Monday, 5 December 2016

Troll Rocks

Iceland holiday - Close to Vík is this wonderful black basalt beach with the rock stacks known as Troll Rocks. It takes the full brunt of Atlantic weather and waves. (There is no land mass directly between here and Antarctica!) It's wonderfully scenic and atmospheric. The rocks themselves are steeped in folklore, believed to be trolls who tried to pull fishing boats out to sea but were turned to stone as the sun rose.

We visited here (the Dyrhólaey peninsula) twice, once on our outward journey along the south coast and then again on the way back. The first time the wind was fierce, blowing huge rain and sleet storms that came and went quickly. On the second visit, the whole area was fog-bound so that you could barely see 100 metres - but still it rained hard and the wind blew! It's the wettest place in Iceland (maybe in the whole world, haha!) The lighthouse on the headland (behind me in this photo) was flashing its light in the middle of the day, as the coast is treacherous with rocks.

Sunday, 4 December 2016


Iceland holiday - Vick was a vapour-rub we used to have smeared on our chests as children when we got a cold! [I could do with some now. I've been full of cold for over a week. :( ]

 Vík, I now know, is an attractive little village (popn approx 290) on the south coast of Iceland, with a very good coffee shop (and cake!) and a pretty little red-roofed church perched on the hillside above. The church looked like a toy or something out of a story book.

Apparently the village lies in the vicinity of a huge volcano called Katla. It has not erupted since 1918 but, if it did so, it is predicted that it would melt enough ice on the Myrdalsjökull glacier to engulf the entire village. The villagers are trained to flee to the church at the first sign of an eruption, as the church is on higher ground and is the only building predicted to survive such a catastrophe.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

More waterfalls

Iceland holiday - Iceland has a number of spectacular waterfalls. Gullfoss (see a couple of posts back) is perhaps the most famous but some of the others are as interesting and beautiful in their own way. I particularly liked this one, Seljalandsfoss, with its slender columns of water. The water originates from the Eyjafjallajökull glacier (whose volcano was the one that erupted in 2010, bringing chaos to air travel). It falls 60m and visitors can walk behind it into a small cave. (I didn't, as the area was too wet and slippery and I didn't want to risk either myself or my camera.)

We also visited the nearby Skógafoss, which is a similar height but broader and very dramatic. It was raining again and the site was heaving with visitors by the time we arrived.

Friday, 2 December 2016


Iceland holiday - Another of the major tourist sights is the Geysir Hot Spring Area. Whilst we can see plenty of waterfalls here in Northern England (though none as dramatic as Gullfoss), hot springs are not found here so I was interested to visit these old geezers geysers. Thankfully by this stage the rain had stopped and it was a lovely evening, with some nice golden light (in the Golden Circle after all). 'Little Geysir' (above) stopped erupting many years ago and is now a bubbling mud pool like a witches' cauldron. Its Icelandic name: 'Litli Geysir' sounds so sweet! The much larger 'Geysir' itself (which led to the English noun geyser) erupts very rarely nowadays but when it does it has been known to throw up a spout of over 120 metres. The one below, called 'Strokkur', erupts continually, a few times every hour. Sometimes it can spout up to 30m. Though the spouts I witnessed were much smaller, it is quite exciting watching the pressure building in the pool and each explosion still surprises.

The area was rather fun to explore, all free to wander round - and a very pleasant visitor centre too.

Thursday, 1 December 2016


Iceland holiday - There is a part of Iceland, not too far from Reykjavik, that is known as the Golden Circle, a popular tourist route looping up into the southern highlands that takes in some spectacular natural sites - Geysir, Gullfoss and the Pingvellir National Park. Some of it was on our itinerary and I would probably have felt a bit cheated if we had not visited these areas. However, once seen, I wouldn't return to these places. Too many tourists, coaches and competition for the best places to take photos from... Ha!

We visited the huge falls at Gullfoss during a rainstorm. The rain and the wind-blown spray made photography a challenge and I judged it wise not to subject my camera to the conditions right at the edge, where the people you see in the photo were standing getting soaked! The wide Hvítá river rushes over two steep steps and disappears into a deep crevasse. Very spectacular. However, I was unreasonably pleased to retreat eventually to the large and busy visitor centre for a hot coffee and to dry off!

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Icelandic horses

Iceland holiday - I'd been hoping to see and photograph some Icelandic horses. There are lots about, though often too far from the road to get close to. We were lucky to spot some within camera range and then luckier still that they were curious enough to walk over to us to inspect us at closer quarters. Icelandic horses were brought by the early Norse settlers in the 9th century. They are pure bred; imports of horses are not now allowed. They are small (pony-sized, but they are always called horses), stocky and hardy. There are many different colours of mane and coat. Those with dark coats and blond manes look especially spectacular. They've played an important role as the country has developed and nowadays are mostly used for herding sheep or for leisure riding and competitions.  

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Northern Lights

Iceland holiday - The conversation over dinner the first night went something like this:

'There is a very high forecast for the Aurora tonight...'
'But it's cloudy here...'
'We could drive up into the mountains to see if the cloud lifts..'
'But we didn't get to bed until 2am this morning so we're all tired...'
'OK, let's not bother tonight and let's hope the weather improves during the week.'

So, I retired to my room at about 9pm, intending to catch up on my sleep. Within minutes, came an urgent hammering on my door: 'Come out, quickly!'  I thought there was a fire! But no, my friend pointed to the sky: 'Look... the Northern Lights!' I looked and saw the clear night sky, sparkling with millions of stars - and what appeared to be white, wispy, moonlit clouds, or maybe smoke drifting across. I would never have known what I was seeing. Furthermore, I would never have known how to capture them.

