Like many businesses, mine is in total disarray. I love taking photographers in my 12-passenger Sprinter van and going to great locations in the Northeast or taking people to exciting International scenes. But I’m having a hard time planning the next year and your feedback can greatly help. Please take a couple of minutes to answer 10 questions.
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So much happened in Cuba with the coronavirus hanging over our heads, even there was very little evidence of it in Cuba but there was the constant concern that we may be delayed coming home. But the week was magical and we made some great photos. I didn’t do a great job editing, so here are a bunch of photos I shot. If you click on one it will bring up a larger version and then you can use the arrows on the extreme right and left to scroll through the images.
I have to admit that before I went to Iceland I was thinking that maybe I have been there too much and had seen it all. This was my sixth trip in the last two years and I take new workshop participants to the same places, knowing there will be exciting photos there for the photographers. My main goal for workshops is not to make pictures for myself, it is to help others make great images. But I like to get a good shot once in a while too. That sure wasn’t a problem on this trip, the beauty of Iceland is astounding and we were treated to a wonderful display of the Aurora Borealis. To see colorful lights dancing in the sky is beyond words and I may have sounded like a little kid giggling while we were standing out in the dark capturing the beauty with our cameras. We did an early morning hike back to an ice cave and got there before the tourists showed up to crowd the cave as they took selfies. It was a beautiful cave and created unique images for everyone. Even the places I’ve been to several times made for fun, new shots. A favorite place is Diamond Beach where pieces of blue glacial ice wash up on the black sand beach. The sun was low in the sky and the scene was magical as the light creeped into the ice releasing the blue colors. I look forward to returning in August and again next year.
Iceland is full of wonder, maybe one of the most amazing is ice cave in the glaciers. The caves are formed by rivers flowing through the ice in the summer, carving out tunnels during the annual melt. Once winter arrives with colder temperatures, the hollowed out ice becomes a special place. I’ve been in several caves during my Iceland journeys but the one we went to today was a special one. I hired a private guide for our group, which is the only way to get there. We rode 45 minutes in a van with huge oversized tires to traverse the bumpy road to the glacier. We then hiked a little over a mile to get to the cave before the sun rose. The hike was long but pretty easy and the scenery on the way was special. There were other photographers at the cave, it is impossible to go to an empty cave. But the photographers worked together to not get each other in the photos. Once the regular tourists appear, the caves become crowded and making good photos are tough with everyone trying to make selfies.
The glacier glows a wonderful blue as light makes it way through the ice. I moved to the side of the can and used an extreme wide angle lens as one of the other guides posed with an ice axe. The person in the shot provided a sense of scale and helps the scene make visual sense.
We walked farther back in the cave where there were fewer people and the pictures were equally cool. Again, having a person in the photo made the shot. It was a special day and one I’ll remember forever.
There is something special about a snow covered landscape. The world becomes much simpler looking, everything is clean and free of distractions. I love making images that are simple and minimal and winter is the best time to do that. Before the workshop I drove past a pretty little white barn sitting up on a hill. There was a pure white blanket in front of it and a single white birch off to the side. The scene is one that I am always looking for, simple, clean and pretty. I was pretty happy with the shot and the others I made during the weekend.
Many people in Vermont said the foliage this year is the best it has been in years. And it has been a long time since I’ve seen it looking this good. There aren’t a lot of the deep reds that we sometimes get but the lighter reds, oranges and yellows are shining through. I did two fall foliage workshops this year and as usual people came from all over the country. It is fun to host people who live in different places and see their reaction to the changing colors. They have usually seen a few trees change but not whole forests of brilliant foliage.
I created a little group of photos that I shot the last week or so, I hope you enjoy it. Click on a photo to see a larger version and then you can click on the right or left side to scroll through them.
