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An Icelandic Adventure

Is Iceland more than Just Waterfalls and Ice Cubes?

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David Clapp

David Clapp

Non-award winning landscape, travel, architectural photographer and writer based in South Devon.

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I love Iceland! There you go I’ve said it. It’s a new love affair, and one which I feel very strongly about, but I have to admit, that it has never been particular high on my list of locations to visit. It’s an almost reckless statement as there is a truly astounding volume of excellent work that has been produced from this small frozen island over the last few years. It’s become a Mecca for landscape photographers, a ‘Do before you die’, bucket list tour. For me though, I was unsure that I could achieve anything that hadn’t been done before though. The myriad of iceberg shots from Jökulsárlón, overcast skies, the endless ‘wizards hat’ mountain images... it’ll look like the contents page of a landscape photography college module, a spot of composition collecting. But no one else can see you with your eyes; No one has your particular vision and feels the inspiration you feel; and that is what I think Iceland is very much about.

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  • Hans Strand

    I am speechless ! The shot with Kirkjufell and the waterfall is by far the best aurora borealis shot I have ever seen.

    • David Clapp

      Thats a quote and a half. Many thanks for the that. I have a great hour going through your portfolio and I have decided I am going to buy a plane next. World class portfolio.

  • Jason Theaker

    Some lovely shots there David! I’m not supposed the aura shot was shared so widely, it’s got a very striking composition and with the twist of originality! The trip sounded fun, and I’m sure the images just keep on stacking up for years to come!

    • David Clapp

      Thanks Mr T.

      • Jason Theaker


  • mcbphotography

    Some fantastic images from a magical place.
    I love the simplicity of ‘jump to light speed’

    • David Clapp

      Thank you. Yes, it was a real favourite. I took 45 images using the 1Ds3 / 70-300 f4L IS sitting in the front seat of the van on the long journey to Myvatn, deleting every one until I got a good one.

  • LShepherd

    I have wanted to go for Iceland for so many years, David – and it keeps not happening. Reading this and looking at your wonderful photographs, I find myself thinking I really must do something about it!
    I agree with Hans about the Kirkjufell aurora shot – I do remember seeing it on your website and I’m not surprised it has proved so popular. It has a wonderful flow to it and all the elements seem perfectly aligned – just beautiful. Your meteor shot is also stunning but I suspect your preference for this one is because you know what it took, technically, to make it work – whereas the impartial viewer just goes by what they see and how that makes them feel.
    Great work anyway, Lizzie

    • David Clapp

      Yes you are right, I think I often find myself preferring the more technical image over the lesser, but the other has more public appeal for sure. Great to see you have had positive exposure in the photographic press and here at OnLandscape

  • Simon B

    Stunning work David. Inspired and inspirational in equal measure.


    • David Clapp

      Thanks Simon :)

  • Joe Rainbow

    I think my favourite is the Myvatn shot with the frosty trees in the fg. A wonderful set of images David and I am glad you have survived Antony’s Nordic driving! Mind you, he is better than his Dad in that respect :) Just don’t let him try and fill up with fuel, you will be going round in circles for hours (in joke)
    You hit some crazy Aurora conditions out there and certainly made the most of it, quite jealous.
    All the best, Joe.

    • David Clapp

      Thanks Joe, much appreciated. He’s far more sedate these days you will be pleased to hear.

    • David Clapp

      Tony’s just read it, he says you are a ‘tosser’, which I feel is childish and has no place here at Onlandscape

  • Lovely images David, That bright blue Detail shot of Ice is a particular stand-out for me. I’ve seen a lot of stuff coming from Iceland recently and I may jump on the band wagon and make a visit at some point later this year/start of next year.

    I like the idea of using Focus stacking for night shots, it’s something I’ve been experimenting a bit with lately for daytime as well as night photos along with light painting which I still haven’t quite got the hang of!

    • David Clapp

      I sent it to fellow OnLandscape writer David Ward and he gave me a ‘not bad’ which I was delighted with.

      Focus stacking in the dark is not an easy thing to do. Most people prefer to get their photography right ‘in camera’ which has always seemed very limiting, but this style of image is utterly impossible without some seriously technical work. This is often hard and frustrating work, something worth specialising in…

      • Jason Theaker

        It’s always puzzled me why ‘getting it right in camera’ was the popular mantra, when surely the objective is to use which ever ‘tool’ does the best job at realising the objective. Process over product…

        • LShepherd

          Couldn’t agree more!

