a much better treat but if your already at Gullfoss you should take the half an hour and stop.

 

The Road to Kirkjufell

 

After the Geysir park we had another long drive ahead of us. almost 3 hours actually.  Carsten was a huge champ and drove almost exclusively on the trip allowing us to snap photos out the windows along the way.  Luckily we were in Iceland so even the journey between major spots was incredible.  Horses and sheep littered our path to Kirkjufell.  Even more amazing was the weather on the trip up.  Not a single drop of rain and some really dramatic landscapes and lighting at times.. 

Just before stopping in the town of Grundarfjörður for some food we came across this incredible landscape.  It could have been a stop all on its own honestly.  We stopped the car and shot photos probably for close to ten or fifteen minutes, the way the light was playing across the road and the distant mountains was incredible.

 

Our next stop was a "pizzeria" in Grundarfjörður.  Carsten and Cody tried horse for the first time and we all had a beer before heading off to Kirkjufell.  Owner was really nice and the place was pretty quiet, Grundarfjörður is a really small but beautiful town, wouldn't mind going back someday.

 

Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellfoss

 

Kirkjufell or its nearby falls did not disappoint.  Well worth the drive up from the south especially when it was such a beautiful ride.  Before we even approached the mountain we were stopping to shoot some seascapes with the mountain, this actually lead to an amazing shot of a small cabin off the side of the road when I was returning to the car.  One of my favorite shots of the trip honestly.  The way the light ripped through the clouds and hit the cabin for just long enough to get the shot was incredible.

 
 

Once we got up to Kikjufellfoss the real fun began, when walking it it can be hard to picture in your head exactly how your going to get the falls in the shot but once your up on the falls and working the scene it becomes easier to put together.  Another awesome point about this location is that it is so far north a fair amount of tourists are not found and your left with just the more dedicated travelers or local photographers.  If you are traveling the ring road this is a must stop.  It was number one on my must see list and turned out to be second on the favorite locations for the trip list with Skógafoss coming in third just behind it and Haifoss being my top.

 

After Kikjufell we decided due to having some extra sunlight to drive around the peninsula and take the long way back to Reykjavík.  During that I decided to take the same approach I did in Scotland to avoid the glares on the window and stick half my body out the window and shoot as we drove down the road.  At least until Cody got worried and made me come back in after a few shots!

 

The Northern Lights

 

At some point during the drive the idea came up that with the skys looking clear we could skip a night out in Reykjavík and opt to stay up north until dark to shoot the milky way and then drive down to catch our flight out at 6am.  I had no issues with it so we found a beach parking space to rackout in until around midnight when it would be dark enough to shoot.  This turned out to be the best decision we would make the whole trip.  When we stepped out of the jeep you could see the Milky Way with your naked eye!  Even better shortly after waking up something absolutely astonishing happened.  The mountains in the distance began to light up and until the colors started to show we honestly thought they were distant city lights before giving the idea more thought and realizing there were not any cities this far north that would put off that much light.  For the next 30-45minutes we stood enjoying the most amazing show nature can put on, and even more wild this was in the summer time.  Everyone we had spoken to before the trip told us not to even consider planning for the northern lights as it would be nearly impossible yet here we were taking them in without any planning at all.  Sometimes lady luck shines her light it seems. 

 
 

Even better I was able to spice up one of the plane crash photos to make this kickass new wallpaper for myself!  Actually my fist time giving sky swaps a go but I think this turned out pretty fantastic!

 
 

Well that wraps up my time in Iceland.  I can't wait to go back and if this trip can be anything for my friends out there let it be a lesson not to let time or money constraints keep you from seeing the world and traveling to places far and wide.  That is not an excuse.  I did all of this for less than 400 US and without even two full days in the country.  Stop blaming everything and everyone else for your failure to push your dreams.  This applies outside of travel to many of you!  I realize I cut some costs by splitting things with friends and generally roughing it but sometimes that is what you have to do.  It wont always be easy or this amazing but at the end of the day you will always have the experience.  

 

To my fellow dream chasers and avid travelers keep it up and I hope to see you around soon!  Hopefully if you have not been to Iceland yet this can be some help to you or inspire you to put it on your list.  if you have been I am already building a hit-list for more week long return trip next year in the summer when the days are longer.  Send your recommendations or get ahold of me if you might wanna rough it in a jeep with me!

