Archive for October, 2015

Exploring the Eldhraun Lava Field in Iceland

Nordic Little Red Riding Hood

Exploring Iceland’s second-largest lava field, Eldhraun, was like being transported into some moody Nordic fairytale. Discovering and photographing Eldhraun was an unexpected joy in southern Iceland. I wouldn’t have found this highly photogenic area without the help of my photo guide, Jorunn of Iceland Photo Tours who took Anastasia and I here on the first day of our Two Day Photo Tour of The Glacial Lagoon.

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Scenes from Eldraun: Woolly fringe moss grows thick as a futon over lava rock

Moss has grown thick as a mattress on the rocky craters of lava, which date back to an eruption from 1783-84, when Iceland was still part of the Danish Kingdom. The Eldhraun lava field covers about 218 square miles (565 square kilometers) of ground in southern Iceland.

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Left: Anastasia exploring Eldhraun Right: a crevice in the Eldhraun lava field

Now there is plant life peeking through the woolly fringe moss (scientific name Racomitrium lanuginosum) adding unexpected pops of color to this already moody and magical landscape.

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Yellow leaves in the wooly moss

With the skies shifting colors, I keep expecting to see Jon Snow, or at least a wildling or five.

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Left: Ana wandering through Eldraun Right: Red rain coat in Iceland’s second largest lava field

Having Anastasia wear a red raincoat added some extra contrast and interest to the landscape and transformed her into a Nordic Little Red Riding Hood.

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Plant life amidst the wooly moss of Eldhraun

The crew of the Apollo 11 (US astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins) practiced before their moonlanding on this otherworldly landscape.

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Searching for trolls in  the Eldhraun 

In 2014 a new eruption created the Holuhraun lava field, which is now the biggest in Iceland. It’s also located in the Icelandic Highlands.

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The starkly beautiful moody landscape of Eldraun

 Eldhraun means “fire lava.”

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Red Rain Coat in the Eldraun Lava Field in Iceland

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A Visit to the Haukadalur Geothermal Area and Geysir, Iceland

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Obligatory geysir eruption money shot

One of the reasons Iceland’s geographic is so dramatic is because of all the geothermal activity on the island nation. The Haukadalur geothermal region, and Strokkur geysir, are one of the most famous tourist attractions in Iceland and a stop on any good tour of Iceland’s Golden Circle.

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Steam and clouds make Geysir’s geothermic landscape dramatic and beautiful

Strokkur geysir, which erupts every five to 15 minutes, is Iceland’s answer to Old Faithful. The plumes of steam and wispy clouds make for some very unique scenery.

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Tourists visiting Geysir geothermic area in Iceland

Anastasia caught the geysir’s eruption below with her iPhone. Check it out:

 Video of Iceland’s Geysir erupting

The geysir’s plume of steamy water ranges can reach up to 30 meters when it erupts, sometimes with little warning. During our visit it erupted a few times with the water topping out at around 15 meters in height.

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Photographers waiting for the geysir are a common sight in the area

The Haukadalur geothermic region and Geysir are well equipped for tourists, with ample parking and a gift shop and cafeteria. Visiting geysir is free.

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Jorunn, our photo guide, ready to capture geysir’s eruption

 I thought the muddy streams of hot geothermal water made for interesting contrast with the steam and clouds.

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Muddy, moody landscape near Geysir

Our visit to geysir was part of our Golden Circle Day Tour with Jorunn as our guide.

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Geysir is one of Iceland’s most popular tourist attractions in 

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Before the Geysir erupts GIF

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Autumn colors add additional interest to the geothermal landscape in Iceland

Geysir Center

Haukadalur, Iceland

Tel: +354 480 6800

E-mail: geysir@geysircenter.is

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People of the Blue Lagoon: a Photo Essay from Iceland’s Most Popular Geothermic Spa

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Smeared with silt, I thought this woman had a Ziggy Stardust vibe

In most countries, proximity to a power plant makes a location highly undesirable for both health spas and hotels. For me, it brought up images of Blinky, the three-eyed fish from the Simpsons. But that’s not the case in Iceland, where much of the Nordic country’s power is geothermal.

