by Paul Gallagher Published 01/02/2017
The locations that appeared unchanged by winter were the black beaches at Jokulsarlon and Lonsfjordur. The main benefit of photographing these beaches in the winter is the low sun, and of course, when the storms arrive which makes it even more spectacular! Lastly, do not assume that because you are in the Icelandic winter you will see icebergs in profusion in either Jokulsarlon Lagoon or on the adjoining beaches. When I was there all I was presented with was a few very lonely looking tiny lumps of ice covered in black wind-blown sand!
Iceland was, and always will be, an amazing place for photographers but if somebody forced me to choose between there or Lofoten, then Lofoten would win. I landed in the little town of Leknes on 6 January 2016. Once again I knew that winter conditions were guaranteed but my only concern was the availability of light. On paper, the sun was due to rise at 11.40 and set at 12.40. It may seem like a ludicrous proposition to travel there in the first place, but I was relying on the transitional periods before and after the sun appearing in the sky – my calculations turned out to be correct.
I arrived in a little, twin-engine plane through a pretty fierce snow storm in pitch darkness and made my way to my apartment in Ballstad. The moment you make your way down the steps of the plane it becomes apparent that you are in the Arctic Circle and in the depths of an Arctic winter. As I was unloading my car there was a weak but beautiful Aurora Borealis dancing in the skies above me. The following morning, I headed out at about 10am to some of the locations I know very well. As with Iceland, the place was utterly different to anything I had experienced during my previous visits. Everything, and I do mean everything, was frozen solid. As a drove in the very weak pre-dawn light, the landscape was a cold blue and the skies showed a hint of warmth on the very distant horizon.
From my experience there are three types of light that you have to work with. Pre-dawn light, cold blue daylight and a breath-taking sunset warmth as the sunlight bounces low off lingering clouds. I had to work as quickly as I could with the limited daytime but what I experienced was some of the best light I had every worked with in over 30 years of photographing landscapes. Needless to say, that any environment near water, (and many of the locations I love in Lofoten, fall directly into a category), are very dangerous with ice. As I mentioned, everything is frozen, and the ice at the edge of the sea is absolutely solid, often ginclear and affords you no grip beneath your feet. For that reason alone, I wore (and drove in!) a full set of very heavy-duty Canadian ice studs the entire time. Along with the ice studs on my boots, it is worth mentioning that a tripod without BIG spikes with be pretty much useless as your camera set-up will simply slide away into the sea!
I was totally engrossed while I was working and the short daylight hours would pass so quickly that it became apparent in my selection of filters and exposure times. Although the official sunrise and sunset times seemed ridiculously close together, I actually found useful light between 10.30 am and 3pm. Reviewing my camera files each night I was shocked at how blue the light was when the sun was at its highest in the sky and when represented in the finished image, it looked as though the blues had been pushed at the processing stages, but in reality the landscape is actually frozen blue.
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