It has been a bit more than two weeks since Carol and I returned from our photographic adventure in Iceland, and I am still processing -- not only the images, but also the experience itself.
I have been asked the the "what was it like" question many times since returning, and I give two sorts of answers: a short one for those interested in my impressions of Iceland, and a longer one for those interested in the photography workshop experience.
Impressions of Iceland
It is now a cliché to call Iceland a "land of ice and fire." Nevertheless, my experience of Iceland was dominated by both the glaciers and the evidence of volcanic activity. The landscape is stark and treeless (the urban landscaping in Reykjavik is the "largest forest in Iceland"), with fantastically shaped cliffs and mountains punctuated by lava flows, short and swift rivers of glacial meltwater, and countless waterfalls. Outside of Reykjavik Icelanders are sparsely distributed along the narrow southern coastal plain where houses and other buildings are dwarfed by looming cliffs.
Iceland was settled by Vikings in the 9th century, and this population lived in near-isolation from the rest of the world for centuries. As a result, the Icelandic language is most directly related to Old Norse, the antecedent of modern Scandinavian languages. I was struck by how some Icelandic words seemed like they could be names of places or people in The Lord of the Rings -- not surprising given J. R. R. Tolkein's reliance on Norse and Old English sagas as inspiration for the trilogy.
In the short time we were in Iceland I was captivated by its otherworldly beauty and the sense that the landscape is dynamic with change, as if it were alive. I will definitely be going back.
The workshop experience
Our workshop was organized by FocusOnNature's Einar Erlendsson. Einar's operation is first-class in every way -- it provides a professional infrastructure and the knowledge and insight of a native Icelandic photographer as a platform for workshops led by a variety of different professional photographers, mostly from the United States.
The lead photographer was Tony Sweet, whom we knew from previous workshops. This was Tony's fourth workshop with FocusOnNature -- his blog post here provides a great summary of his perspective on the value provided by Einar's organization. One unique feature of this workshop was its timing: midsummer, with 21 hours of daylight and extended "golden hours" for photography, which made for some very long days in the field and photographs, such as the one at the top of this post, taken at or after midnight.
As an added bonus, Einar arranged for the renowned Icelandic photographer Ragnar Th Sigurdsson ("Raggi") to be our local Icelandic expert and guide. Raggi, an outstanding nature photographer and a Photoshop wizard, not only made sure we found interesting and unusual locations but joined Tony in critique sessions and photo processing tutorials along the way.
Flexibility and adaptability are the hallmarks of a FocusOnNature workshop, and Einar's ability to deliver these was put to a severe test by the difficult weather we encountered during the second part of our workshop. Despite rain and high wind Einar, Raggi and Siggi (the driver of the "Magic Bus") kept us shooting -- often changing meal and lodging plans at the last minute.
Overall, it was an exhilarating -- and sometimes exhausting -- experience, with an singular and intense focus on photography. Thanks to Einar, Raggi and Tony we were able to see, do and photograph a tremendous number of things in a relatively short period of time, some of which persons traveling by themselves simply would not be able to do.