Exploring Iceland with Darkelf Photography

A photographic journey through the diverse beauty of Iceland with DarkElf.

June 13, 2016

For nearly a decade, photographer DarkElf has been inspiring the Aminus3 community with colorful landscapes from Australia and around the world.

In 2015, he had the opportunity to travel and photograph the iconic and otherworldly landscapes of Iceland.

The following images and impressions are some select favorites from the trip, which show the beautiful diversity of this unique place.

You can see more of DarkElf's images on his Aminus3 website.

The sun desperately tries to break through dark clouds as it rises over the Reynisfjara Beach and the famous basalt sea stacks - Reynisdrangar.

I spent a great morning shooting from the rocks that you can see in the bottom right hand corner of the scene. I was capturing the Black Sand Beach and the sea stacks from different perspectives before deciding to drive further up the coastal cliff to capture the Dyrhólaey arch.

Sometimes it pays to look around behind you, or in this case in the rear view mirror of my car, to see an amazing sight opening up just when you least expect it. As I was driving up the steep hill towards the arch, I looked in my mirrors to see a break in the clouds opening up and this dramatic and contrasting scene developing very quickly. The wind was picking up sharply and the clouds were moving rapidly across the sky. I stopped on the side of the road immediately and had just enough time to shoot three or four frames.

It was one of those moments when I was really pumped up to see the results on my camera screen. I did not make it to the arch in the end but I was more than happy with the shots I took on the way.

This must be just about the most photographed place in Iceland so naturally we had to get out there and I had capture it myself as well!

It is of course Kirkjufell - The Church Mountain - near the town of Grundarfjörður on the Snæfelnelss Peninsula.

I was a lone photographer the morning this photo was taken. During the previous evening's sunset shoot there were about fifteen photographers jostling around. I was a bit surprised that no one else turned up at dawn. At least that gave me plenty of peace and space to myself.

It took two attempts to see Kerlingerfjoll in Iceland in all its glory. The first time we drove from the north along route F35 through severe winds. After four hours of driving we got all of just about five minutes to get out of the car before strong winds and rain forced us to retreat and head back.

The second time (on our second last day of the trip) we gave it another shot through the southern part of route F35 and we got pretty much the prefect weather to see this amazing place. Fresh snow covered the upper parts and it looked absolutely stunning combined with the colour of the mountains and the blue sky.

The volcanic origin of these mountains is evidenced by the numerous hot springs and rivulets in the area, as well as red volcanic rhyolite stone the mountains are composed of. It is a place where the ice truly meets fire and the experience is wonderful.

I used the small hiking party as a human element in this scene to capture the true scale of the mountains and terrain.

One of the hidden gems of Iceland - the Gjain Gorge in the Þjórsárdalur Valley.

A place where dreams truly come to life with lush vegetation, where Rauðá River (Red River) flows through numerous streams and small waterfall in every direction possible. Once you find this spot, the entrance does not suggest anything special, however, once you step down into the valley it becomes magic.

I could sped there hours just listening to the wind and the flowing water, looking at the beautiful plants, examining strange rocks and caverns. An added bonus was that it was Autumn when we visited and some early fall colours were visible around us.

It is a place that allows for wide captures as well as more intimate compositions. You can get really close to each stream, rock and tree and they can form many different layers around you. This is what I tried to show in this photo and I hope you can feel at least a little bit of that magic too.

In 1973, the US Navy airplane - a Douglas Super DC-3 - crash landed on Sólheimasandur beach in Iceland after what was later found to be a pilot's error. The crew all survived the impact, but the plane was abandoned rather than recovered - and lies there still in the middle of the black desert that surrounds it.

While this spot has become a lot more popular and accessible in the last few years, it was still on our list to visit and the experience of seeing the remains of the plane abandoned in the middle of nowhere was fascinating. Probably even just five years ago not many people would have known where to find it and how to get to it.

