Sony NEX and Nikon D800 E on Iceland
I wanted to write this post sooner after return, but I forced myself to wait. To get all impressions and emotions to settle down and to think a bit about content.
So, this post is not about beauties of the country. I will include in the link, few photos that should speak for themselves and if not, you can find many great photo books in your local book store.
Buy printed books, they usually worth it.
Part I – Pre Production
First thing to consider is how you want to travel.
I decided to go with seven friends, two of them are professional landscape photographers and rest of us are either professionals in other genres or advanced enthusiast. Those two professional landscapers, did the whole organization and location planning in return for paid travel costs.
I used those six months to study locations – but, unlike most of my colleagues, I haven’t look at the images on the web, trying to preserve the moment of initial impression, when getting to the locations, as strong and intuitive, as possible.
But, I have read lot about weather casts and I checked sunrises and sunsets and sun and moon positions for most locations at expected shooting times.
I prepared few pages for each location with collected data and transfered them into my iPad. That was fun and easy part…
Part II – Camera bag
Hard part was to select equipment and pack all other hardware -such as tent, sleeping bag, cooking dishes, cloths etc.
You might ask why sleeping bags and tents, why not sleeping in the hostels?
Well, it’s up on you, but in the May, when I was there, there is light 24 hours a day. Sunrise is around 3 AM and sunset around midnight, but even between midnight and 3 AM, there is still enough light to shot. So, you either enjoy luxury of the real bed, or you get few hours of sleep on the move, waiting for the golden hour right, on the spot.
In that regard, I recommend to create Excell document, where you can make a list of all things that you need to take with you. In Excell, you can simply add additional things, and filter selections without a need to start a new list every time. You can also use summing function to check for weight limitation, given by the flying company.
Yes – size but mainly weight limitation is the biggest problem in my experience. I virtually completely changed selected equipment in my mind, hundred times for sure.
But, that weight (and size) limitation has one great benefit. You can be sure, that unlike in many other situations, you will carry only that much, that you will really use.
What was in my Lowepro Vertex AW 200 Backpack?
(Vertex was chosen in regard to size limitation for handy baggage and rather good weather sealing. There are many other good solutions however…)
Nikon D 800E
Sony NEX 7
Nikkor 14-24 f/2.8 AF-S G ED
Leica Macro-Elmarit-R 60 mm F/2.8 adapted for the Nikon mount
Sony SEL 1018 f4 OSS
Sony SEL 2418 Sonnar T*
Samyang E mount 8mm f/2.8 Fisheye
Minolta 100-300 f4.5-5.6 APO D with LA-EA2 Sony adapter
Gitzo GT 2541 with pikes
Sirui K10X ball head
Remote controllers (cable for Nikon, IR for Sony NEX 7)
Spare batteries and chargers (3 batteries for Nikon, 5 for Sony NEX 7)
Set of LEE filters system 100 – ND grads – soft 0.3 and 0.6, hard 0.6 and 0.9, ND 0.3, 0.6, 0.9 and Big Stopper, 150 SW system – ND Grad hard 0.6 and ND 0.9.
Circular polarizer for Leica and Sony SEL 2418 Sonnar T*
Cleaning set with Kinetronics and Lee solutions and Rodenstock micro fiber clots
Led Lanser P14 and H7 torches
Leatherman Surge (don’t forget to put it in the main baggage)
7 SD cards (most 16GB) and 4 CF cards (2×32 and 2×16 GB)
2 water resistant plastic bags
All that can fit in the Vertex 200, but because of the weight limit I put tripod, head, batteries, charger and filters in the main luggage.
That was a cardinal mistake as time will sow…
Part III – Lending on the Iceland – first blood
Yup. You can prepare as much as you want but you can’t change the destiny… My main luggage was lost. Not entirely lost, but it ended in Copenhagen instead of Keflavík.
