Iceland Part Two – Water

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My last post actually turned into a bit of a Geography lesson about the formation of the Icebergs and fjords and so on. Most out of character- it won’t happen again, but Iceland does odd things to you.

Today, I am on more familiar terrain with some thoughts about the process of taking photographs- this time of the many waterfalls in Iceland which present a bit of a problem to the visitor- they are just that bit too magnificent!

I am used to going to a British waterfall and seeing either a bit of a pathetic trickle or at the fiercest ones some kind of raging torrent which is difficult to define. These latter ones are often astonishing, but don’t actually necessarily look very nice. A huge expanse of tumbling water can be impressive rather than actually pleasing to look at. The more common pathetic ones force you to be more creative and I often get shots that I am  quite pleased with because I have got myself into exactly the one place where something seems to be happening in the water that day.

The problem, if it is one, with the Icelandic waterfalls is that they are so predictably magnificent, that many photographers have looked at them before and worked out exactly the shot that brings out their awesomeness years ago. So if you google Seljalandsfoss, for example, you will find shots from behind it of the Sun setting through the water. If you do the same with Skogafoss, people tend to like to place a solitary tourist at the bottom right of the picture to contrast against the full majesty and size of the spectacle and so on.

You can see the problem in my first picture above of the so called Witch’s hat mountain falls of Kirkjufellsfoss. A large proportion of photographers take exactly the position I did so that they get the waterfall in the foreground and the mountain behind. I stood there myself, cursing the fact that the top of the hat was in the clouds so I couldn’t get the “correct”shot, but actually now looking at it, it is this difference that makes it work for me.

All of the standard shots of the waterfalls  were  amazing pictures once, but I wanted somehow to do something different.

That is not to say that I haven’t got some of these things in my pictures- at Skogafoss, for example, I do have the lone people bottom right because they wouldn’t leave! The clichés are also hard to avoid for a really practical reason- the paths by some of these falls are quite dangerous and so there is a limit to the number of places that you are allowed to stand- composing in predictable ways can be difficult to avoid.

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But that shot is where I landed on what I wanted- I couldn’t get my difference at the falls themselves, so instead I looked for it later on my computer in photoshop.

In each of these pictures, starting with Skogafoss, I have developed a technique where I have reduced the colour in the majority of the image to virtually nothing, emphasised the contrasts between the blacks and the whites to a surreal level (in Skogafoss, there are even parts of the picture which are negatives of their original) and taken the levels of everything down to darkness from which I have gradually painted the light and sometimes the colour back in.

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Of course, even when trying to be original, I am influenced here- before going I had seen the amazing images of some of the same places by the photographer Andy Lee. He had taken infrared shots of the country, but the mood he creates is not dissimilar. I too took an infrared camera but got few pictures with it that work for me- here are two which did survive:

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They are OK, but not a patch on Lee’s, and it was actually with my standard camera and lens that I got the images that while sometimes familiar in composition,  are at least  different from the clichés. I like them more than my infared shots because they have allowed me gradually over the series to begin to paint back in little glimpses of the real colours in amidst all the gloom.

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