One of the techniques I enjoy doing with my photography is light painting. Much like it sounds, I illuminate subjects in a similar way as painting a wall. But I use a flashlight, sometimes a big one. During my Vermont Fall Foliage Workshop I like to take people to Chittenden Reservoir and light up an island that is about 250 yards from the shore. I have a big 18 million candle power flashlight that does a great job on the island. The best shots come 20-30 minutes after sunset when there is still some light and color in the sky and it is dark enough that the background is dark. We use a 30 second exposure which gives me time to light up the island. Just like painting a wall, I don’t try to cover the whole island in one splash of light, I paint across it so any one area may get only 5-8 seconds of light. When the conditions are right, it can be a fantastic photo.
Maine’s coast is hard to beat for great scenery and when you toss in a bunch of lighthouses it becomes a true visual treat. I hosted a workshop this weekend that started with driving from New Jersey and picking up people along the route to Portland in my 12 passenger Sprinter van. We had people from five states including Florida for the fast three day excursion and we photographed 10 lighthouses. The weather was ideal giving us brilliant sunrises and colorful sunsets. We went to classic locations that every photographer should see including Portland Head and Nubble and some lesser known ones.
I rarely take groups to places I haven’t been before but I had a gap and did a ton of research to find us another place to shoot between Portland and our Saturday night location in Rockland. Squirrel Point lighthouse looked good in my research and I knew it would be a fairly long hike but as we were walking out we crossed a small bridge and I noticed the tide was coming in. I tried to see if I could find a high tide line or something to tell if the water came up to the bridge but I couldn’t see anything. Since I hadn’t read about any problems and I couldn’t see anything, we ventured on. We photographed the lighthouse for a while and some of the group was ahead of the rest and a gentleman out running told them to hurry because the rising tide would be a problem. And it was. When we got to the bridge both ends we almost a foot deep in water. Our runner friend came back and asked if there was anything he could do to help. I had some cheap plastic boot covers in the van and he was kind enough to run the 1/4 mile to get them and bring them back. Some of our people had already ventured across before I got there and either took their shoes and socks off or just went ahead and got their feet wet.
The runner came back, seeming to enjoy running through the water and helping us. I assisted the rest of our group put on the little plastic bag/boots and they made their way dryly through the water. Disaster averted.
For me the best part of the weekend was sunset on Saturday at Marshall Point Lighthouse, which just happened to be where Forrest Gump finished his run. The evening clouds were great and as darkness set in I got out my trusty flashlight and did some light painting of the walkway and the lighthouse. We were given a great show and it was a wonderful weekend.
The final full day of my Iceland Photography Workshop was spent in Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital and largest city. Even though there are a little over 200,00 people, two-thirds of all Icelanders live in the Reykjavik area and it has that small city feel. There is plenty happening in Reykjavik, it has a hopping night scene, big art scene and a top-notch performing arts center called Harpa. Iceland isn’t known for it architecture, most buildings are functional and blocky but Harpa is a major exception. The front is made with glass octagons that look vastly different when viewed at angles.
Close to Harpa is Sun Voyager, a large gleaming steel sculpture that resembles a Viking ship, although that wasn’t the intention of the artist. It was meant to be a dream boat and ode to the sun. It always makes for great photos. Many houses in downtown Reykjavik are painted with unique colors and there is a good deal of street art murals. It makes for a fun stroll with a camera.
While driving to the hotel I went past a strange cemetery, it was full of eerie looking trees. I’m never one to pass up a good cemetery, so I took the group there late the day to see how it really looked. It was eerie all right, the trees were planted within the cemetery plots, very few were between them leading us to believe they were part of the memorials. Most of the trees had thin, tall trunks with a large canopy which added to the dark feel. It would be great fun to be there on a foggy day. There were a couple of cats roaming around, they were pretty chubby and had collars with bells, so they seemed to be out from home for the afternoon.
When ended the day hoping to catch a great sunset at a lighthouse. There was some nice color in the sky before sunset but a marine layer of clouds blocked the killer shot of the sun setting behind the lighthouse. The lighthouse is on an island and it is easy to walk over to it on the beach at low tide. But we arrived as high tide was coming in and the only way off is climbing over jagged rocks, which is tough during the day but very hazardous at night. We opted not to venture to the island but made some beautiful images anyway.
