Storm clouds above Petursey, near Vik, Iceland.

Storm clouds above Petursey, near Vik, Iceland.

[Length: 925 Words | Reading time: 4 min 45 seconds]

 This image is available as a giant print in sizes up to six meters long.

You can see a full-size version of this image at my site… 

What impresses anyone who visits Iceland is the continuous presence of water in all the different states: solid (ice), vapor and, of course, liquid.

The strong winds carry the water from the Ocean to the inland mountains creating beautiful clouds that combine perfectly the characteristic dark volcanic earth with the ethereal whitish clouds.

It rains, hails and snows during the early spring in Iceland, and these extreme weather phenomena convert this small island in a paradise for the Landscape Photographer. Good weather is ‘boring weather’ in terms of landscape photography.

If you want to see the real face of this photographic wonder you can take advantage of the shoulder season in May, when prices are lower and the amount of visitors is still small.

I took this image when I was hiking to one of the main touristic attractions around Vik: the DC-10 airplane wreck that had to make an emergency landing on 1973. The airplane fell in an uninhabited beach and local inhabitants were not able (or were smart enough) to avoid moving the remains away, so it became another pilgrimage place around Vik, in addition to the cliffs at Dyrholaey and the basalt columns located in the nearby Reynisfjara Beach, where tourists go to enjoy the landscape.

The day was windy, very windy, one of those sunny but unpleasant days you need a good reason to go out of the car. Fast clouds were passing over the horizon from the sea to the mountains and glaciers of the interior. I had seen most of the possible weather phenomena a driver can see during my twenty minutes short trip by road from Vik to the parking area where the car has to be left to begin the hike to the airplane: hail, snow, and heavy rain, all interrupted by short periods of bright sun. This combination of elements is very difficult to see outside very windy islands. The other location I have witnessed so fast-changing conditions is the Pampa landscape in Tierra de Fuego (Chile, Argentina).

On my outward journey to the plane, there were few clouds over the horizon. They passed above the mountains and went away, they did not accumulate creating a boring sky, so I did not take many pictures. I just went hiking to see the airplane (it is about one hour trip from the car), but on my return trip from the plane to the car, the clouds began to accumulate above Petursey (a curious mountain that emerges alone in the plains surrounded by volcanic boulders). I liked its shape and thought it could make a good earthly (dark) shape to counteract the “light” and whitish clouds above.

A big mass of cumulus on the left of Petursey was the best configuration of clouds I saw, so I set the mountain on the right part of the frame taking up a small size of the frame. The real main characters of the picture were the clouds, so I gave them preeminence. I used my Nikon 28-80 at 34mm to get the huge size of the clouds inside the frame.

 The huge horizontal extension of clouds asked for a panorama, so I set my Manfrotto-Gitzo tripod (I took nearly all my landscapes in Iceland with my camera mounted on it), leveled it and shot a complete panorama that retains detail even when printed at huge sizes.

Ensuring that the camera body is totally horizontal is mandatory for panorama creation, so having a head, legs, or both that have a bubble level is very useful, if not a must. My Manfrotto 055-Pro legs have a built-in level and use it very often. In addition, I use another small bubble three axis level that can be attached to the flash hot shoe to get my camera leveled.

One of the reasons I love my Nikon D800 is the sensor of 36Mpx that produces a big file size that can be printed with great quality at some meters long prints.

Clouds look much better in black and white than in color, maybe due to the fact that they are inherently a monochromatic subject. The brownish-black lava landscape under them was also mainly monochromatic, but in darker tones, so used them to create a base for the whole image that counteracted the light nature of clouds.

The rays of sun that passed through the clouds created stains of light in the image which I did not like, hence I had to wait for a moment when all the field of view was evenly lighted by the sun.

The world is not organized in 1x1.5 or 4x5 ratio rectangles, while our camera frame is. This is a limitation all landscape photographers have to overcome and have to say that digital photography has made our life much easier. It is impressive to see how fast photography is evolving for some years now. Some time ago the only possibility to shoot high size quality panoramas was a panoramic camera. The Linhof Technorama with a 35mm lens (a wide angle in medium format film) was the queen of landscape photography, although other photographers used a Large Format Camera with a wide angle and then cropped the plate to a panoramic ratio.

Nowadays photo-stitching has become a really inexpensive alternative to these techniques and have given way to more controllable possibilities if executed properly. This is a treasure we all who love landscape photography are able to grab, another useful tool we have at hand to expand the possibilities of our preferred activity. 

This is another version I took some time before:

Petursey under huge storm clouds, Vik, Iceland.

Other cloudscapes:

Seagull and clouds, Jokulsarlon, Iceland.
Cloudscape over the Atlantic, Iceland.


Camera Model: Nikon D800
Nikon 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6G
Aperture: f8 | Shutter Speed: 1/800| ISO 100


Tripod:[Legs: Manfrotto 055 Pro] & [Head: Gitzo 1372M Magnesium Alloy]
LowePro with rain cover (absolutely needed in Iceland)
B+W Skylight KR 1.5
Memory Card: 
Sandisk SD Extreme 64Gb 

NEXT SCHEDULED POST: Breaking wave, Reynisfjara, Iceland.

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