You can see the wreck in my photo and the desolate landscape around it. I went for a long exposure as the clouds were moving very fast and this gave the scene a bit of a surreal quality. I like the way the movement above contrasts with the stillness of the foreground.

What was once is no longer...but it may yet return back to life.

Before we set out on our drive from Isafjordur in the Westfjords to Hvammstangi we found some information about this old abandoned house or "the old castle house" that could be found on the way. We did not have an exact location, only a rough idea of where it may be located. We managed to track it down during our journey and stopped there to take some photos. In the end it can be spotted quite easily from the road near the locality of Arngerðareyri.

It was built in 1928 when times were a lot better and full of life in this area. The owners abandoned the house in 1966 and gradually it fell into ruin. Apparently, it has been purchased by a German couple who plan to restore it to its former glory. Hence my title and lead into this post.

For now it presents an interesting alternative to capture something a little different in Iceland and no doubt it is high on the list of interest of "urban explorers" who like to photography abandoned buildings. I am not exactly one of them, but I am not one to shy away from an opportunity to expand my photographic horizons.

I may yet post a colour version of the house but the weather, conditions and the abandoned atmosphere sang "monochrome" to me when I was scouting out compositions and angles for my photos. I chose a wider perspective here as I found a good foreground element that I wanted to use and for me it also adds to the general "urban" decay feeling of this scene.

We had a lot of what I call "black and white weather" during our trip through Iceland. Rain, wind, clouds and fog were our constant companions. You get, of course, the famous effect of horizontal rain as well.

This is just about the best view of the Westfjords that we had through the rain and strong winds. I resorted to taking every single opportunity to photograph something decent and it was very frustrating at times. Still we kept going on and always hoped that a touch of good light and weather was just around the corner.

This is another photo from my morning escapade to the rugged coast near Vik in Iceland. Shooting in the morning was a great experience for me, mostly because I was usually alone at the locations I have picked. I had all the time to take in the light and landscape and I just felt a part of the scene that I was trying to capture.

The clouds were rolling in very fast that morning but they were broken up enough to allow the occasional ray of sunshine to break through. In this scene that light burst through beautifully right over the sea stacks - Reynisdrangar - in the background.

Basalt rocks that form the coast made for an intriguing mosaic, water movement made up the rest of the scene and filled the black sand in the foreground. The waves are usually huge and very dangerous here and this time I have chosen a higher vantage point so that I was reasonably safe from their might. One is never too safe around the coast and I still had to be on a look out for any larger wave as it could easily reach even the spot where I was standing.

Another well known and easily accessible waterfall in southern Iceland - Skogafoss. Only a little further up the road from Seljalandsfoss when travelling from the west.

I took this photo on the morning of the same day as the previous one. I was pretty much travelling up and down all day. Morning to Skogafoss than back to Vik, then to the Dakota plane wreck, then to Seljalandsfoss and then back to Vik again. Iceland is just like New Zealand in the way that there is something new and exciting behind just about every corner of the road.

It was hard to come up with a new composition at such a popular location, as most of the angles have been covered already. However, it was one of the waterfalls that fascinated me the most from previous photos I have seen and I was very keen to photograph my take on this spot.

In the end, I enlisted the help of a big puddle of water to hopefully capture something at least a little different (although I am sure it has been done before too). I worked the angle and composition to have the Skogafoss reflected in the still surface of the water. The conditions were quite bleak and misty so I had a mono conversion in mind for this particular shot. Converting to monochrome usually brings out quite a lot of hidden detail and extra contrast as well.

Selfoss is a waterfall on the river Jökulsá á Fjöllum in the north of Iceland. This is a composition that I chose from the west side of the river. I focused on one of the "side falls" further away from the main waterfall. The water level was very high and the resulting spray and run off streams prevented me from getting too close.

It was my intention to capture some of Iceland's superb waterfalls with the use of my 6 stop and 10 stop neutral density filters to create moody and dramatic scenes. Selfoss presented me with perfect conditions for what I had in mind. There are plenty of options for different compositions from both sides of the river. Spray is an issue though and wind direction needs to be considered when planning photos in this area.

