Friday, September 24, 2010

Jon Cornforth's landscapes of Iceland show why he often goes for the not-so-wide-angle image

Continuing his report on the two weeks he recently spent in Iceland, Jon Cornforth notes that he experienced mostly gloomy weather during the entire trip. "While living in the Pacific Northwest, I've grown accustomed to lousy weather, but in Iceland, it did provide some incredible lighting conditions for landscape photography. At times, I was disappointed to find the colorful hills still covered in ash from the eruption of the volcano Eyjafjallajökull just a few months earlier (that shut down air traffic in Europe for days), but there was still plenty of spectacular scenery to shoot everywhere I looked.

"The photo above was taken during my visit to the rugged area known as Landmannalaugar (pronounced Land-mann-a-loi-ger). I saw some photos of this dramatic area prior to my trip, but didn't research it extensively. I was excited that the road had just opened upon my arrival in early June, so I decided to make a visit. The nice thing about visiting early in the season was that the tourist hordes were noticeably absent.I had almost the entire camping area to myself and there was not another soul on the trails I explored. For any blog readers considering a visit to Iceland, keep this early season in mind.

"Landmannalaugar is located about 4 hours from Rekjavik, the capital and largest city in Iceland. The road is paved all the way except for the final 40kms. Two shallow river crossings (with a rental car!) were the final obstacles between me and the scenic beauty that I was about to experience. I always try to get to a new location early enough to scout the area, but it was definitely time to start shooting as soon as the car was parked. The sky was full of perfect cotton-candy clouds and the sun danced across the scene. I grabbed my camera gear and quickly set out to explore the river bed to the east of the campground. Within half an hour of my arrival, I focused on this composition (at top). I used my 2-stop hard-step Graduated ND filter on my 28mm f2 lens to balance the exposure. This not-so-wide-angle perspective allowed me to maintain a pleasing balance between the size of the hills in the distance and the stream bank in the foreground. Another technique I employed was waiting for the direct sunlight to go behind a cloud, so I could have more even light on the rocks and stream without the sun casting my shadow.

While camping at Landmannalaugar for 4 days, I found the main challenge was to get my sleep during the day. I always wonder why photographers would visit the Arctic during the summer and sleep at night rather than stay up to experience the long sunset-sunrise? Except for my travel buddy, I had Landmannalaugar all to myself each night from 8 pm until 5 am.

"This is another of my favorite images that I created after hiking up to the Brennisteinsalda steam vents. The clouds lit up with color right before midnight. Through trial and error, I was able to capture the steam emanating from the steam vents in this pleasing pattern. I anchored the scene with this prominent volcanic rock and used my 3-stop hard-step ND Grad to balance the exposure. I chose my 28mm f2 lens so that I could shoot fairly wide while including the dramatic sky without rendering the distant hills as tiny specks.

"I explored the main hiking trails from the campground and became particularly enchanted with the geothermal steam vents at the base of Brennisteinsalda. I returned to this surreal location 2 nights in a row and was rewarded with this dramatic image when the clouds parted and the sun illuminated the summit of Blahnukur in golden light. Originally, I was using my Carl Zeiss 28mm f2 lens to crop in tighter on the mountain, but once the dramatic light began to illuminate the distant hills and clouds, I switched back to using my beloved Canon 17-40mm f4 lens. I zoomed out to 22mm to compose this grand scene and used my 2-stop hard-step ND Grad filter to balance the mountain and dramatic clouds from the foreground steam vents. I also had to wait until the wind occasionally blew the steam emanating from the base of the rock in front of me away from my fogged up camera to trip the shutter.

"The images in this story and in the one postedhere three days ago were all selected to make a specific point... that just because we have a wide-angle zoom, we don't always have to use it at its widest setting. By questioning more carefully if wider is actually better in terms balancing the prominence of the subject in the foreground with whatever appears in the background, I have discovered that it often pays to back off a bit."

Jon is based in Seattle, WA, and can be found all over the internet. In addition to his blog, check out his Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube pages. More recently, he was invited to become a contributor to the Outdoor Photographer Blog. And of course, you can visit his website to see more photographs and learn about his photo tours.

1 comment:

Russ Bishop said...

Wonderful images, Jon. You certainly made the best of the weather and captured the essence of Iceland.