Not only that some key parts of my equipment was there, (tripod and filters), but the whole group had to change plans. There was nothing we could do…
Luggage did come a day later, but with my main filter – LEE Big Stopper – broken at several fine pieces. That was my mistake – it is a glass filter and it doesn’t like neither high pressure nor hitting. Fortunately, one member of our group took 2 Big Stoppers and rented me one. Thank you Jiri 🙂 you saved my photo life.
Part IV – First impression
You drive from the airport and you immediately find yourself staring around as a kid, first time in Disneyland.
Everything is fascinating, because everything is different.
There are many amazing places on the earth with breath taking sceneries… but it is unlikely that there are many other places on earth, where you feel like being on a different planet.
If you love landscape and photography, you simply have to go there at least once in your life.
Part V – Shot, shot, shot. Get wet, get wet, get wet.
I have seen many beautiful photos from Iceland with a colorful sunsets or sunrises. Unfortunately, We had only two (out of ten) sunny days, and none of them was with some dramatic sky (clouds). In fact, 8 days was raining. All days long.
This is a matter of the luck, because just a week prior to our arrival it was 14 days with very little rain.
I was especially unlucky, because both my visits were very… wet.
But, I learned to love Iceland for this. It shows the power of the nature in its real strength and it just doesn’t want to give you anything for free.
You have the umbrella? Well, it might help occasionally, but usually the strong wind will just blow it away.
We were wet every day, and went wet in our sleeping bags, to wake up in another rainy day. Iceland did tease our commitment an love of photography in the most challenging way, I ever experienced.
In practical terms, that also mean, that you have permanently to clean your lenses or filters, as rain drops won’t stop. The only thing that help in that regard is sun shade. Deeper the better, but I didn’t take any, because I use LEE system and because I was limited with space.
The problem is, that most of the filter thread ND filters, especially those with 8-10 stops, cause significant color shift and while LEE shits it toward blue, that is easy to correct in the post production – BW 110 i.e. shift toward red, and that is harder to remove.
As usual, you have to deal with compromises, but next time, I will take sun shades and circular filters instead of LEE.
Part VI – More about filters
ND filters are essential for Iceland, because many of the famous locations include water in some form. Usually those are waterfalls. But..
Don’t fall into Big Stopper madness. Yes, you might be amazed at first with the buttery smooth water, but 10 stops are sometimes too much, and water does not look like water anymore. On top of that, melting water to the cloud form takes all the energy from thos majestic sceneries. I would recommend, for most waterfalls on Iceland, exposures at the range of 1-2s. That is for sure very personnel, so take this recommendation with a big grain of salt, but you might think about it or try different exposures and see what you like.
Simply – don’t put Big Stopper every time you set up your camera.
Where you can benefit of extra long exposures on the other hand, is to get rid of tourists in the scene and mainly to get clouds moving. That is IMHO better application for the Big Stopper than waterfalls on Iceland.
Grade ND filters are often used to lower dynamic range of the scene, usually at sunsets or sunrises. But when you think about it – that is basically wrong. The brightest part of the image is not on the top (where ND factor is biggest), but somewhere at let’s say third or middle of the compositions – at the horizon line. So, using ND grads in those situations, actually might increase the dynamic range of the scene, instead of doing the opposite.
For that purpose, good solution are ND reversed filters, or if you don’t have them, you can use two hard graded LEE filters reversed to each other. You can see how that can be done in this excellent Tim Parkin article.
Part VII – That’s it. Final thoughts and tips.
Do whatever you can to prepare for the rain and wind. It wasn’t really cold at the end of the May, but it was certainly wet. And when finally, one day was sunny and we went to the mountains to shot waterfalls in the snowy scenery, I managed to fall into the lake through the snow… Wet again… And very laughable for the rest of the group.
Within a heaviest rain, second day of our visit, I managed somehow to get lost on Skaftafell waterfalls. I climbed on the hill to take the shot from above, and suddenly huge storm swallowed me. I was looking for the way back, but the visibility in those conditions was less than 1m. Thinking of calling 112, I spotted someone nearby.