This is a view from the east bank of Jökulsá á Fjöllum river in northern Iceland, near the Selfoss waterfall. On a different day we returned to the waterfall and due to the main fall being covered almost entirely by water spray, I decided to concentrate on some of the run off streams on the western side of the river.

Luckily, the wind was blowing away from the camera and kept the water spray away from my filters. I was fascinated by the various flows in the scene before my eyes. The smooth texture of the clouds, vertical streams running down the cliffs and horizontal flow of the river working in unison together.

I was very pleased with this photo. The conversion to monochrome worked very well and it is one of my favourite (if not the favourite) photos from the entire trip.

Iceland is a waterfall heaven. There are apparently over 10,000 waterfalls in this country and just because of that I could live the permanently :-)

Dettifoss is located very close to the Selfoss waterfall, about 1.5km further north on the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river. In fact, when you walk on the eastern side of the river, you first have to pass Dettifoss to get to the other waterfall.

This is believed to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe. It is around 100m wide and the drop is just over 45m. One really does feel the power of this waterfall, no matter which side of the river you stand on. The flow is quite hypnotising and it was hard to take my eyes of it when we had to finally leave.

Dettifoss featured in the movie Prometheus - the prequel to the Alien series of films.

Both fjord areas in Iceland, the Westfjords and the East Fjords, kept most of their treasures hidden away from us under the thick blanket of clouds and persisting rain.

When visiting the eastern region, we did manage however, to make a couple of hikes, including the popular hike to Hengifoss (passing Litlanesfoss on the way). The weather cleared enough but it was still very windy and cold. I had to wear a balaclava to keep my face warm during the hike but it was all worth it.

Hengifoss is a very rewarding tall waterfall right at the end of the hike. It is the third highest waterfall in Iceland with a drop of 128 meters. Due to heavy rains, the stream was rather rapid and deep in places, which prevented me from getting closer to the fall.

I think that the rocks would look stunning in the sunshine because of red layers of clay sitting between the layers of basaltic rock. The horizontal lines that you can see are the red clay that I mentioned.

Time for a mood change from the previous black and white waterfall photos. This one comes from Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon and I took this photo during just about the best sunrise of the entire trip.

The clichéd phrase "land of fire and ice" comes immediately to mind and I think that during moments like that, one can be forgiven for getting caught up in the general euphoria and using such well worn out terminology. It was in this moment that I understood how true this description was.

The burst of colours was just as intense as it was short lived but that morning will stay with me for a long time in my memory.

Iceland is full of grandiose landscape and iconic locations. While hunting for the shameless trophy shots, I was also on a lookout for something a little different - strange patterns, bursts of light, unusual formations or contrasting landscapes.

The barren and desolate area of Lakagigar was full of such unusual elements. The area is famous for an event that took place in 1783, when an extensive set of fissures opened, forming around 135 craters (hence the name Lakagígar - Laki craters). The craters then spewed molten rock up to 1km into the air devastating the surroundings and causing wide spread consequences for Iceland, Europe and even as far as Alaska and Japan.

The fissures are a sight in themselves but the the terrain around them is just unbelievable. Green and vibrant in places where vegetation has covered the lava, and dark and eerie in other places where black rocks and ash have a sinister edge to them. Together they make for an interesting contrast and this is what fascinated me the most about Lakagigar.

That and of course just driving there is an experience in itself. Around 40km of dirt track (coming from the south) and we had to cross seven streams on the way there. Even simple ford crossings are not for the faint-hearted and one has to be treading very carefully. We were lucky that the ford levels were reasonably low. The journey one way took over two hours.

I hope you like this different look at Icelandic landscape. Let me know what you think.

The dark beauty of Reynisfjara, the black beach, and Reynisdrangar, the sea stacks near the town of Vik in Iceland. The long exposure had a rather soothing effect on the rough and dangerous seas around this spot. The waves and swell were huge and nothing like I have ever seen before.

