Iceland, Part 3

Iceland, Part 3

West, along the Snæfellsnes peninsula, we saw the finest scenery yet in Iceland, though if there’s anything our time in Iceland taught us, it’s that there is no bad scenery to see. It was a beautiful day, marked by blue skies and white puffy clouds, and, at the end, truly epic winds. Gusts at least to 60mph, coming down from the mountains, causing whitecaps on the small lakes inland.

But we’re here for the pictures:

Snæfellsnes Panorama

On the northern edge of the peninsula we were treated to great inlets and beautiful mountains. The texture of the landscape was amazing:


Iceland is unique, in that sits at the joint of two tectonic plates. The west of the island sits on the North American plate; the east is on the European plate. There’s a rift through the island, especially visible at Þingvellir, where you can stand between the plates. The far eastern and western edges of the island represent the oldest formations of the otherwise (comparatively) young island. As we headed west on Snæfellsnes we were seeing the oldest sections of the island.

At the farthest edge of the peninsula, you’ll find Snæfellsjökull National Park, at times lush with tall grasses, at others a near moonscape of lava rock.

Icelandic Grasses
Tall grass in Snæfellsjökull National Park.

And, further south, Snæfellsjökull itself:

South of Snæfellsjökull. The lava flows are clearly visible.

Snæfellsjökull is one of the oldest glaciers/volcanoes on the island. It’s said to be a powerful place, full of magic. It’s probably most famous as the location of Jules Verne’s entrance to the center of the Earth. From the south, the lava flows and glacier were clearly visible.

Abandoned House
Abandoned house south of Snæfellsjökull.
Near the peak of Snæfellsjökull. Five second exposure to show wind speed. Portions of the glacier are visible, though the main mass of ice is just out of frame to the left.

As we drove along the southern edge of the peninsula, we found the turnoff for a mountain track (F570) that lead over Snæfellsjökull and back to the northern edge Snæfellsnes. It climbed, very quickly, from sea level to just over 3,000 ft in elevation. The wind increased dramatically near the top, where clouds seemed to form from nothing and roll down the edge of the mountain. Perhaps the most amazing thing was the bright green moss covering the ground. Alas, we didn’t find the entrance to the center of the Earth that Jules Verne wrote about.

But it all paled in comparison to one of the first sights we saw that day: Kirkjufell. It’s one of the most iconic sights in Iceland, a place I had only seen in pictures. It was relatively crowded, for Iceland. Near Kirkjufell is Kirkjufellsfoss, waterfalls and hiking trails with beautiful views of the mountain. At the base of the falls there was a small patch of muddy turf, just large enough to plant a tripod and wait for the shot:


In Part 4: The south coast, black sand beaches, and conversations with sheep.




Iceland, Part 2

Iceland, Part 2

Or: the Vantsnes Peninsula, light, horses, rain, and the end of the rainbow.

The second day in Iceland began at 6:30, as we loaded up the Dacia and headed north, toward the Vantsnes Peninsula. The original goal was to find Hvítserkur, the rock formation that legend tells was a troll who returned too late to his cave and was frozen there by the morning sun.

But Vantsnes was so much more than the sad fate of a lonely troll. We watched from Illugastaðir as seals lounged on rocks. Farms and horses (and sheep! always sheep!) and churches dotted the roadside and the light was magnificent. It was alternately cloudy and stormy while we were there and it made for a dramatic countryside.

The first stop, though, was a quick color-check, as I was after Serious Photography, of course.

Color Checker
My lovely wife makes a brilliant hand-model/color-checker holder. Thank you!

The jury remains out as to how helpful this was, but it made a decent place to begin in post-processing.

Our first real stop of the day came in the form of Borgarvirki, a large lava plug that was thought to be a fort of sorts, meant for the defense of the surrounding valley. The fortifications would have been around circa 900-1000 A.D., though according to the information at Borgarvirki, there was no record of there having been a battle or siege at the site. Of course, I think I know why:

Approaching Borgarvirki (long-exposure)

Can you imagine walking up to that wall with hostile intent?

Further north, more farms and churches, horses and sheep. Here, a small church that was part of a farmstead, nestled at the edge of a mountain.

Church, Mountain

And the horses that called that farm home:

Icelandic Horses

After the farm and horses, we made it to Hvítserkur, that poor devil of a troll:


I can perhaps see the trollish resemblance. Of course, the official explanation (that the formation is the remnants of a lava plug, long battered by the sea), is also acceptable. In fact, the sea had done such a good job of wearing away the rock that the Icelanders shored up the foundation with concrete, rather than lose the formation completely.

Hvítserkur sits at the top third of the peninsula, so we soon found ourselves rounding the corner and heading south again. Shortly after making the turn, a small herd of horses came trotting north. I have no idea where they were headed, but they seemed to be able to manage well enough on their own. Further up the road, another small group of them, simply hanging out by the side of the road. Happy to roam and graze. And, in the case of at least one, happy to pose for a photograph.

Icelandic Horse
An Icelandic Horse grazes on the Vantsnes peninsula.

The clouds were beginning to roll in, however. At a promontory on the western edge of the peninsula we could see a storm coming in over the Westfjords. We stopped just long enough to catch a panorama of the sky and sea before the rain began on Vantsnes as well.

Toward the Westfjords
A storm rolls in over the Westfjords, as seen from the western edge of Vantsnes.

