A Trip That Proved My Point, Exactly! - Part 1

What follows is a guest post I wrote for Fuji Rumors.  I've been so out of the loop for some time it's almost embarrassing to post, but I'll forge ahead nevertheless.  Wrestling with the vicissitudes of the photography biz has been a most unpleasant task.  In all honesty I still haven't figured out what I want to do, be it primarily photography education of imaging itself.  Either way it's no excuse to go several months without blogging.  Here you will read less artistic and philosophic reflection, a little more technical mumbo jumbo than usual, but I still think my heart is made known concerning the amazing time we had in Iceland.  The place is as cool as ice!

Icelandic Horses

Icelandic Horses

Hi there my Fuji brethren!  Oh, and visitors too.  This article is, in a way, part two to an article I wrote a while back for Fuji Rumors.  At the time I didn’t plan on a part two, a sort of “I told you so!”  But then, that was before my wife got a hankerin’ for Iceland and Continental Europe, and we took a trip to four countries.  I encourage you to read the earlier post, but the gist of it was the reason why I left my old system for Fuji, namely, I wanted one system to handle my diverse photographic interests.  Specifically, I love landscape and also street photography, which are about as opposite as they come.  My old beast of a Nikon did great for me in landscapes, but it was a monstrosity, aesthetically speaking, and did not inspire me while on the streets.  And my Fuji X-E1 was great for the streets, but it was inadequate for wind, weather, and telephoto lenses.  Thus, the Fuji X-T1 was the perfect match for this photographer with varied interests.

So then comes Europe.  My wife loves travel, and with round trip tickets to Europe, including a week-long layover in Iceland, being priced unusually low, it was on like Donkey Kong!  But I thought to myself that I may never make it back to this magical place and wanted a little more fire power, pixel-wise, than the X-T1 had.  I actually considered picking up a used Nikon D800E, which is truly a landscape wonder if used well.  But the thought of using that weighty, massive, ugly hunk of technological wonder on the dimly-lit, wet cobblestone streets of Lyon…I think not!  Well, it was just about that time that the Fuji X-T2 was being shipped and so I pre-ordered one, I got it about a week and half before our departure, and tried adjusting to the few differences so I was ready to hit the ground running.  Plus, my wife let me snag the 16mm f/1.4 for northern light images.  But much to my dismay, the cloud cover was mercilessly overbearing most of the trip.  But enough of that and on with the show!  What follows is primarily a visual tale of my recent photographic journey and a further confirmation that, for me, Fuji is the bomb and can meet my needs in the wilderness and the city.

Just one quick note before proceeding: what about the gear I brought? I had rather severe luggage and carry-on concerns given the bargain airline that we flew, so I tried to be as conservative as possible for such a wide array of shooting.  I won’t bore you with the less consequential odds and ends that I brought, so here’s the essence of the Fuji stuff:

  • X-T2
  • X-T1 as a backup (never used)
  • 10-24mm
  • 18-135mm
  • 16mm f/1.4
  • 23mm f/1.4
  • 35mm f/1.4

Incidentally, I did bring my ND grads, but Iceland was so ridiculously windy and the mist so devastating, that they were more of a hindrance than anything else.  I also ended up modifying my L-bracket for the X-T1 so that it fit great.  That was an absolute must for the landscape shooting, plus it adds just a bit of bulk which feels better in my hand.

In Iceland, the weather is the biggest character you deal with every day. There's nothing more relevant in your life than what kind of weather it is.

-Baltasar Kormakur

Iceland

Here are some images just off the side of the road in Grindavík.  It is the area of the famed Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa, which by the way, is otherworldly!  You can catch a hint of just how windy it was by the ripples in the water, shallow water at that.  Worth noting is just how careful you must be walking around on these cooled lava fields.  Sometimes you can step wrong and find your leg a foot or two deep with sharp rocks having scraped them all the way down.  I'd venture to say it could be much worse, should you explore more, with the potential of falling a much more severe hole.  This first image is not too far off the road since I was spooked.

Lava Fields

Lava Fields

Geothermal Waters

Geothermal Waters

So after a couple of days hangin’ in the Keflavík area, we headed to Höfn, not too far from the must-be-visited Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.  It was a pretty long drive.  Had we driven straight through, the drive would have been six hours.  Not too bad, but a lover of nature and photography cannot make this drive so speedily.  There’s simply too much to stop and marvel at.

Sheep on the Coast

Sheep on the Coast

Backlit Seljalandsfoss

Backlit Seljalandsfoss

Still not to Hofn, we next came to Dyrhólaey.  One could easily shoot in Dyrhólaey and nearby Vik for several days and not exhaust all its potential.  Here are a few from this popular spot.  The gray moodiness lent itself to monochrome conversion.

