A photo-a day project while on a breathtaking trip to Iceland with 8 friends
The idea for a group trip came about at a birthday party where we gorged on cannabis-infused brownie bites rather than eating traditional birthday cake. No surprise that the details of the conversation are vague, but after the belly-laughing effects of the brownies wore off, we realized we’d just agreed to go on a trip to Iceland.
Brownies not allowed
So exactly one year later, on August 5, 2019, the eight of us met up in Reykjavik, where we rented two four-wheel drive SUVs and drove around Iceland on the Ring Road for almost two weeks. We stayed in Air BnB-equivalents, and cooked many of our meals in home-like settings. Fearing the nasty bite of the sniffer dog at customs, we left the tasty edibles behind, although we knew there would be many non-THC related laughs to be had in Iceland.
As a photographer, this Iceland trip meant I could experiment with a travel photography project called Photo a Day, something I’d done for the first time in March when we were in Colombia. I found the project extremely rewarding, plus it saved me a considerable amount of time reviewing my photos when I got home.
Here’s how it works!
The Photo a Day project is best done on a multi-day trip — in my case twelve days in Iceland — where I took more than 200 images a day. I carried two camera bodies: a mirrorless Sony A7r11 and a mirrorless SonyA6000. I also took two lenses: a Sony FE 24–70 f2.8 GM lens and a Sony E-Mount 24-240mm f3.5–6.3. And then I had my iPhone 8+, which came in handy many times throughout the trip.
You shoot how many photos?
The problem most photographers have when they shoot several thousand photos on a trip is that there are too many choices. In my case, this was certainly true because I shoot on manual and often take two or three shots of the same scene, using a different aperture and/or shutter speed. In some situations, shooting on burst mode (as in rapid fire, i.e. sounding like a machine gun) is necessary if I want to capture the action, like Icelandic horses in a roundup. But continuous shoot adds at least another dozen frames to the same still image.
The purpose of the Photo-a-Day Project was to help me learn real-time discipline, both in the field and in post-processing. It helps to identify one’s focus, tell a story, and hopefully become a better photographer.
The regimen is to choose a single image at the end of each day as an exemplar of the journey. Then each evening I posted the image online (Facebook and/or Instagram) and I blasted an email to a group of friends just to keep me honest with the intention of doing this in real time. Traveling with seven friends, only a few of whom were serious photographers, meant I had to squeeze in time at the end of each long day to upload and scan images quickly on my computer. I also wrote something succinctly interesting about each photo. I was often the last to go to bed because I was so dedicated to this project. Many times I determined the photo of the day as I was taking it because I knew the scene was unique and something I wanted to share. However, until the image appeared on my computer screen, I had no idea if it was in focus or of the quality I wanted to share.
FOR LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHERS, ICELAND IS MECCA
The photo should not only be good but also unique, using the rule of thirds or centered for symmetry or using the Fibonaci spiral in the composition. The goal is to mix it up, choose a landscape, maybe macro, a portrait, etc. Since I consider myself primarily a street photographer and a visual storyteller, Iceland presented many challenges because there weren’t many streets or that many people. For landscape photographers, Iceland is Mecca.
One asset of the Photo-a-Day project is to encourage you to break away from the group, so you can use your own vision to capture your best image. Again, given that I was riding in the same vehicle with the other photographers, finding my own space wasn’t always feasible, but then again I was the only photographer embarking on the Photo-a Day project.
So, sit back and relax. I’m about to take you on a trip to Iceland and it won’t cost you a dime. Please consider my invitation a real bargain because Iceland is expensive. Even better, you won’t need to wear a heavy water-proof jacket or buy wind pants like I did. Pretend you are sitting in business class, and use your mouse pad to enjoy a beautiful 12-day trip to Iceland through my Photo-A-Day project.
August 6 — A ONE-FAMILY PROJECT, THE HÁAFELL GOAT FARM
With the beauty of the landscape being the primary reason most travelers come here, I didn’t expect my first photo of the day to be taken during a delightful visit to the Háafell Goat Farm near Reykholt in Western Iceland.
This is a one-family project by Jóhanna Porvaldsdóttir, whose last name is not easy to spell and absolutely impossible for me to pronounce. She and her clan set out to breed Iceland’s nearly extinct goat stock, descended from animals brought by the first settlers. Now the family invites travelers like us to visit their farm to meet, cuddle and adore their baby goats. This was a fun hands-on activity where we learned a lot about their work, and the goat milk ice cream served at the end was delicious.
August 7 — Iceland is one of the most exotically beautiful places I’ve ever traveled and I’ve been to Antarctica and the Arctic
But there is also something very simple and humble about the villages and places where the locals live. What I never knew until I read it in our guidebook is that Christianity has been very important here. So important that small churches are often built in people’s back yards.
Today’s photo depicts what I’m talking about. It was taken on our drive through North Iceland near the village of Hofsós, a sparsely populated area that has not been well developed for tourism. An example of that is tonight’s lodging, where eight of us are sleeping in a one-room cabin with only one small bathroom. This accommodation was not what we were expecting, but we all agreed to roll with it because we are on an adventure. And the adventure continues…….
