To Capture Iceland
It was a sticky and humid Australian summer and all my body could manage to do was lay on my bed under the whirling fan and daydream of running through the Icelandic wilderness; encountering the land of seemingly unending stretches of mountains, long summer days and magical, fluffy horses.
Months later and there I was, finally heading to Iceland! Words failed to express my deep excitement as I stepped onto the plane. My mind reeling with all of the photo and film ideas, because as to me, Iceland was the place where photographers stepped into magnificent landscapes and their true photographic potential was clearly unleashed.
My name is Genevieve and on occasion, I call myself a photographer. I actually recently quit my full-time job as a social worker to pursue my passion of photography. So obviously I brought all of my photography gear to Iceland, as I just knew that it would be the place that would test my abilities and expand my creative horizons. But little did I know that things would not quite go to plan and my romantic ideals would be tested.
Myself and my Australian housemate had decided to travel around Iceland (obviously following the Ring Road) in a Rent.is van for 10 days. We arrived at the airport with zero plan, unsure of what excitements Iceland would hold – our first task was picking up the van. Thanks to Rent.Is we were absolutely kitted out with a brand new Volkswagen van that had been converted into a beautiful camper. With space to store our luggage, pockets for our clothes and belongings, a gas stove, pots and pans and all of the main cooking utensils and cutlery, a place to constantly charge our phones, a magical heater that could run safely all night (as Icelandic summers are cold for an Australian, ranging from 14 – 4 degrees Celsius) and unlimited WiFi, we knew that we were in for an incredible adventure. BUT FIRST, we had to very quickly learn how to drive on the other side of the road – in Australia we drive on the left side of the road and so our cars are built with the steering wheel/pedals etc. on the left side of the car so everything was pretty much in reverse. Not to worry though, we quickly adapted and slowly grew in confidence of the roads.
Our first night we stayed in a campground in Reykjavik. It was time to work out how this whole ‘living in a van’ thing worked – so we sorted out who would sleep on what side of the bed and in turn what side of the van our things would be kept, we worked out how to actually set up the bed and how much of it we could keep set up while we were travelling around, and most excitingly we discovered the magnetic curtains! (which were absolute lifesavers, with the never ending summer sun).
My housemate and I had thought that we would spend our first night planning out our trip, so we broke out our ‘Big Map’ and were suddenly overcome (and a little overwhelmed) with choice of where to go and what to see. Thankfully, by chance we met these three wonderful and vibrant Brazilians who were travelling for the next ten days (the same as us) and showed us their very well thought out, colour coded map of what they would be doing each day of their trip. By a miracle, The Brazilians invited us to join them on their trip, which we joyously and obviously agreed to. To celebrate, we stood around our cars and drank cheap, Brazilian wine before heading to bed.
This was it! The day I had been waiting for; our first real day on the Ring Road, off on our Icelandic adventure. The South-Eastern rains were out in force, but not even the cold rain could dampen my spirits.
After exploring the outskirts of Reykjavik we ventured to Reykjadalur Valley to go to the hot springs river. I had never experienced something like it before; with the wind and rain gaining strength as we hiked through the mountains ridges, I thought I would be swept up and blown of the cliff edges. We had arrived around 9pm with camera in hand and hiking for over an hour (with many photo stops), we finally made it to the hot springs. Now, the challenge of removing the thousand layers of clothing that was keeping our bodies warm and getting into our swimsuits. The steaming hot spring, called us enticingly in, and after the count of three we quickly removed our warm outer shells and carefully ran into the springs. Sweet relief! It was if the hot water sizzled against my icy skin as I immersed my body into the steaming waters. About an hour had passed and the sky began to darken, we knew it was time to venture back to the car and search for a campsite for the night. Again, on the count of three we jumped out of the warm water and into the wind. My goodness it was cold! It was as if the wind wrapped itself around every part of my exposed skin as I tried to dry my body with my small camping towel. On the hike back, we decided not to stop for photos, fear of becoming an icicle. A few members of our group even decided to jog back to the cars as the thought of a warm dry place with no wind became ever-stronger.
After an hour drive we made it to a small town where a campsite invited us in. 1am, still wet and a little cold from the hot spring, finding the campsite was like an answer to our prayers. The rain continued as we settled in and set up for the night. Watching our Brazilian friends set up their tent in the rain, I was incredibly glad that we had a warm, dry van (that required little set up) to spend our nights (THANK YOU RENT.IS!).