Tomorrow we pack up and head home, the end to another great Icelandic adventure. I look forward to coming back in February!
Today we made the journey back to Reykjavik as my Iceland Photography Workshop is nearly the end. One of the highlights of coming to Iceland in August is photographing puffins, those cute, colorful and rather sad looking cuddly birds. They spend about nine months a year floating on the ocean and come ashore to breed and hatch their eggs then head back to the open sea. I found a spot where they roost on a cliff that is easy for photographers to access. I’ve made some great shots there in the past I was hoping everyone on this trip would be able to get some too. When we got up this morning it was raining and blowing hard. I delayed our departure hoping the weather would clear and it did – somewhat. The rain went away but the wind got even stronger. It was a constant 50-60 mph making walking hard and keeping a camera steady even harder. Iceland is the third windiest place on earth and the other two are uninhabited islands.
The puffins were having a tough time too. The cliff where we get a good close view is a bit of an L shape and we stand at the end of the short part of the L. That is where puffins land about 15-20 feet away on a couple rocks with a good coating of puffin poop. That is where I tell my photographers to watch, when they walk on the rocks you get a great shot. But the wind was too strong for them to land on our side of the cliff. Several tried and could only circle and go elsewhere. They spend the morning flying out and fishing and bringing their catch back to their nests in tall grass. Many were landing on the other side of the cliff but it is too far away to get a nice tight shot. It was fun to watch them navigate the wind and find a way to land. Several of were amazed when one puffin flew toward the cliff and spun around at the last moment and flew backwards into its landing spot. They have dealt with the wind before.
Realizing the wind wasn’t going to let up we had to leave and start our journey back north. We had a couple of stops to make along the way, one being at Gullfoss, a very large waterfall that is very impressive. It is one of the main tourist spots in Iceland and there is always a crowd. It is hard to photograph the whole thing, so I concentrated on a small part. We also went nearby to Geysir, where Icelanders claim the original geyser was seen. Geysir itself is now dormant but one a couple hundred feet away spurts every nine minutes at most. It creates a blue bubble seconds before it blows, which is a challenge to catch with a camera. On to Reykavik for one more full day!
Iceland is known for waterfalls and glaciers, yesterday I took my workshop to the waterfalls, today it was glacier time. I know this little spot where a tongue of Vatnajökull glacier comes down into a lagoon. There is a little dirt road back to it off the highway, it isn’t marked and too small for most people to take a chance to see what is there. Vatnajökull is the largest glacier in Europe and covers 8% of Iceland. It is big.
Driving over from Vic we encountered some rain and wind but all of that stopped when we got out of the van. There were a couple of other people for a while but we mainly had the place to ourselves, which is always fun. In the summer the glacier melts and leaves a layer of dirt in the ice. It is cool to see but not pristine. This is one place that looks better in the winter but it is still fun to see how big this little part of the glacier is and it makes some great photos.
After leaving my little glacial hideaway we drove down to Jökulsárlón where another tongue of the glacier meets the ocean. A large lagoon is there and a short river has formed to drain the lagoon into the ocean. At high tide ocean water surges back into the lagoon and the salty water breaks off large chunks of the glacier. Year round you’ll see large icebergs floating in the lagoon and out the river. When they get to the ocean they break up more and float back onto the black sand beach. As the ice gets smaller it looks like diamonds on the beach when light shins through it. The weather had turned bad and it was raining pretty hard when we arrived. I drove to a couple of spots hoping the rain would ease and it finally did so we went over to Diamond Beach. The light was pretty bad, it was windy and it was spitting rain so shooting wasn’t easy. We still made some fun shots and went back over to the lagoon. Huge pieces of blue ice were floating and breaking apart. It was fun to see and to shoot. The rain came back so we started back toward the hotel.
As we were driving the rain was falling and then the sun came out. It made of one the biggest and brightest rainbows I have ever seen. I pulled the van off the road and we jumped out and shot some pictures while trying to stay dry. It was a lot of fun and great way to end another fabulous day in Iceland.