European Travels: Oxford, London, Manchester, Dover, Bath and more!

So I have been living in Europe / England for three months now!  With that I have noticed a fair few of the places I visit here really could never provide enough for a whole blog post.   Given that I have come up with the idea of loading up a highlight reel of the travels and shoots I do in a given month.  This will keep content on the blog steady with monthly posts as well as allow me to showcase some smaller day trips that I have been doing!  Bigger trips will still warrant their own posts so if you like that don't worry I will still be doing those as well.
 

I think I have visited London the most in the past few months, either to link up with friends for drinks, pick up camera gear, or to shoot the city.  Most of these shots were snapped down at the riverside near the Shard, probably one of the most photographed areas of London next to Big Ben.  I however did get some great shots of Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace while walking the streets on my first trip.

Something else I have spent a lot of time doing is sitting on trains and driving across the country.  Typically this can leave me pretty bored playing with the camera on the train or at the station.  Luckily with these shots I managed to capture something nice!  The image on the top left was snapped on my way into london, and the ones to the right and bottom left were captured traveling to Scotland out of Kings Cross.

I have noticed that London and european cities in general have a wild amount of street performance compared to most US cities.  It really helps bring the cities to life and can make walking around them so much more enjoyable so if you see them out there be sure to throw some change their way, some do it for fun and others rely on that small amount of income.  The top pano image is of a sand dog and its mastermind.  The man standing created a super realistic sculpture from sand right there on the street!  I almost didn't even realize it was not a real dog!  The bottom two images were snapped with the 135 but both are in the same band playing some really nice tunes in Piccadilly Circus.  So happy I was able to catch their gaze for a shot.

Another day trip to London for some Chipotle landed me this image.  It really is nothing special but I loved the messege the guy was trying to send, spending his day out standing next to a subway entrance holding this sign "you are beautiful".  A little bit can go a long way and in a world filled with negativity it was really nice to see someone spending their time reminding people to be a little more positive.  A lot of people coming into the station took notice of him and every time it instantly brought a smile to their faces.. 

Both the images below were captured near Carnaby.  Massive shopping area for sure and I really loved the big plaza that I managed to stumble into.  However some really good food and souvenirs can be had by staying out of the storefronts and having a chat with some of the local stands or trucks like the one pictured below.

Swapping locations to something a little more local to me, Oxford is one of the other places I keep going back to.  With the english weather it can be a bit hard to get stunning images in the city but I have managed a few pictured below.  The first image is of the Radcliffe Camera building.  Probably one of if not the most photographed buildings in Oxford but still a really cool building to check out while in the city.  Be sure to hit the Turf Tavern nearby if you can find it as well, it has quite a lot of history and is a great place for a pint.  Speaking of pints if you are looking to check out another old pub give The Bear Inn a go, and bring a tie.

If street photography Is your thing then I must say Oxford is a perfect place to spend a day.  Tons of beer gardens, alleys and people walking about to fill up a portfolio.  Grab your camera, some money and go out for a day shooting and drinking!  Most of the images were captured just wondering the streets however the top image was a planned stop, the dungeon / castle in Oxford is worth stopping by and does offer a nearby hilltop view of the town.  Also if you are looking to see some of oxfords many spires, take a walk over the The Varsity Club and grab a pint or cocktail on the roof!

Staying local and not far at all from Oxford is Blenheim Palace.  This 18th century palace built to celebrate the victory over the French in the War of the Spanish Succession has a lot to offer on its grounds.  You can also tour the inside of the palace but I have yet to take the time to do so even after two trips walking the large estate.  Something else to note is that the palace was the birthplace of Winston Churchill and the estate has more than a few monthly events always scheduled.  If you have not been down yet and live locally I really recommend it! 

The images below are all of just the palace its self.  The palace has more than a few courtyards, fountains, and small private gardens and is kept in wonderful condition.  The rear fountain area facing the pond is the best part of it all however.  With 5 massive fountains on the higher portion and even more on the lower end leading to the pond it really is amazing to take in.  Now as grand and beautiful as it is my favorite part of the area are the grounds themselves.

