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Thread: Best Aurora Lens - Iceland Trip

  1. #21
    Super Moderator Kayaker72's Avatar
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    Dec 2008
    New Hampshire, USA
    Ok. Thanks to everyone for your help.

    I am back in New Hampshire having arrived back last night. As I, and maybe others, may refer back to this thread, I wanted to get a few useful tips and resources down while they are fresh in my mind.

    First, let me say, I really enjoyed the trip. I feel relaxed, somewhat refreshed, and Iceland is a definite change of scenery. And this may because I do travel a good amount, but it reminded me of different places I've been. What was odd, was to have them all within miles of each other. Parts reminded me of the Icefields parkway in Banff/Jasper National Parks. Parts reminded me of the Seward Inlet in Alaska. Other parts, the badlands in eastern Washington. But, then, parts very distinctively Iceland.

    Second, I may have been unlucky with the weather. About 3 weeks leading up to the trip, I started checking on the weather and it was often "Partly Cloudy" with every third or fourth day being a rain/snow event. As the window for my trip approach, every day was Rain/Snow, an indication of some sort of system moving through. So, keep in mind, I may have had a bad weather week. Yet, talking to the locals, bad weather is not uncommon. More so, they thought this had been an atypical March.

    So, how bad was the weather. Well, "good" weather oscillated from heavy snow, to rain, to blizzard like conditions and finally to sunny about 5 to 6 times a day. The bad weather, we had gale force winds, hurricane force winds, and roads that were bad enough I found the first safe place to pull over and started adjusting plans. Originally being from Idaho and currently in New Hampshire, I drive snowy, stormy roads all the time.

    One of my primary goals was an ice cave tours schedule for Friday. You know that storm that has cause the evacuation of a cruise ship and cargo ship off of Norway on Saturday. I am pretty sure that was moving over Iceland on Friday. My plan was to drive 3 hrs after the tour to our hotel for Friday night. Considering Jokulsarlon is about 6-7 hrs under good conditions to the airport, we did not want to drive the whole thing on Saturday and still catch our flight. I talked to the tour operator twice Friday morning, never said anything, and our hotel, and they never said anything, and both knew our plan. We were at Jokulsarlon and our actual guides eyes bugged out when they heard our plan and they started talking about how we needed to bunk down near there the night as the roads would likely be closed after the tour. As I got them to explain why, they showed me this wind model that showed up to 38 m/s (85 mph) sustained winds (hurricane force) projected for our path for immediately after the tour with the potential for snow. So, we scuttled the Ice Cave tour and headed back immediately through ~20-25 m/s (55 mph) winds. Mind you, this started about 15 miles south of Jokulsarlon and at Jokulsarlon, it was calm. People were flying drones over the lagoon. Sure the surf was up, but the weather was really pleasant where we were when we made the decision. 15 miles south, the winds were enough to be blowing my sideways and causing water in rivers/puddles/etc to fly aerosolize/fly up. Like I said, I am pretty sure this was the same system that is now causing the abandonment of two ships off Norway.

    So, that is Iceland.

    A few tips:
    • First, I am a bit surprised but there seems to be almost this "if you want to kill yourself, we'll let you" attitude. Maybe it is independence? Maybe self sufficience? But I often run my plans by someone at the hotel and usually, if what I am proposing has a problem, they let me know. Here, it was more of "enjoy and good luck."
    • Speaking as someone that is a bit aggressive in there plans, next time, I will probably favor multiple hotels and shorter travel distances.
    • I may actually rely on tours to get me there and back from something specific. First, this lets you enjoy the scenery, which is amazing. But diesel was ~$7-8/gal, which actually does begin to offset the cost of a tour.
    • To help being self sufficient, is a great resource. It shows weather, road conditions, and number of cars passing different points in the last 10 min / that day (little car symbol followed by an over under number like 4/125 means 4 cars in the last 10 min, and 125 cars that day).
    • is the English version of and is what locals seem to use. More precisely, they look at the detailed model forecast as weather can be very localized. If you just look at reporting stations, you may miss an issue. That predicted 38 m/s winds? In between weather reporting stations, which peaked at ~22-25 m/s. But also includes the roads data as well as their own aurora forecast.
    • No auroras on my trip, but the link above is great. I also really like Spaceweatherlive and Aurora Pro apps. But, as Kari has pointed out, we had cloud cover every night, which is not that uncommon for Iceland.
    • Talking to our hotels, they actually think May is the best combination of good weather and fewer tourists. Peak tourist times tend to be Feb-March (I thought I was shoulder), and June-September.
    • There is a bit of a problem in lack of places to pull off the road. As in, the roads are actually very elevated with steep decline, so you can't pull over. You either stop in the middle of the road (which I saw people doing), or you simply do not stop. I watched some epic light on landscapes go by simply because I could not find a place to pull over that I did not consider dangerous.

