The trip is now over and the landscape & seascape portfolios are now finished; however, for this post I am going to use images that are not on that site.
I’m still in a bit of a daze to be honest, because I had no particular plan when I started (quite deliberately) and now that I’m back in Afghanistan, it feels like a bit of a dream. Travelling alone, the gloomy closed-in weather and working pretty hard means that the whole experience feels detached from everything else; just like I imagined the whole thing! I already know that I will be returning…
Before I arrived in Iceland, I wondered if I would be able to do a complete circuit of the country in the nine days available to me. This turned out to be totally unrealistic, because heavy snow and severe winds meant that driving conditions were not good at all. Icelanders seem to stay off the roads in these conditions and so driving in remote areas at night (18 hours long) is not the brightest idea. If you have an accident, you’re in trouble; there are just so few people on the roads after about 7pm. With such limited daylight, few photographers would want to be trying to cover large distances, so instead I did a lot of short hops from A-B and tried to get the longer journeys in less interesting areas done in the pre-dawn hours, or at dusk when the photography came to and end (but before the dead of night). So, my trip to Iceland soon became a trip to the coast of South Iceland. The roads inland were not great and everything was covered with snow, so the coastal areas had by far the biggest draw for me.
It was a phenomenal trip, largely because it surprised me and I had to rise to that challenge. Ferocious winds mean that I shot over 90% of my images hand held. Long shutter speeds were therefore out of the question much of the time, but it was often too dark to generate good hand-held speeds with landscape apertures, without hiking the ISO through the roof. I therefore constantly found myself operating in that uncomfortable middle ground where ISO is higher than you’d like, speeds are on the low side and aperture is a wider than hoped. So many shots felt balanced on that quality knife edge and I just had to factor that into the creative process. I’ll confess to being frustrated during the gales, because it was almost impossible to take any photos at all. The wind buffeting was so severe that I figured I need speeds in the region of 1/1000th. 1/250th, even with wide angles on APS-C, was woefully inadequate! 1/1000th and ISO 3200 was not what I had in mind!
My approach therefore became quite simple: I let go and just enjoying being there. I did talk to myself a lot and shout into the wind when it’s ferocity felt both personal and comical. I went with my gut and just did not think about it much. I allowed the place to envelop me, which is hard to avoid when standing on a seemingly endless black sand beach at dusk, being hammered by hail and strong winds, dodging large waves. Alone. I saw a short piece of Icelandic literature framed on the wall (I forget where) that cited various compelling interpretations of the thundering Atlantic sea, from ancient theologians to artists, but it made a second implied, but unstated point: you are forced to interpret it, because it grabs hold of you from under the soles of your feet. I frequently found myself just standing and watching, with my camera held low next to my hip, feeling the roar resonate throughout my body. As I write this, the paradoxical combination of beauty and severity I found in Iceland reminds me of Afghanistan. It transfixes the soul.
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