We all set up our tripods and cameras, right there on the grass outside our hotel, and the experienced ones helped those of us who'd never done this before. Point camera at the sky, manual focus on infinity, high ISO, widest aperture you can get, exposure no more than 20 seconds (not more or it'll be blurred), press the shutter... Wait ages, nothing seems to be happening - ah, wait, the little green light just came on on the camera (it's focussed). Still nothing seems to be happening... wow! Suddenly an amazing green image appears on the LCD screen. Magic! It's a bit like doing a chemistry experiment. Once the basics were mastered, the trick was in trying to discern where the best Aurora activity seemed to be and then to compose a pleasing image. A little bit of foreground detail seems helpful in that.

It was so, so exciting! I have wanted for many years to see the Northern Lights. I never really imagined that I would - and fully expected to be involved in a week-long chase, standing on freezing cold hillsides late at night in the hope that the cloud might part. Instead, we were blessed with this wonderful show, right there outside our hotel on our first night! What a gift.

As for why they don't really look coloured (as I'd expected) to the naked eye, it has something to do with the rods and cones in our eyes and the way we see at night, whereas the camera captures much more detail. To be honest, I'd have missed it if someone hadn't told me what I was witnessing. (See here for another blogger's take on it).  But oh, the joy...!

Monday, 28 November 2016


Iceland holiday - Another of those 'Stop!' moments. What photographer could resist a reflection of a snow-capped mountain in the golden hour as the sun was going down? Again, I'm not exactly sure where this was, except that it was on the 54 road north of Borgarnes.

Sunday, 27 November 2016


Iceland holiday - Another photo taken near the town of Akranes. I just spotted this as we stopped at a small but lovely café for a quick coffee. (OK, the real reason to stop was a comfort break and there are not that many possibilities!) I nipped round the corner to take the photo quickly, feeling glad that everyone in our group was exceedingly patient and understanding. The best thing about holidaying with other photographers is that you never feel anyone is getting bored; there's none of the 'Haven't you finished yet?' that you sometimes get, spoken aloud or merely implied, with non-smitten family and friends!

I'm not sure what the industrial silos are but I was amazed at how beautifully colour-co-ordinated they were and also by the house in front that had taken the backdrop as its colour cue. I love this photo, in a way I can't explain. It's just so nice when people take the extra trouble and care to make things attractive.

Saturday, 26 November 2016


Iceland holiday - That first day, during the late afternoon, the weather started to clear. We stopped at a fishing port called Akranes. There has been a settlement here since the 9th century. Fishing and boat building has been foundational for the town but it is only in recent years, since the 1950s, that industry, such as a cement works and aluminium smelting, has developed the town into the relatively large (for Iceland) commercial centre that it is today. 

The boatyard was a rich source of inspiration to all of us photographers, offering both conventional shots and some of the close-ups and abstracts that I enjoy taking. 

Friday, 25 November 2016

On the way to Snaefellsness

Iceland holiday - After a morning in Reykjavik we hopped in our minibus and set off north towards the Snaefellsness peninsula, known as 'little Iceland' as it has many key features in a small area. As you can see from the photo, the weather was dull and damp. The sprinkling of snow on the hills looked pretty but most of the high mountains were shrouded in cloud. Still, it is stunningly beautiful. Photos don't really do it justice as they don't convey anything like the sense of space and peace.

We'd agreed that if anyone spotted somewhere they thought looked especially interesting to photograph we could shout 'Stop!' and, if we could find somewhere to safely pull off the road, we would. That worked very well and was one of the privileges that being in such a small (eight of us) group of like-minded people gave us. (I have sometimes been on guided coach trips and longed to shout 'Stop' - but you can't!) The photo above was taken at one such 'Stop!' I'm not even sure exactly where we were but it was lovely in its way.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Harpa, Reykjavik

Iceland holiday - I was surprised by how modern and stylish Iceland is. The geo-thermal energy means buildings are warm and cosy; the rapidly increasing tourism means that much of the visitor accommodation is fairly new and of a high standard. In Reykjavik the new concert hall, Harpa, opened in 2011, seems to be a statement about the forward-thinking mindset of a country with a rich tradition of folklore and creativity.

Harpa was an exciting building to photograph - and a welcome haven from the heavy rain and wind.

Detail of the ceiling

Wednesday, 23 November 2016


Iceland holiday - As I've mentioned before, I kicked off my retirement with several trips away. The most notable of these was to Iceland. I was fortunate to be able to visit with a small group of friends, all keen photographers. We were able to focus solely on our photography but without the eye-watering expense of a commercial photography tour (although Iceland itself is definitely not a cheap place for us Brits to visit at the moment!)  The weather was extremely wet and windy but we still had a great time.

Our first stop was in Reykjavik, the capital, where 60% of the island's small (less than 330,000) population live. We visited the cathedral and wandered the city streets, admiring the lovely Scandi textiles, homewares and chic clothes in the stylish shops. What struck me most was the vivid colours of the houses, perhaps a necessary choice when the days are short and the weather often challenging.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Life as art

I'm always fascinated to see what people do with their leisure time. It was Sunday morning up by the Glen Tramway and a dog obedience class was in full swing. I only had my iPhone, which didn't cope well with the lighting conditions, so I've played with this image a bit to give it a painterly effect. Barking mad, perhaps?