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Ladies in the Blue Lagoon

Due to it’s unique location over still-shifting continental plates and multitude of volcanoes, Iceland is able to produce much of it’s power by harnessing nature. The outflow from such plants is lovely geothermal hot springs, like The Blue Lagoon.

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Bartender in the Blue Lagoon

Located off the road that connects Iceland’s capital of Reykjavik to the Keflavik International airport, The Blue Lagoon is perhaps Iceland’s most famous Geothermal spa destination. It’s easy to book a day tour here from Reykjavik and it’s a popular choice for visitors looking for things to do on a layover in Iceland, and those getting ready to depart from the nearby Keflavik International Airport. Even Beyonce and Jay-Z took a dip in the famous blue waters during their trip to Iceland.

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Toes in the Blue Lagoon

I first visited the Blue Lagoon in 2005, and the spa has made some significant improvements in the last decade, with more on the way. Construction is underway for the Blue Lagoon Luxury Hotel which is scheduled to open in 2017. Now there is a swim-up Lagoon Bar, where you can order Gull beer or wine and enjoy it without ever leaving the water, which remains a steady 100 °F (or 38 °C). The bartender just scans your entrance bracelet so you can settle your bill when you check out.

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If this image were scratch and sniff, you’d smell sulfer

Both Ana and I found the cold beer an enjoyable contrast to the warm mineral waters. There was a two drink maximum, which makes sense since lounging in the mineral water and rubbing yourself with clay and algae can be dehydrating. The Blue Lagoon’s vivid blue color is the result of sunlight reflecting on silica and algae, the water itself is an milky white. The minerals, silica, algae and mud, are considered good for your skin (but bad for your jewelry and swimsuit). There is even a clinic where the the water is used to treat skin conditions including psoriasis.

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Guests at the Blue Lagoon slather themselves with mineral rich mud

There are four different packages to choose from, with entry starting at €35 and ranging to €135 for the Luxury Package (which includes a table at LAVA Restaurant). Rumor has it you even rent the entire place out for yourself for $5,000 an hour.Packages are less expensive when you pre-book them online, but do not include transportation to and from the Blue Lagoon, which can be a pricey taxi ride away. Many tour companies in Reykjavik offer combination transportation and spa packages.

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Getting muddy at the Blue Lagoon

Unless you’ve brought your own towel, the €50 Euro package is the way to go. It includes your first drink and towel rental. While your nose does adjust to the sulfur-rich odor of the air, I definitely did not find myself with an appetite, so a meal might be overkill.

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Bridge over Iceland’s Blue Lagoon

Yes, it’s pricey. But a visit to the Blue Lagoon is it’s a delightful way to spend a few hours.

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With his ink, beard, and mud, The Whisky Pirate was my favorite person to photograph in the Blue Lagoon

Germaphobes need not worry, unlike dicey hot tubs, the water in the Blue Lagoon naturally refreshes itself every 40 hours.

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Swimsuits are available for rent. I’d advise not bringing your favorite bikini, the minerals are harsh are on delicate swimwear fabrics. My bathing suit remains crispy after repeated rinsing.

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Sample of Blue Lagoon beauty products come to you via employees like this guy

If you’re squeamish to smear yourself with clay, employees carrying trays of sample beauty products are on hand to encourage you to give it a try.

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Silt and mineral rich water in the Blue Lagoon

Please note: The Blue Lagoon will be closed for renovations January 5 – January 21, 2016.

Blue Lagoon Iceland

contact@bluelagoon.com

+354 420 8800

Opening hours:

1 October – 31 December* 9:00 – 20:00

Tickets from 35 EUR (pre-booking is required)

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Tips For Chasing (and Photographing) the Northern Lights In Iceland

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A view of the Northern Lights near Thingvellir National Park, Iceland

With it’s proximity to the Arctic Circle and low light pollution, Iceland is considered one of the best places on the planet to view the northern lights. The best time to view the northern lights in Iceland is from mid-September until mid-April, with deep winter bringing the best chances. Even then, there is no guarantee you’ll sight this elusive celestial phenomenon. I got lucky on the last night of my trip and saw (and to attempted to photograph) the northern lights last week.

