Although I chose to avoid the Golden Circle, as a first-time traveller in Iceland I still tended to gravitate towards the honeypot hotspots that had inspired me to travel to this beautiful country in the first place.
Don't be afraid to turn your back to the view. My partner Chele is an excellent companion on these trips as she has a strange aversion to the very landscapes I love. During the course of our six days, she would often be found facing away from the view, crouched down photographing a bug or a drop of dew with a macro lens. At Eystrahorn on our first day, I was rigidly sticking to my plan of shooting the mountain range I'd planned to shoot .. only it was almost completely covered in low cloud, and she helped me see the value of a differing perspective and also the value of being adaptable and flexible, especially when you are a planning fiend. We took a short hike up to the endless beach where we had our first taste of the highly dangerous and unpredictable tides in Southern Iceland. The contrast between the white water and the stunning black sand is truly mesmerizing, and even in these harsh and foreboding conditions, it was an opportunity to compose something a little more abstract ... all contrast and motion.
Work with what the weather brings you rather than trying to force the shot you imagined. It's true that the elements can make or break a photo, and world-beating images often stem from biblical swathes of light blessing a landscape ... but how often does that truly happen? At Eystrahorn, with the clouds remaining stoically stagnant and the weather refusing to budge, we decided to move on to Stokksnes, which I had targeted for the following day. I figured that, even if the weather remained sucked in and as dull as ditchwater, we could at least use the day as a scout day, and as it turned out it was an excellent decision. We were able to get a feel for both locations, and when we turned up at the crack of dawn on day two, we were primed and ready with specific locations in mind before our feet hit the ground.
Don't rush it! When you finally hit the ground after weeks of planning, Iceland kind of takes your breath away, and that can be strangely unnerving. When I first arrived, I found myself running from spot to spot, desperate to capture every angle and shard of light rather than focusing on the basics. The light around midwinter lingers for a lot longer than you think it will and consequently, you have more time than you might be used to having to capture sunrise and sunset. At the end of our first day, we found ourselves in amongst the dunes at Stokksnes. Almost out of nowhere, the clouds parted and bathed the scene in a gorgeous pinkish hue. In the UK the moment would have been over in a couple of minutes, and as a result, I ran around like a madman on a smash-and-grab mission to fill my boots with everything the light was throwing our way. Here, the sunset lasted so long I almost got bored of shooting it. It was a great lesson in patience, and if I had my time there again I would have taken a few deep breaths and considered my compositions more carefully than I did.
Water plays havoc with your camera gear, and water is everywhere in Iceland. Especially sea water. I came prepared with a number of micro-fibre cloths and a rainguard shield for the camera, both of which were great, cheap additions to my kit list and served me well in the soaking conditions. However, at Reynisfjara there were 26-foot waves and 50 mph winds on the morning we were shooting. It took almost three hours of valiant battling to come up with ... nothing worthwhile. It was simply too hazardous to get anywhere near the ocean, and even shooting from 100 metres back with a telephoto lens, sea spray was forming on the lens faster than I could remove it. It was only when we deviated from our plan and moved inland to a more sheltered location that the day began in earnest. In fact, we ended up returning to the beach later in the day when the weather had calmed down a little and the tide was further out and got some really cool shots. The morning, it transpired, had become another scouting mission rather than the main course.
Take a short walk and beat the crowds. The vast majority of tourists and photographers tend to congregate within 100 metres of their vehicles. Take a walk 100 metres further down a beach and, chances are, you'll have it all to yourselves. We did this at Reynisfjara and enjoyed an awesome, tranquil couple of hours, far from the madding crowd.
Get off the beaten track. On our last afternoon, we had some spare time, having captured the locations I'd earmarked that day before lunch. We headed off the main road and made our way towards the mountains in the hope of stumbling upon a beautiful, craggy wilderness. Whilst that didn't quite pan out (progress on unpaved roads is SLOW), we did stumble upon Gluggafoss, which was my favourite of the waterfalls we visited. When we realised we were hours away from penetrating the mountains themselves, we headed south and explored a desolate stretch of flat land near the coast and ended up, post-sunset, on a deserted beach looking out towards the island of Heimaey. It was a glorious time spent in splendid isolation working with leading lines as the waves rushed in and then receded towards the island. Sometimes getting lost is the best way to find yourself.
Get experimental and elemental! The ocean is a notoriously tricky beast to capture. During the entire six days I was shooting there I didn't get a single shot of the ocean (as the main subject) that I liked. Chele however, did an outstanding job in this slightly abstract shot, which for me encapsulates the kinetic flow and energy of the Icelandic waves perfectly.