If you take even a cursory view of Instagram, you will find countless images of Jökulsárlón, aka 'The Diamond Beach'. This stunningly beautiful glacial lagoon is situated on the coast of Southern Iceland, roughly a five-hour drive away from Reykjavik. Jökulsárlón sits south of Vatnajökull, Europe's largest glacier. Vatnajökull and its surrounding area compose Iceland's largest national park, and the glacier itself covers an astonishing 8% of Iceland's total landmass. What makes this such an incredible place to visit, and shoot, is that the ice breaks off the glacier and enters the lagoon, becoming trapped in a bottleneck on its way out to the ocean. One-by-one the icebergs become unleashed and drift out to sea, only to be broken up by the waves where they wash back up on the shore in smaller pieces. The sight of these beautiful, multi-coloured pieces of 1500-year-old ice, strewn across the black sand beaches on either side of the bridge really is something to behold!
Access is extremely easy, with car parks on either side of the bridge that straddles the outflow to the ocean. The parking spots on the East and West sides of the bridge are both good starting points to explore the diamond beach, although on both mornings we were there the water on the Western side was noticeably calmer and less volatile than that on the Eastern side.
On our first morning, the wind was howling and driving a brutal horizontal rain/sleet mix into our faces. We'd arrived in almost complete darkness having planned to use our torches to light the icebergs (and to maximise the daylight hours!), but in the process had a very close call with a sneaker wave. I just managed to grab my camera in time and we learnt a big lesson on keeping at least one eye fixed on the waves. From that point onwards Chele acted as my wave-spotter, but getting anywhere near the waves was still a nerve-wracking process. The weather here is prone to be windy and very changeable, so expect the unexpected, and if you can allow yourself more than one trip here during your visit, it will pay dividends.
Contrary to what you might be lead to believe given the wealth of phenomenal images of this location on the internet, this is not an easy place to shoot. Whilst the ocean is a perilous threat, you'll most likely find the wealth of fellow photographers and tourists just as much of a challenge. People arrive by the coachload like jacked-up lemmings and make a beeline for the beach, oblivious to the time it may have taken you to set up your studied composition. Try to remain patient, and consider using these tourists as subjects - you'll find they are prone to do the least sensible things imaginable, which could make for a dramatic shot. We saw a group of Asian tourists queuing up to dash out to a large iceberg that was floating a few metres out to sea. Inevitably a sneaker wave would arrive every few minutes and submerge them in its icy clutches. This is real-life Darwinism in action.
The biggest challenge here is finding a decent composition. The beach can look extremely scattered and messy and will be completely different every time you visit. Take your time and choose your lenses wisely. The temptation is to get extremely involved with the subjects and their relationship with the waves, and this can work well, but it's a risky business. For these shots, consider a wide angled lens. I shot using a 14mm and 24mm but got one of my favourite shots from distance using a 120mm zoom. Stay nimble, stay flexible and be prepared to think outside the box.
Our experiments using torches to illuminate the ice pieces were a neat way of isolating the subjects, but without a little context, the shots weren't all that interesting. The other issue I found was that small parts of the ice massively amplified the torchlight, which blew out the highlights here and there. As daybreak began to unfurl it enabled us to place the ice pieces in some kind of context. One of the other benefits of shooting that early was that the beach was pretty much deserted.
Winter is a great time to shoot here. With its South-facing aspect, the beach is perfectly angled to catch both sunrise and sunset. One of my goals here was to capture the rising or setting sun refracting through the prisms of ice, but unfortunately, the sun never quite made an appearance. The downside of the limited daylight hours, however, is that they result in a heavy concentration of visitors during the few precious daylight hours.
Make sure you carry micro-fibre cloths with you at all times. There wasn't the same level of sea spray here that we experienced at Reynisfjara, but none the less your camera will benefit from constant attention. It's extremely challenging to keep spray off the lens, and at times I shot with a cloth over the front of the camera, removing it for the split second I needed to to get the photo.