Beauty on the Diamond Ice Beach – Iceland Photography

Winter Sunrise in Iceland

December Sunrise

The photo above was taken just before sunrise at Jokulsarlon, East Iceland.

This was one of the most rewarding mornings I ever experienced at the Diamond Ice Beach at the Glacier lagoon at Jökusarlon,  I used to run tours to Jökusarlon and back (to Reykjavik) in a single day.  This was a 14 hour trip with 10 hours of driving.  In December, the sun rises around 11 a.m. which meant that we could make it if we left Reykjavik at 04:00.  This particular morning, we left Reykjavik but quickly came across black ice.  Black ice is incredibly dangerous and is worse on an early Winter morning before the traffic.  We stopped at a crossroads and after a quick phone call to the Icelandic road conditions office, I was assured that the rest of the route was not so slippery.

We had no idea what the ice was going to be like, but it was the only ice on the beach and we weren’t going to spend the rest of our lives wondering if the ice was any good.

The slippery road conditions created some delay, but it didn’t last for long so we managed to get up to speed.  Thankfully the Icelanders have a god monitoring system for accessing roads conditions.   We managed to get the ice beach just before the Sunrise.   The sky was looking very promising when we arrived.  There were just a scatter of light clouds and the horizon was clear.  Having no clouds at all can make a sunset very boring, even in the Arctic.

Guide to Glacier Ice

Empty Beach

This trip was long before the car parks and buses of today’s diamond beach.  We were the only people there and could drive almost onto the beach. This saved us a little bit of time as we scrambled to get our camera gear together.  We made our way down a steep sand bank to the waters edge, only to find “NO ICE”.  Frantically looking around I spotted a couple of glacial pieces about half a mile up the beach towards the West.  I knew that we were only 10 minutes from the sunrise.

The sky was already very nice, but relatively powerless without some blue ice textures in the foreground.  So I ran!  Not only did I start running, but I shouted “Run” and my guests, who had been sitting in a car for 5 hours started running too.  We had no idea what the ice looked like, but it was the only ice on the beach and we weren’t going to spend the rest of our lives wondering if the ice was any good.  We could make up the calories later.

Technical Info

This was a long exposure with a 104 sec shutter.  I shot it in Bulb Mode but never planned 104 seconds.  I wanted to capture the sun at this critical point and then covered the lens to wait for decent waves that were big enough to wash past the blue ice.  I used the Magic Cloth Technique to dodge the sky after just 1 second. This dramatically under exposed the sky and clouds and preserved the colour of the rising sun. Then I would lift the Cloth for very short bursts of exposure whenever a decent wave came in.  It is important at this point to keep the sky covered.  I waited for 4 waves, covered the lens and then closed the shutter.

South Iceland Tours

Aperture

My aperture was f/6.3 which became my favourite ice beach aperture because it renders such great sharpness on the ice (when I get the focus right).  If you are able to close enough so that an ice chunk dominates your frame, f/6.3 will give you great sharpness on the entire iceberg.  Then the sharpness falls off gently across the ocean to the horizon and sky.  These elements wouldn’t be sharp with a 1 second exposure anyway.

Composition

I chose the bulky end of the blue glacier ice chunk.  I allowed the reflected sun to come down right in the middle of the frame.  Then I made sure that there was a reasonable space around the end of the Iceberg.  It is not wise to attempt really long exposure right on the edge of the waves, so I allowed some of the black sand beach into the bottom of the frame.  I used a 24mm prime lens.

Taken on December 4, 2010

Canon 5D - full frame
Canon EF 24mm f/1.4 l

Gitzo Carbon Fiber Tripod
B+W 77mm SC 106 ND

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By Tony Prower

Tony Prower spent over 15 years photographing the landscapes of Iceland. Tony Prower is a pioneer of the Magic Cloth Technique and ran thousands of photo tours in Iceland over 10 years.

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