Photographing Iceland

[pullquote align=”left”]Before my wife, her parents, and I went to Iceland, I was foaming at the mouth for the photographic opportunities. Oh,the landscapes that I might be able to get on film (well, on a memory card, to be exact)! [/pullquote]I had seen pictures upon pictures of the “Northern Lights” or the Aurora Borealis, a magnificent “natural light show” caused by excited protons and electrons interacting with the earth’s magnetic field. The vast, untouched lands from Kolbeinsey, Eyjafjörður to Vík, Vestur-Skaftafellssýsla were just a click-of-the-shutter away.

While landing around 10PM local time, our plane was greeted with 45MPH winds.  It felt like larger-than-life Vikings were rocking the plane back and forth like a  ride at the state fair. After nearly falling face first while walking to the cab because of gusting winds, we made it to our guesthouse in Keflavik. All I saw were dark, wet roads. I was anxious for the morning light to really see what Iceland had to offer.

During the summer, being so close to the North Pole, Iceland has almost 24 hours of daylight. Yet, in winter, you’re lucky to get six or seven good hours. Since we went in early February, the sun came up around 10AM and slowly started to fade around  5PM. Countless photographers swear by the endless summer daylight; you can shoot whenever the urge comes. With this trip, however, I didn’t have that luxury.

Iceland lived up to its name with ice and snow blanketing the earth from side to side, with only  glimpses of dirt and rock where the active volcanoes underneath the ground melted the white away.

Living in South Korea, I had never had much opportunity to take pictures where everything was only white. In Iceland, though, there were times while we were driving when the only thing you could see was white. The only thing we could see was a color.  Driving at only 30kmh seemed too fast at times, because my eyes had a hard time adjusting to the sun reflecting off the white tundra. Once, we decided to stop on the side of the road to see some Icelandic horses up close. What at first seemed like a simple snapshot, turned into a tough task. The horses wouldn’t stay still, and the bright white snow made the pictures easy to overexpose. The snow was near impossible to capture with my camera. It was so bright, I could only expose for either my main subject or the background.  A camera’s aperture (the opening that opens and closes to let light in) can’t “see” as much as our eyes can. Therefore, a photographer sometimes has to expose for only one thing in a picture. In this case, I would expose for the horse and not the background. You have probably seen this same thing happen when you have taken a picture of a person outside on a bright, sunny day. When you take the picture, the person looks fine, but the blue sky you see with your eyes comes to a bright white on the camera. I immediately panicked that the pictures that I had been waiting to capture for months might come out just mediocre.

Outside of the city, the streets were deserted.

I honestly feel I produce the best images when I am under pressure. All throughout my educational life, I waited until the last minutes on deadlines. If it wasn’t due tomorrow, I couldn’t crank out an “A” paper. When forced with great odds, you have to depend on your skills and artistic side to break through and make something happen with your back against the wall.

As the days passed while we were in Iceland, I learned to accept the challenge of overexposure and figure out a solution. I always tell people that I would have gone bankrupt if I had become a photographer in the film-only days. With digital cameras, you can see the image immediately what is over/under exposed. I could tell my wife and in-laws were getting antsy with me when I told them to hold on as I tried to get the shot I was looking for wherever we happened to be. In photography, it’s all about the shot. Luckily, they have grown to understand that I’m a perfectionist with my pictures.

With all the challenges between me and a good picture—the overabundance of white lands, strong winds, and frigid temperatures—we left Iceland with a desire to go back as soon as we could afford “the most expensive place in Europe.” Despite the hardships, I feel I was able to capture Iceland in the way I wanted to remember it: untouched.

Here are some of the images I was able to capture:

Icelandic Horses

Where's the snow?

Wasting time before dinner on Valentine's Night. My favorite picture I took.

The wind was outrageous during this picture.

Sólfar or "Sun Voyager"

This was our view outside of our guesthouse in Keflavik.

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