Iceland, Post #1

I just returned from my first ever visit to Iceland, a trip I’ve been wanting to take for many years. I had a mixed mission to photograph and run up as many mountains & volcanoes as possible. But, alas, the weather conspired to make real running problematic at best. A day or two prior to my arrival, a blizzard deposited a snow all over the mountains and backroads of southern Iceland, making travel to trailheads via ordinary 4wd not possible.

Of course, if you had one of these, you’d be all set:

This is the vehicle you need to get around the backcountry in Iceland.

This is the vehicle you need to get around the backcountry in Iceland.

As it was, I had to drive 25 km on supposed main roads to get to the cottage I rented, and the wind had already begun drifting over sections of the road. When I took the side “road” to the cottage, I got stuck off the road, and had to dig out the snow from under the truck with my mittened hands. Finally I made it to the “R50″ cottage (just a name, not an insulation value)—it had a nice view of Hekla:

This is the little cottage "R50" that I rented. Cheaper than the car rental, and a great view of Hekla about 20 km away. It's super hard to gauge distance without trees as a reference. (Note the two trees attempting to grow in the from of the cottage.)

This is the little cottage “R50″ that I rented. Cheaper than the car rental, and a great view of Hekla about 20 km away. It’s super hard to gauge distance without trees as a reference. (Note the two trees attempting to grow in the from of the cottage.)

The hill on the left looks to be the same height as Hekla, but it’s not; as you can see in the view from a different vantage point:

Hekla is a famous volcano in Iceland (due to erupt soon supposedly)---it the 1500 m peak in the center. Since I couldn't even hope to make it to the trailhead via car, and because I did not bring skis, it was too far given the snow to do in one day. As it was, I was post-holing through thigh high snow just to summit the hill on the left.

Hekla is a famous volcano in Iceland (due to erupt soon supposedly)—it the 1500 m peak in the center. Since I couldn’t even hope to make it to the trailhead via car, and because I did not bring skis, it was too far given the snow to do in one day. As it was, I was post-holing through thigh high snow just to summit the hill on the left.

My first day, I went for a nice 12km run to explore the first hill; it was obvious that running shoes would be iffy at best due to the ice, snow and steepness as one approached the summit, so I resolved to come back in a day or two with my crampons and ice axe. More about that in another post.

On my second day, I ended up having the good fortune to have picked up two hitchhikers from Reykjavik University—they were headed to Seljavallalaug — a small pool built into the mountainside of the mountains by Eyjafjallajökull (that’s the volcano that erupted in 2010), a fifteen-minute walk (over rocky streams and under basalt turrets) off the end of road 242. I’d have not found this pool if they had not been hitching a ride when I drove by. Here’s the pool:

Nice thermal-fed pool built in the 1920's. I gave a couple of hitchhiking  students from Reykjavik a ride here, and they told me that when Eyjafjallajökull erupted, this pool was filled with volcanic ash, and it was dug out (by hand?) in order to restore it to use.

Nice thermal-fed pool built in the 1920’s. I gave a couple of hitchhiking students from Reykjavik a ride here, and they told me that when Eyjafjallajökull erupted, this pool was filled with volcanic ash, and it was dug out (by hand?) in order to restore it to use.

and here’s a picture of steaming hot water emerging from the mountainside:

You can see steaming hot water emerging from the mountainside, and the colorful green slime that grown in the scalding hot water.

You can see steaming hot water emerging from the mountainside, and the colorful green slime that grown in the scalding hot water.

On the way back to the “ring road” (rt. 1), I came by this house, and made my favorite image of my trip (click any image to view it larger):

House placed at a somewhat precarious location at the base of a steep slope.

House placed at a somewhat precarious location at the base of a steep slope.

A few things I’ve learned about traveling to Iceland: (1) if you come in March or April, bring SkiMo gear (this is an awesome place to ski tour, and sometimes, the only way to cover the distances over snow needed to reach trailheads, (2) don’t even think about seeing the whole island in a week. You need time, and the weather may not always cooperate, (3) Iceland’s weather is like that in the mountains of New Hampshire or Maine, it can be very windy and significantly colder than at the lower elevations.

More in my next post.

Breaking the rule; sometimes the subject is in the center!

My family (last weekend) stayed for several nights at Maine Huts & Trails’ Flagstaff Lake Hut which is on the northeastern shores of Flagstaff Lake. To the south lie the Bigelow Mountains (whose peaks the Appalachian Trial passes over). It’s a beautiful location where the nightime sounds are consist of owls and plaintive loons, and some of the darkest night skies I’ve seen.

The actual story behing the creation of Flagstaff Lake still leaves a bad taste in many people’s minds—read more at this link.
Despite the history, the hut is situated in a beautiful spot and landscape photography opportunities abound. Our first night there, a short walk down a peninusla, and we were treated to a peaceful sunet with some dramatic light.

I could see, as the sun lowered in the sky, that it was soon going to be behind the clouds and anticipated the rays of light, and deliberately underexposed this image slightly to help preserve highlight detail.

But how should I frame the scene? Conventional wisdom is to not center your subject in the frame (and for some people not to take a photograph of a sunset!); so if you say that the sun & the dark central clouds are the subject, I’ve clearly violated this rule. In many cases, this rule is a good one to follow, since a central subject placement can me very static (i.e. boring). So, is there another framing of this scene that would be better?

Perhaps, but my eye sees this image as well balanced with the heavy blacks at the bottom third of the image and the sky occupying the rest. Furthermore, the dark edges of the clouds form a “v” shaped (or a nearly oblique line rising from left to right). I find the shapes of the mountains make my eye wander naturally from bottom right to bottom left and then up toward the sun and clouds. The sharp contrasts lead my eye around the image naturally, and in a way that seems pleasing to me.

I like this image, and I think the framing works well. I think this image is a good example of when it’s a good idea to ignore the “rule” of avoiding central subject placement.

Technical details:  this image was 1/640 sec at f/8.0 70-200mm f/2.8L at 70 mm, ISO 100 -1/3 EV, processed in Adobe Lightroom 3  and converted to B&W using SilverEfex Pro.