One of the highland areas we travelled through on the two recent Ultimate Iceland Workshops I completed in August this year was the Fjallabak Nature Reserve. This incredible nature reserve is home to some of the most stunning scenery, mountains and rivers found in Iceland. Many of the best locations and viewpoints are not even sign posted and are only found through exploration of the area. The particular vantage point was just off the side of the road. We pulled off at this location and decided to wait for sunset – several hours early we set up a quick temporary camp with the evening meal, a few drinks, deck chairs and settled back to watch the magic unfold. I took numerous different compositions and frames at this location, but it is this one with the evening light on the distant mountain that I most enjoy.
For the last three weeks I have been agonising over the decision of wether to fly back to Iceland to photograph the volcano that is currently erupting north of the Vatnajökull ice-cap, before I head south to South Georgia Island and Antarctica. The volcanic fissure eruption in Holuhraun (north of Vatnajökull) has been going on now for more than a month. Unfortunately this eruption started only a few days after I had to leave Iceland to lead my Greenland expedition (trip report coming soon). I had camped out with my friend and fellow photographer Antony in the hopes we would be in the ideal location when the eruption began; but as luck would have it we missed it by just a few days – ce la vie.
Currently the area around the eruption site is closed to all ground traffic due to significant venting of poisonous gas and it is therefore impossible to get anywhere near the fissure site and the lava being ejected. Just to give some insight into the scale of this eruption – to date the amount of magma ejected exceeds 50 square kilometres and it is showing no signs of slowing down. All of the surrounding roads are closed due to both the risk of poisonous gas as well as possible flooding from the nearby Bárðarbunga volcano should it also erupt. Things are further complicated by the early arrival of winter snowfall in the north and very high winds and Autumn storms. Any photography would be restricted to aerials only (and that is assuming a viable weather window) and whilst it would be better than nothing it is not my preference to photograph an eruption from the air. I would much prefer to be on terra-firma and to be able to use slow shutter speeds for more creative imagery.
Ultimately, it would be a huge gamble at this point that would cost many thousands of dollars including planes and helicopters. The probability for failure is extremely high for any sort of image making other than documentary (and even that is currently in doubt). All of this is further complicated by expedition commitments I have in South Georgia and Antarctica in less than three weeks time. Which is why I have had to make the very hard decision this evening not to fly to Iceland tomorrow for this volcanic event. This decision was doubly difficult for me as I also missed the Eyjafjallajökull eruption by days and have been waiting for the next eruption with the intention of jumping on the next plane to Iceland to photograph it. For now I am going to have to enjoy the live web cam on the fissure eruption which can be viewed HERE.The final complication is the Bárðarbunga volcano itself. This volcano resides under the Vatnajökull glacier and is the real danger and the big unknown at this point in time. At approximately ten times the size of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano it has incredibly destructive potential should it erupt. I want to emphasise this point – Bárðarbunga is a monumental Force of Nature the likes of which we have not witnessed in recent times. The sheer volume of ash that will be ejected into the atmosphere should it explosively erupt is very likely to cause significant airline disruption for many months and significant fall-out across the Northern Hempisphere. The sheer destructive potential of this volcano should not be in any way be underestimated. At this point in time the glacier is subsiding over Bárðarbunga which points to the possibility of an eruption in the near future. As to exactly when this may occur is an unknown at this point. Earthquakes are ongoing in the area which is being heavily monitored.
The best way to stay up-to-date with the current news is to follow the Icelandic meteorological site www.vedur.is. Scientists are reporting that Iceland has entered a state of increased volcanic activity. There is therefore a high likelihood that the eruption will still be ongoing when I head to Iceland for my annual winter workshop in February next year. Should that be the case we will certainly be taking advantage of any weather window and access to photograph it. Until then the volcano is best enjoyed from the safety of the office and the webcam.