          David – do you use Helicon for focus stacking?

          • David Clapp

            No, there’s no need it can all be done using a raw processor / bridge, Photoshop and some extended skills and thinking. I will be making a landscape photoshop video for Onlandscape in the next issue, or possibly the next one as I am flat out at the moment.

            • LShepherd

              Thanks, David (and for the above) – I will hold off then, for now at least, and look forward to the video – had been considering getting Helicon…

  • Mike Curry Photography

    Beautiful work David! I especially like iceland_snaefellsnes_kirkjufell_01 which has so many interesting elements!I am impressed by your use of focus stacking, something I have never tried. Can you recommend a good resource on it?

    I have just come back from Norway http://www.mikecurryphotography.com/portfolio/list/category/latest and saw the most intense Aurora displays and similarly fell in love with Norway and its people, although having seen your work I feel Norway may just have been a ‘first date’ photographically leading up to Iceland.

    The displays were so strong in near Tromso that it made the snow very green and I found it hard to settle on a WB and colour representation I liked, in the end I decided to show it how it was even if it looks a little unreal even to me!

    Congratulations again on such splendid, subtle, beautiful work!


    • David Clapp

      Tim should be headed down to Devon in the next few weeks, so I hope to make as s video content with him that will include the practical and digital techniques to capturing and assembling a focus stacked sequence. If time constraints restrict this, I will make the processing tutorial at least.

      Will pop of to your site and have a look. Many thanks for the comments, it keeps me going.

  • Jon Tainton

    Two sublime aurora landscape images, so congrats and kudos to you, for being there and having the talent to make these images.

    • David Clapp

      Thanks John, your support is much appreciated.

  • David

    I think you are ingenious designing a remote control for the Aurora Borealis – there’s no other way it would be possible to get such a ‘compliant’ shape positioned over the mountain, and mirroring the curve of the water – even the brightness is perfect :-) Michael

    • David Clapp

      It was a special photographic moment, but one which sunk in slowly rather than had me doing a lap of the hill side. The placement was so lucky, but I have ‘him upstairs’ to thank for that.

  • david mantripp

    Amazing stuff. All on one trip, too? I’ve been to Iceland, I think 9 times, including 4 times in winter, and I’ve never seen clear skies over Godafoss, and I’ve never seen the Aurora (well, ok, one brief glimpse once). Mind you I’ve got a world-class selection of cloud, fog and snowstorm shots :-)

    • David Clapp

      Oh no! I am sure they are top quality. We got really lucky and very unlucky the second time, so I understand where you are coming from. I was driving around Reykavik with the flu in a snow storm one morning, heading to the supermarket for medicine, thinking that it couldn’t be worse if I tried. That week, when we were bathed in clear skies, it couldn’t have been any better. I’m eager to return and will be later in the year for our mega trip into the wilds.

  • Jon Gibbs

    Lovely images David, I’m probably a bit aurora’d out as I like the travelling image and the detail of Godafoss (?, last pic).
    Be interesting to see the focus stacking article, I’m using Helicon and it’s great, I could never seem to find a decent online focus stacking article.

  • colinsbell

    A fabulous and readable write up with very high quality photographs. Some of the best photographs of Iceland that I’ve seen. Lots of lessons here summed up perfectly in the final paragraph. Thanks.

  • gibbins217

    Hi David, that sounded and looked amazing! Wish I had been on that one.
    I wont be able to make this years trip in december due to work but hope to get myself
    Out there in Jan inspired by some of your images!
    I Had a great time with you and Tony in January and hope to do something with you soon.
    Keep it fluffy

  • Tina Ind

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading through this article David… Your passion and pure enthusiasm captured my attention when I attended one of your talks at Plymouth CC a while ago and even in print it comes over in abundance! Wonderful images, every one… “Jump to Light Speed” caught my eye especially…
    Look forward to your next article!

  • Great report David.

