I’m taking pictures. Underwater. Passionately! Of course I use my camera above water, but not as intensively as in the oceans and lakes. I choose my destinations – how could it be any other way – for the most interesting dive sites. That’s why Iceland has been on top of my wish list for a long time.
On a short trip to Reykjavik a few years ago I met the Icelandic dive and tour guide David Sigurthorsson. With him I was already able to dive Silfra. This is the now world-famous crevice between the Eurasian and American continental plate with a visibility of over 60 metres. At that time David told me about a 10-day tour of Iceland. We would go to dive sites where only very few people would have been. That was enough for me to be on fire. A few years later, it was finally time to do so.
“Wow, we’re going to need a trailer,” those are the first words of David as he picks us up in front of our hotel. And he’s right! Drysuits with three-layer underwear, rainwear, wide angle and macro equipment for underwater, tripods, filters and finally a drone – it’s amazing what we take with us for a week and a half. Altogether we are eight divers. David’s roomy van reaches its limits, especially as we have to take the tanks with us. Filling stations are not widespread outside the capital Reykjavik.
First stop: in between the continents
The first stop is a visit to the most famous dive spot in Iceland: Silfra. Now she is a real celebrity. Hundreds of snorkelling and diving visitors come here every day. They all want to indulge in the breathtaking play of light in two degrees of cold water.
Thousands of years old glacier water fills this crack and allows a visibility of almost 80 meters. For an underwater photographer, this doesn’t sound that exciting at first sight. Water that can’t be seen doesn’t necessarily sound like a great subject. But far from it! The colors in the column are simply stunning. The brownish-yellow rock alternates with the water, which shimmers greenish, then aquamarine and finally blue due to the colour extinction at a distance.
David knows the needs of us underwater photographers very well. In a narrow fissure we need the sun in the zenith, otherwise it is too dark. What we can’t use at all are the crowds of snorkellers on the surface. So we schedule our dive exactly. At noon around two o’ clock we get into our drysuits and get ready. We wait patiently for a moment when as few people as possible are in front of us in the water.
The first part of our dive leads us through the narrowest part of Silfra. Here you can touch Europe and America with one hand. But that’s not visible in any photo later on. You just have to know it. Of course, all tourists want a souvenir photo in which they touch the American and Eurasian continents at the same time – underwater! I also had my life-long travel companions photographed during my first visit. What has to be, has to be!
Then it goes over some flat passages into a wide area, which the Icelandic call the “Cathedral”. It is bright and flooded with light and is ideal for model photography. The view back is also worth it. Here you can see the rock faces, whose size gives you a glimpse of the natural force behind the continental shift.
Finally, we turn left – and enter the Lagoon. I look into a wide, not too deep pond and think:”Yes, these are visual ranges”. The lagoon has a length of almost ninety metres in its longest extension. I hardly believe it: I can really look from one end to the next. I am amazed at the visibility and am happy about the perfect reflection on the surface. Luckily, I mounted a super wide-angle lens. I just have to capture this impression of space.
Time for experiments
About half an hour we are now in the only two degrees warm water. The cold is now crawling into my suit and my fingers are getting stiff. David gives me a signal: turn back again and dive to the Cathedral. There it signals me to go up to the surface. “Wouldn’t you like to take some split shots? I’m your model.” Says so and dives back into the icy depths.
I’m grateful to David. Because he’s absolutely right. The landscape above water also has a lot to offer. Autumn has dressed the landscape in warm brown, orange and red tones. Together with the blue, aquamarine and the green of the underwater world, this results in the whole range of colours. Only the wind makes my work a little bit difficult. A calm surface looks different.
A quarter of an hour of additional freezing is worth the effort. Then we finally swim back to the lagoon towards the exit. At least, I think so. But I didn’t have David to do the math. The whole wide circle of the exit area is now unmanned. David poses for me in a variety of different postures. The clear water and the surface polishing entice us to make upside-down shots.
After one hour it is finally good. David and I climb the ladder at the exit. The muscles are cooled down and lifting our bottles is unusually difficult. But it doesn’t help, we have to walk the whole way back to the parking lot. But that’s also a positive point. During the breaks we notice how atmospheric the surroundings of the Þingvellir National Park are. Not only the autumn colouring almost takes our breath away, but also the sky is now wonderfully dramatic in structure and colouring. I want to hurry to get my camera for landscape shots. David’s holding me back. The sunset here in the north lasts several hours. So we have plenty of time to change our clothes, enjoy a hot chocolate and then create our photos in peace and quiet.
So far, our trip is going exactly as I expected. A small group of enthusiastic divers and underwater photographers plunge into adventurous waters and enjoy fantastic photos. Our destinations still promise top diving experiences. A geothermal vent in the open sea, further diving between the continental plates, wreck diving and cold water spots with plenty of marine life. But our fixation on underwater photography will change in the next few days. The journey to this places becomes an event of its own kind.
To be continued.