Toady we made the long drive from Grundarfjörður down to Vic, our Summer Iceland Photography Workshop home for the next two nights. One the way we stopped at three tremendous but different waterfalls. Two of them are well known, Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss. They are too well known, all the tour buses stop there and there is always a huge crowd unless you go extremely early or late in the day. Since they were on our way to Vic, we went at the same time as everyone else. Seljalandsfoss is a very long drop and you can walk behind it, which make for great photos. If you work it right you can eliminate a lot of people from your photos, but it is tricky.
Skogafoss is much wider but you can’t go behind it without drowning. You can get out in the river below the falls and keep some of the people out of the shot but you need to be prepared. I bought some cheap plastic boot covers and gave them to some of our photographers to try but they fell apart about as fast as it took to put them on. When you get close enough to be in front of most of the people you get a good deal of spray hitting you. So I also brought bright yellow micro fiber towels for each person and showed them how to play peek-a-boo with the towel over the camera lens to keep the front dry.
But the highlight for me and the other photographers is a smaller waterfall that most people don’t know about and that is a good thing so I won’t mention the name. You have to climb over a fence and hike about a 1/2 mile back to it. There are a couple of rather tricky spots where you have to climb up and over rocky humps, which also keeps some people out. But once back there the scene is serene and magical. It may be my favorite place in Iceland, I could spend hours there surrounded by the lush green gorge, flowing river and the only sound being falling water. You can also go behind the falls and look out through the gorge and see only the people you came with. Before you get to the falls you are up on a hill looking down on the stream going through the valley. There isn’t a more peaceful place to be.
Click on an image to see a larger version, then you can scroll through them.
We started my latest Iceland Photo Workshop by heading north to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, a beautiful area that doesn’t get the big bus loads of tourists. It is well known for a cute little church in Budir that is painted black and for Kurkjufellsfoss a scenic waterfall beside the iconic Kirkjufell mountain. We were based near the little town of Grundarfjörður just across a small bay from Kirkjufell. There is an artist in town who goes by the name of Liston and I have visited him with groups several times. He can usually be found outside his studio carving stone and his artwork is all over town. He greets me with a big smile and firm hand shake and is always willing to talk with everyone. I’d love to have one of his large carvings but getting it back home would be a major event. He did offer one of our folks to come stay with her for a couple of months and carve anything she wants! In the winter when it too cold to be outside carving he is in his studio painting. I bought one of his larger acrylic paintings on paper and can’t wait to hang it.
During our two days around Snæfellsnes we journeyed to Bjarnarhöfn, home to a shark musuem but rather than go inside we photographed another black church and the beautiful country side. We also went up to the little harbor town of Stykkishólmur, which is a classic quaint Icelandic village. We made the fairly easy climb up a small mountain that has a great overview of boats in the harbor and the town built on the hills. It is a great view.
Back in Grundarfjörður we wandered out through fields to a pretty waterfalls. It was more than a mile round trip and the last section to get close to the falls was pretty tricky so only a couple of people made the final hike. On the way out an Icelandic horse wandered over to see what we were up to. Before getting too close she stopped and did some posing for all the photographers. And she was a great poser, striking the right moves with a scenic mountain behind her. When she had enough of that she came over to check the camera of one of our people. She sniffed around but didn’t lick the lens!
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Getting out at night and seeing the stars is something that I never get tired of doing. I hosted back-to-back Night Skies Workshops in Vermont the last 10 days and it was great to be out in the dark and see the stars shining. Seeing the stars is one thing and photographing them is another. This is one of the few areas of photography where you need to have the right equipment to make good images. The stars seem bright but it takes a good camera to handle the darkness and the long exposures required. There are tricks to making the photos and then also in post processing, which is what the workshops were all about.
For me it isn’t enough to just make photos of the stars, I want something in the foreground to add an extra element to the image. That means it will either be a silhouette or I need to light it up. I love using a technique called light painting to illuminate objects with a flashlight. I have a variety of lights I use, from very small penlights to a huge 18 million candle power monster light. I didn’t need the monster during the workshop since all the objects we lit were close enough that it would be too bright. I look forward to doing the workshops again next year.