Waterfall Hitting Rock

“Waterfall on Rock”

ALPA 12 SWA with Rodenstock 180 mm APO HR lens


I recently traveled to Iceland to teach at a workshop organized by PhaseOne (PhaseOne Digital Artist Series or PODAS). Kevin Raber , PhaseOne Vice President suggested that perhaps I might be interested in spending a few days in Iceland after the workshop was over, to go photographing with him and the other instructors.  I agreed that this was a great idea, and decided to spend a few more days in Iceland.  As it turns out, for various reasons, the other instructors returned to the US sooner than I had anticipated, so Kevin and I were the only ones that went photographing on our own after the workshop.

The weather did not cooperate at all, which leads to a series of thoughts resulting in this short essay. All the images presented here were taken in rainy conditions with high winds.

“The Power of Water”

ALPA 12 SWA with 180 mm Rodenstock APO HR lens


Unfortunately, we did not have a choice between rain or shine.  We had rain pretty much 24 hours a day the whole time.  To make matters worse, we also had strong winds.  Although we had some brief moments when either the rain stopped, or the sun came through the clouds, these moments were all too brief.

Shooting conditions were clearly less than ideal, and as if wind and rain were not enough, some of the best locations to photograph in Iceland are at the black sand beaches, or not too far away from the volcano that erupted this summer, so we also had to contend with flying sand and volcanic ash.

“The Light Fantastic”

ALPA 12 SWA with Rodenstock  100 mm APO HR lens

“Pastoral Scene”

ALPA 12 SWA with Rodenstock 180 mm APO HR lens


I must admit that in the beginning I was quite concerned about the equipment. The only protection we had for the equipment was a couple of plastic bags, and a couple of towels. 

I was shooting with an ALPA 12 SWA, Rodenstock and Schneider lenses and a PhaseOne P65+ back.  This is expensive stuff and I did not want to ruin it!

Kevin was shooting with a PhaseOne DF camera and also a P65+ back.  

Luckily, all equipment worked flawlessly and after a thorough cleaning, seems to have survived unscathed.

I was also concerned that my images were not going to be sharp.  Even though I was using a large and very sturdy tripod when I could (Gitzo Series 5, 6X Carbon Fiber), I could feel the vibration from the wind on the legs.  As a consequence, I often tried to shield the tripod from the wind with my own body, and sometimes I applied additional downward pressure with my hands and bodyweight.  My images are perfectly sharp, so it seems to have worked.

“Cold Crystal on Black Sand”

ALPA 12 SWA with 23 mm Rodenstock Digaron HR lens (hand held)

“The Majesty of Ice”

ALPA 12 SWA with Rodenstock 23 mm Digaron HR lens (hand held)


The date was September 8, 2010. The location was the Hotel Skaftafell near the Svinafellsjòkull Glacier. It was raining quite hard and the winds were at least 50 miles per hour, gusting to somewhere around 80 miles per hour.  The management at the hotel was concerned enough about the wind that for a while they locked the doors to the hotel.

This was the perfect day to call it quits. Conditions were horrible, and after so many days of constant rain we were physically and emotionally tired.

However, we decided that even if we did not photograph, we were not going to sit inside this tiny hotel all day.  We decided to get in the car, drive and explore. We figured that worst case we would see something new and interesting.

Over nine hours later, we returned to the hotel completely soaked, full of black sand and exhausted, but we had captured what I consider to be the best images of the trip.

Therefore, the answer to the question: When do you quit? is quite simple:  Never!

“Confluence of Icebergs and Glacier”

ALPA 12 SWA with Rodenstock 180 mm APO HR lens


There is a silver lining to adverse conditions:  

– First of all, it leads to unusual lighting and an interesting presentation of the landscape.  For instance, the high winds and tides deposited a number of unusually large chunks of ice from icebergs on one of the black sand beaches.  Because the rain had “washed” the ice so thoroughly, the surfaces were unusually smooth and brilliant. Combining this with the unusual lighting conditions, made these chunks of ice look much different than the norm.

– Second, adverse conditions force the photographer to work very differently from his/her usual way.  It appears to me that this in itself can produce a fresh burst of creativity that can lead to outstanding results if the photographer has the proper skills.

In the case of the above mentioned chunks of ice, because of the extreme wind and blowing sand, I was forced to shoot handheld.  I needed to pick a shutter speed fast enough to keep the main subject sharp, but not so fast that it would freeze the water droplets and sand particles in mid-air.  I decided that 1/30th and 1/15th of a second were the ideal shutter speeds for this.  Yes, I was at the very limit of hand holdable speeds. I know from experience that the extremely low vibration and the great handles in the ALPA allow me to successfully shoot at these speeds with wide angles (I do not think I could have done this with an SLR).

Because the light was very dim and I needed appropriate depth of field, I decided to use my widest lens, the 23 mm Rodenstock Digaron HR.  For best results, I never use an ISO setting higher than 200. This dictated that the smallest aperture I could shoot at was F/8.

Using these settings, I positioned my body with my back to the wind in order to protect the equipment, and using the viewfinder on the ALPA while guessing the focusing distance I started shooting. The images are tack sharp, and the shooting angles and the light make the images quite special. 

Had the weather been perfect, I am convinced the images would have been worse.

“Lush Waterfall”

ALPA 12 SWA with 60 mm Rodenstock APO HR lens


Through this experience, I learned an important lesson:  Never let the weather stop you.  Never let your tired body or your tired mind stop you. Get out there and shoot every opportunity you have. You might just capture some of the best images of your life.

September, 2010