Taken on March 24, 2017
Location: In the ice caves under Vatnjökull glacier in South East Iceland. This is a very popular ice cave and is normally full of tourists. On this morning, we were in there hours before the tourists. The caves are formed by glacier melt water during the warmer Summer months. They are not accessible when the glacier rivers are high. They usually only become accessible during Mid-Winter.
- 24 mm
- 30 seconds
Mode: AV mode with + 2 stops over (compensation +/-).
Focus: f/4 hyperfocal mark. This is slightly weighted to the background.
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This is late March on our Winter workshop. We have a special arrangement with our ice cave guide who agreed to take us into the ice cave early. We set off over an hour before sunrise with the high hope to have the cave to ourselves. We were disappointed to see another vehicle before us, we weren’t the first. We weren’t the only ones with that idea. But it turned out that the other vehicle carried just a driver/glacier guide. He was coming early to check the cave and wasn’t in our way at all.
Everything except the floor was a few meters away from the lens. F/8 was my choice to give good sharpness throughout the image. The floor wasn’t important and half of this was cropped out later. I used an f/4 hyper-focal mark to favour the background which is where all the detail was. Because of the group, we formed a semi-circle so we all got a clear shot. I was on the outside of the circle around 3-4 meters from Oskar.
Composing in an ice cave is like composing a regular landscape photograph… except upside down. The floor can be interesting, but not as interesting as the ceiling. The trick is to find some interest in the ceiling. In our case we were shooting blind. We could see the general shapes – convex and concave. We couldn’t see the fine details or the colours because we were in there before sunrise.
Oskar – our guide/model – was a bit central in the composition for my liking. But I didn’t have much choice short of setting up my camera in front of the group. My composition was determined by the best part of the ice cave ceiling, rather than the position of the model. I was trying to avoid too much darkness to the right, and the lack or shape to the left.
Although Ice caves are not particularly large, a wide angle is necessary in most cases to capture the full ceiling. I was was with my widest prime at 24mm.
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Long exposure = 30 seconds.
This is a special application of the Magic Cloth. This is one of those situations where the technique is superior over other dynamic range photography techniques.
This was an upside down magic cloth technique. Rather than a quick exposure on the top part and then a longer exposure on the bottom, this technique was a quick exposure on the bottom and a longer exposure on the top. This creates a balanced photograph.
Over the 30 seconds, the bottom part – including the floor and model was exposed for just 2 – 3 seconds. The top half had a much longer exposure to bring out the colours in the dark cave ceiling. The very top of the ceiling would have had about 20 seconds total exposure time. This gives more colours and dynamic range to the photograph.
The reason why this has an advantage over other dynamic range techniques is because it naturally has a shorter exposure on the model. Oskar was in a comfortable position and was very still throughout the photo shoot. The ambient light entering the cave made the floor and the model brighter than the ice cave ceiling. If we were using graduated filters to balance the dynamic range, the model would have been exposed for the full exposure time. With the Magic Cloth, he was exposed for a 10th of the exposure time. The result is a sharp model and a well exposed ice cave ceiling. This is a good combination in low light photography.
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My Camera Gear
Canon 5D - full frame
These are heavy duty cameras. I have used the Canon 5D in all weathers. It has a powerful live-view and sensor.
Canon EF 24mm f/1.4 l
Canon's 24mm Prime L lens was all I used for many years. It is responsible for over 80% of the photos on icelandaurora Sharp from corner to corner.
Gitzo Carbon Fiber Tripod
Load Capacity: 26 lb Max Height: 60.8" Min Height: 8.7" Folded Height: 17.5"