Glacier, Bergs, Lagoon and Ocean
Due to changes in plans by some prospective group members, there are a few remaining openings on the Iceland photography tour Markéta Kalvachová and I will be leading this coming July. This is a small group event, and represents a great blend of instructors, locations, travel plans and compact group size! If Iceland is a destination you’ve been thinking about, act now to reserve a spot on this event. We will be closing registrations shortly. See my tour announcement post or contact me for details.
In this post, I’m showing three compositions taken at a location we definitely will be visiting in July. Jökulsárlón is one of the justifiably famous photography spots along the south coast of Iceland. Originally extending right into the Atlantic Ocean, the nearby Breiðamerkurjökull glacier has been receding rapidly for the past few decades, as is the case with most glaciers on earth. As the glacier retreated from the ocean’s edge, a meltwater lagoon was formed — Jökulsárlón, now the deepest lake on Iceland. It’s increasing in size as the glaciers continue to melt; at some point in the future, the current lagoon will have become a fjord.
While that change in the geography is playing out, those of us who visit Jökulsárlón now can marvel at craggy mountains covered in ancient glacial ice hundreds of meters thick, as the backdrop for a collection of mini icebergs floating in the lagoon. Either milky white or ice-cold blue in color, the strange shapes of the bergs are in constant flux. New bergs calve off the face of the glacier while the existing ones melt, tumble over or are pushed around by the action of the water. When the bergs get small enough, they wash out through the lagoon’s outlet, down to a beach of black sand and pebbles, and from there out to the Atlantic. Many iconic photos of ice amidst the tidewater on the black beach have been shown over the years; it’s striking subject matter, to be sure.
Even with an iconic location, what if you’re only able to visit it for a limited amount of time, and the light or weather conditions are perhaps not the ideal setup you had in your mind’s eye? There are those who would say that if you can’t shoot the location under magnificent light during fantastic conditions, then there’s practically no point in being there. I’ve literally stood beside people who have barely been motivated to take their cameras out of their packs under conditions like what I’m showing here.
With all due respect to each photographer’s choice in their own style, I say “humbug!” to the attitude that only “glorious light” is worth shooting in. I actually, honestly and truly believe there is no bad light. The trick is in realizing that while we’re working with light, as photographers, we’re not working only with light! As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the goal of the creative photographer is to meld all 3 elements of subject, composition and light to produce something he or she feels is worth looking at.
Often times I find that glorious light can be something of a glorious crutch for creative work; it’s easy to be seduced by the light and forget the other important elements of powerful image-making. Oh, don’t get me wrong — I seek and will photograph in great light, for sure. It’s just that I try to use any and all light the rest of the time as well. When a scene is exploding with mind-blowing light, even the newest beginner behind the lens could probably snapshoot something interesting to look at. The creatively determined (or is it determinedly creative?) photographer takes conditions that are apparently less than ideal, and just gets to work making something happen.
In this case, I did my usual approach of shooting my way into the scene. The day was overcast on our sole visit to Jökulsárlón; there was a chill & blustery wind, and on the surface the situation looked drab and uninteresting. Still, I knew there would be compositions worth getting. I photographed a lot of different setups, most of them with a longer telephoto zoom lens. Some of the compositions showed a grander view, others concentrated on details. I was trying for several things, but there were some common threads — I was using the overcast conditions, which meant generally low contrast, to emphasize the shocking blue of the glacial ice and to play with slower shutter speeds to blur the water motion. And whether I went with color or black & white, I was looking for subjects & compositions where the slate-grey conditions worked with the mood I wanted to reflect, rather than against it.
In the end, as is usually true, most of what I shot went to the cutting room floor. But these 3 (and perhaps a couple of others that I’m still considering) were a pleasant validation that a creative photographer almost never lacks for something to do, as long as the focus is on balancing subject, composition and light. And of course, it goes without saying… I’ll happily work the scene again on every return trip!
You’re welcomed to join Markéta and me on our Icelandic Summer Light photo tour and take your own approach to iconic Jökulsárlón. 🙂
When you encounter conditions that look bad, what do you do? Do you scout, do you pull out a book & read, or go back to the hotel? Or do you dive into the scene and look for a different approach to it that works with the conditions at hand? If the latter, how do you go about making creative alternatives happen?