21. September 2018
If you drive over Iceland, volcanic landscapes await you on a geologically very young and still very active island. Our journey to the north also takes us past extensive lava fields with striking rock formations. In the wet weather, rain and glistening sunshine alternate in rapid succession. Deep sun, haze and barren landscape create a very special atmosphere. It’s a perfect thing that we as underwater photographers always have a good wide-angle lens with us. Such landscapes want to be photographed.

As a water affinity photographer I am fascinated by the huge waterfalls of the island. They are available in all sizes and shapes: from powerful, wide to tall and narrow. Equipped with tripod and filter, I try to take long exposure shots. Finally, I grab a heart and unpack the drone. Don’t fly too close now, the upwind and spray can quickly become dangerous for the aircraft. But at the smaller waterfalls flying is just too much fun.

Our destination in the north of the island is Eyjafjörður. This is an approximately 60 km long fjord that holds a real secret: white smokers. The Icelander Erlendur Bogason discovered it for us divers about 20 years ago: geothermal chimneys, which normally only occur in the deep sea. For me this has long been a phenomenon that I wanted to see with my own eyes. My excitement is correspondingly big, now that we are sitting on the inflatable boat and driving across the fjord.

White Smokers

Nothing can be seen from the surface. Only a buoy marks the spot and prevents fishing nets from catching and damaging the huge geological formation. Even on the first ten metres of our way down into the depths we can hardly guess what huge structures awaits us down there.

I’m beginning to realize: Photographically, this is an impossible task. The dimensions of the vent are enormous. It climbs more than 70 meters from the bottom – impossible to put this monster on the sensor, not at a visibility of just 10 meters. Here it would need a composite picture of many single shots. But I don’t have the time or the right equipment.

So I just enjoy the natural spectacle. Approximately 70 C warm water flows out of the vent. The smears are clearly visible. Only for a short moment I am busy with my camera and already I get into the warm upward current. Before I realize it, I’m being carried towards the surface. It takes me some time to find my buddies again. From now on I am more cautious and assist the group’s filmmakers. They are enthusiastic about being able to absorb the flowing hot water. As a photographer somewhat disillusioned, but as a traveler and diver totally enthusiastic, I start the ascent back to the boat.

On our dinghy trip across the fjord we meet a local humpback whale family. Snorkelling and diving with the gigantic marine mammals is allowed in Iceland. Unfortunately, the sea is a little rough and the visibility is quite bad. In this way we avoid plunging into the cold floods and enjoy the spectacle from the surface. Maybe there will be another chance.

Photographically it becomes more interesting during the next dive. In addition to the Great White Smoker, there are also several geothermal hot water outlets hidden beneath the sea level. David tells us about “Little Strytan”. There’s no such a big chimney piling up here. But the North Atlantic marine world is bustling: sea wolves, cod, sea anemones, these extraordinary geological structures and the flickering hot water – now the underwater photographer in me gets his full benefit.

The sea wolves prove to be extremely friendly. Usually they live well protected in crevices and only come out when they eat their favourite food: mussels, sea urchins and starfish. But apparently some divers have brought “presents” with them, so that the animals are looking for contact in expectation.

I am pleased. I do not get to photograph the interaction between humans and animals in such an extraordinary environment all too often.

The dive ends way too fast. I could stay here for many more hours. I would love to jump into the water with my macro equipment. Without searching intensively, I have already discovered several nudibranches and crabs, which I would have liked to spend more time with. But unfortunately there is no time left, because there are still more promising dives waiting for us.

At least as much I’m looking forward to the landscape of Iceland, which is still waiting for us. It’s a good thing we’re on a journey at a special time. Shortly before the first snowfalls the sheep are herded together. There are over half a million of them in the island country with just over 300,000 inhabitants. So we see again and again the hughest Icelanders on their small horses chasing a herd of balls of wool.

As peaceful as it may seem, the Icelandic sheep are one of the main reasons why the island is largely devoid of forests. Together with the free-running horses they keep the vegetation low. As a photographer, I love this atmospheric barren landscape. The biologists in our group have much more mixed feelings about this.

For me, however, there are always wonderful views of a landscape formed by the primordial forces of the earth. It is as if I could still feel the raw violence with which the Mid-Atlantic Ridge breaks apart, rips out its lava flow and thus created this piece of land in the middle of the infinite North Atlantic. The soft light of the deep autumn sun transforms this primeval scenery into a place of longing. David tells us how the land changes over the seasons. In one or two weeks everything can be wrapped in a white snow gown. In a clear night, greenish northern lights illuminate the rocks and lakes. And sunrises and sunsets whitewash the island in rich orange tones. If only we had more time!

to be continued

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