I like the enchanting effect of this scene though. It has a certain calmness about it and I think that I achieved a reasonable balance between the sea stacks in the distance and the solitary stack in the foreground. The clouds added just enough movement and interest in the sky.

Breiðamerkursandur is the Icelandic name for the ice beach near Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon in the south of Iceland. It was one of the highlights from out trip to Iceland and I could spend there day after day after day.

I captured a couple of icy "travellers" arriving on the black beach after being pushed out from the lagoon by the receding waters during the low tide earlier in the day. It was a dark and gloomy day but the icebergs were really shining as they landed on the dark sand.

This is my last post for 2015 and I wish everyone the best of light and lots of happiness for 2016. See you all next year!

The black sand beach of Breiðamerkursandur near Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon where many of the icebergs return to shore after being pushed out to sea by the receding waters of the outgoing tide.

It was a bit tricky shooting the icebergs because of the incoming waves and the imminent danger of one of the icy bits crashing into my legs or my tripod. I have purchased a pair of wellington boots in Reykjavik and they came in very handy that morning. In addition, the icebergs were pushed around all the time and timing the shutter button was crucial to capturing as many of the as still as possible.

It was a glorious morning, may be without too much sunrise colour, but the ice show on the black beach more than made up for that. Despite seeing numerous photos in the past, I could never quite envision what it was going to be like in real life. Spectacular - that is what it was!

Breiðamerkursandur. I just loved that place, loved being in amongst the icebergs that look like a colony of tiny crystals spread all over the shore. This spot surpassed all of my expectations and whether I was taking photos or just taking in the sights, the feeling was incredible.

The black volcanic sand of Icelandic beaches provides such a great contrast for the white water to be offset against and for the icebergs to stand out. I was studying the waves and waiting for one to reach just far enough into the beach without complete washing out the foreground.

I love capturing motion in my seascapes and I think I got a good dynamic feel to the scene here.

The smaller, clear icebergs that float onto Breiðamerkursandur are just so beautiful. They look like polished pieces of crystal and they come in so many different shapes and sizes.

On our last morning there, I concentrated on some of them to try and capture a more "intimate" shot. For me it was all about catching the iceberg in focus, reasonably still and about the flow of water around it. I brought my wellington boots and that helped greatly as I was able to get into the water and did not have to worry about getting wet unless a larger wave came along. I wanted to get as close and as low over the iceberg as possible.

This ice crystal was of a smaller size and I had to wait for a gentler wave to sweep through so that it remained still for the shot. If you are ever in Iceland, I recommend spending some time at Breiðamerkursandur to explore the black beach. It never quite looks the same on a different day and its beauty is immense.

Hvitserkur, the strange rocks in the north of Iceland, wakes up as the sun rises on what was going to be a windy and wild day. I took this photo from the viewing platform overlooking this spot just as I was heading back to the car after spending the morning shooting at sea level.

I had a quick thought to have one last look at the rock and just as I got to the platform the clouds separated enough for the golden sunlight to spread over the water. Another unforgettable sight during our trip through Iceland.

Our trip to Iceland would not be complete without spending some time at Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon in the south of the island. We managed to spend three days around the area with special emphasis on shooting some photos at sunrise and sunset.

This is the first morning at the lagoon and it was pretty much the best time for colours as the others were fairly gloomy. The clouds lit up with pink hues for a short time and I was trying to capture as much of the colour as possible.

Most of the icebergs stayed still enough, however, you can just notice some of them moving. The low tide was beginning around sunrise time and while everything was still when I arrived in the darkness, there was a procession of icebergs out to sea by the time I left for breakfast.

Staying at the magical Jokulsarlon for the next couple of photos. This one comes from the same morning as the previous post. There was a lot of ice in the lagoon, bunched up overnight by the incoming tide. It felt like being on an ice planet and just around sunrise it was very still and quiet. The only sounds I could hear was the creaking of ice, as the icebergs were rubbing against each other, and the sound of new ice falling of the glacier into the lagoon.