If you logged on to the internet this morning / evening you will have no doubt come across the ‘Canon See Impossible‘ countdown that is currently spreading like wildfire across the rumour websites. The somewhat cryptic teaser really does not provide much insight into what this announcement will be. At the risk of going out on a limb I find it highly unlikely that this will be a new camera body announcement. The prose smacks to me of some sort of printer / media announcement. Possibly some sort of new product, tool or feature that helps get images from camera to print. The advert also appeared as full two-page spread in the New York Times so Canon has thrown some considerable marketing budget behind this announcement. The good news is the clock is ticking down and in less than twenty four hours the answer will be revealed. Edit – It is worth noting that this announcement appears confined to Canon USA. Nothing else to my knowledge in other countries. Any new High Mega Pixel announcement would almost certainly involve Canon Japan. Read into this what you will…
In July and August 2014 I led back-to-back workshops in Iceland with good friend and pro photographer Daniel Bergmann. The intention of these workshops was to circumnavigate the island with two groups of photographers visiting some of the iconic photographic locations as well as some lesser known and hidden gems. We planned to quite literally cram in as many great locations around the Island as possible, get into the remotest parts of the country, chase the spectacular light of the midnight sun and provide the Ultimate Iceland Workshop Experience. I am pleased to say we achieved all of these and by the conclusion of the second workshop I was pretty much shattered from the lack of sleep and long hours in the field. The photography however was spectacular and made all the long waking hours in the field an absolute pleasure and joy. My thanks to friend and photographer Jaime Dormer for this wonderful capture ‘Jumping for Joy’ on the road into Veiðivötn.During the course of these two workshops we covered over 5000 kilometres (across both workshops) in our circumnavigation of the Island in our modified Super Jeeps. Many of these kilometres were on Iceland’s notorious F Roads; which provided us access to some of the more remote locations for landscape photography. Whilst Iceland has more than its share of spectacular waterfalls and landscapes within short walking distance of the main highway one ring road it is more often the car destroying F roads that offer the real gems. With our specially equipped and highly modified super jeeps we ate up the F roads and made sure we were on location when the magic happened. This photograph taken at Bláhylur on the road into Landmannalaugar was the result of being in the right location at the right time. We arrived under heavy cloud and light rain and as we set up our tripods around the rim of the crater we simply watched the magic unfold. The play of light across the mountain was spectacular and although it didn’t last long everyone was able to create a great image.
One of the first stops on these back-to-back workshops was the interior highland region of Iceland. If you are a regular reader of my blog you are already well aware that the highlands are my favourite location in Iceland. The interior is simply an incredible location for landscape photography. During the two workshops we visited both the vast rhyolite mountains of Landmannalaugar as as well the black tephra sands of Veiðivötn. Veiðivötn is a location rarely visited by outsiders and we enjoyed the entire landscape to ourselves during both workshops. The deep blue pools of water are a fantastic contrast against the black sand and alien green veins of moss that snake across the landscape. Veiðivötn remains for me one of the most alien and evocative places in Iceland for landscape photography. The area is somewhat notorious for its wind and we experienced a good dose of exposure to the inclement elements during our time here. Some wonderful images did result and thats a testament to the photographers on both workshops.
As well as landscape photography we also took the opportunity to include some wildlife Puffin photography. We had not originally planned to spend time photographing the Puffins; however Daniel and I decided that the weather provided the ideal opportunity to photograph them coming into land on the cliff edge with fish for their chicks. We were fortunate to catch the Puffins just before they headed out to sea for the winter. We did have very high winds during our time on the Puffin cliffs which provided us with unique opportunities to catch them trying to land on the cliff edge. Puffins are wonderful subjects for wildlife photography and although they are extremely difficult to catch in flight I enjoyed our time photographing them immensely.In the South we visited the well known Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon as well as the stunning mountains at Stokksness. Stokksnes lived up to its reputation of wild weather and we had both rain and high winds at this location on both workshops. Nevertheless some fantastic images resulted and this remains a stunning location that is a photographers delight in just about any conditions. We also visited and photographed the lava field at Eldraun and the Svínafellsjökull glacier. It has been interesting and somewhat disturbing to observe the incredibly rapid retreat and deflation of this glacier. From month to month and year to year I have been photographing the glacier and with every visit I am shocked at the speed of the melt and retreat. My feeling is that this glacier may only have a decade or so left before it is completely gone. Glaciers are incredibly beautiful subjects to photograph and watching one in its death throes saddens me immensely. I don’t want to sidetrack myself with a global warming debate but the clear evidence of global warming is written clearly across the face of Iceland. I suspect we are now witnessing the last days of the Arctic.