The grounds are massive and would be a wonderful place for a morning or afternoon jog.  Also rain or shine you can almost always find folks enjoying a nice picnic on the grass here.  The bridge from the palace to the victory pillar from across the pond is one of the better views in the area as well as the small waterfall and pump room at the very back.  I have yet to take my lee filters out for the waterfall or go inside the palace to do some interior work so this will for sure not be the last you see of this location from me.

Another amazing city I managed to visit in the past few months was Manchester!  The city has a lot going on and the cathedral was a real highlight as it was my first one ever stepping in.  It was shocking to see how well all the stained glass was kept and the ceilings have been an always impressive work of art.

Not to far off as the more modern shopping areas where I gave taco bell outside the US a try for the first time and picked up a pint glass at the hard rock for my growing collection.  I did manage to snag a few cool shots of the escalators, skylights and a popular intersection near the entrance to The Printworks.  I will say that the football museum was a pretty big let down though!

From The Printworks we headed off to the city council plaza where I managed one ok shot.  The plaza is rather large and expansive so it was pretty hard to capture.  We also tried to check out the library before heading through chinatown and hitting a park for golden hour.  I really love how well used the parks in Europe are, people actually go out and lay in the grass like it is a beach.  Reading, talking with friends, having a picnic or even napping you will always find folks using a cities parks in Europe.  The images pretty much go in order of how we traveled with the large circular building being the library.

The last stop in Manchester was to a more modern area of town down by the river called Media City and it is one area I can't wait to return to for sunset.  Media City and the Lowry Hotel are both on my list for my next trip up to the town as I didn't get enough of the area with these shots before time and light ran out!

My final places are Anyhoe, West Illsey, Dover, and Bath.  With Anyhoe and the shots of the country near West Illsey being small but very rewarding trips I am going to start with them before going on to the final two larger locations!  Anyhoe is a small english countryside town not even a 15 minute drive from my home.  But it does have Anyhoe park and some wonderful picturesque english countryside. 

I started this trip on the way to Banbury for some food but after driving through and spotting Anyhoe Park I decided to stop and ended up spending a few hours of my day there.  The large jacobean home is usually closed or gated up but do to a Ford event the grounds were open for exploration.  The home is absolutely breathtaking an absolute symbol of wealth and power without question.  The front features a large roundabout with the rear facing a large open yard.  I would happily spend a day capturing all of the crazy interior so if anyone wants to grant me a press pass reading this feel free!  After walking around the home for a few hours it was near sunset and I ended up running through town to get to a field full of sheep I had spotted on the drive in to capture the wonderful sunset you see at the very bottom.

Another day spent out capturing the english countryside lead me down to a small town called West Ilsley.  Besides grabbing a pint of cider at the pub the town didn't offer much but the rolling hills all around it were fantastic.

Next up is Dover!  Obviously the trip was planned to go capture the famous white cliffs.  However the city did have a bit more to offer and I will have to make a return trip to see the castle up close due to my arrival being a bit on the late side.  Although I did get to check out the Western Heights and capture a nice little landscape of the town from there before driving home.  Back to the cliffs though, they do not disappoint.  I was really worried that they would be full of people due to the fame they have acquired but that was not the case.  Walking the cliffs was one of the more calming trips I have taken around the UK and is extremely enjoyable.  I also managed to get really lucky with an amazing clear golden hour for my time there.

Last but certainly not least for this post is Bath!  I spent the entire day in this city and still could have found more things to love.  The river that runs right through it is absolutely stunning in some places.  The roman baths although crowded are still a very worth while experience to check out and will not disappoint.  I also recommend making the trek up to Alexandra Park for the amazing views of the city.  I really do wish I had not went hiking through the hills and had just stayed there for sunset as I ended up being in the wrong angle and to far from the city later.

Although the sunset shot did not turn out to be what I really wanted I did manage to capture these nice images of the countryside around Bath because I was scouting for a location to shoot the sunset from!

Well I apologize for the lengthy post and if you were hoping it would keep going on forever then I will see you back next month for The August images!  Travel will be a hair light this coming month due to the stolen camera scenario that lead to me swapping to the Fuji X system.  So far I am really happy with it and some of these images were captured with the Fuji if you can tell the difference I would be impressed!  If you do enjoy my work then do your part to help me keep traveling and give this post a share, like, retweet, review, offer up some comments or critisisms, tell your families, buy a print, donate some spare change do whatever you can!  Thank you again for stopping in, come back next month for more!