    I too love Iceland. I’ve been twice but not as a photographer (my 2nd visit was a month after I got my first SLR). Nonetheless I found the place absolutely awe inspiring. At times a lunarscape, at others vibrant greens, mountains every colour you can imagine, glaciers, strange ice sculptures, steaming mud pots and geysirs, giant waterfalls (bigger than I’d even see anyway!), just an endless array of fascination. And that acrid smell of eggy farts! ;)

    I absolutely love the place, it’s literally like being on another planet. At the time (2007) I only knew one other person that had been to the island, nobody else understood why I wanted to go and so in some ways Iceland and the way I felt about it made it “mine”. I felt like a genuine explorer in my 4×4 picking my way through what felt like unknown moonscapes in the highlands.

    Because of this feeling and sheer sense of wonder I am starting to feel saddened to see it becoming relegated to another one of photography’s cliches. In many ways your intro to this is spot on “is Iceland more than just waterfalls and ice cubes?” – photography of this place to date seems in some ways superficial, not in the harshest sense of the word, but in the sense that it’s been unable to penetrate much deeper into the depths of the place. As it’s popularity continues to build (and I’m sure it will – again somewhat to my dismay!) I’m sure people will start to look deeper or differently at it. For this reason I enjoyed Simon Harrison’s recent trip report which shared quite different images and feelings to the usual, as a result of a series of dedicated visits to the island.

    But it’s really no surprise that a lot of the imagery has become familiar. The gorgeous and striking waterfalls, the ice lagoon (which I’ve not actually made it to) and geysirs are all things that are really quite foreign to us on these shores. Of course our instinct is to look at those things: they’re strange, they’re unique, compelling and are quite amenable to a successful photograph. For most that make only one trip to Iceland, the “obvious” is what they are going for and what they’re coming away with. More intimate and thoughtful study is perhaps reserved for closer to home. So in that sense, I don’t really think there’s any “blame” there.

    Oh the other thing, as I think you allude to here, is that most people don’t appreciate just how big the island is, so a flying visit can normally only take in the “usuals”.

    I did look at the itinerary for your’s and Tony’s trip and I think it’s got some exciting and different things in there for which I think is great! It looked a little too full on to me. But again this highlights that there is so much to see and it’s so big that to get a broad appreciation of it takes quite an effort.

    Love the images here. I loved the Kirkjufell aurora image when I saw it – agree with others it’s as close to the perfect aurora shot as I have seen. Not only does it have that beautful curve of aurora around the mountain, the reflection in the symmetrical river basically gives you a green ring framing the mountain, that’s pretty special. Add in the foreground detail (not blocked up as you say), the water itself leading to a part frozen waterfall. I mean come on, you can’t make this stuff up! :)

    I really liked the Myvatn ICM image too, it’s got a lovely feel to it.

    I’m hoping to get back to Iceland – either on a tour or under my own steam – with my camera later in the year. It’s a place I could return to endlessly and the more I see of it the more time I want to dedicate to exploring it. This article helps stoke that fire a bit more, thanks!

    • david mantripp

      I sympathise with your feelings about Iceland getting overdone. I’ve been going for over a decade, but in the last few years things have really exploded. Visitor numbers are going exponential, and there are now 17 airlines with scheduled flights to Keflavik in summer (not so long ago there were 2). And Keflavik’s terminal itself has doubled in sze. Icelanders are getting concerned as well. However, although some of the classic south-east locations are maybe close to being ruined (Gulfoss is a good example), at least from our selfish landscape photographer perspective, we should not forget that Iceland is actually pretty vast, and getting off the beaten track is pretty easy. Getting stuck is too, but that’s another story :-), Personallly I’d be happy if I never see another bit-of-ice-on-the-beach shot again, and I’m not convinced there’s a lot left to say about Jokulsarlon. However almost all of Iceland is photogenic, even the non-landscape bits. There is no lack of potential left for people who are prepared to look a litte beyond the postcards. For locations the West Fjords are awesome – and yes, they’re a little harder to get to, but that’s part of the charm. Also the North East is hardly ever visited by photographers, it seems. A pity. And then there’s the highlands, all of them. You’d need a liftetime to scratch the surface. Even close by Keflavik, the Reykjanes peninsula is strangely neglected.

      There are waterfalls if you want them, and even some of the bigger ones aren’t that much visited – Hengifoss for example. You can still get Lost in Iceland, but maybe you have to try a little harder these days!

  • You’re right David, it certainly seems like it’s only the last few years where it’s risen to prominence. I can’t believe Keflavik has doubled in size! I remember that was one of Iceland’s other oddities – I remember USAF F-15s parked on the runway at the airport, was a bit surreal.