Day two was the day of visiting the North’s tourist destinations and our first day of proper driving – I was excited to start taking photos of the stunning Icelandic landscapes after trawling through photos of Iceland on social media for months. Finally, it was my turn. I held my camera up to my face and peered through the eye piece looking out to Gullfoss Falls, I pressed the button expecting the shutter to make it’s usual *click click* when I heard a *clunk* sound. “Error 30” was displayed on the monitor with a few instructions on how to fix the issue, and for the first time I noticed what seemed like water sitting behind the screen of my camera. No matter what I tried, my camera displayed the same message. Again and again, I tried to fix it, but no result. In a panic I ran back to the van and googled (thanks to the unlimited WiFi) the Error message to see if there was a solution and what other people had done about it. I found a video “how to fix Error 30 in Canon 5D” and proceeded to watch a guy literally take his camera to tiny pieces and put it all back together again. With zero skill or equipment, I knew this wasn’t the answer. I had read on a forum that it may be water damage and to let your camera dry out; some people commenting that this fixed the issue within two days. This was encouraging and I gained some hope of recovery… until I read someone’s comment ‘I had never had issues with my Canon 5D, which I have had for years, until I went to ICELAND. I had to send it off to get the shutter replaced when I got home’.
Suddenly the realisation of what may be happening hit me. Here I was, a “professional photographer” in the country I had dreamt of being in for years, dreaming of what kind of photos I would take and planning what kind of films I would make for many months. The prospect of these dreams and possible images faded as the reality of my new situation dawned upon me.
That day we visited several, incredible and well known locations (Gullfoss Falls, Geysir Strokkur) and ended up at this incredible waterfall in a semi-hidden location in Brekkuskógur, where we squelched through a kilometre of mud until we were met with the most vibrant ice blue waters I had ever seen in my life. I had left my camera in the van to dry out, praying that it would work again. Standing in front of this waterfall, I was continuously taken aback with it’s sheer majesty and beauty, however the moment was tinged with sadness as all I wanted to do was take a photo on my ‘real’ camera, rather than my iPhone. But I knew there was nothing much I could do, so I sucked it up and got my iPhone out. On returning to the van, I looked back on my iPhone photos and after some quick editing I was somewhat surprised at the results. “Not so bad after all” I thought to myself, as I tried to pluck up the courage to smile at the memory of the beautiful nature we had just witnessed.
That evening we ended up staying in Þingvellir National Park, which quickly became my favourite camping location. 2am we cooked dinner as we watched the moon rise and set over the beautiful Þingvallavatn lake. The quiet coolness of the early morning settled around us as the day came to a close.
Day three was toasted sandwich morning! After waking around 10am and filling our bellies with delicious toasted sandwiches, we spent a while sitting under the warm sun and reading on the banks of Þingvallavatn. Our mission was to make it to Stykkishólmur by afternoon, so we set off in that direction, driving in convoy behind our new Brazilian friends.
That evening as we were driving to the next campsite, we saw a group of beautiful horses standing near the side of the road and immediately pulled the car over so we could befriend them. I have to admit that I have harboured a fear of these giant creatures for most of my life, as I was bitten by a horse as a child. This incident instilled in me a somewhat irrational, yet very real fear of horses (c’mon, don’t laugh, this is a serious matter haha). So I slowly approached the creatures and cautiously stretched out my hand to touch it’s long nose. *exhales* I did it! The moment my hand fell on the soft, chestnut brown nose, my heart melted a little and I came to understand why Icelandic horses were the most magical creatures in the world.
After about 20 minutes standing on the roadside with the horses, our Brazilian friends drove on to the campsite, however myself and my housemate lingered a while as we shared the sunset with these friendly giants. About half an hour had passed when these two American photographers greeted us, snapping photos of the horses running in the golden sun. A faint rainbow formed in the distance as we chatted about travel, photography and the ease in which Iceland welcomes foreigners. We ended up standing on the side of the road, chatting for over an hour before our new American friends invited us to go to Mt. Kirkjufell & Kirkjufellsfoss.
When we arrived at the waterfall, I was met with an overwhelming sense of revenge on the camera world, as about eight cameras on tripods waited patiently on the edge of Kirkjufellsfoss, capturing the images I knew my iPhone could not. An urge of immature frustration took over my brain as I imagined myself pushing all eight cameras off the cliff and into the crashing water. However, I stood sheepishly behind the row of cameras as I snapped a few shots on my iPhone.
“I recently quit my full-time job to become a professional photographer” I explained to a family of photographers before getting out my iPhone to take a few more snaps. With an audible snicker from my new friends as I showed off my iPhone photography skills, I explained what had happened to my camera. The group of photographers shared a moment of silence as they felt the gravitas of my dire situation – yeaaahhhh, a photographer passionate about capturing images of nature in a country where you’re surrounded by the most enchanting landscapes and beautiful creatures, carrying around a broken camera and lenses which was quickly becoming dead weight and being forced to to feel like a fraud as I humbly took photos of the looming landscapes on my iPhone.