Since the aurora borealis is most visible away from light pollution, I didn’t even attempt to spot them in Reykjavik. Unfortunately this meant I was in a deep, jet lag-induced sleep when the northern lights made their first appearance!

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The Northern Lights above Ion Adventure Hotel

Also known as aurora borealis, the northern nights are an astrological phenomena caused by solar flares crashing into one another in the atmosphere (for a more technical definition, consult wikipedia).

While there is no guarantee you’ll ever see the northern lights, Iceland’s sparse population and proximity to the arctic circle is one of the best places to view them. There is even an Icelandic Aurora Forecast Tracker online to help, although even if there is aurora activity the clouds need to part in order for you to see it. The night before these photos were taken, aurora activity was predicted to be very high and I headed to the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon with Jorunn, my photo guide and the aurora barely flirted and the clouds did not cooperate. I’m glad I bailed on that extremely cold attempt just after midnight so it wouldn’t impact my shooting the next day. At breakfast, Jorunn overheard a photographer saying she stayed out past three am and never saw the northern lights.

Seeing the northern lights in real life was nothing short of an amazing experience that I cannot fully describe. But any photographer who is lucky enough to see the northern lights is going to be compelled to photograph them. The almost otherworldly celestial light is wildly tempting subject matter and, I must confess, a bit distracting.

The fifteen minutes display of auroral activity photographed in this post was one of the most beautifully serene and surreal things I’ve ever witnessed. Part of me wishes I witnessed the whole thing while sipping Brennivín enjoying the waves of light instead of playing with exposure lengths and f-stops.

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Starry skies and surreal streaks- the Icelandic Northern Lights

Viewing the Northern Lights was surreal and mezmerizing. Ancient Nordic people thought the lights were thought to be a sign from the heavens. Having seen their pulsating beauty, which comes in flickering waves where the streaky skies shift colors from green to purple and pink, I totally get it. I’ve seen amazing images of the the northern lights but to be honest, not even the best photo can do their shape-shifting beauty justice.

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Aurora Borealis hunting in Iceland

Here’s how I photographed the northern lights in Iceland. I did what I usually avoid doing if I can help it– I packed my tripod. Since I am not really fan of tripod shooting, I made it easy on myself by investing in a Really Right Stuff mid-sized ballhead for my tripod legs after reading rave reviews about it’s ease of use. I’m really glad I did. It’s by far the easiest tripod mount I’ve ever used and I didn’t have to mess around with it much. I wanted pictures, but I really wanted to have the full-on Aurora Borealis experience! I am now less daunted by tripod use and I’m excited to use it in more night time photographic shoots.

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Streaks of pink shifting through the Aurora Borealis

I attempted to photograph the aurora borealis using two of my fastest wide angle lenses, a Canon 35mm 1.4 lens and a Canon 14mm f/2.8L superwide angle lens.

Once I got my tripod up, I aimed  my camera up at the sky and attempting to get something in the foreground (a touch of landscape, or of the roof of the Ion Hotel, where I was at the time) in the shot for a bit of perspective. I varied my exposure times between 8-15 seconds. I’m happy with the resulting photos for a first attempt. My next time around I’ll probably use an intervalometer as a shutter release and to time my shots.

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The Northern Lights Dancing in Icelandic Skies

I also attempted to photograph the Northern Lights with my iPhone 6s using a tripod mount and Slow Shutter Cam App. I had my tripod mount clamped to the edge of a deck railing and it was too dark to see what shot I was framing. Below is the best shot I got of the northern lights using my iPhone 6s.

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iPhone 6s Image of the Northern Lights

My iPhone image is grainy and my composure isn’t great, but you can tell it’s the northern lights!  Since this was my first experience photographing the northern lights, I concentrated more on shooting with my Canon 5D MK III, since I knew it had the best chance of getting a decent shot with it. If I were more familiar with using the Slow Shutter App, I think I would have had better results. But when you see the aurora borealis in real life, you want to just take in the phenomenal light show and not play with your cameras the whole time. I’m going to practice using this app more, so that I’ll be more confident using it in the future.