    But yes, I agree with what you say and your thoughts are pretty similar to my own (but much more knowledgable!). In my first post I did almost mention Reykjanes, which I thought was full of interest. Perhaps more modest, but there were black beaches of Kleifervatn, a huge area of fumaroles near Grindavik, some other geothermal areas and blue crater lakes. I remember walking an hour to huge sea cliffs on the west coast to see the sea bird colonies.

    One of my favourite memories is travelling in to Landmannalaugar via the NW road past Hekla, not seeing anyone for hours and my wife being genuinely scared (that’s not why I enjoyed of course!). Or fording deep rivers heading towards Porsmork to see Eyjafjallajoekull before it was famous (and the amazing ice scupltures that calved into the lake, now I believe a black quick “sand” from the ash). Even that was on or close to the beaten track.

    Yes it’s vast and there’s so much to see and explore. I don’t have a problem trying a little harder. And yes I would like to visit the north of the island. That said, I’ve not had my shot at the obvious stuff yet, so I apologise in advance if I do come back with a picture of a bit-of-ice-on-a-beach! :)

  • David OBrien

    Really enjoyed this article, David, and you’ve got some unique images here – meteor image in particular is a standout for me. Interesting comments on the 1-DX too. On the ice cube beach comments, I think there is always something new to digest – take a look at some of David Ward’s new Iceland images on FB for example and interestingly, all taken on a 1-DX I think. Simon Harrison’s disciplined approach to tackling Iceland, as exhibited in a previous article, produced some stunning and different imagery. And in my view, a repeat visit always pays dividends as quite often on workshops the immediate sensory overload of a new location is too much to take in first time round.

  • Paul Davis

    So what IS the scale of Godafoss? It does look really big but I gather from your comments that it is deceptively small? Fabulous shots.

    • Hi Paul,

      Go∂afoss is approximately twelve meters high and each of the arcs about 30 meters across. It’s not small but it’s not Niagara either!

  • Hi David. You might remember me as the argumentative SOB form a L&L leaders meeting a few years ago…

    I had to think long and hard about responding to this article, partly because I surprised myself with the strength of my own emotions and had to therefore try and work out what was going on in my head and why.

    Firstly, 1st class images, and a lot of good sense in the article… and there lies the rub. Iceland has been on my bucket list since the mid 90’s when i say David Ward’s first images from there. I thought that it looked like a place so different from the clichéed images that were so prevalent (it was Tuscany and Provence in those days) that I could go there, search my soul, and be forced to come up with something new.

    And my point is not about Iceland per se.

    You mentioned yourself the fact that locations very quickly attract the hordes of copy-cats, and, though rather dissapointed that this is still the case (despite the best endeavours of this publication), I do not blame people for wanting to go somewhere that they have seen stunning images of. But images like the aurora around the puffy nipple-mountain (and David Ward knows I do not do this to be rude, i just can’t help seeing anatomy in the landscape) highlight a new phenomenon; even though i only have 45 Facebook friends, most of them non-photographers, that image has been shared to my timeline no less than 3 times. Without ever having sought out images of Iceland, i have had thrust under my nose images of ice cubes on the beach, ice cubes in the surf, ice cubes under clear skies, ice cubes under cloud… to the point that i never want to se another ice cube again. But i know i will… i no longer have any choice. And this is what bothers me. I used to go to galleries, these days they are sent to me.

    Yes i am jealous, because i had always kept Iceland as an aspirational destination. To deal with my jealousy I had carefully avoided exposing myself to images of it so that I could eventually, maybe, arrive with fresh eyes and do something that was new and exciting to me (even though it may not have actually been all that new and exciting to anyone else)… but now i know that i will always be dissapointed that the weather was not as good (or as bad, or even as changeable) as in images I have already seen…

    And what upsets me now, is that with so many iconic images coming out of somewhere as inaccessible, expensive and inhospitable as iceland, and being splashed across our screens, there is no longer anywhere to hide.

    I know you are going to say “just go there…”, and you are probably right. Its just that I am saddened by the fact that the thought of having to face quite so many demons in a place that until so recently was (for me at least) supposed to be a place of mystery and strangeness makes me feel a little sick. And I rather suspect I am not alone.

    I wonder what Jem Southam would make of it ;-)

    Anyway… i look forward with baited breath to the focus stacking feature.

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