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Iceland - The Grand Tour - Part 3

Hverir - DJI Mavic Air2s

It is pretty hard to sum up the last 48 hours, but here goes! There have been beautiful lakes, bubbling pools of mud, steaming fumaroles, desolate landscapes, extinct volcanoes, glaciers, fjords and to top it off, one of the most powerful Aurora displays that I have ever seen.

In this blog entry, we will be covering the part of the "Grand Tour" that took us from Húsavík to Höfn via Seyðisfjørður. On leaving, we followed Route 1 to the beautiful Lake Mývatn. Just a quick word to warning, the translation of this into English is "Midge Lake"! Thankfully, we were spared the torment of them but instead had to endure millions of other files. If you come here in the summer then I would strongly urge you to bring a midge net hat. This is an amazing place with some much to photograph.

Pseudocraters, Lake Mývatn - DJI Mavic Air2s

To get the most out of the area, I would recommend bringing drone with you. Being able to get aloft really adds a different aspect to the place which you wouldn't normally be able to appreciate at ground level. If you are serious about your photography and want to add another dimension to it then it is a worth while investment. For the price of a good quality lens then you can purchase a drone. Couple of points here, in the UK you need to do a test and your drone needs to display your resignation code. In Iceland around a few or the more popular tourist attractions then it is illegal to fly your drone. Keep a look out for the signs.

There is a road that circles all of the lake and it will lend itself to great sunrises and sunsets. I have heard that the Aurora also looks spectacular here as it reflects in the water. Leaving Lake Mývatn and following Route 1 for a few kilometres you will then come to the geothermal area of Hverir. This area really lends itself to some abstract images and taking your time to pick out compositions with a longer focal length can be very rewarding.

Hverir - 210mm, f8, iso 100, 125th second, 3 image focus stacked

Wide angle lenses also work well. It pays to have a good walk around and look for compositions of which they are many. Don't be in too much of a hurry to take the first thing that you see. It will pay real dividends in thinking about what will work and its a great place to put your photography skills to the test. We spent a couple of hours here and I have to say it was probably my favourite location of the whole trip. There is something very alien about this landscape and I couldn't help but thinking that I had been transported to Mars or some other far away planet. I will certainly return and it has me eager to explore other geothermal areas on Iceland and elsewhere in the world.

Hverir - 16mm, f8, iso 100, 0.4 second - 3 images focused stacked.

Next stop on the tour was the basalt columns at Stuðlagil Canyon. To get here we went across the top of the Island on route 1 and it was about a 2 hour drive from Hverir. The landscape as you travel is a remarkable place. You go through wasteland, what I would class as a black desert, then into an area which reminded me of the Scottish Highlands before entering the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales. The road to Stuðlagil Canyon is a gravel road and its the only time during the tour that we had to put the car into 4 wheel drive. In winter I imagine that this road would be impassable. There are 2 ways into the canyon. If you don't want a long walk then stay on the road all the way. Set you satnav to Stuðlagil Canyon. When you arrive you will need to walk down some steep steps to the viewing platform. You get an ok view from here but if you want to access the cliffs then you will need to head for Stuðlafoss Waterfall. It is on the same road and you turn left when you reach the little bit of tarmac that is on the road. From here it drops down into the valley are across the river. Parking appears to be on the other side where you will be faced with a short walk to the waterfall and a couple of kilometres further you will come to the canyon.

Stuðlagil Canyon - 85mm, f11, iso 100, 0.3 second.

The town of Seyðisfjørður is at the end of one of the many fjords that make up the Eastern Fjords region of Iceland. If you ever want to get a ferry to Iceland, then you can sail from Denmark, via the Faroe Islands and too Seyðisfjørður. The voyage takes about 3 days and from looking at the companies website then there are 2 sailings in the summer per week and 1 in the winter. The whole area is stunningly beautiful and I would highly recommend a trip. The fjords may not rival the Norwegian ones but they come awfully close. This is a landscape photographers dream. I could quite easily have spent a couple of days exploring the coastline between Seyðisfjørður and Höfn. I need to come back here again soon and am seriously considering adding it to the usual workshop itinerary, by possibly adding another day to the itinerary. Seyðisfjørður, will live long in the memory as the Aurora display that we experience, was one that Iceland is famous for.