We also visited the mighty Dettifoss and Sefloss waterfalls in the north of Iceland. Dettifoss is the largest waterfall by volume in Europe and it is an incredible feeling to stand on the edge of this amazing force of Nature. I have likened it to what it must be like to be inside a jet engine. The sheer raw power of this waterfall is awe inspiring and we enjoyed our sunrise and sunset shoots at this location very much. A short walk upstream to Selfoss also provided us with fantastic dawn photography on both workshops. Selfoss is in many ways my preferred waterfall out of the two for photography as it offers more varied opportunities for composition in my experience.
Whilst in the north of Iceland we visited the geothermal region at Namafjall near Myvatn as well as the smouldering lava field near Krafla. Both of these locations are fantastic areas of black lava, boiling mud pits, sulphurous smells and fumoroles. We were especially fortunate to experience some really incredible midnight sun light during the second workshop at Námafjall and some outstanding images resulted from this evening shoot.Both of these workshops provided a real mix of Iceland weather and light which made for some excellent photographic opportunities for the duration of both trips. We had rain, wind, sun, and just about everything in between at one point or another and that is at the very heart of what makes Iceland such a wonderful and fascinating country for photography. In a landscape that never stops changing its only appropriate that the weather behave likewise. My sincere thanks and appreciation to all those who participated on the trips. The camaraderie of like-minded photographers was fabulous. We shared great locations, great light, wonderful local food and hospitality and best of all everyone came away with a portfolio of images they could be proud of. Personally, I am still editing and sorting through the many photographs I made on these two workshops and it will no doubt be many weeks and months before I have mined all the gems from our many sessions in the field. I hope to post some more images from both trips before I leave for Antarctica in a few weeks time.The workshop I am leading next year that specialises in the Hlghland region of Iceland is already sold out with a waiting list. But, if you are interested in joining a future workshop in 2016 you can register your interest now by sending me an email to be amongst the first to be notified when bookings are opened. Daniel and I will be offering something new in 2016 that should be very exciting – more to come on this at a later date. Be sure to visit the testimonials page on my website at www.jholko.com to see what the participants had to say about these two workshops.
Volcano Addendum: If you have been following the news you would be aware that there has been a volcanic fissure eruption going on now in Holuhraun (north of Vatnajökull) in Iceland for the better part of a month. Unfortunately this eruption started approximately three weeks after we completed our second workshop and we therefore did not get a chance to photograph it. Currently the area around the eruption site is closed to all ground traffic due to significant venting of poisonous gas and it is therefore impossible to get anywhere near the lava being ejected. All of the surrounding roads are closed due to both the risk of poisonous gas as well as possible flooding from the nearby Bárðarbunga volcano should it erupt. Things are further complicated by the early arrival of winter snowfall in the north. The Bárðarbunga volcano resides under the Vatnajökull glacier and is the real danger and the big unknown at this point in time. At approximately ten times the size of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano it has incredibly destructive potential should it erupt. The sheer volume of ash that will be ejected into the atmosphere is very likely to cause significant airline disruption and there will no doubt be significant fall-out across the country. At this point in time the glacier is subsiding over Bárðarbunga which points to the possibility of an eruption in the near future. As to exactly when this may occur is an unknown at this point. I have been monitoring the volcanos activity over the last few weeks and am considering a trip to Iceland in the next few days to photograph the volcano from the air. More to come as things progress.
A quick update – The 2015 New Zealand South Island Masterclass workshop I am leading next year with Phillip Bartlett is now sold out. We are looking forward to experiencing the very best of the South Island on this workshop with access into some its most remote and spectacular wilderness areas via helicopter. If you are interested in travelling on a future photographic expedition to the South Island please contact me to register your interest. If you would like to get an idea of what this workshop will be like you can watch the short Preview Video.