Iceland 2020: The South Coast

Updated: Feb 12

I've been enjoying the footage of the recent volcanic eruptions in Iceland, and it prompted me to sort out and share the photos from my trip there last summer. It was a trip full of problems, and we never did manage to get to the areas we'd planned/researched, but we still had over a week in Iceland when many people didn't get to travel at all. And I think I got some nice photos from it, even if they weren't what I had in mind.

I've split the trip into 2 blog posts. This one feature photos from the first half of our trip, which we spent along the popular south coast of Iceland. After we gave up on reaching our planned targets we drove to Landmannalaugar, and part two will feature landscape photos from there and the surrounding Fjallabak Nature Reserve.

Landscape photograph of the roack and weather systems surrounding an accessible glacier in Vatnajokull National Park.
Vatnajökull

I went back to Iceland with fellow photographer Elliot Hook, and we had some pretty grand plans. We rented a rugged 4x4 Jeep, and intended to drive into the highlands to camp, hike, and photograph the country's spectacular volcanic interior. In reality the trip became a test of our ability to adapt, and make the most of the trip whilst everything around us went wrong. I don't want to write too much in this post, as I'd like it to be more photo-focussed than trip-report. But since it seems like most blogs only tend to write up their successes, I thought it would at least be interesting to highlight the kind of problems and failures which actually occur pretty often with nature photography.

Let's put Covid to one side early. Sure, this trip had an on-again, off-again feeling, from booking it in January 2020 to actually making it there in August. Fortunately Iceland is a well run country, with Covid under control, so once we were in it felt like a much safer place than the UK.

Our real problem was the rain. It rained solidly for a week or so before we arrived, meaning that the mountain rivers - which we would be crossing in our 4x4 were now deep, fast-flowing, and very dangerous. Another thing Iceland does well is provide information about the status of it's roads and hiking routes, and we could see on our arrival day that the highlands wouldn't be accessible for at least another couple of days - until the rivers died down. So we figured we'd spend a couple of days on the south coast (an area I know reasonably well from previous trips), and then make it to the highlands once the rivers died down. We had one fine, dry day on our first day, and then the rain was back in full force. It became clear that not only was the rain ruining our days as it was, but it was also writing off our chances of getting into the mountain areas we had planned to visit. So with plans A & B out, we ended up going through plans C, D, & E, just to make something of our time in Iceland. I don't want to make this a hugely negative post, but I have to say that things went wrong on this trip every day, and it felt like we were constantly working around the various issues that cropped up; from days of solid rain, and leaking 'waterproofs', to noisy neighbours, lost gloves, and even a flat tyre. But at the end of the day, it was a trip away, and a much-needed change of scene. And I think our spirits remained remarkably high as we watched our plans slip away from us. After the initial disappointment of not achieving what I had in mind, 8 months on these photos aren't so bad. They're not the subjects or areas I was hoping to photograph, and their accessibility means that they've been hugely popular with other photographers and tourists over the last decade, but as a set of photos they're still a decent collection to come back with. And the highlands will still be there to conquer another time.

From here on in, I'll try to keep the text to a minimum, otherwise I'll just keep whinging about what else went wrong!

The Coast

I'd never seen such beautifully pink waves as this first morning. It was a lovely sunrise.

Pink waves and black sand; Sunrise on the Icelandic south coast.
South Coast Sunrise

Later on the wind picked up, and the waves intensified.

The rough seas of Southern Iceland, as waves come bounding to the shoreline.
South Coast Sea

Ice

I like playing with patterns in ice. This is a huge glacier, tumbling down a mountainside. The ridges and scores have a pleasing random-not-random quality to them.

The soft-serve galato-like surface of a glacier, in Iceand's Skaftafell National Park.
Glacial Patterns #2

A birds-eye-view of a glacier, in Skaftafell National Park, Iceland.
Glacial Patterns #1

This is a viewpoint I've visited before under very similar weather conditions. We managed to get slightly higher up the mountain this time, before the cloud came down, but I still found it difficult to get the best angle on this glacier.

A glacier lies in a valley of it's own making, as it eventually breaks up, and flows the short distance out to sea
Glacial Geography

This is Fjallsjökull (another place I'd visited in 2015) but it was looking good in the mixture of cloud and sun.


Glacier wall, at Fjallsarlon, on the South Coast of Iceland.
Wall of Ice

The good thing with ice and glaciers is that they look best under cloud and rain. That's when you get the rich blues. Fortunately we had plenty of that, so we spent a rainy morning with this one. These are my two favourite glacier abstracts of the trip.

A glacier tongue, at the end of a large ice flow, complete with crumpled and distorted shapes, and frozen waves.
Crumpled Ice
Ice hundreds of years old, combine with volcanic ash which fell as the glacier was formed
Dark Ice

The glaciers in Iceland pick up layers of volcanic ash from the eruptions which occurred during their centuries in the making. That gives them a characteristic depth of patten and colour weaving through them.

Skógafoss Waterfall

The chances are you've seen photos of Skógafoss before. And if you've been to Iceland before, then you've probably been to Skógafoss. Although we hadn't planned to stop there again this time around, we actually had the best conditions I could have hoped for. First of all, this waterfall is usually so crammed with visitors, it's almost impossible to capture a photo of it without people in the way. But with Covid keeping the tourist numbers down, we had the view almost to ourselves at times. We also got this fabulous low cloud, which combined with the mist from the falls to create something genuinely interesting.

Skogafoss waterfall, in Southern Iceland, on a foggy afternoon
Foggy Falls

The temptation to blur the waterfall for a calmer, simpler visual is huge, but I do wonder if freezing the action and enjoying the patterns is equally enjoyable.

The mossy cliff-face beside the wall of water known as Skogafoss, on the Icelandic Soth Coast.
Moss and Foss

Back to black and white now, which again helps simplify the visual of this high-contrast scene.

A dark representation of the thunderous Skogafoss, in Southern Iceland.
Tumbling Falls

It's definitely a popular photo spot on Iceland's south coast, but I haven't seen many photos of it like this, amongst all this cloud, so I'm particularly pleased with this shot. There's dew all over the grass in the foreground too, which catches the light nicely.

On a misty afternoon, Skogafoss almost fades into the sky, and the grass is covered in a damp layer of dew
Skogafoss Mist

Icelandic Horses

You can find horses almost anywhere in Iceland. This one has a real unicorn look going on...

Now and again I catch this photo and it briefly looks like a unicorn, trotting along the shingle in Landmannalaugar
Landmannalaugar Unicon

Icelandic horses (don't call them ponies - they take offence!) are a hardy breed, with a unique running gate, and a lineage dating back to the time when the island was first colonised. They're an iconic part of Icelandic culture, and I've failed to get photos of them in the past.

They're an iconic, hardy breed, that can be found in the Icelandic Highlands.
Icelandic Horses
Icelandic horse, in Fjallabak Nature Reserve, Iceland.
Horse Profile
Horse in Landmannalaugar, Iceland.
Icelandic Horse Mane
CLose-up image of a horse in Landmannalaugar, Iceland.
Icelandic Horse

OK, so next time out we'll be in Landmannalaugar and the Fjallabak Nature Reserve. There'll be mountains, volcanoes, ice, moss, sheep. Bring your Iceland bingo cards and tick them off as we go :-)

In the meantime, for more Icelandic landscapes you can check out my posts from previous Iceland trips.

-

George



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