Seyðisfjørður Aurora, 16mm, f2.8, 3 seconds, iso 400

On those magical evenings when the stars align, you get cloudless skies, the Aurora stats are perfect and a couple of days before either a sunspot is facing earth or a solar flare leads to a coronal mass ejection (CME). The result is a display that makes you just stop and stare, photography becomes secondary as you watch the sky come to life. I ended up just putting intervalometer on the camera and creating some time-lapse footage so I could watch the display. Look out for the YouTube link for this coming over the next couple of weeks. I am so excited to put this together when I get home!

Seyðisfjørður Aurora, 16mm, f2.8, 2 seconds, iso 800

We photographed the Aurora for 3 hours and it was only tiredness and the cold that eventually forced us to call it an evening. For the group to get a display like this is so amazing and makes all of the planning of the workshops so worth while. You are never guaranteed anything when it comes to the Northern Lights as they are a naturally occurring phenomena, but oh my goodness when they do happen like this, then in my humble opinion there is nothing better to see on earth.

Seyðisfjørður Aurora, 16mm, f2.8, 8 seconds, iso 800

I have already briefly mentioned how wonderful the drive was to Höfn and the need to further explore this area. However, even if you only make it as far as Höfn on your trip then there are 2 iconic locations that you must visit. Thankfully both are easy to find. They are the sisters of Eystrahorn and Vestrahorn ( Stockness ). Eystrahorn is the lesser well known of the two. It requires a little bit more travelling to get to, being half an hour further up route 1. Most tourists will only get as far as Stockness but the additional effort is well worth it.

Eystrahorn - 16mm, f11, iso 100, 0.4 second

A wide angle lens will pay dividends here and there are so many compositions to find. Care is needed if you are on the rocks as they can be very slippy and you also need to pay attention to large waves that can come out of nowhere. Whilst I have never photographed the Aurora from here I have seen some amazing shots and fingers crossed those images will be added to the portfolio in November if the conditions are right.

Eystrahorn - DJI Mavic Air2s

Once again having a drone will give you a totally different dimension and lend itself to some great compositions. It can be a little scary flying out over the sea to get the shot that you want, so you need to keep a close eye on your battery life and also take the wind into account. I was blessed with perfect conditions to fly and the image above is one of the main reasons that I bought it in the first place. There is something very gratifying in all aspects of photography when you get to execute a shot that you have dreamt about for a long period of time.

Vestrahorn - 18mm, f16, iso 100, 6 seconds.

Along with Kirkjufell then Vestrahorn is one of the iconic locations on Iceland to photograph. Only a 15 minute drive from Höfn it is easy to find and access. You can park by the cafe and then walk to take your images. Or for 900 Krona's (payable at the cafe) then you can get through the barrier and drive out onto the headland. If you are planning on returning the same day, as we did for the Aurora, then remember to go back into the cafe for a new barrier ticket as it only works once. There are so many compositions to be found at Vestrahorn. Reflections are common place, you can use the sea as a leading line, the black sand dunes make great foreground interest and again drones can be used. If there are lots of footprints in the dunes, then simply walk the other way, across the road where less people walk and you should be able to find a clean area quite quickly.

Vestrahorn Aurora - 24mm, f2.8, iso 1600, 10 seconds.

We were blessed yesterday again with amazingly clear skies and whilst the aurora made an appearance it was no where near as powerful as the one that we witnessed the previous evening at Seyðisfjørður.

In the final instalment of The Grand Tour, I will cover the highlights between Höfn and Garður. Look out for this coming over the next few days.

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