JHP Newsletter - 2013, No. 4, 20 August
Greetings from near Franktown, Colorado.
Equipment: Canon TS-E 45mm f2.8
I purchased a Canon TS-E 45mm f2.8 tilt/shift lens specifically for my recent trip to Iceland because I wanted to be able to use the tilt motion for images where there is a dominant foreground element and an important background element so I could align the plane of focus along all of the critical elements in the frame. I had been planning to purchase the TS-E 45mm f2.8 II when it's released, but I purchased a Mk I version now because it's as sharp as my Canon EF 24-105mm f4 L IS USM but has some noticeable chromatic aberration.
Tour: Kenya in October 2014
Join me for a 20-day photo safari to Kenya in October 2014 where we will visit three parks and witness the wildebeest migration. The trip will begin with four days in Samburu National Reserve where we will see the unique gerenuk, reticulated giraffe, Biesa oryx, and Grevy's zebra and have good opportunities for cheetah, elephant, and leopard. Then we will spend two days at Lake Nakuru National Park where we will see flocks of thousands of lesser flamingos and also Rothschild's giraffe and white rhino. Then we will spend 12 days in Masai Mara National Reserve to witness the wildebeest migration and see Masai giraffe, black rhino, and common zebra, along with cheetah, elephant, leopard, and lion. We will spend those 12 days in the Mara in three different areas of the large park to minimize travel time and increase shooting time, and there will only be three photographers per 7-passenger Land Rover to facilitate shooting and carry our gear.
Tour: Gorillas in October 2014
Join me for an awesome photo safari to East Africa in October 2014 to see and photograph mountain gorillas. This safari will be unlike most other African safaris because all of the photography will be done on the ground after hiking to the subjects. It's a wonderful experience to be in close proximity to these close relatives of ours in their natural habitat. The safari is scheduled to mesh with the Kenya in October 2014 safari, so join me for both to make the most of your air travel to Africa.
Jan and I had a fantastic five weeks in Iceland from July 5th to August 8th. It was the first time there for each of us, and we'd like to go back.
The landscape reminded me a lot of Alaska and Norway with fjords, glaciers, and tundra. The road system reminded me of New Zeeland with lots of traffic circles (roundabouts), one-lane bridges, and yield signs where we would usually have stop signs. There were some tunnels to ease travel through the fjords, and one even had an intersection in the middle of it.
We rented an RV while we were there and it was great to have the flexibility to move around as we pleased without having to worry about finding accommodations at the height of the tourist season. Iceland is very RV friendly. It's possible to boondock almost anywhere and most cities and towns have a campground where you can dump and take on fresh water.
All of Iceland, except a small offshore island, is just below the Arctic Circle so the sun doesn't set very long on the summer solstice (about June 21st). When we arrived on July 5th, it never got dark in the middle of the night. It was more like dusk. By the time we left on August 8th, there was an hour or two in the middle of the night that would qualify as being dark. All of that sunlight was great for photography, but we were very rarely awake for sunrise and almost always took a nap in the afternoon.
The weather was quite cool when we were there with highs mostly in the mid 50s (about 13°C). There were a few days where it got up into the mid 60s (about 18°C) and one day we had a heat wave as it reached 70 (21°C). We were prepared for the cooler temperatures, and I'd much rather have those temperatures instead of highs in the 90s (around 32°C). We were also prepared for the overcast and frequent rain, but we weren't prepared for the wind. Some days it would blow all day long between 20 and 30 mph (32 and 48 kph), and it's no fun to be buffeted by the wind while you're trying to take a picture, plus the camera gets bounced around even on a tripod. One evening, it must have been blowing between 40 and 50 mph (64 and 80 kph) and rocks from the gravel parking lot were being thrown up on the RV windshield. We didn't dare go out in that mess!
We landed at Keflavik (A on the map, and vik means bay) which is SW of Reykjavik (B), the capitol and by far the largest city in Iceland. Then we more or less followed the coast 1.25 times around the country in a clockwise manner. We had a rough idea of the places we wanted to visit, but not a very good idea of how long we'd want to spend at each location nor the time required to get from place to place. So, after completing our first circuit, we spent the last few days back on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula (The letter æ is pronounced like ai as in aisle.) waiting for better weather than we had on our first pass through.
1/1000 sec, f8, ISO 1250
1/1000 sec, f8, ISO 1600
Fortunately, by the time we reached Borgarfjörður in eastern Iceland (J) on July 24th, the Atlantic Puffin there were quite busy bringing fish back to the nest (below left). We spent two nights there, and on the second morning I concentrated on flight shots as the birds returned to their nests (below right).
1/1000 sec, f8, ISO 1600
1/1500 sec, f6.7, ISO 640
Our other main goal was to photograph waterfalls, and they're plentiful along the coast where we spent the majority of our time. We visited and photographed some well-known waterfalls like Hraunfossar (C, below left), where water flows out of the porous lava level into the Hvitá river. Note that hraun comes from the Icelandic word for lava and foss is the Icelandic word for waterfall. We also stopped to photograph many smaller, unnamed waterfalls including this one near Kjálkafjörðr in the Westfjords. Öxaráfoss (below right) is in Þingvellir National Park (M) very close to the Alþing general assembly (Þingvellir means parliament fields) that was the seat of Iceland's central government from about 930 to 1271 and continued to act as a courtroom until 1798. (Those funky Ps are the letter thorn, and they're pronounced like th in think.) These three images were converted to black and white to bring out the structure and contrast.
