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Iceland - 2015


Iceland - 2015

Iceland? How did this happen?! 

My friend Brad had always wanted to go to Iceland, and from time to time he would suggest that we go one day. I would agree in a manner similar to what my response would be if someone said, "We should go to the moon sometime". Sure! I mean it's probably never gonna happen, but sure I'll go if the opportunity arises.

Well, the opportunity arose.

WOW Airlines of Iceland ran a promotion celebrating their expansion into U.S. cities, and we got our tickets for incredibly low prices. Brad somehow always knows when that stuff is happening, and so one day I got a text from him that said "Do you want to go to Iceland with me in June? I need to know for sure right now." 

We later invited my dad and Brad's father-in-law and bam, all of a sudden I was planning a trip to Iceland.

The trip over was a little rough, with a 6-hour layover in Baltimore and then a 3-hour flight delay, all of which was spent with all the passengers in their seats on the tarmac. By the time we got to the hotel in Iceland where Brad and Jim had stayed after arriving a day earlier, Dad and I were exhausted. It was 7:30 am, and a well-rested Brad and Jim greeted us and helped us load in our gear to the rented RV they'd picked up.

It was a couple hours to our first destination, so Dad and I took that opportunity to wipe out. I don't know how we both made this mistake but neither of us brought a pillow or blanket. I think we thought the RV had some bedding stuff that came with it? At night I covered up with the clothes I wasn't wearing, and used a sweatshirt for a pillow.

Welcome to Iceland.

This was our first stop, and it was pretty incredible. I was still out of it after having slept for a couple hours after being up for over 24, so these memories are a bit like remembering a dream--one more reason I'm glad I took pictures! I stepped out of the RV and saw this before me:

This cave was a tad dark and I wanted to get a slightly longer exposure time than usual to make the water look smooth, so I think this was 1/10th of a second, maybe? I wish there wasn't water spots on the lens but it was really misty in there, so preventing the water on the lens would have been tough. Still, this was like my eighth photo I'd taken at our first location and I was thinking, "Ten minutes in and I already got a definite keeper!" It's not tack sharp but I still really like it.

Dad and I decided to hike up to the top of this waterfall. Everything about it felt so foreign....I'd never seen terrain that looked like this, never seen or been on a plateau of any seemed like it should be colder than it was, but I was comfortable with just a sweater and no jacket....maybe because I was hiking.

Anyways, it was quite a view. 

I saw this couple sitting together at the top of the waterfall and took their photo, and then thought it would be a shame for them to not have it! So I introduced myself and got a nice portrait of them, and shared it with them immediately using the wifi functionality of my Nikon D750--I can download the photos straight to my phone and then send them to people using AirDrop on our iPhones. When I run into people who don't have iPhones I get their email address. The ability to immediately give people that small gift is my favorite way to use that feature.

Plus it makes me feel less creepy when I spot them later in the day and want to take more candid photos of them! Many of the tourists were hitting up the same spots in the area throughout the day. 

This is one of my favorite photos of me, ever. I was taking photos of this second, larger waterfall and I asked Brad if he would get a shot of me by it. I handed him my camera and headed over by the base of the waterfall. I turned around to find that Brad had gone seemingly a mile in the other direction, and I realized it was because I'd given him the wrong lens for this shot, a 70-200mm that is better served for zooming in than zooming out! Sorry bud. Thanks for your commitment to the shot!

That Airplane.

We drove out to the abandoned airplane that has become a popular attraction, and while out walking there we saw this group of four friends walking toward it with us, having arrived just a few moments after us. Often in that situation my method is to get the shot, then introduce myself and be extremely friendly and complimentary, and hope that my goodwill can erase whatever doubts or fears they might've had while seeing me take their photo. In fact that method has never not worked--so far. Most people can just tell that I enjoy photography and that I'm not threatening. I knew that after they got to the plane I wouldn't have another opportunity for their walking-away-from-the-car-shot, so I just went for it.

I then approached them and said, "That looked like a car commercial!" and showed them the shot, and they laughed. I asked if I could take a couple more and they said "Sure!". Both shots were from a good distance with the 70-200, which accounts for the fact that there's a blurred out background even though it's a wide shot. With wider lenses it's harder to get bokeh on wide shots, so that's why it's worth it to me to lug the large 70-200 around. I love bokeh on wide shots, so I'll often treat that lens like its a fixed 200mm and just move my feet in order to compose the shot, to allow for maximum bokeh.

The plane is a U.S. Navy plane that crash landed in 1973. No one was killed in the accident, but the plane was abandoned rather than recovered. Part of what makes it a special attraction is that it stands alone as the only object on this black beach--no trees, no structures, nothing around, just this crashed and abandoned plane.

Next we went to The Black Beach.

At least, that's what I call it. I'm not sure of the real name, I didn't pay much attention to the names of locations. Brad could tell you the real name.

This was maybe my favorite spot, visually, of the trip. I just love how inverted it all felt, with black sand and grey skies. It almost felt like we were living in black and white. 

There were multiple attractions--the beach itself, this huge cave...thing....and these blocky rock formations that kind of blew my mind. They were a lot of fun to climb on, and a small crowd gathered and laughed as I unsuccessfully tried to mimic a girl who was doing a headstand.


They told me that our next stop was a couple hours away, so I laid back down and wiped out in the back of the RV. 

