Sunbeams and Black Sand

Iceland: Day 3

We slept in this morning – since we were heavily clouded in – and had breakfast at Hotel Ranga. Afterwards, the skies cleared! We photographed gorgeous sunbeams over a field of black sand and rock. The landscape here is strangely beautiful, and wild swans seem to be everywhere. It really was a pleasure to see the sun!

Each farmhouse in the countryside seems to be neatly placed in front of yet another breathtaking waterfall – as if the homesteaders staked claim to the falls as much as the land. Luckily, most of the falls are accessible to the public by way of a narrow, unpaved road or a short trail. We photographed several waterfalls as we explored the countryside. Storms moved in again – but the overcast light made it easy to capture the beauty of the falls without worrying about blown highlights in the water or deep shadows between the rocks. Seljalandsfoss doesn’t have a house in front of it… though there is a parking lot and a small bridge. It’s a great place to practice composition. You can shoot the falls from any angle… do you see the trail that passes behind the falls? Jay took this shot from an overlook high on the hillside. He used a wide-angle lens to capture a broad view of the location – and blended two exposures to bring out the entire dynamic range. Look at those beautiful blue skies! They didn’t last long!


After a lunch of noodles cooked over a small camp stove, we took a drive into the valley. By then, it was pouring rain and the skies were heavily overcast once again. The black lava roads are well maintained, and they seem to handle excessive rain well – none of the deep troughs or slippery conditions we deal with when traveling off-road in the southern United States. The porous rocks don’t hold water, and the road stayed solid even as rain continued to fall.
We crossed a few small rivers in our rental cars, but had to turn back when we reached one with higher waters. We photographed the valley, and then returned to Vik for another shot at photographing the beaches. Unfortunately, the skies were still unwilling to cooperate. Rather than being beaten by the weather, I spent some time working with creative compositions and techniques. I hunkered down in the lee of a large rock (to get out of the wind as much as possible) and steadied my camera by hanging my camera bag on the hook on my tripod. I chose a minimalist composition with nothing in the frame but sea stacks and water – and used a long shutter speed to smooth the surface of the waves for even more simplicity. It took several tries to get a shot without camera movement or spray on the lens, but I’m happy with the finished product. It’s my favorite shot of the day. What do you think? Moody enough for you? ;)

The car was rocked by huge wind gusts as I drove back to the hotel. It’s really dark out there even when the sky is clear – but with a heavy cloud cover, the sky seems completely black. It felt good to get out of our wet clothes and get some hot dinner at the restaurant. We even had a chance to speak with Ranga’s owner – who told us that the hotel architecture was inspired by Canadian Lodges. All the wood was actually brought in from Canada… I guess it would have to be brought in from somewhere, since Iceland has few trees of its own. I’m dead tired… but it was another good day!

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