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From foe to friend – basics of histogram.

Long, long time ago, that is, in days of film photography, it was a rather difficult task to learn how to produce properly exposed pictures. There was no instant feedback and the only way to see how good of a job you did exposing the scene, was to wait until the picture was developed.
Nowadays, regardless of your skill level or how advanced are you with any photo editing software, if you are using a digital camera, there's a slice of digital information that can help you instantly adjust your camera settings in order to take a picture with near perfect exposure. This piece of information is probably something that you might have even noticed before, but never really paid too much attention. Indeed, I'm talking about the so called histogram, which is often overlooked or completely ignored. Yes, I understand, that strange diagram with mountainous peaks might seem too technical to go into too much, especially when you have an LCD display on the back of your camera showing you the picture you just took. However, I believe that there are number of ways to improve your photography once you understand how to read the histogram. In this article we will explore the technical aspects of it as well as ways to incorporate it with your workflow on the field and in post processing.

 


Breaking down the histogram.

In essence, histogram is a visual representation of the brightness values of all the pixels in your image. Generally we use a combined histogram of the three main color channels (red, green and blue) or RGB histogram. However, if needed, you can dwell deeper into the histogram of each individual color Channel. First, lets try to break down what exactly is represented in the histogram. If you look at any histogram you will notice two axis – horizontal and vertical. Horizontal axis represents number of tones and their level of brightness, starting from 0 (pure black) up until 255 (pure white). Vertical axis represents number of pixels at each level of brightness. So, if you follow the line within the histogram, those highest ''mountain peaks'' tell you exactly where on the brightness scale you have most amount of information about the image. If the ''mountain peaks'' are stacked more towards the left side, even without looking at the actual image, it tells you that it's dark. On the contrary, if they are towards the right side of the histogram, image is bright. This is probably the most essential aspect of histogram that you would need to remember. For image to be correctly exposed, you need to stay within those walls on each side of the histogram. If you expose beyond those walls, in photographic terms we call it clipping. So, if any part of the histogram reaches right side of the wall, image is considered to be overexposed and means that every single pixel that reaches this wall, will be represented as pure white. In simpler terms, all you will see in the overexposed part of the image is nothing else but white pixels. Similarly, if the histogram touches left side of the wall, it's considered underexposed and you are left with pure blacks. Take a look at this picture. Here you have a visual representation of how an underexposed, overexposed and correctly exposed histogram looks like.

  


 

We established that overexposing and underexposing is something that should generally be avoided, however, there might be situations when dynamic range or difference between the darkest and brightest parts of the scene are so high, that it's virtually impossible to capture it without clipping either shadows or highlights. Of course, you can use neutral density graduated filters to compensate for the difference or even bracket the shot and correct the exposure in the final image during the post processing. Let's imagine you don't have these options or the scene is too complex to bracket without failing miserably. In this case, it is advised to underexpose the scene rather than to overexpose. Modern digital cameras are capable to record quite a lot of information about the details in the underexposed areas and bring them out later during the post processing of the image. However it is virtually impossible to recover any of the information in the overexposed areas. Additionally, some cameras are more capable in one thing than the other. For example, Nikon cameras are performing better at recording the details in shadows, so Nikon users have to worry less about underexposing than, for example, Canon users. On the other hand, Canon cameras have a higher capability to record details in the highlights, than Nikon users.  
 


Expose to the right!

I would like to mention another aspect of histogram that might be worthwhile to learn. As I mentioned before, every scene is different and on the whole there's no such thing as an ideal histogram as it depends entirely on what are you shooting. However, there's one piece of advice you might have heard before and I suggest you listen to it – expose to the right! What it means is that you should generally push the exposure to the brighter levels of the histogram. Reason behind it is simple – amount of tones within the horizontal axis of the histogram. Let's split the histogram into 5 equal parts starting from left to right, from darkest part to the brightest.