Moving on… it was 3am as we made dinner at Kirkjufellsfoss, and time could have not felt more irrelevant. There we were standing on the edge of a waterfall in the early hours of the morning, making new friends, eating food, taking photos and finding common ground over the joy we experienced while being surrounded by nature. We sat and watched the sun rise as wisps of soft pink appeared in the clouds behind Mt. Kirkjufell.
I have never experienced making such fast friends than what I did in Iceland. That evening it worked to my advantage, as one of our American photographer friends allowed me the absolute honour of using his camera. I couldn’t have been more grateful, as I was completely refreshed and felt more myself while getting to use a ‘real’ camera again.
The next few days felt like blur as we made our way to the Eastern region; driving the most incredible stretches of road, witnessing the sun set and rise while the sky filled with pastel shades, watching the moon rise in front of us while the sun set behind us, hiking to craters filled with vibrant waters, mountainsides absolutely covered in purple flowers (nootka), visiting waterfall after waterfall, and constantly being taken aback by the stunning beauty that surrounded us at every turn. I was finally becoming more okay about the fact that my camera would not fix itself before the end of my trip and was becoming increasingly grateful for the images my iPhone was able to capture.
I will have to be honest and say that the Southern region of Iceland absolutely blew my mind and I now know why so many people just go to the most famous landmarks in the South. One of my most favourite locations we visited was Reynisfjara beach near the village Vík í Mýrdal, which is famously known for its’ stark black shoreline. Immediately as we stepped onto the black beach, my heart was thrown into a shrill of excitement as I watched the foamy white waves crash onto the deep black floor and recede until a larger swell overtook the previous shoreline. This place made me feel as if I had stepped into a world that could only be designed by imagination in a story book.
After spending a couple of hours Reynisfjara we travelled to Jökulsárlón. This place was unlike anything I had ever seen. Of course being from Australia, I very rarely see snow or ice, but even after travelling to Canada for the last two winters (in the middle of freezing winter), I had still never seen such large icebergs. There was something so serene about the stillness of the water that I quickly forgot about the people standing around me; enthralled by the mesmerizing reflection of the icebergs on gentle waters, I was lost in time.
It was our second last evening and the reality of leaving this enchanting country was starting to creep into my mind. But I wasn’t allowed to feel sad yet, as we were on the road to Skógafoss; a place I had seen hundreds of photos of so I knew it was going to be amazing and hoped that it lived up to its reputation. Little did I know that I would be absolutely taken aback by the magnitude this waterfall. 9:30pm and the crowds were still out in force to witness Skógafoss, even for a moment. We knew that if we waited it out, the crowds would dissipate and we would have a moment alone with the waterfall.
10:30pm we stood at the base of the waterfall, getting blasted by the spray of the water as it was crashing to the earth. My housemate and I stood arm in arm laughing as the we becoming increasingly saturated from the waterfall’s spray. In that moment I felt such pure, unadulterated joy. No image taken could ever fully show the true awesomeness of this illustrious waterfall.
It was our last morning on the Ring Road.
We were packing up and cleaning out the van when I was overcome with emotion.
I took a deep breath as a melancholy tear rolled down my cheek and I reflected back on the divine memories of the last nine days. Nine days of deepening my friendship with my beautiful housemate, meeting the most wonderful and kindhearted people, exploring new lands, sitting amongst nature until our hearts were content, discovering new ways of thinking and seeing, experiencing the most stunning landscapes, and being completely captivated by the abundance of beauty this country holds.
As I stood there, I came to the conclusion that I could not have anticipated how deeply this country would capture my heart and I said to myself “I WILL be back… soon”.
- Plan your trip before you go to Iceland! Plan each day that you have, that way you can optimize time. But don’t be disappointed when you don’t make it to every place that you had planned (there is sooooo much to see).
- Hiring a camper in Iceland is 100% the best! It has everything you will need in it AND it is your accommodation and transport in one. 10/10 would recommend!
- Get the unlimited WiFi when hiring your van – It was a lifesaver having maps and access to internet (Spotify) where ever we went.
- You can bring up to 3 kilograms of food into Iceland. I would recommend bringing a bunch of dried and dehydrated foods, that are quick and easy. But also, chose things that will be somewhat filling.
- Grilled cheese sandwiches are amazing and easy to make for all meals.
- Bónus is where we did most of our shopping – it is a bit cheaper than other grocery stores and has everything you will need.
- You don’t need a camping card, you can turn up to any campsite and pay when you get there (or pay the following morning if you arrive at a crazy hour).
- Pull over whenever you see somewhere you would like to stop; you will not be disappointed that you just spent the last hour sitting at a random waterfall you found on the side of the road.
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