We drove about an hour from our cottages in Kukolankoski to the hilly area of Kivalot where we were greeted by the howls and whimpers of thirty Siberian huskies ready to roll. There we met Ulla and Paula, a mother/daughter team of mushers with over 30 years of dog sledding experience. Ulla is a serious competitive dog sledder, but her B-team of dogs is at the ready to entertain tourists with scenic dog sled tours.
Off duty dogs
Huskies have a human like howl that made it a bit difficult to hear the instructions of how to drive the dog sleds, which are crafted by hand by Ulla. We split into teams and had an awesome chance to take in some of the local scenery by sled (or sledge, as they call it in Lapland).
Left: Paula and Sitka, the puppy Right: Paula with one of her prize huskies
While the person riding in the sled had an awesome perspective to take photographs and video, this experience was about much more than photos. The howling huskies became quiet the second they hit the trail. It was a really fun way to explore the countryside.
Dog sledding video shot on my iPhone 6s
The sounds of the paws against the snow, the cushy ride afforded by the fluffy layer of snow. The sensation is a bit like cross-country skiing, but more fun because of the six wagging tails in front of you.
The view from the dog sledge
Dog sledding was a great way to experience the beauty of the Lapland wilderness and bond with nature.
Sam and a brown and blue-eyed Siberian beauty
Dog sleds are driven by fully manual transmission, and there were a few memorable mishaps. I got flipped in the sled while riding around a corner. But it only added to the experience, and the snow guaranteed a soft landing.
Sitka the future sled dog hopeful.
I’m not sure which I preferred– riding in the sled or driving it. Both were fantastic. We even had a touch of snow to add to the winter wonderland atmosphere. Everyone on the trip thought this was an absolute highlight and was a bit bummed when our ride ended.
Ulla and Paula invited us into a tipi-like tent for some coffee and introduced us to Sitka, a five-week old husky puppy who is a future competitive sled dog hopeful.
It’s experiences like dog sledding in Lapland that made me glad I took a tour. Our group loved discussing this experience and having it together made it all the better. Much thanks to Ralph Velasco and Alessandro Maccari of Photo Enrichment Adventures for putting together this amazing trip.
Alone in the Namib Desert won Silver in the Portraits, People Online Publication category
I am very honored my travel photography received two 2nd Place (Silver) wins in the 2015 North American Travel Journalists Association Awards. Images I shot in Namibia were awarded Silver in the Portrait/People and Nature categories for Online Publications. Both winning photos were shot on my iPhone 6.
If you are planning a gorilla trekking safari to Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, you are going to want to document your experience with a camera or three.
There are less than 1,000 mountain gorillas in the world today
Here are some tips on how to get the most out of your gorilla trekking safari photography.
I took some of my favorite images on my iPhone 6s plus
Weather conditions for my treks ranged from rainy (think Gorillas in the Mist) to very contrasty when it was sunny. The contrasty day was the most difficult to photograph.
This mountain gorilla walked right by me
Tip #1 Hire a Porter
Porters are available (tip them US $10 per day) to help carry your gear/backpack and help you through steep and difficult parts of your trek. I would highly recommend using one. Not only are you supporting the local community, but there are a few times when it’s helpful to have someone spot you when you are climbing on a step rocks.
A juvenile gorilla swinging in the bamboo
Tip #2 Make Sure You have Pockets
The protocol for gorilla trekking safaris requires you to leave your daypack, backpack or camera bag about 100 meters from the group of gorillas you will be interacting with that day. This means that any gear you intend on using during the one hour you get to spend with the gorillas needs to be on you. Make sure your pants (most likely rain pants) have pockets for any accessories or spare batteries you might need.
Mother gorilla and baby (image shot and edited on my iPhone 6s plus)
Tip #3- Bring Your iPhone or Mobile Phone
Some of the best photos I shot during my gorilla treks were taken using my iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s plus. Mobile phones are great for wide angle photography, and you will be getting up close with the mountain gorillas. iPhones (and most mobile phones) are best at shooting wide angle images and are easy to carry. This makes them an an excellent choice for photographing your gorillas trekking experience.
Portrait of a mountain gorilla (taken on my iPhone 6s)
Trekkers in Volcanoes National Park are supposed to stay 7 meters away (approximately 23 feet) from the gorillas. The gorillas, however, do not follow this rule. Some will walk ride by you or even touch you. You can only photograph these sorts of interactions if you camera can focus when it’s close to the subject. My iPhone 6s was great at photographing at these short distances, where the lens I had on my Canon required more distance.
Gorilla laying on it’s back
Tip #4- Pack a few lens wipes
You’ll visit the gorillas on their turf, which is not a clear hiking path. The ground will be covered with vines and leaves and possibly mud. I tripped once each of the three days I was with gorilla trekking. While my falls weren’t painful, a few of them did leave my lens or cameras a bit dirty. Fortunately I brought a lint free lens wipe with me each day so I was able to wipe down my cameras and return to shooting promptly.
I shot this video of a mountain gorilla munching on bamboo on my iPhone 6s
Tip #5- Shoot Some Video
Your mobile phone is a great option for this. Even if you are not an experienced video shooter, this is the time to give it a try. Make sure your microphone is on so you have some of the sounds of nature. If you don’t like the sounds when you review your video later, you can always add music later.
Tip #6- Bring a wide angle zoom lens
If you are bringing a DSLR camera, you’ll want to have a wide angle zoom lens that can focus quickly with you. I got good results with my Canon 24-70 mm lens.
I photographed the young mountain gorillas above using my Canon 24-70 wide angle zoom
Tip #7- Bring a Shower Cap
A humble shower cap is one hotel room amenity I always take and stuff into my camera bag. Shower caps can be used to protect your camera body in rainy or damp conditions, which are very possible if Rwanda. Rwanda’s rainy season is from March- May, but I had a light rain in early December. A plastic bag can also do the trick but in Rwanda has a ban on plastic bags. So if you don’t have a clean plastic bag available, grab a shower cap from your hotel’s bathroom instead.
Gorilla chilling out in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
Tip #7- Disable Your Flash
Flash photography is not allowed around the gorillas. Be sure you know how to disable the flash on your camera or mobile phone and do so before you get to your group of gorillas.
Baby gorilla from the Hirwa group framed in vines
Tip #8- Look for Creative Ways to Frame Your Shot
The mountain gorillas in Rwanda have some very human behaviors, but they won’t pose for you. Look for angles that will allow you to frame the animals creatively. I found the vines and bamboo helped create interesting ways to frame the animals.
Ideally you want to be able to focus on the gorilla’s eyes. It is unlikely that the lighting will always be ideal for this. Apps like Afterlight and VSCO‘s clarity and shadow save adjustment features can help enhance your gorilla photos during your editing process. If you’re shooting with a DSLR, this can also be done in the editing process if you use Lightroom or Photoshop.
Tip #9- Shoot a Variety of Shots (including group shots)
Much of the time you’ll be in front of one or two gorillas. Try and look for a variety of images, including group shots. These might be harder to compose due to other trekkers in your group, or lighting conditions might not be ideal. Group shots help round out your coverage and give a sense of how the gorilla family interacts. If you have a clear shot of a group of gorillas moving, try capturing it on video as well as in stills. It helps give a sense of place.
I shot the video above of the Hirwa group of gorillas on my iPhone 6s
Tip #10- Don’t Forget to Shoot Landscapes and Details
In order to best cover your gorilla trekking experience, you’ll want to include a few landscape shots which show the area. If you have any sort of zoom capability, you’ll also want to get a few shots of details. When the largest silverback gorilla in the world did not want to show me his face, I took a photo of his vast back. If I could not see an animal’s eyes, I tried to zoom in on a detail like feet, hands, or toes.
A landscape of the some of rural countryside in Rwanda
This gorilla didn’t wouldn’t show me his face, so I photographed his feet
My gorilla trekking guides offered to take pictures of me each day. This is a better and safer option than taking a gorilla selfie.
Here I am photographing the mountain gorillas in Rwanda
Wreckage from the 1973 DC-3 on Sólheimasandur Beach plus a red coat and a rainbow
The Sólheimasandur plane wreck in Southern Iceland is a must-see destination for aviation geeks and photographers alike.
Moody clouds and rainbows add Icelandic atmosphere to the U.S. Navy Douglas Super DC-3
Located on the black sand of Sólheimasandur Beach, on the coast of Southern Iceland, the wreckage of the US Navy DC-3 plane is worth exploring.
The DC-3 fuselage adds an unexpected element to Iceland’s already dramatic landscape
The Sólheimasandur plane crash site is not morbid — all the crew members survived the crash landing which was caused due to extreme icing that forced an emergency landing on the black sand of Sólheimasandur beach.
Left: You can still faintly read the United States Navy on the fuselage Right: wires dangling from the cockpit
Rarely can you get this close to plane wreckage. You can even climb inside.
The Sólheimasandur plane wreck has been hit by graffiti artists. I don’t think the pink works.
According to Jórunn Sjöfn Guðlaugsdóttir, our photo guide in Iceland, the plane wreck site is much easier to reach since markers have been placed on the beach to guide tourists to the site. But you definitely need to be driving a 4×4 since the sand is soft in some parts.
It’s amazing that you can actually walk up to (and into) the DC-3 wreckage
the Sólheimasandur plane wreck site can be reached off the ring road. Between the Skógafoss waterfall and Vik. The GPS coordinates are 63.459523,-19.364618.
Sólheimasandur is a popular stop for aviation geeks and photographers visiting Iceland
Dramatic clouds, rainbows, and black sand at Sólheimasandur wreck site
Visiting the wreckage on Sólheimasandur Beach is a bit surreal. The plane feels like a leftover prop from a movie shoot.
Anastasia’s red coat adds a nice pop of color against the black sand of Sólheimasandur beach
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The starkly beautiful moody landscape of Eldraun
Eldhraun means “fire lava.”
Red Rain Coat in the Eldraun Lava Field in Iceland