LBW polarizer, 3-stop ND, 6 sec, f16, ISO 100
LBW polarizer, 3-stop ND, 1 sec, f13, ISO 100
3-stop ND, 4 sec, f9.5, ISO 100
Here's another unnamed waterfall that grabbed me as we were driving by (below left). Kirkjufellfoss (N, below right) is a popular waterfall, especially for photographers, near Grundarfjouml;rðuur on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
0.7 sec, f16, ISO 100
3-stop ND, 6 sec, f11, ISO 100
Iceland has lot of birds in addition to puffins, and we spent time photographing them too. Lake Mývatn (H, pronounced like mee-vawt) has a large concentration of several species of birds, and also midges. (Mývatn means midge lake.) Fortunately, we came prepared with head nets to keep those pesky buggers away. Harlequin ducks like the rapids on the Laxá River which flows out of Lake Mývatn but there were only females with chicks there around July 21st. The female in the image below left had five chicks, and I don't think this little guy really liked the water because it frequently climbed up on her back. Another species that I photographed several different places was the red-throated diver or loon (below right). For this image, we had just pulled off to have dinner on our first evening on the Westfjords and we noticed some whooper swans on a pond further down the side road. After dinner, we went down to photograph the swans and saw the red-throated divers or loons. That was the first time I was able to get some good images of any species of loon, and I was very happy!
1/1000 sec, f8, ISO 1250
1/350 sec, f8, ISO 1600
Arctic terns were common throughout Iceland, and we had a ball one evening (July 15th) photographing some chicks at Fossfjörður in the Westfjords (below left). On our second visit to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, we spent some time at the wetlands near Rif where I photographed an Arctic tern with a fish (below right). It had been flying high above the water with the fish in its mouth, then it descended to water level and dropped the fish into the water and promptly recaught it.
1/750 sec, f8, ISO 1600
1/1500 sec, f8, ISO 800
Late one evening (July 21st) I took turns photographing this common redshank (below left) and black-tailed godwit (below right) in great light on wonderful perches near Lake Mývatn.
1/1000 sec, f8, ISO 1250
1/750 sec, f8, ISO 1250
European golden plover were quite common throughout Iceland, and I photographed this one (below left) near our boondocking spot at Lake Mývatn on July 20th. Two days later, I photographed a horned grebe and chick near Lake Mývatn (below right). The chick must have been going through the Terrible Twos because the mother would dive down and catch a fish, swim over to the chick, and the chick would turn away. The mother would get in front of the chick again and push the fish towards the chick's mouth and the chick would turn its head away. Sometimes, the mother would dip the fish back in the water and then present it to the chick again, and eventually, the chick would end up eating the fish.
1/350 sec, f8, ISO 1600
1/1500 sec, f8, ISO 800
I also photographed landscapes other than waterfalls, but didn't do as much as I would have liked because the weather wasn't very cooperative. One of my favorite images is of a steam cloud at the Krafla thermal area near Maar Viti (below left). One of the must-see locations, especially for photographers, is Jökulsárlón (K), a large glacial lagoon in southeastern Iceland. The lagoon is filled with icebergs that have calved from the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, part of the Vatnajökull ice field, and some of the icebergs make their way out to the Atlantic Ocean and become stranded on the black sand beach near the entrance to the lagoon (below center).
1/350 sec, f8, ISO 200
2-stop hard grad ND, 4.5 min, f13, ISO 100
3 min, f8, ISO 100
Another favorite subject of mine were rock formations along the coast. The weather wasn't the best, but I was quite happy with the composition I found for one of the Reynisdrangur sea stacks (above right) near Vík í Mýrdal, commonly just called Vík (L). I discovered the photographic potential of the rocky coast at Dritvik (D) on our first visit to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, but the weather was too foul to photograph it. When we returned to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, it was too windy the first night, but I was finally able to photograph it on a third night (below left). Öndverðarnes is at the western-most point of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and there's an interesting pillar and sea tunnel (below right).
2 min, f8, ISO 100
1/8, 1/4, & 1/2 sec; f9.5; ISO 100
There are several marine mammals around Iceland, and the Vatnses Peninsula (G) is a good place to see and photograph harbor seals also known as common seals. I photographed this one (below right) on a rock close to the beach and it posed nicely.
1/500 sec, f5.6, ISO 1600
1/1000 sec, f8, ISO 1000
The only land mammal that was native to Iceland when humans arrived was the Arctic fox, and we had our only encounter with them on our last full day in Iceland. As we were leaving the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, an Arctic fox crossed the road as we rounded a corner. We quickly came to a stop and watched the fox disappear into a hole by the road. We set up to photograph it, and waited for it to come back out, but thought it might have crossed the road through the culvert that it had entered and had left the area. We packed up and continued heading down the road. Less than 100 yds down the road, we spotted another Arctic fox by the road, and this one was a kit! We stopped again and went out to photograph it. It was cautious at first and frequently disappeared back into its den. After a while a second kit came out too and we had some fantastic opportunities to photograph them. This is the second kit (above left), and I just love its markings which are very similar to the adult that we had seen and which came to join the kits shortly before we left. The kits became quite comfortable with us quietly kneeling behind our tripods, and the first kit, an all-dark one, was so comfortable and curious that it came within 5 ft (1.5m) of us to see what we were doing. It was one of the most exciting wildlife encounters I've ever had, and it was a spectacular way to end our visit to Iceland.
It was great to have a Canon EF 600mm f4 L IS II USM along instead of my old EF 500mm f4 L IS USM. Being able to capture quality images with the 2x III tele-converter really created a lot of shooting opportunities I wouldn't have had if I had been limited to the 500 f4 and just a 1.4x III tele-converter. I also grew to really love the Canon EOS 1D X because I frequently shot at ISO 1600 to get enough shutter speed with the 600 f4 IS II and 2x III. The noise in the blurred background rarely bothered me and there was never a problem with the noise in the feathers or fur — absolutely amazing!
Take care and happy shooting.
James Hager Photography :: www.jameshagerphoto.com