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Watching the Northern Lights in Iceland

While the general rule to stack the odds in your favor to view the northern nights is too get away from light pollution, there was plenty of aurora activity in Reykjavik during my trip to Iceland. There are many tour companies offering aurora hunting experiences. There are also plenty of photo workshops for aurora hunting. I had a great experience with my day tours with Jorunn from Iceland Photo Tours and will rave about her in future posts.

 I’m hoping this won’t be my last meeting with the northern lights. Photographer slash friend Ralph Velasco is leading an Artic Adventure of Lapland in the spring and I’m hoping to join. If there is aurora activity on that trip, I’m hoping to take my northern lights photography to the next level. It will make lugging my tripod so worth it.

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Nordic Authenticity Plus a Dunkin’ Donuts: Scenes from Reykjavik, Iceland

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Looking down towards Faxaflói Bay from Hallgrímskirkja Church

Reykjavik, Iceland is the country’s capital and largest city. Located at 64 degrees north, it’s the northernmost capital city in the world. Approximately 200,000 residents live in Reykjavik’s greater metropolitan area. That’s about two-thirds of Iceland’s entire population of 320,000 people.

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Still life in Camera Shop

If you’re coming to Iceland, you’ll no doubt spend some time in Reykjavik and be charmed by it. Reykjavik’s compact city center means that the main sites are easily walkable (assuming the weather allows for that). Virtually everyone speaks English, making Reykjavik very user-friendly for visitors from the United States.

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Light streaming through the windows of Hallgrímskirkja

In summer, the white nights keep the city bathed in Nordic light for almost 21 hours a day. Winter brings the opposite, with only about four hours of sunlight near the winter solstice. Fall is lovely time to visit Iceland and not as crowded as it is during the summer.

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Interior of Hallgrímskirkja

If you’re looking for things to do in Reykjavik, Hallgrimskirkja church is worth a visit even for the non-religious. Besides it’s cool minimalist architecture and edgy art collection, it’s tower is a great place to get a good lay of the land and look out over the city and towards Faxaflói Bay.

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Hallgrímskirkja is about as Nordic design cool as churches get

Amidst all the authentic Nordic charm are a few odd imports. Taco Bell has a presence in Reykjavik. Sixteen Dunkin’ Donuts stores are slated to open in Iceland. The Dunkin’ Donuts on Laugavegur was packed every time I walked past it and offers speedy wifi… and donuts featuring the Icelandic flag!
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Dunkin’ Donuts  featuring the flag of Iceland

Of all the cozy cafes and charming shops in the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik Roasters, was my favorite discovery.

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Still life with vinyl (and Ziggy Stardust) at Reykjavik Roasters

Reykjavik Roasters an exceptionally charming coffee shop located at Kárastígur 1. This coffee shop feels like the backdrop for a Kinfolk magazine photo shoot, with it’s blue coffee roaster and a collection of vinyl records and mismatched china.

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Obligatory hipster coffee still life from Reykjavik, Iceland

But unlike a lifestyle magazine, nothing about Reykjavik Roasters is trying too hard. Perhaps it’s the direct Nordic no-nonsense attitude that keeps this minimalist gem of a a coffee shop from feeling contrived.

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Moody light inside Reykjavik Roasters is made for Instagram

The coffee is fantastic (perhaps the best coffee in Iceland) and I regret not purchasing any to bring back with me.

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Minimalist Icelandic Coffee Shop Goodness

If you’re looking for what to do in Iceland, don’t miss a visit to Reykjavik’s stunningly modern Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center. It’s facade was designed in collaboration with Danish/Icelandic architect Olafur Eliasson.

Gleaming glass of the Harpa Concert Hall’s Interior

The architecture is gleaming, modern, and quite frankly, dizzying with lots of glass and sharp angles.

The modern interior of the Harpa Concert hall is dizzying

Kolbrautin Restaurant at the Harpa is also highly regarded and on my list of “must try” spots for my next trip to Iceland.

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Pretty much exactly what I thought a hotel room in Reykjavik would look like

Reykjavik is a great place to spend a few days and be charmed by the capital city. IcelandAir allows stopovers of up to seven days so you can get a hit of Reykjavik and explore some of this fantastic country before heading to one of their other European destinations.

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