Once the sun rose over the horizon, it managed to shine through on some of the icebergs, creating some good points of contrast to the cold tones of the surrounding ice. The tide also changed and you can see the small ice in the foreground being blurred by its movement towards the sea. Literally few minutes later it was a procession of icebergs floating out of the lagoon in rapid fashion.

It was a surreal experience to breath in the cold air, take in the landscape around me and to have only the icebergs and a couple of seagulls for company. I might be repeating myself here, but this place has definitely surpassed all of my expectations!

One more photo from a different morning at Jokulsarlon. One that was a lot more gloomy and less intense in terms of sunrise colours. However, it did allow for the glacial blues to stand out on their own. I did a bit of a walkabout with my 70-200mm lens to shoot some "intimate" icy landscape and there was plenty to choose from.

Once again, I think I was just about the only person there before the sunrise. I am not sure how busy it gets there during the peak of Summer and during hours of the midnight sun (I might find out in 2017) but in September it was peaceful and very quiet during the mornings that I spent at Jokulsarlon.

This is one of the more interesting and may be one of the more intimate waterfalls in Iceland - Bruarfoss. It is located in the Golden Circle region, however, it is largely unmarked and there are no signs pointing to it from the main road. Therefore, it remains hidden to most of the tourists traversing the area.

It takes a little bit of finding, even with the numerous directions now available on the internet, but it is absolutely worth it. We wished that the weather was a little bit less gloomy on the day we made our trek to the waterfall. Sometimes, though, you just have to deal with what you get.

The highlights of this waterfall are the numerous smaller falls/streams that you can see further up and also the beautiful blue/turquoise glacial waters of the river Bruar in the foreground. In this photo I decided to concentrate on that glacial glow as it contrasted nicely with the gloomy surroundings. There was just enough happening in the clouds to keep the sky interesting and I kept the shutter speed in check for this shot because I did not want the water to become too blurry but I did not want the water to appear too rough either.

I do have some close up photos of the waterfall coming up later on so stay tuned in for those ones. We managed to spend around two hours at Bruarfoss shooting various angles and compositions and just enjoying the amazing view.

Closer look at the many streams that make up Bruarfoss waterfall in Iceland. It really felt like there was a thousand of them flowing down the rocks, captivating my attention and imagination.

We spent good few hours around Bruarfoss and I took photos from different angels and at different focal lengths. Going towards telephoto I was able to find stunning detail that was easily missed at wide angles.

Some call it a troll, others a dragon, in Iceland it is called Hvitserkur and I will call it The Giant. Here it is awakening during my dawn shoot on the eastern shores of Vatnsnes peninsula.

The clouds were moving very fast and what started off as a calm morning quickly became a struggle against strong winds that arrived from the south. I do not think I have ever experienced such powerful sustained winds as on that day.

There were only glimpses of sunrise colours over the horizon but it was still fascinating to be there and to see this rock through my own eyes.

I would like to wish everyone who celebrates this time of the year a Very Merry and Peaceful Christmas!

A colour capture from that Westfjords.

The weather was not great, however, I was constantly on the lookout for a break in the clouds and for sunlight to illuminate the mountains that form the fjord.

The moment the sun broke through I was ready to find a spot to park the car and to swiftly proceed to try and capture the scene. It took a few attempts but I think that I managed to capture a bit of that fantastic light and beautifully sculpted mountains right here.

Landmannalaugar is one of the most incredible and one of the toughest places to get to in Iceland. You can access it from the south or from the north. We chose the northern path via Route 26. I can tell you that the last 20 kilometres of this road were just painful. Rocks, holes, stones and mud really take their toll and you have to be very careful driving along. Of course a 4WD is required any F road in Iceland, even though new have seen many people attempting the drive in small 2WD vehicles. At least there were no major ford crossings. There is one right at the end but you do not actually have to cross it in the car. You can follow a path to the visitors centre on foot and leave the car on the other side of the river.