When I woke up I stepped outside into one of the most beautiful, surreal scenes I had ever seen. You know how the skies are beautiful at dusk, for that last hour before the sun goes all the way down? Well in Iceland during the summer the sun never goes completely down, so that beautiful "dusk" lasts for hours. We were the only ones at this little stop and there was nothing else for several miles. 

The sunset itself to me looked like the west in America, only on another planet. It was surreal. 

Brad and Jim enjoyed a glass--well, cup--of red wine while I set up a time lapse, which I screwed up. The shots were just out of focus enough to make me want to punch something. Not sure how that happened. I'm over it now, though. Mostly.

And...that was just the end of day one. 

The next day we took a boat tour of a glacier lagoon, and we got to wear these warm jumpsuits that made me feel like an astronaut.

Just a little ways down the road we found a place where glacier pieces break off and wash out to sea...only to be washed back to shore again! This beach reminded me of one of the bonus levels on Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer for Nintendo 64. Just so weird to see hundreds of mini-icebergs on a beach...and a black beach, at that. 

For most of this post all the images are ones I took except for the ones I'm in, but in this section all the ground shots are by Jim. I was fixated on shooting video while we were in this area, and apparently didn't shoot a single still! Not with my DSLR, anyway. The aerial shots are from Brad's drone, and do a great job of showing the glacier where the ice breaks off and the bridge they flow underneath on their way out to sea. 

This was my most courageous moment of the trip.

I saw that precipice and it reminded me of Pride Rock from The Lion King, one of my favorite movies growing up, and I just set it in my mind that I had to get up there. I began climbing the steep, soft wall of grass and dirt to the right (out of frame) and figured that if I just kept moving I'd make it eventually. 

Long story shorter, I was right, and I found my way to the long, soft grass at the top of this plateau. It was a relatively small hike...I mean, it's not a mountain or anything, but it still felt great to do it. 

Jim got a couple shots of me at the peak of my mini-mountaintop experience.


That night we stayed at a campsite at the famous waterfall called Skógafoss. It's 82 feet wide and 200 feet tall, and since visiting I have spotted it in many ads and commercials, including the iMac page on Apple's website. 

For me what I'll remember about this stop, besides the massive waterfall, is that it was around midnight--something you wouldn't guess based on how well-lit these photos are. It just never got darker than dusk there, which made me grateful for the window covers in the RV when I finally did go to bed. We ran into head-stand girl from the black beach and chatted with her and her boyfriend/husband? for a bit and got a few photos of them to send them. 

I didn't realize it until Brad pointed it out but the other benefit of being out by this waterfall at midnight was that everyone else was asleep, so we had the waterfall to ourselves for the most part. During the day there are dozens of tourists gathered at the base and at the lookout up top that you can take stairs to, so it'd be pretty hard to get a shot of the waterfall with no people in it. Ironically, of the shots I got I preferred the one where two people were at the base of it because it helped to show just how big the waterfall is.

Next we hiked on a glacier.

With the help of some borrowed snow pants, strap-on spikes, and a quasi-useless ice axe that the tour guide admitted was mostly for show, we set out with a tour group to hike on the largest piece of ice I'll ever see. 

I was on the fence about going because I had sprained my ankle the day before, and I didn't have proper clothing for a hike set to take place on ice. But Jim let me borrow a long-sleeved undershirt, and the tour guides found me a pair of humongous snow pants that proved their value about ten minutes into the hike when it began to rain. That was also the time that the plastic bag I had stuck in my camera bag at my dad's strong suggestion proved it's value, as I used it to protect my camera bag. About that time I was regretting bringing my camera bag along, but after a few minutes of light rain the precipitation blew over and I was really really glad I had decided to bring my camera along with me. 

There's a certain way you have to walk when you have "crampers" strapped to your feet, and I did well to remember that right up until the trek back down when I was trying to take a photo with my iphone and walk at the same time. My crampers got tangled with each other and I hit the hard ice hard. It hurt my elbow and my knee, but of course my pride was hurt more than anything. But, what do you do? Just get back up and keep walking--with your feet further apart this time.

At our next spot I saw the biggest rainbow I've ever seen.

We stopped at a restaurant and looking out away from it was a massive rainbow. Brad got his drone out and got some great shots, apparently to the point that he felt comfortable handing the drone to a complete stranger who was drinking. Brad doesn't do that often, and this guy showed us why when he suddenly started screaming and handed the drone controller back to Brad! I caught the whole thing on video, and never saw what actually happened to the drone, but Brad safely recovered control of it apparently. And then we all had a good nervous relief laugh.

From there we went on to another spot where I took time lapses of foggy mountains while the guys checked out some rapids. Those, unlike my first mountain lapse attempts I mentioned earlier, turned out nicely.

Well hello there, sunshine. 

Our last stop before heading back to Reykjavic to hunker down for the evening was at this beautiful spot where the sun came out for a bit. It was an encouragment after several cloudy, bleak days. I hadn't really even minded it or missed the sun until this moment when I realized that for as beautiful as Iceland had been for us, it could actually be even prettier when the sun was out with blue skies.

After that we made the home stretch back to town, and on the way Brad and I admitted to each other that while the trip had been amazing, it felt good to know that we were going home now. 

When we got to our last campsite to park and rest before returning the RV and heading to the airport in the morning, we witnessed an amazing, vibrant sunset. Unable to resist, Brad fired up the drone once more and got some beautiful shots of Reykjavik. It was a great way to say farewell to this beautiful island and country that lived up to every hope we had for this trip.

The End.