The Land of Fire and Ice

The Land of Fire and Ice

Iceland is light and darkness, a country of hf-iceland_fall2opposites and contrasts. It is home to some of the world’s largest glaciers and active volcanoes and the longest summer days anywhere.

Who goes to Iceland in the winter? That was the response from my wife when I told her that I wanted to attend a week-long photography workshop in the middle of the Icelandic winter.

It shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise, as we’ve previously taken family vacations in Alaska and the Baltics during the short Ontario summer. I’m not a big fan of heat and less so of humidity, so Iceland in February would be perfect. I asked my wife if she wanted to come with me and was told I was on my own for this one. My plan was taking shape.

So off I went to research Icelandic photography workshops. A quick Google search led me to Iceland Aurora and a six-person tour run by Tony Prower. I quickly booked the last spot.

I arrived in Iceland the day before my group met to allow for travel delays and give me a chance to explore the city of Reykjavik before we headed off toward the south of the country for the duration of the week.

Into the ice
Our guides, both accomplished and published photographers who live in Iceland, picked us up in their SUVs early Tuesday morning. Our destination that day—a guest house in the south of Iceland, our base for the duration of the trip.

Each day started with an early-morning drive to a local ice beach, hf-iceland_fall3where we tried to catch the sunrise in order to add depth, colour and interesting light to our pictures of the large chunks of ice that adorned the sand. This is where I discovered that my waterproof boots weren’t as waterproof as I would have liked. Thankfully, a couple of plastic bags solved that problem on the second day. While watching Aurora Borealis forecasts and  hoping for its appearance, we shared photographs from the day and reviewed post-processing techniques with our workshop leaders.

The Aurora Borealis
The first night of the tour proved to be our only opportunity to see the Aurora Borealis, something that everyone was looking forward to as part of the trip. It was a very clear night with many stars. I had never seen the Aurora before and was surprised that, until it is photographed, it appears only as a shimmering white cloud in the sky. I’m told that if it is strong enough then the green and red colours are visible to the human eye, but that the true colours are only revealed when it’s photographed. This phenomenon is rooted around the mechanics of the eye, with rods working at night and cones during the day. The remainder of the tour involved waterfalls, breathtaking landscapes, scenic drives, local wildlife, a blizzard (a highlight for me), a trek to an ice-cave and, of course, making new friends.

Would I return to Iceland? Absolutely. My next visit will likely be during the summer months so that I can see, and photograph, parts of the country that are harder to access during the winter. And would I return in the winter? Without hesitation. After all, as the old Nordic saying goes, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices.”

Jason Presement is a Canadian photography enthusiast who enjoys landscape, nature and animals, with most of his inspiration coming during the fall and winter seasons.

Photos: Jason Presement