Making of 40 Photographs #19

This is #19 in my series ‘Making of 40 Photographs’. Jokulsarlon lagoon is perhaps one of the most accessible and overly photographed landscapes that Iceland has to offer once you’re left the confines of Reykjavik and its surrounds behind you.

Just a tiny part of Vatnajokul - a massive ice cap that dominates the south east side of the island, Jokulsarlon has been created in the last 100 years from glacial retreat. What used to be a glacial tongue has slowly receded to leave behind the lagoon.

I came here in 2004 for a month of concentrated photography and spent around 4 days at Jokulsarlon. It was hard not to although from most tourists perspective, visiting the lagoon is normally a couple of hours visit with a boat trip thrown in.

That’s what distinguishes us photographers from tourists. Tourists follow the verbatim. They see the landscape in midday light, stripped of all the subtlety that an early morning or late evening shoot present. They may buy the postcards of the lagoon shrouded in an endless midsummer dawn light, but they seldom experience this for themselves.

I like to factor in a lot of time to my trips for each location I visit. Having a lot of time means I have a better chance of capturing the landscape at its most engaging. Each day at the same location is different, the light is different, the weather is different and all these aspects tend to make me feel different about the place too. Photography is not just about seeing - it’s about feeling as well. Getting beneath the skin of a place and learning to understand it.

I shot many images of Jokulsarlon. The first one here was shot on my first day there. The place was shrouded in fog and I knew that as the morning continued, the bergs would become visible as the sun would burn off the fog. Studying the landscape and being aware of that gradual change is paramount.

But unless you feel something about the subject you’re shooting, you won’t get anywhere, and if you do feel something for it - then you’re in a better position to understand it and to photograph it at its most compelling. You need to have patience, to wait it out, to recognise that today is special for being today and tomorrow will present something new.

My favourite time for shooting the lagoon tended to be during the nocturnal hours. In the middle of summer there is no night - just a set of eye patches to help you sleep and an endless desire to get out there and shoot when the lagoon is still.

I shot this image under those circumstances. You can feel the stillness of the place. It’s like time has stood still for a moment and for me that’s priceless. To have that contemplation and space in my life. 

As the earth temperature drops in the evening, it releases the heat that its stored throughout the day. This affects the weather and for that reason, is why I often prefer mornings. By the small hours of the morning the earth has cooled and stabilized and the weather has calmed as a result. Stillness pervades and it’s often the most intimate time for me to be out in the landscape.