Iceland Winter Workshop 2017 – The Frozen North Trip Report

In late February 2017 I lead my annual Iceland Winter workshop with Daniel Bergmann. We have been running this workshop for the last five years now and have continually been refining our itinerary. For our 2017 workshop we based ourselves predominately in the north-east of Iceland which gave us access to some of the areas less frequented by the plethora of tourists that are flooding the south of Iceland these days (I will have more to say on this in a future post).

We kept our daily itinerary moderately flexible in order to allow us to take advantage of the best conditions, weather and light. As it turned out, this approach has continued to provide us with fabulous opportunities. In particular this years workshop included a unique opportunity to access and photograph the spectacular waterfall Selfoss in a winter setting. I have been wanting to visit and photograph both Detifoss and Selfoss in winter for many years but conditions have hampered access in recent times. This year we were able to drive all the way to the car park and walk the kilometre and a half through compact snow to the very edge of Selfoss. The waterfall was in superb condition with some spectacular icicles hanging from its rocky edges and fresh snow along its banks. Iceland is well known for its waterfall photography and in my experience winter frequently offers the most interesting and dramatic opportunities to photograph them.As is often the case in winter we lost one day during our workshop to bad weather (our very first day). We had a huge storm hit the south coast as we were leaving Reykjavik which delayed us for several hours due to road closure. Fortunately we were still able to make it to our planned accomodation on the first evening which meant we didn’t loose any real photography time. The Iceland SAR (Search and Rescue) have taken to closing the roads in recent times due to the high number of tourists who often ignore the weather warnings. Whilst the closed road caused us some delay it was better than spending our time rescuing stranded tourist vehicles. It actually never ceases to amaze me the number of people who travel to Iceland in winter and then expect to drive the roads during Arctic storms in little Toyota Yaris rental cars.  Do yourself a favour if you are planning a future trip to winter in Iceland and make sure you are properly equiped with a real 4-wheel drive and always keep an eye on the weather.

During our workshop we had several opportunities to photograph Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis). Aurora photography is hot right now and is one of the primary reasons many photographers actually travel to Iceland in Winter. To be honest, much of what I see in the way of aurora imagery leaves me pretty cold. Frequently there is little if any foreground interest and the viewer is left with nothing but some pretty colour in the sky. The key to strong Aurora photographs is to use the lights in the sky to add interest to what is already a strong composition. A well composed Aurora photograph should work well without any actual Aurora! The addition of the Aurora can take the image from good to great though and as such we spent some time trying to make sure we had strong and interesting foreground. We were fortunate to have some strong Aurora at Godafoss waterfall (although I did not personally make any Aurora images of it as I was instructing) which remains one of the most picturesque waterfalls in Iceland.We had several opportunities in the north of Iceland to photograph the geothermal fields in a winter setting. The geothermals of Iceland are one of the most photogenic areas in the country in my opinion. The landscape is a constantly changing sea of fumaroles and boiling mud pits that never ceases to disappoint. We were fortunate this year to have a fresh dusting of snow which added another element to an already dramatic landscape. One of the real pleasures of landscape photography in this area of Iceland is that the area is never the same between visits. Its possible to make truly unique and dramatic photographs by spending a little time exploring the area. My favourite photograph from this workshop was actually a drive by shooting in the north of Iceland. We stopped by the side of the road on our way to Myvatn to photograph one of the spectacular snow covered mountains looking south towards Askja. This particular scene reminded me of pencil sketch with its monochromatic colour palette and soft lines. Simple photographs such as this are often the strongest and usually connect with the viewer on a much deeper emotional level. As is often the case, the best photographs need very little in the way of post production. All I did to this photograph in post was to set the colour balance, white and black points and sharpen it. The rest was taken care of by mother Nature.Iceland in winter can be quite challenging with weather, but the opportunities in a snow covered landscape can be exceedingly beautiful. This was actually the last landscape photography workshop I plan to lead in Iceland for the foreseeable future. Tourism has exploded in Iceland in recent time to the point where it has become exceedingly difficult (even in winter in my opinion) to properly photograph many of the more commonly known and accessible locations (there are just tourists everywhere). The more accessible ice caves are now flooded with tourists throughout the day and the glacial lagoon and black sand beach are now overly saturated with tourists and photographers. Whilst many of these common locations remain absolutely superb for photography they now lack the remoteness and tourist free experience I prefer to offer those that travel with me on my workshops.

I will still be traveling to Iceland and photographing in this incredible country, but it will now be on far more specialised niche workshops that take us far into remote areas of the country where tourists cannot reach. These workshops and expeditions will be for small groups only and are designed to net us photographs that others simply cannot achieve (such as my Arctic Fox expeditions – read the recent trip report) and my upcoming Puffin workshop. These new workshops offer opportunities in areas otherwise inaccessible and provide participants with unique photographs that really set their work apart from the average Iceland visit.

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