Magazine article Geographical

LAND OF FIRE AND ICE: Iceland Is a Sparsely Populated Country with One of the Most Geologically and Volcanically Active Landscapes in the World, Perfect for Capturing Some of the Most Striking Landscape Images on Earth, Says Keith Wilson

Magazine article Geographical

LAND OF FIRE AND ICE: Iceland Is a Sparsely Populated Country with One of the Most Geologically and Volcanically Active Landscapes in the World, Perfect for Capturing Some of the Most Striking Landscape Images on Earth, Says Keith Wilson

Article excerpt

Sitting just below the Arctic Circle and above the Mid-Atlantic Ridge that marks the junction of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, Iceland is home to active volcanoes, spouting geysers, thermal springs and frequent earthquakes. Geologically speaking, this is a young land, undergoing constant reshaping by Earth's subterranean forces. Above ground, the landscape is further altered by the shifting ice of Europe's largest glaciers, torrential waterfalls and a climate that is almost impossible to forecast.

Although it is a remote island with a small population and little impact on global politics and economics, Iceland nevertheless grabs the world's attention whenever there is a major eruption from one of its 30 active volcanoes. This seismic landscape is a major draw for visitors from overseas, captivated by the thunderous waterfalls, vast inland glaciers, towering sea cliffs and iceberg-strewn beaches that feature prominently in any excursion from the modern comforts of affluent Reykjavik, Iceland's capital city. Since 2000, tourist numbers have increased eight-fold to around two million every year. Many are keen landscape photographers, travelling together on specialist photo tours to focus their cameras on the country's natural wonders.

Nearly all such trips begin from Reykjavik, and most stick to the southwest corner of the island, before heading east along the south coast. Major viewpoints include the waterfalls of Skogafoss, Gullfoss and Seljalandsfoss, the black sand beach at Reynisfjara and the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon. These landmarks are particularly popular between May and September when visitors take advantage of the long summer days and warmer average temperatures. Other photographic highlights in southern Iceland include Dyrholaey, a coastal rock arch reminiscent of Dorset's Durdle Door, and Geysir, the original spouting hot spring after which all the worlds geysers are named.

STEAMY ERUPTIONS

Geysir's known existence dates back to the late 13th century when it was first mentioned in Icelandic literature following a series of major earthquakes and the eruption of the nearby Mount Hekla. It may have the history, but it is the nearby Strokkur geyser that has the reliability. Situated just a hundred metres away, Strokkur may be smaller, but it is the preferred choice of many photographers as it erupts every ten minutes or so. Timing is important when photographing any geyser, and one that erupts as frequently as Strokkur makes planning and preparation a lot easier. For the first-time visitor, it makes sense to simply let the first eruption or two pass without taking a picture, and instead observe how long the eruption lasts and the height of the spout. Make note of the direction and strength of any wind as this will influence where you should stand. Geysers are scolding hot after all!

The height and general size of the geyser will also determine your choice of lens. Also note the sun's position: is it behind you or to the side or even behind the geyser, backlighting the plume of steam and spray? The background sky also plays an important part in any composition--preferably a blue sky, even partially cloudy, is preferable to a grey overcast day as geysers aren't naturally colourful. So, a blue sky background, clear sun adding highlights to the edge or behind the spouting spray, and a slight breeze are the ideal conditions for the photographer. A frequently erupting geyser like Strokkur also provides opportunities to experiment with shutter speeds to get a variety of effects, from the smooth cotton-like plume of a long exposure to the intricate detail of every airborne droplet, revealed by a high-speed shutter release.

WATERFALL WONDERS

The hot water dramas of Iceland's geysers are more than matched by the cold water wonders of its abundant waterfalls. As any visitor will tell you, Iceland's waterfalls are spectacularly different. Gullfoss is probably Iceland's most visited and is known as the 'golden waterfall'. …

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