Adventure in the Central Highlands of Iceland

I’m just home from almost an entire month in the central highlands of Iceland.

I think I’ve made a lot of very special images from this trip, as we had some atmospheric / wintry conditions to shoot in. In the photograph below you can see some of my group and myself standing around waiting for a squall to pass through.

Image used by kind permission. © Martin Bowen, 2018 September Fjallabak Iceland tour, 2018

Image used by kind permission. © Martin Bowen, 2018
September Fjallabak Iceland tour, 2018

In my view, fair weather photography is pretty one-dimensional. To open up your shooting options and to give your work some atmosphere, you need to shoot in all kinds of weather. It is not unusual for me to shoot in rainy, windy conditions. It’s the only way to get certain tones and atmospheres in my work, and I’ve learned a load in the process also. Besides, dramatic weather is quite exciting!

We had a blast. It was challenging trying to anticipate just how long some of the squalls would be. There were a few moments when we had hiked a little distance from the car, only to find ourselves in a white-out. Realising that we might not find our way back to the car if we stayed where we were, we would start to retreat while we could still see our footprints.

After a few days we learned to read the weather. We knew that most squalls that came through lasted for a few minutes and then things would clear. Learning to read weather and to understand the rhythms at play is advantageous. I’ve met a few mountaineers on my trips who have learned to do just that, and I often wish I had the same skill with regards to reading weather systems.

me checking for when the clouds would cover the sun. The weather would vary dramatically, with sunny weather followed by a snow storm, followed by zero visibility in some cases, followed by some sunny weather…… Image used by kind permission © Martin Bowen 2018

me checking for when the clouds would cover the sun. The weather would vary dramatically, with sunny weather followed by a snow storm, followed by zero visibility in some cases, followed by some sunny weather……
Image used by kind permission © Martin Bowen 2018

The best shooting was done was at the edge of the storms. Just as the snow would start to blow in, the black deserts would have a stippled effect as hail began to land lightly, before it would all disappear in a white-out. Then, as the squall began to pass, we would be standing waiting for it to clear and that was the other best time to shoot - as the visibility began to come back.

Photographing in clear weather is just so….. boring by comparison.

I’m certain I got a lot of new, interesting material from this visit to Iceland. I shot 51 rolls of film, and my cameras were often condensing up - the prism finders of my old Hasselblad 500 series cameras would become so hard to look through, that I just had to guess and hope that I was getting on film what I thought I was seeing.

You have to venture outdoors in all weather. Staying in-doors because it seems like a bad day will only limit your photography, and I’ve only ever had a couple of trips where the group and I couldn’t get much done because the weather was beyond bad. Otherwise we have always managed to get something.

If you don’t go, you don’t get.

Isle of Harris, November 2014

I've just started working on some new images from the isle of Harris, shot last November during some personal time before a workshop up in the outer hebrides of Scotland.

Luskentyre, Isle of Harris, November 2014 © Bruce Percy

Luskentyre, Isle of Harris, November 2014 © Bruce Percy

I remember when I first set up my Harris workshop for November 2009. I felt at the time that I might be taking a gamble going all the way up to the outer hebrides at this time of year. Often Scotland becomes very wet and windy and most sane photographers assume that heading this far north at this time of year is madness. Perhaps it is. But the storms and changing light during the winter months really ads a dimension to my photography.

I remember when I first started playing around with photography way back in the late 80's as a 20' something year old. I always went out to shoot in sunny summer weather because it was exciting to my eye and it felt good to be out in such weather, and I would always store my camera away during the winter months.

Storms on Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, November 2014 © Bruce Percy

Storms on Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, November 2014 © Bruce Percy

That is a complete reversal of what I do now.

These days I tend to avoid the summer light because I don't particularly like blank clear skies, and there is almost no atmosphere to the light. I learned many years ago that what my eye found pleasing, my camera did not. I also learned that what I was feeling at the time seldom translated into a good photograph. Just because I was out in pleasant sunny weather and felt good: did not guarantee a good image when I got home.

Conversely, being out in dull overcast grey skies can lead one to feel miserable, or unmotivated, but that's only because most of us equate this kind of weather and light as 'miserable' or 'boring'. But our camera loves soft overcast light, and the photo loves mist and rain as they can veil parts of the landscape.

Weather creates atmosphere and atmosphere aids the power of an image.

So I love very much going to the Isle of Harris in November now. As much as the rain might be a factor to work around, there is always enticement of great light and drama or action to any images I shoot and these days, I now find myself feeling very alive, and excited during these moments. So much so, that I find myself enjoying all seasons and all light, and also all weather types these days.

The world is beautiful and photography has taught me to enjoy every single moment.