The weather changes rapidly over Iceland and especially so in places near mountains and hills. Landmannalaugar was no exception. We had strong winds, sunshine, rain and overcast conditions continually mixing it up as we drove there. We were lucky enough that when we started our hike through the Laugahraun lava, we got nice clear weather, at least for the first part of the trail. It quickly deteriorated from there, however, and conditions first became gloomy and then the drizzle arrived.

I took this photo (with a few others) just as we got to the really interesting parts and just before the drizzle became annoying enough to start heading back to the car. I can only imagine what this spot would look like on a sunny day with all the colours of the rhyolite hills coming through. It took a bit of processing power to get this photo looking like I envisaged and in the end I was quite happy with the result. The early Autumn tones came out beautifully in the valley and the layered hills in the distance give at least hint at their real beauty.

When traveling through Iceland we have noticed a number of abandoned farms and houses all around the country. Each one, no doubt, hiding an untold story of past glories, declines and tough decisions to move on.

One such farm that caught my attention for a bit longer was this one with ruined silos near the locality of Krysuvik, not far away from Blue Lagoon and Grindavik. There was something striking about this particular farm. May be it was how it fitted with the rugged but colourful surrounding landscape. It seemed almost a natural part of that landscape, now that it has been abandoned for a while. One could almost say that the land has claimed it as one of its own.

Godafoss - the Waterfall of The Gods - is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland. It is located in the north-central region along Route 1 between Akureyri and Myvatn.

It was raining heavily in the days before we visited the waterfall and the flow was massive. This meant that I had to watch the wind direction to avoid excess spray ending up continuously on my filters. Sudden changes in wind direction were especially annoying.

The spray did not worry me too much though because we were greeted by one of the better sunsets during our entire Iceland trip. I had plenty of time to scout various composition and this was not an easy task, as the falls are massive and no one angle can really give the idea of their size.

Seljalandsfoss is one of the better known and easily accessible waterfalls in Iceland. It sure is a touristy spot but then again what is not touristy these days, and who am I to begrudge other people the same opportunity as myself to see and capture the beauty of the world that surrounds us.

With the above in mind, I climbed a muddy and slippery path and joined a few other fellow photographers perched on a steep hill next to the waterfall, waiting for some late evening light to shine. I can tell you this - I might have been there with many people around me but I was in my own world, absorbing the sight before my eyes, and I bet every other photographer felt the same way. There was an unspoken understanding of sorts that we all shared, that despite of shooting the same scene each of us would still come up with their own version of it.

I called this photo "Emotional Flow" because when I was sitting there, trying to keep the mud off the tripod and water spray off the filter, it felt kind of magical to watch the waterfall come alive with the glow of the sunset light. The warm light hitting the cliff and fields was also fantastic and, as always, it faded just a blink of an eye too soon. It shall stay in my memory for a long time, however, and as I made my way down the precarious path, I was glad I could share it with other photographers in a silent bond that brings us together to such places.

A word of thanks also to my partner, Paulina, who has plenty of patience and understanding to enable me to be free in my photographer's "zone" during our travels together.

I would not be able to complete the main series from Iceland without posting at least one road photo. It is hard to drive in Iceland - the landscapes and views are so amazing everywhere that I had to continually remind myself to keep my eyes on the road and not around it.

There were many times where I wished I stopped and took photos but often it was a split second decision and once the moment was gone it was too late. Every now and again, however, I was able to find a safe place to stop and get the camera out - just like here on Route One between Hofn and Stokksnes. We were actually going to photograph the Vestrahorn mountain in the afternoon/evening sun but the clouds you can see here enshrouded it completely by the time we got there.

The end of this series of photos from our trip to Iceland. I am sure there are other small gems hiding in the archives so no doubt they will resurface at some stage in the future.

We travelled over 8,500km in four weeks and still have not seen everything that this amazing place has to offer. It was always going to be one of those places, where the moment I saw the first incredible landscape I would just fall in love with it. It is unreal to think how many fantastic sights can be crammed into such a relatively small country.

TOPICS: travel

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