It was a women – probably around 35 years old, and she was enjoying the storm and rain with a huge smile on her face. She wared a kind of woolen poncho, but she was barefoot.
“Great weather, isn’t it?” she shout toward me.
“Fucking fantastic!” I replied.
She showed me direction how to get downhill, and within a few seconds, she disappeared in the mist. If she wouldn’t speak English, I swear I would be convinced, that I just met an Elf. But who knows, maybe all Elves speak English 🙂
Sony NEX 7 is an hack of the camera. The main disadvantage is the lack of the cable release. I was afraid also about lack of weather sealing, so at the beginning, I was shooting more with Nikon. As the days were passing, I become braver and exposed NEX to some heavy rain. As soon as I could I wiped it with a cloth, but in those conditions, there weren’t dry cloths anyway. Don’t do this, Sony doesn’t recommend it and I don’t either. But I just wanted my shots, and NEX 7 is still working perfectly. Nikon D800E too, but that camera is supposed to survive some rain, as it is weather sealed.
I mostly used only three lenses – Sony SEL 1018 (15-27 FF equivalent), SONY SEL 2418 Sonnar T* (36 FF equivalent) and Elmarit Macro 60 on Nikon D800E. In general, I was surprised to find lot of compositions with that 60mm lenses that were more pleasing to my eye than wide angle. It is indeed, very rare FL for landscapes. Maybe I just was in the “longer and flatter” mood.
That is basically it. If you have any questions, please ask in the comments bellow.
Here are some shots from Iceland – May 2013 from my iPhone
You can find “real ones” (something like this i.e.)
on my Flickr -Iceland set
But here are few snaps…
|Waiting in the Brussels for the flight to Iceland. Everything still seemed optimistic. I believed that my luggage is also waiting for the boarding, but it probably already went to Copenhagen…
|First day without tripod, filters, tent, sleeping bag, tooth brush, and food. So I used iPhone to express my feelings.
|While my friends did enjoy the comfort of the wet tents, I had to suffer all the night in the dry car.
In fact, it wasn’t all that bad 🙂 Good thin is, that you can usually sleep, wherever you want. If you can sleep, without darkness.
|This man saved my photography, as he borrowed me Big Stopper. Big thanks to Jiri.
|Everything is so different on Iceland that you are slowly falling out of known dimensions.
|This is a typical hostel on the way. Small sleeping rooms, but nice big living room and kitchen to be shared by visitors. Great baths too.
|When you wake-up in this kind of morning, your tent is completely wet, your sleeping bag is wet too, and you are wet as well, you need to believe and be strong. And have some Scotch with you:-)
|Without our Landcruisers, we won’t be able to move far from Reykjavik. No fancy cars are of any use on Iceland. It is really nice to rest a bit from all those Mercedes, BMW etc…
|On top of that waterfall I got lost, as described in the last chapter above. I don’t have the picture of the lady elf. But I still have my story, who ever wants to believe in it 🙂
|So, while they were enjoying well deserved rest on the soft snowy mattresses, I was again enjoying the car, trying (without success) to get dry.
|There were situations, were umbrella could help…
|… and situations when it looked stupid. The umbrella I mean…
|Get used to the longer exposures. That’s how you will shot most of the time.
|Horses on Iceland are simply adorable. As everything (except the rain) in fact.
|Different planet – remember?
|Agriculture is very rare on Iceland. This field belong to the local farmer and it is less than 500 meters far from the big Sea Lion colony. Could you believe it?
|Trust me 🙂
|Take five, whenever you can…
|You will need it.
|That’s our group
|And our plane…
We kept saying one sentence for the day one – Iceland is not going to give you anything for free. You have to fight for every single shot. And that’s the beauty of it.
For the people living there it might not be easy, but they are though. So though, that sometimes it is hard to believe…
End of journey. Don’t forget to look at my photos (if interested) on my Flickr
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