#208: The Land of Ice that doesn’t leave photographers cold (2)

By philberphoto | Travel Photography

Mar 22

Jökulsarlon glacier is not only a tremendous location for photo tours because of its ice-on-the-beach, where every photographer can find many opportunities to shoot spectacular pictures. There is another type of photography, and it is almost the exact opposite. And the subject -for a change-  is: ice. The ice caves. But, whereas shooting ice on the beach is very easy and mostly done without supervision. Shooting ice caves should not be undertaken without professional guides. First, getting to them requires a so-called “super-jeep”, meaning a 4-wheel-drive, modified for rougher terrain. Then ice caves are formed by underground waters. Fed by rainfall, these can rise very fast indeed, and getting trapped can be dangerous. To the point that our guide, crossing the path of the previous tour as it left the cave, queried her colleague to know exactly waht could -or could not- be done at that time, depending on the conditions. There are various companies that operate such tours, and Boris, ever the perfect planner, chosehttp://www.localguide.is/localguide/Local_Guide.html. It is some 30 minutes’ drive away from Jökulsarlon. They seemed a very professional and competent tour company, and the guides also knew their photography. Alas, they disply a picture of a cave on their site which is way better than where they took us to. This shows that there is always an element of luck as to what situations you will face at any given time.


There are private tours, and group ones. The group tour, costing some 80€ each, accomodates up to 11 people. A full group is too large, because the 2 guides only give clients access to the first cave, which becomes crowded with tripods and flashlights. The previous day (we took 2 tours), when we had the good fortune to be “only” 6 visitors, we were given waders and forded the underwater river (a trifle hairy if you ask me, as you don’t see what your booted feet are doing, there is strong current, and you are burdened with costly photo gear), in order to see more caves.


Now, and this is when the ice cave presents the opposite challenge to that of the ice on the beach, you have to decide whet you want to do. Boris, determined as always that his shots would display clarity of subject and purpose, shot very wide lenses (a rectilinear 15mm Zeiss ZF and a Sigma fish-eye), and it let him capture enough of the scene that the viewer can “make sense” of it.


I, on the other hand, was so fascinated by the beauty of the ice as a material that I tried to capture that, and “sense” be damned,  except for the first 2 shots above, and the third one to some extent. The honest truth, also, is that I wasn’t feeling nearly safe or comfortable enough in this environment to change lenses, except once. So the first day I shot all with my trusty, go-to 35mm Sony-Zeiss FE, and the second day, for a change, with my Zeiss Touit 12mm mounted on my NEX 7, and then the 35 on it. Two lenses, which, by the way performed admirably. Light, easy to use, seriously expensive but not obscenely so, I recommend them unreservedly to all Sony users. I can’t wait for the Zeiss line of native lenses lenses for the A7R to be released…

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Now, as you can see from the 2 details shots above, ice isn’t exactly clean and pristine. It carries a lot of dust and particles, and the underwater river is a dull grey. So much for mineral water adverts telling you that it is so pure for having been filtered by glaciers. Obviously nobody told the Skaftafell river that it had to be pure…


But the ice can also offer wonderful shades of blue, from the lightest to the most intense, and in shapes that suddenly grab my imagination like no painting of Klein ever could…






Drats! the number of pictures is getting close to the limit, and there is more to show! But with so much ice around, you might be getting cold. So why don’t you browse Paul Perton’s penetrating posts to warm you up before you read the third and last instalment on the Land of Ice?


And onepicture  with NEX 7 and Touit 12. By the way, the FE 35 f:2.8 works a charm on the NEX 7 as well. Light, compact, AF, 52mm, what’s not to love?




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