Moody Dyrhólaey

Moody Dyrhólaey

It sure would have been nice to get down there and shoot from a more unique perspective, but we had to get going.  Höfn was several hours away still and I was already so tired as the sole driver.  So off we went, now in the dark, with no street lights, and crossing lots of one lane bridges.  Yes, you read that right…talk about trial by fire!  But we made it, and the next morning (4 hrs later, really!) I got up to shoot Stokksnes and Vestrahorn.  In retrospect, my advice to anybody else, perhaps those on their own and not with their wife and four kiddos, would be to take a slower pace.  Scouting would have been nice, even given all the labor beforehand on the internet trying to figure things out.

Morning at Verstrahorn

Morning at Verstrahorn

After a late morning lunch from goodies we bought at the local Netto market, we headed off to Jökulsárlón.  In my mind, I imagined this as the landscape highlight of the trip, and boy was it!  Again, I was disappointed with no direct sunlight, none at all, not a drop.  But you work with what you got.  Across the highway from the lagoon is Diamond Beach (I think that’s an informal name) and so here’s what my camera saw.  Please excuse the redundancy of some images, but they are close to my heart…sentimental fool!  Luckily there were no blistering winds, but a few images that I thought were slam dunks ended up being duds.  This is because, unbeknownst to me, the black sand I was shooting on is so fine that there were times that the tripod was sinking just enough to cause unwanted blur on the longer exposures.  And I even had large rubber feet on the ends of the tripod.  Maybe snowshoes would have helped!

Ancient Ice

Ancient Ice

Cool Rocks of Jökulsárlón

Cool Rocks of Jökulsárlón

What a time!  My family had ditched me a solid couple of hours ago to the vehicle for warmth and some car fun.  They are an awesome and supportive crew for sure.  Anyhow, back to Höfn for the night and then back to Keflavík the next morning.  We stopped here and there on the way back, but I really didn’t want a 12-hour drive again, so I planned on being guarded about stopping so much.  One neat and quick spot was Núpsvötn.  I would really have loved to have seen the sun break through, but the conspiracy against me was pretty thorough.  Roll with the punches!

Stopover at Núpsvötn

Stopover at Núpsvötn

At this point we were almost back to Keflavík, and my wife sensed some disappointment in me due to the lack of color in the sky and with no northern lights and all.  She went to work for one last ditch effort and found a spot not too far from where we were in Keflavík called Reykjanesta.  It was kind of difficult to find, and by the time we got there I had to act extremely fast.  It’s an amazing rock formation, and while I had no pleasure of direct sunlight, the clouds caught some colorful light from the setting sun.  I captured the only color in the sky the whole trip just before flying to the Continent the next morning, all due to the wife!  On the technical side, sometimes I like to bracket heavily and do manual exposure blending in Photoshop.  It's rare, but sometimes needed (although I really try to get natural looking images).  Anyhow, I'm still waiting on Fuji to push a button and, on the next firmware update, make it so that a burst of up to seven or nine images can be made.  The only option of a three-image burst is simply inadequate.

Fire Over Earth

Fire Over Earth

Brown and Blue Brew

Brown and Blue Brew

Here’s a picture worth a thousand words pertaining to my experience of Icelandic weather. Firstly, in the sky area, look at all that gunk! Blobs on the sensor, mist on my polarizer, and who knows what that streak is?! Secondly, does it look like I’m about to get swamped with a heavy dose of sea water? Well, I did. I was in shooting mode and barely escaped with my Fuji intact as a blast of whitewash hit the rocks before me and splashed up. That’s why there’s blur…the shutter was released as the tripod was being lifted. My whole front side was soaked, my Wellies were now half full of water, and the X-T2 was uncomfortably drenched with salty moisture. First things first: get the battery out of the X-T2 and dry it off. Now, shoot more!

Here’s a picture worth a thousand words pertaining to my experience of Icelandic weather. Firstly, in the sky area, look at all that gunk! Blobs on the sensor, mist on my polarizer, and who knows what that streak is?! Secondly, does it look like I’m about to get swamped with a heavy dose of sea water? Well, I did. I was in shooting mode and barely escaped with my Fuji intact as a blast of whitewash hit the rocks before me and splashed up. That’s why there’s blur…the shutter was released as the tripod was being lifted. My whole front side was soaked, my Wellies were now half full of water, and the X-T2 was uncomfortably drenched with salty moisture. First things first: get the battery out of the X-T2 and dry it off. Now, shoot more!

I like to think that my Fuji X-T2 was the first one to see the amazing landscape of Iceland.  In truth I think that may be possible, seeing that we were there from October 1st – 6th.  Kind of a fun thought ;-)  Anyhow, this ends Part 1 of the article.  Whether my Fuji was the first to grace Iceland, I do not know.  But I do know that my Fuji weathered Iceland well.  Keep an eye out for Part 2 of this post where I will share my experience street shooting, in style, with the X-T2 on the Continent. It did me right and I can't wait to share some images with you!