    A few impressions:
    • Skogarfoss is more impressive in person than pictures.
    • Seljalandsfoss was a bit less than I expected. I didn't get to walk behind it, as that was closed due to ice, but I suspect it is famous because it is the first waterfall you see coming from Reykjavik on Rt 1 in this region, is right off the road, and it photographs from behind the falls well.
    • Kirkjufellfoss. Beautiful scene, and remarkably straightforward to photograph. There are about 3 set ups to shoot it from. This was maybe the only time I used my 16-35 lens and shooting from the top of the falls, I could have used wider. Rest of the falls were at 16-18 mm.
    • Amazing waterfalls are everywhere. Now that I've seen it, it makes sense, Iceland has all these melting glaciers set atop these basalt/volcanic pedestals. As water cascades off the pedestal, usually you have a waterfall. I actually wonder if many of the famous ones are about access. I saw plenty of great looking waterfalls from a distance behind a farm and a "private road" sign.
    • Landscapes in Iceland are underrated, at least from what I have seen online. The landscapes are stunning.

    I'll add a few more impressions as I think of them. But, in terms of the trip overall, I am already planning on going back. I have at least 2 trips in mind: One to get my ice cave; and the other, in more of peak season for puffins, whales, and waterfalls with more greenery around them.

  2. #22
    Senior Member Jonathan Huyer's Avatar
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    Dec 2008
    Canmore, Alberta
    Thanks for the comprehensive report! That is really useful information. And it just whets my appetite all the more to get there! Now hurry up and post some more photos please

  3. #23
    Super Moderator Kayaker72's Avatar
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    Dec 2008
    New Hampshire, USA
    Quote Originally Posted by Jonathan Huyer View Post
    Thanks for the comprehensive report! That is really useful information. And it just whets my appetite all the more to get there! Now hurry up and post some more photos please
    Ha! Sure....

    I am mostly through Day 1, more of a the preliminary cut, but I've process a few of my favorites.

    Snaefellsnes Peninsula and Snaefellsjokull National Park:

    Along Rt 50 headed to Borgarnes (great lunch at the Settlement Center)
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    Black Church at Budir

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    Stone Arch at Amarstapi:
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    A different shot at Svortuloft Lighthouse (btw, road getting here is single lane, potholed, and gravel/dirt for most of it):
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    Last edited by Kayaker72; 04-01-2019 at 11:18 AM.

  4. #24
    Super Moderator Kayaker72's Avatar
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    Dec 2008
    New Hampshire, USA
    Looks like uploading I am limited to 5 finish off the Day 1 tour through the Snaefellsnes Peninsula:

    View from Svortuloft Lighthouse:
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    Pretty intense wave action. I am not sure of this, but I think the storm that messed with us on Friday was west of Iceland on Tuesday, kicking up the waves.

    And..of course, Kirkjufellfoss:

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    It is unfortunate, as Kirkjufellfoss was the primary reason for me wanting to see the Snaefellnes Peninsula, but my time here was limited. I had planned to be here at sunset, and arrived 2 hrs early. I started shooting, but different waves of snow blew through while shooting, I had to work around and coordinate with the other photographers, and ultimately had ~30 minutes of shooting before a big enough band of snow came through that it just blotted everything out. I didn't get a panorama from the top of the waterfall, just the single shot above. But, the classic Kirkjufellfoss pic (the second) is amazingly straightforward to shoot.

    So, I am still tweaking some of these and you may see them on flickr and maybe the weekly contest, but hopefully this gives anyone going an idea of what is on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. As I said, this is one of the locations I missed some great landscapes simply because there really isn't a shoulder to pull over on the road.


  5. #25
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Nov 2011
    Big Mouse Florida
    I just want to thank everyone for sharing their images, hear their stories, suggestions, and tips.

    And if any or all of you are in Orlando please don't hesitate to let me know I would feel truly honored to have an opportunity to host you and our home and provide you with at least one meal.
    If you see me with a wrench, call 911

  6. #26
    Senior Member
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    Aug 2014
    Wouldn't stress about the "ones that got away" when you captured scenes like these. Lots of visual horsepower in these images! Thanks for posting them.