I had read, before coming to Iceland, that if you didn’t like the weather, to simply wait five minutes. Of course, I had heard that about South Dakota, too. And Montana. And Alberta and British Columbia. It proved more true for Iceland than for those other places. Within half an hour, we had returned to the ring road and a vibrant sunset with alternating storm clouds, blue skies, sheets of rain, and beautifully scattered sunlight.

Through the Storm
West Iceland sunlight, scattered in rain and cloud.

Five minutes later, as promised, the weather changed:

Rainbow Panorama
From storm to blue skies. Panoramic stitch of four images.

The rainbow formed as we were headed south on the ring road, heading home for the evening. At times it was visible end to end, golden ground beneath it. It took several kilometers to find a pull off, though there was hardly any space. Tourists and Icelanders alike had all pulled off to watch the impromptu light show. Just like the horses, Iceland’s rainbows are kind enough to pause for a portrait, just before the sun set.

Rainbow, West Iceland

For part 3: Snæfellsnes, wild roads, glaciers, and taking pictures of places I’d only ever seen in pictures.



A note on Weddings

A note on Weddings

It’s that time of year when the wedding calendar for next season is filling up. In a few days, I’ll be at the Denim and Diamonds Wedding Expo here in Oneonta. Before we get there, I thought I’d write a bit about how I photograph weddings. To do that, I’ll take three of my favorite photographs from recent weddings and explain how they came together, the story behind the story.

The picture above comes from a wedding in late September, 2015, overlooking Otsego Lake from the terrace of the Fenimore Art Museum. Across the lake the leaves were not quite at peak color, but they were close. And it was cold. Middle forties, if memory serves, and much of the assembled crowd were rubbing their hands together, passing around hand-warmers. The groomsmen gave the bridesmaids their coats shortly after the ceremony concluded. The ceremony wasn’t rushed, but one got the sense that just about everyone wanted to get inside and enjoy a warm drink. At the back of the crowd stood yours truly, periodically snapping photographs, waiting for the big moment and wondering if the passing clouds would lend a bit of sunlight to the proceedings. In the briefest of moments, the sun came out and I was able to take only a few exposures before the newlyweds came down the aisle, looking for a warmer spot for formals.


I am partial to monochrome images, though of course the client’s preferences come first. Here, I was happy to deliver a black and white image with slightly muted contrasts. This was a small wedding in Cambridge, MA. The bride and groom rented a restaurant’s veranda and dining room. The bride’s floral head-piece, dress, hair, and bouquet, as well as her aunt’s hair, all seemed to glow in the late-evening light. A small moment among many at the reception, which was just getting underway, hopefully signified by the suit coats, out of focus in the foreground, framing the women.


And, finally, one of my favorite images from the last few years. No, it’s not the finest image I’ve ever shot, but it speaks to my favorite thing about weddings. Namely, for a little while, I get to meet a new group of people and work with them to make the lasting images they want. This was at the bitter end of the night. Nearly 11pm. The reception would continue on for some time, of course, but a few of the guests had begun to leave and the ties were coming off. It was July and a very hot day had turned to a humid night on a farm near Delhi. One of the bridesmaids thumbed through Pinterest for wedding photo ideas as I was packing up my gear. Someone had brought sparklers, she said, and did I have time for one more shot? We set up the trusty X100S and burned through the box of sparklers, spelling out the bride’s new last name, and, at the end, love.

It’s so much fun, being in disparate situations with wildly different brides and grooms, in wildly different cities. Farms, museums, restaurants. Always looking for the images that everyone expects, but happiest to deliver the images that surprise.





Iceland, Part 1

Iceland, Part 1

Here we go: Iceland, Part 1.

We booked our tickets nearly a year in advance, my wife and I. We rented a small apartment on a horse farm (there were sheep too…so many sheep) in West Iceland, booked a Dacia Duster 4×4 and waited patiently for the date to come.

Who am I kidding? There was very little patience involved. Iceland is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and I was itching to be there. I’d been watching all the amazing work photographers I admire were doing in Iceland and I wanted try my hand.

We took a red-eye with WOW Air and arrived just after 5:00am, bleary eyed and hungry. By 5:30 we had picked up the Dacia, a relatively awful meal at the 24-hour Subway just south of Keflavik (only thing open) and were off to Valahnúkur to catch the sunrise. While the sunrise was beautiful, Iceland leaves a photographer spoiled for choice:


And just to the left:


And just behind:


That is the lovely Reykjanes Lighthouse, built after the first lighthouse on Valahnúkur mountain suffered damage in a series of earthquakes leading up to 1905.

Back on the road, which is where we spent most of the first day. We put nearly 400 kilometers on the rental car in the first day and saw landscapes as varied as you can imagine. One minute, we felt as though we were on the surface of the moon. The next, it looked like New Mexico. Then Montana. Then back to the moon. In point of fact, we didn’t stop much for Serious Photography. I just wanted to see. To be in the place. Catch some of the more tourist-y sights:



And then, settle down and enjoy the light and the size of the sky. In the week we were there, the weather ranged from warm to brisk, sunny to rainy, but the light was always amazing. Just look at the play of light and shadow on some distant hills:


The view heading toward Þingvellir, before enjoying some of the finest dirt roads Iceland has to offer (F338, to be specific).

Next up: Some of the Serious Photography, sheep, horses, and, as is always the case in Iceland, more sheep.