Author Topic: Aurora, Storms, and Snowpants: An Icelandic Saga by Something Fishy, whYME, and ChAiM'l  (Read 55168 times)

Offline Something Fishy

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[Something Fishy] After missing the bus and the whole SNAFU with the van, we were now a good few hours behind schedule. Eager not to waste the few hours we had left until sunset we quickly dumped everything in the van and hit the road.

The roads in Iceland are great. Clearly marked, well paved, and simple to navigate. The main road is called the Ring Road, and it surrounds the Island completely. The vast majority of things to see and do are off this road. Outside of Reykjavik (and other larger towns), there is obviously a more complicated road network, but overall it's quite simple. On the whole, the roads are kept clear of snow - in some areas we encountered more snowplows than fellow travelers. But as we were to learn, while the snow is actually falling all bets are off.

Reykjavik is a pretty boring town, and we were glad to put it behind us. We struck out on the Ring Road, headed east.

As soon as we left the city, we were blown away by the natural wonders of the country. We drove through stretches of storybook winter wonderland scenes, areas of bare and brown mountains, and over mile-wide, slow moving glacial rivers. With every turn in the road incredible new scenes opened up before us.

Just outside Reykjavik:






Photo by Chaim'l:



whYME observing the view, by Chaim'l:



Overlooking the town of Hveragerði:







The temperature at this point was not terrible (I'd estimate it in the high 30s), but the wind was just insane. It was impossible to even keep a camera steady. This is a series of shots taken continuously in under 2 seconds - check out how badly the camera was being blown:



Wider view, by whYME:



Something Fishy doing his thing, by Chaim'l:



The far-off Vestmannaeyjar Islands seen through the haze:



[whYME] Why are all my pictures from this part of the drive panoramas?





[Something Fishy] Even though sunset was still a long while off, the colors are already noticeable in some pictures. And as you can see, the weather kept on shifting between nice and sunny and quite overcast. Such iffy weather is very typical of Iceland.

Further on there was less snow on the ground, and lots of bare, foreboding-looking mountains:










The above four shots were taking out the window while driving. This is something we would be doing a lot; the roadside scenery is just so incredible.

Typical rural Icelandic house, by Chaim'l:



Another random spot:



[Something Fishy] The unassuming mountain in this picture is in fact the infamous Ejaff---  Eyjafj---  Eyjafjafjallajalejafjallajokujafjajafjallaajokujajafjallafajokull---  ... GAH! I give up. It's that crazy volcano that messed up worldwide air travel for a month a couple of years back:



[whYME] Since Something Fishy seems to have abandoned the photography lesson thread I'm gonna step in his territory and give a little lesson here:
The following picture was taken just feet away from the previous one by SF, yet it's a totally different picture. This is a good illustration of lens compression. In SF's picture, shot at a relatively wide angle, it appears as if the photographer is some distance from the fence and snow in the foreground and that the buildings are way off in the distance. In my picture below, taken with a longer lens, it appears as if he's quite close to the fence and snow and as if the buildings are fairly close.
Also note that because it's shot with a small aperture both the foreground and background are sharp, there's no blurred background.






The eruption (eldgos) visitors center, by Chaim'l:




[Something Fishy] After a couple of hours driving we arrived at our sunset spot, near the town of Vik. The Vik area consists of a small town, and some absolutely incredible beaches, and is dotted with cliffs and sea stacks. It's an absolutely wonderful area (not to mention having the only Icelandic name that's both pronounceable and spell-able ;D).

For the first time, we dressed in full crazy-weather mode. It was freezing cold, and an incredibly wild arctic wind was blowing non-stop. This was our introduction to the fact that no matter how bad the weather is, as long as you're dressed properly you'll be comfortable. A thermal base layer and warm middle layer, covered with water- and wind-proof jacket and pants, plus two pairs of gloves, balaclavas, hats, and hoods. We may have looked like stuffed penguins, but boy we were nice and cozy.

We jumped out of the van to meet an incredible scene: the ocean was roiling, 10-foot waves crashing over each other in rapid succession, the wind ripping the spray into a frenzy. To our right was a sea arch and sea stacks; to the left were volcanic basalt columns and more sea stacks. The beach we were standing on was black as ebony, its sand made out of volcanic rock pulverized over the eons by a violent sea. The sun was slowly setting, painting the sky with shades of orange and the water in pigments of pink.

To the right are the Dyrhólaey sea stacks:




[whYME] The master at work:



Photos by whYME





[whYME] Don't think the hands on the cameras are there for manipulating the controls / taking the picture, they're there to prevent the wind from blowing the cameras over.



[Something Fishy] Once the sun slipped below the horizon the colors became more subtle - and pretty:







Photo by Chaim'l:



Photo by Chaim'l:



The Dyrhólaey sea arch, by Chaim'l:



Photo by Chaim'l:



[whYME] A few of my shots of this absolutely incredible sunset:









[Something Fishy] Watch the video in full screen and 1080p to get a taste of the sheer power of the ocean that night:



To the left are the Reynisfjara sea stacks and basalt cliffs:





Photo by Chaim'l:



[Something Fishy] During all the excitement, I needed to change memory cards, not an easy feat while wearing two pairs of gloves. Removing the old card from the camera, putting into my bag, taking out the new one and popping it into the camera requires some fine motor skill, which I was sorely lacking. Suddenly a card slipped out of my hands, got caught on the wind, and disappeared into the sand. Even though I know it was futile, I began searching for a tiny black memory card on a black beach... I think it goes without saying that I never found it. To my sheer astonishment (knowing how my luck usually goes ;D), the lost card turned out to be the empty one. Oh well... It was a sweet brand-new card, but I was just glad that no pictures were lost.