 

First section only has 575 tones available, next one has 1149 tones. These two sections make up the so called dark's in the picture. Third section is composed of mid tones and has 2298 tones within it. Last two sections represent the brightest part of the picture and has a combined amount of 13 788 tones available. In simpler terms, if your picture is dark, you will only have a very limited amount of tones available to work with. Let's say you would like to adjust the picture during the post processing by increasing the brightness, contrast or do any other changes. Lack of information about the tones will manifest in banding (pixelated gradients), increased noise levels and other problems. On the contrary, if you have a picture that exposed towards the right side of the histogram, you are less likely to run into these problems during post processing.
 


Back of your camera lies!

Another important aspect of learning to read the histogram is that once you understand it there  is no need to rely solely on LCD display built inside the camera. Why is it a good thing, you ask? Because LCD display lies! While it gives reasonably good interpretation of the image, its far from perfect to determine, for example, how correct is the exposure. First of all, LCD displays only a JPEG preview version of the image, even if you shoot RAW files. Besides, LCD screen has much lower resolution than the image itself and the brightness level of the screen might be adjusted too bright or too dim. This is especially important to remember when shooting in very bright or dark conditions. For example, when shooting northern lights, while looking at the screen in these dark conditions, it might seem that the picture on the back of your LCD is correctly exposed, however, this is misleading. This is due to the way how our eyes adjust according to the viewing conditions. In this case, when viewing the picture it in the dark, it will look much brighter than it actually is.

 


Making use of this new learnt knowledge.


There are number of ways how to implement understanding of histogram in a photographer's workflow. First of all, most of the modern cameras have an ability to represent histogram on an LCD screen even before making a shot - through live view mode. This way you can adjust your exposure exactly, even before taking a shot. Ideally I would suggest to make it a habit to check the histogram after each shot. If that sounds too tedious, one can at least use ''highlight alert'' function built in the camera. Once shot is taken, it is possible to view the image and allow the camera to detect if there are any areas that are overexposed. Additionally, you can use your knowledge of histogram while making adjustments to an image during the post processing. Increasing or decreasing brightness might result in lost pixels and to prevent that you can always rely on monitoring the histogram while making sure that no clipping occurs.

It doesn't necessarily make you a professional just because you are able to read the histogram, but learning it can be very helpful at times. I hope that this article helped you to understand the basic principles behind the histogram and with time you will be able to incorporate this knowledge in your work flow and ultimately improve you photography. Moreover, if you ever end up doing photography in Iceland, you will learn quickly how dynamic and unpredictable light conditions can be in this ‘’photographer's paradise’’. So, having an extra tool in your possession to capture these magnificent scenes correctly, will come in very handy.  

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Posted by Kaspars Dzenis.

      Having a DSLR camera is just one part of the story. What truly makes a difference is - piece, or more precisely, pieces of glass that you put in front of your camera. You can get decent images by shooting with a bad camera and with a good lens. However, if you put a bad lens on a good camera, flaws of that lens will be even more visible. 

      There are few things to consider when choosing a lens. Lenses are very complex in their structure, built quality and materials. All of that play important role in its price tag. I don´t want to suggest which particular lens is good and which ones to avoid. There are very good sites, where you can go and compare yourself. To name a few - www.dxomark.com, www.dpreview.com or www.lenshero.com.  I do, however, want to talk about points, that you should be aware of when thinking of lenses. 

     To me, the most important aspect of a lens is how sharp it is. Then comes dynamic range or how good it captures colors and bokeh (how it deals with blurred background). Every lens has two main attributes - focal length and f-stops. Focal length determines wideness of your frame. F-stop determines wideness of the aperture. Smaller the number, brighter the lens. So, depending on what you want to shoot, what kind of conditions are you going to be shooting in, will determine, what kind of lens you need.

      For landscape shots it is suggested to choose a wide angle lens. Something in between 12-24 mm. This way you can fit a mountain range in your frame without a problem, as well as capture huge scenes. Wide angle lens also increases the size of the foreground in relation to the background, so it seems much closeer to the frame, than it actually is. