Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Iceland 2011: First Light & f-stop

I was eager to get myself and a camera to Iceland, and I spotted an ad in Outdoor Photographer for a photo tour that was set to go over during the summer. So I signed on and ponied up.

The outfit was First Light Photography Tours, run by the well-traveled Andy long out of Colorado. They seemed to cater to birders, but the Iceland trip cam across as more of a landscape tour. Still though, the other clients who signed on were avid birders who had been with FLP before, and had visions of Puffins, Arctic Terns, Kittywakes, etc., dancing in their heads, as I would eventually discover.

A hitch developed between payment and trip: the promise that meals would be paid for was an oversight on FLP's part. A previous partnering with an Icelandic guide operation afforded that, but the one for our trip did not. To FLP's credit, they allowed clients the option of paying for their own meals or keeping to the terms of the original agreement. It may well be that I was the only client to stick to the terms as advertised. (I know I had the least expensive camera body in the group, a Canon prosumer DSLR, the 60D.)

I did acquire a serious tripod for this trip. All indications were that a sturdy tripod was essential in Iceland. So I got a Gitzo GT3541L. Just kinda rolls of the tongue, a name like that. A tripod like that nearly makes you a serious photog, save for the fact it bears a center column. Serious photos shun center columns just as they do UV filters.

The journey from Sacramento, USA to Keflavik, Iceland was not without glitches. The Delta flight from LAX to JFK was delayed to the extent that it appeared it would arrive after my connection to KEF departed, down from a 2+hr layover. I scrambled to make alternate arrangements; the best I could do was a booking on the next day's flight to Iceland.

Later I discovered that there was no need for my panic, and the Delta personnel at the LAX gate should have known this. The aircraft I was riding from LAX to JFK was the very same aircraft scheduled to fly from JFK to KEF. But since I had made emergency plans, and contrary to what the gate agent told me, Delta cancelled my original booking so as to book me on the nest day's flight. This all had to be sorted at JFK, and resulted in the loss of my long-ago-booked window seat in favor of a middle seat facing a bulkhead.

This is why I don't fly Delta so much if I can possibly avoid it.

In any case, once in Iceland, our local guide was the delightful Mike Kissane of f-Stop Tours. He's an American ex-pat who found love in Iceland. So he's a rare guide who's conversant in his L1 of English as well as his L2 of the impenetrable Icelandic. We ventured from Reykjavik to points north, west, south, and east.

While the other folks on the tour were great, they were quite keen to get bird shots. We would stop at a lakeshore to photograph a swan a quarter mile away. But if we arrived at a birdless locale, there was a palpable urgency to move on to the next stop where there might be birds. We blew past countless decaying concrete barns overrun with verdant mosses. I talked Mike into stopping at one on our last day in the wilds, and there was great puzzlement in the van as to why we were stopping.

But the niggles and perceived slights paled in comparison to Iceland's beauty. I was left with a sense that I wanted to return to see more. We ran up the west coast a ways, and along the south and partway up the east on the Ring Road. And we toured the sites of the Golden Circle. But we did not get into the north or the northwest.

And the Sirius Konsum dark chocolate is really very special.

I stayed on after the official tour and got some architecture and graffiti shots by walking the streets of Reykjavik.

2011 06 Iceland Album

B&GER Entry: I’ve seen amazing photographs made in Iceland and long wanted to try my own hand at it. I found a photographer tour going over, so I signed on. There was too much drama in the flights over, but Iceland was beautiful. The photographers were a curious mix (and I was no doubt among the curioust). The local guide was great, and we saw quite a bit of the island. From the colorful steel-clad buildings of Reykjavik to the weather-beaten dwellings of Flatey. From the robust cascades at Hraunfoss to icebergs of Jökulsárlón. From the tectonic plate junction of Thingvellir to the black sands of Ingólfshödi. Volcanoes and glaciers, geothermal areas and basalt beaches. Icelandic horses and puffins (and many more bird species). Lonely churches and derelict concrete barns. We had unexpectedly warm, sunny weather. Luckily I packed a mini travel tube of sunscreen. I didn’t expect to use any of and ended up using it all. I stayed two days after the photogs left to wander Reykjavik and tour Thorsmork. But I didn’t get to much of the interior and missed the desolate northern half. An air tour of the glaciers and volcanoes would have been worthwhile, too.