  7. #27
    Super Moderator Kayaker72's Avatar
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    Dec 2008
    New Hampshire, USA
    Thanks Danny and Mike...

    I thought I'd finish this out....quickly:

    Day 2: This is mostly "the Golden circle" that they talk about and hype. It is a main tourist attraction with Thingervill National Park, some waterfalls, and geyser basin.

    View while driving to "Golden Circle" (found a pull of spot) still in west Iceland....light isn't great, but...
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    Look closely and you can see the wind is pushing waves upstream.

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    Fridheimar. So, Iceland has these geothermally heated greenhouses and actually has a lot of fresh vegetables. This set of greenhouses is part restaurant that specializes in tomato soup and fresh bread. Most ingredients are growing right next to you while you are eating.
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    Geysers are named after Geysir in Iceland.
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    Last edited by Kayaker72; 04-01-2019 at 11:16 AM.

  8. #28
    Super Moderator Kayaker72's Avatar
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    Dec 2008
    New Hampshire, USA
    Day 3 - "South Iceland" Main town you'll see is Vik. But there are a number of waterfalls to the west of Vik including the famous Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss. In the summer, there are some great bird sanctuaries (puffins, etc). Also, some seastacks that I didn't really bother photographing due to crowds.

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    I think this was actually a guide for a photo tour group, but, the "classic" shot from Skogafoss. I asked my wife if she wanted to pose for me and she looked at me like I was nuts for suggesting she get closer to the waterfall.

    Church overlooking Vik. This style of church was everywhere. If someone wanted, there could be a great series of images of churches like this from all over Iceland. Interestingly, I am pretty sure I saw some of these on farms. So a few farm owners built their own churches.
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    Seljalandsfoss. Famous for its images from behind the waterfall, that is close right now due to ice.
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    Gljufrabuifoss. Looking at this and comparing it to other images, I should have gone to my 16-35 lens and shot wider than 24 mm. Granted, it was crowded with everyone wanting to jump on that rock for a selfie. I had to wait in between groups to fire off a few images. But, this is in a little cave. Great experience. 0.5 Km up a flat trail from Seljulandsfoss.
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    Last edited by Kayaker72; 04-01-2019 at 11:14 AM.

  9. #29
    Super Moderator Kayaker72's Avatar
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    Dec 2008
    New Hampshire, USA
    Day 4 is the day where we were scheduled to to an ice cave tour. The plan was also to see Diamond beach, scout it before the tour, then really set up on it after the tour with, hopefully, better light.

    As it stands, I had about 20 minutes at Diamond Beach, scuttled the tour and the second photo shoot at Diamond beach wanting to get back to the hotel before the storm hit and plans to go back someday.

    Diamond Beach is where the icebergs from Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon flow to the ocean and then get washed up on the beach slowly melting.

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    My processing is getting a bit heavy here as the light was directly overhead (taken around noon), you could see some crystal clear bergs (diamonds) and some that were powerfully blue.
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    Noticing all the wave action in the back, I should caution that Iceland warns about rogue waves (they call them sneaker waves) at their beaches. There are a number of drownings each year. At Diamond beach I watched the wave action before getting close, so I had a good idea where they were coming in at, and stayed away from this (more scouting shots)….but even with that, a single large wave did blast in, lift the icebergs up and send them back toward me. Where I had been on dry land, I ended up knee deep in water jumping between icebergs that were starting to float. Everything was fine (even the camera)...but it is pretty easy to see how it could have end, watch those sneaker waves while on the beaches of Iceland.

    So, conceding that this is a flawed image (water drops on the front filter, but it was raining--my wife got a better image on her phone from inside the car), just an example of the landscape in Southeast Iceland.

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    Finally...roadside waterfall....
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    Thanks for viewing and staying with me.... I hope this gives you a flavor of the different regions of Iceland I saw....and really I only covered less than half the ring road (Snaefellsnes Peninsula to Jokulsarlon). Lots more to see for someday.

    Last edited by Kayaker72; 04-01-2019 at 11:34 AM.

  10. #30
    Senior Member
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    Dec 2008
    Newfoundland, Canada
    Great pictures Brant! Thanks for sharing.

    Looks like you got some great shots despite (or in some cases because of) the weather. What really strikes me about these is the lack of any real accumulated snow. I know their winters are typically milder than most would anticipate given their northern latitude, but I still would have expected more snow to be on the ground. Interesting.

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