[Chaim'l] The card wasn't the only thing that was gone with the wind. When we arrived to the beach and opened the door of the van, my glove liners -which I was relying on to keep warm whilst removing my gloves to change the camera settings- decided to take a flight, never to be seen again. Later on in the middle of the night (and the middle of nowhere) the same fate befell one of my outer gloves, which although was too heavy to fly too far, landed in the middle of a field surrounded by barbed wire. After that, I had to rely on the hand-warmers I had brought along until we found an open gas station the next night which sold gloves.


[Something Fishy] Due to its northern latitude, sunset (and sunrise) in Iceland seemingly last forever. I've shot many sunsets and sunrises; never did I shoot such an incredible scene, and never did I have such a gloriously luxurious long time to do it. Normally shooting a sunset is a race against the clock, with the best pictures only possible is as little as a fifteen-minute window. We stood on this beach for over an hour, and didn't even see half the show.

We got back in the van and drove up and around the cliffs, through Vik town proper, and onto the Vik town beach. By this time it was quite dark already, and the road had ended some time before. Our van was very definitely not made for off-road driving, so we stopped on the dunes before we got in over our heads. It was a short walk to the beach and a wonderful view of the other side of the Reynisfjara sea stacks.

But our cameras would not cooperate. The wind was so powerful that it was simply impossible to obtain a non-blurry shot. We needed to be zoomed in fairly tight to get the composition we wanted, and that served to exaggerate the blur even more. Even with rock-solid tripods, image stabilization, and proper long-lens technique, we weren't getting the shot. In the end I took over 50 identical shot, and prayed that at least one would come out sharp enough.

And so it did - a single exposure out of 53. I think it was worth it 8):




Photo by Chaim'l:



[whYME] Got my one clear shot:



[Something Fishy] By now it had become properly night, and we settled down to our first real meal - which would end up being our only real meal ;D. We fired up our little stove, boiled some water, and had couscous and mashed potatoes:


(Terrible cellphone shot...)

After dinner, we were bone tired. We'd left home more than 24 hours ago, and had been running around non-stop ever since. But now with nightfall, the real reason we came to Iceland was (hopefully!) approaching: the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. The forecast was calling for a strong display, but now we were at the mercy of the local weather. The one critical thing we needed was clear skies. Had one area been clouded in, we were prepared to drive hours in any direction hunting for good skies.

The problem with that is that we needed up-to-the-minute cloud reports. Even though I ended up having phone service in the end, we were now heading into ultra-remote areas and were going to be without a connection for hours. I had anticipated this ahead of time and came up with a pretty good solution. We had arranged handlers back home who'd feed us cloud cover maps, general weather info, and road closure info every two hours. We had handlers in New York, Los Angeles, and London working in eight-hour shifts, thus ensuring a report every two hours around the clock. Their reports were sent both by Whatsapp and regular text messaging, and both in plain text and image format. This whole setup ensures that even though we may not have service now, if one of us connects even for a minute the info would get downloaded.

The plan worked like a charm. For the first day we didn't need any of this, as the very short term forcast we got the day before was reliable enough. But now, right on schedule, the first report arrived - and we very nearly wished it hadn't:




The. Entire. Country. Will. Be. Covered. In. Clouds.

>:( >:( >:( >:( >:(

The main reason we had done this trip... Poof, gone.

Our one consolation was that we have another night here, and one more chance at this. But cutting our already-narrow odds in half was not encouraging, at all.

We now had a decision to make. The sunrise spot we had chosen, Jokulsarlon, was close to three hours away. Should we camp at Vik, then leave for Jokulsarlon at around 2 AM? Or do we drive there right away, and sleep once we're in position? After much back and forth, we decided on the latter.

Disappointed in our bad weather-related luck, we struck out East.

Unbeknownst to us, the adventure of a lifetime was but an hour away.
« Last Edit: October 29, 2017, 10:39:27 PM by Something Fishy »
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Offline etech0

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Awe. Some.
Workflowy. You won't know what you're missing until you try it.

Offline Aaaron

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Noooooo.  Me.  Need.  Aurora.


Amazing installment, guys. 

Offline Something Fishy

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Noooooo.  Me.  Need.  Aurora.

Well, I could promise that this doesn't refer to a pottery class ;D:

Unbeknownst to us, the adventure of a lifetime was but an hour away.
Check out all my Trip Reports here!

Offline Yehoshua

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Amazing pictures!! Do you leave us on cliffhangers on purpose?

Offline Moshe123

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Offline LoLo

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Amazing! Thanks for taking the time to write it all up
Don't attribute to intelligence what can also be attributed to incompetence.  -Dan

Offline tageed-lee

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Incredibly breathtaking! #Jealous #AmazingPictures

Offline PBaruch

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I spy a bonus supermarket bag.   :)
What do you do after your dreams come true?

Offline MosheD

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just wow!
Continuing to be the stuff of DDF legend- and it didnt even include one first class cabin  ;D

Offline ChAiM'l

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I spy a bonus supermarket bag.   :)
Yep. The ubiquitous pink piggy...

Offline 3yummyboys

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Wow Wow Wow!
Absolutely incredible!

Offline Joe4007

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INCREDIBLE!

Offline Yaalili

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Offline srap

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Gorgeous pictures, mouthwatering scenery, fascinating photography info, and literary cliffhangers to boot!  You three are A. MA. ZING!!  Thank you.