August 8 — Driving the Diamond Circle in Northern Iceland
It took a lot of guts to make the 15 minute trek over slippery rocks to see the Dettifoss waterfall in a wind-driven rain in 48 degree weather. It was risky to expose my camera given the conditions, but I shielded it carefully and hoped this one image might be my photo of the day. I chose this image not only because you get a sense of the falls’ power, but also because of the people, like us, walking to see the power of nature. If you study this photo closely, you might spot three specks who are people on the far side of the falls standing on wet, steep rocks. This is not only gutsy but stupid. The adventure continues as does a second night in the one-bathroom cabin.
August 9 — Yes, we only have one bathroom
When we arrived at our accommodations in Ytri-Vic, which was nestled on a very cold and wet shore of one of northern Icelands many fjords, we discovered that instead of having three cottages to accommodate the eight of us as we had expected, there was only one. And it had only one bathroom! We panicked momentarily but after the disappointment subsided we figured one cabin in the middle of nowhere wouldn’t be so bad, even with one bathroom. Afterall we were good friends who had traveled together before, so we could handle it, even though it meant three nights of togetherness in one bathroom. Handle it we did, but documenting this with a photo of the day was even better.
Weather alert: An Arctic chill and windstorm arrives in northern Iceland tonight!
August 10— High 41, low 34
The thermal baths at Myvatn (Jaröbööin Viō Myvatn)were particularly welcoming because today was one of the coldest we’ve experienced so far. The wind chill factor of 25–30 degrees Farenheit meant that walking outside in our wet bathing suits prior to reaching the thermal pool was excruciating, but the warm water (100 degrees F) was delicious. I took this image with my iPhone before I changed into my suit because I thought this scene could be one of the most unique on this trip.
August 11 — How do you pronounce that?
After driving over a craggy mountain pass with ferocious winds, sleeting rain, and incredible views of waterfalls in every direction, we arrived in the small town of Seyōisfjördur in Eastern Iceland. How do you pronounce that? American travel writer Rick Steves says you pronounce it SAY-this-FYUR-thur. Even with some practice, I talk as if I have marbles in my mouth. Rick describes this town as a “nitty-gritty working port where the car ferry goes to Denmark once a week,” but we found Seyōisfjördur quite charming, even on a rainy Sunday when most places are closed. After lunch at a rustic cafe where I ate the best baked potato ever, the rain turned to drizzle and the clouds parted a bit so the sun could peak out. That’s when Mother Nature blew my mind.
HAVE YOU EVER SEEN A HORIZONTAL RAINBOW?
August 12 — Finally some sun!
Today we drove for hours, stopping every 30 minutes or so to take pictures which made for a very long day, but it was the first sunny day we’d had for a while. The scenery was other worldly. We cut in and out of deep fjords and crossed various finger foothills of the mountains that dropped down into deep ravines formed by receding glaciers. Each fjord is anchored by a sparsely populated village: Stödvarfjördur, Kaupfjélagid, Berufjördur, Djúpivogur. Yup, good luck with the pronunciation. Typing them wasn’t easy either.
Even if I spelled it, you couldn’t pronounce it.
August 13 — Be prepared for the weather
I can’t help but repeat myself because any way you cut it the landscape in Iceland is beyond stunning. But you have to be prepared for the weather. In August and even when the sun shines, I always wore several layers of clothing. And I was grateful for my wind pants to protect me from the bone-chilling wind. As one writer has stated, “Icelanders use the term gluggaveður (“window weather”) to describe weather that’s pleasant to look at — from indoors.”
Today’s photo was taken at Jökulsártón Glacier Lagoon at the foot of a glacier tongue. This is a must-stop-to-photograph scene. There was such a variety of icebergs both in size and color that my camera was in over drive.
AUGUST 14 — Diamonds are a girl’s best friend
Across from the Glacier Lagoon is Diamond Beach, where small icebergs wash up on the black sand. The best time to shoot here is the golden hour, but our itinerary didn’t allow for that. This was not an easy image to take, mainly because light is so important, and I didn’t have a tripod. But I like it. A friend from home challenged me to bring back a picture of the biggest diamond on the beach.
August 15 — The operative word is PUFFINS
Westman Islands off the south coast are well known for beautiful landscapes and rich birdlife, especially puffins. The puffins can be seen during their breeding season from mid-April and until mid-August. Here is the largest puffin breeding colony in the world, so this place is a must-see. Luck played a big part in my ability to capture this shot. Just a few minutes later a couple of sheep wandered onto the landscape and the puffins flew away. Maybe that’s what the puffins are looking at in this picture. The sheep!
August 16 — There might be more Icelandic horses than people
The puffins intrigued me, but the Icelandic horses warmed my heart, making it easy to fall in love with these gorgeous purebred creatures. I say purebred because they were brought to Iceland by the Norwegian settlers over a thousand years ago, and their breeding line has been kept pure by restrictions that make bringing other horses to Iceland illegal. In fact, if an Icelandic horse leaves the country, it can never return. They have double-coats and narrower windpipes to withstand the harsh winters. The Icelandic, as it is commonly referred to, is known for being sure-footed and able to cross rough terrain. It displays two gaits in addition to the typical walk, trot, and canter/gallop commonly displayed by other breeds. The first additional gait is a four-beat lateral ambling gait called tölt.
Their demeanor intrigued me. They are friendly, gentle, curious and extremely social. A big gust of wind tried to grab my camera from my hand, but I held on tight, and I’m glad I did.
Thank you for traveling to Iceland with me through my Photo-a-Day project. If you enjoyed yourself and would like to see more images of this trip, please go to my Flikr Iceland album.
P.S. In case you are wondering, yes, we are still eight good friends.