Category Archives: Iceland

Sunset at the Blue Lagoon

Before taking night shots of Svartsengi power station, I walked around for a bit at the Blue Lagoon. It is one of Iceland’s most popular tourist destination, both for Icelanders and foreign visitors. The water pumped up for the geothermal power plant is collected in some outdoor pools that have naturally formed in the rough lava rock landscape. The water is rich in minerals and some algae, which give it a distinctly blue color.

The wind was causing many small waves to appear on the surface of the water and some low hanging clouds were moving past the sun really fast. I walked around one of the easier accessible pools, just letting the different directions of the light inspire me. While I was still fine tuning from which place and at what height to take a photo, another photographer approached me, noting that the angle I had selected looked very interesting indeed. That’s of course photographer code for “I’m totally going to take the same shot as soon as you leave” and it is something I have gotten used to. I replied that you’d have to shoot directly into the sun though, and configured auto bracketing.

Sunset at the Blue Lagoon

This is not the first photo I post that was shot directly into the sun, but this time I used a more wide angle lens and also needed parts of the foreground to be visible. With several photos, bracketed at different exposure times and later combined into a high dynamic range image, this is not difficult, only a lot of work in post processing. To make it even harder, I had left the tripod in the car and had to shoot handheld, which resulted in images that weren’t properly aligned.

To get the image you see above, I had to run my five different photos through many different pieces of software. After learning that for some reason, neither Luminance HDR, nor Picturenaut could properly align the images, I had to figure out something else. After a while, I got Hugin, originally a panorama creation program, to align and crop the individual exposures, but only after I had developed the raw files with RawTherapee. Then, I could turn them into a single HDR file, tone-map it and load it into The GIMP, along with some of the aligned and cropped versions. From there, it was the usual spiel of experimenting with different layer modes, meticulously painting layer masks and enhancing the final result with some G’MIC magic.

So yes, six different pieces of software to produce a single image. And in the end, only the output of four of them is used in the image. Fortunately, all of these programs are free and what’s even more important, I got to play around with a lot of new techniques and learned some new tricks. Nowadays, all the things the old masters did in their laboratories and dark rooms can be done on the computer. As long as you’re not opposed to heavily processed pictures.

The Devil’s Cloud Factory

Enough with the photos from Mijas already. In total, there are now more than 50 pictures in the Gallery, 17 posts on the blog and I’ve received almost 40 comments, all of which were spam. This all since the site went live a little over two weeks ago. Also, over 3000 page views and more than 500 unique visitors. These numbers are OK, given that I don’t really do anything to draw people here, except maybe the odd Tweet.

Anyway, here are the first couple of photos from my latest medium distance travel adventure. I went to Iceland at the end of February for almost 2 weeks of photography. I took these photos on the third day of my stay, after I had arrived late at night two days before. Unfortunately, my bag didn’t arrive at the same time as I did, so I was extremely happy to be re-united with my tripod and immediately took it out on a late night trip.

Boilers and Pipes

After spending the evening floating around in the thermal baths at the Blue Lagoon, watching the sun slowly go down behind the rough volcanic rock landscape that is typical for most of Iceland, I grabbed my camera gear from the car and wandered of into the cold, dark, windy night. It was quite a difference to the 40°C hot water in the pools, but I had a good winter jacket. The footpath away from the Blue Lagoon was very small and dimly lit by a few LED spots here and there. And it was longer than I had anticipated.

Steam in Motion

As soon as I saw the illuminated steam getting close enough, I climbed onto a lava rock formation so I could get a better view. The steam came from the Svartsengi Geothermal Power Plant, the main reason I was in this area after dark. I had seen some photos of this place on the internet and, as with lots of the pictures I take, decided to have my own attempt at getting some photos. One problem was that this power station produces clouds around the clock, every day of the year, which means it is not visible on satellite imagery or Google Maps. This makes it harder to plan from where to take pictures, especially if you don’t want to put in a lot of effort finding the right angles by walking around on the ground – which is of course what you have to do to get the really good pictures.

Cloud Factory

However, once I saw the power station up close and personal and could see how the wind prevented the steam from drifting upwards, and instead wrapped most of the plant into clouds, I decided it wasn’t really worth the effort. I took some pictures with a long lens from where I was standing so I could capture a bit of the light and how it gave the steam and the different pipes and boilers a dramatic look, like some equipment in a laboratory in hell.

Once I was confident that at least some of the pictures I had were good enough, I decided it was time to embark upon the hour long drive back to my hotel in Reykjavík. There was some sleep I had to catch up on, because I was very stressed out about my bag maybe not arriving at all the night before. While I could have easily replaced most of the contents of that bag, Pentax batteries and chargers were not available in Iceland, a downside of shooting with a less popular camera brand. Lesson learned: next time, I’ll put at least one spare battery and the charger in my carry-on luggage.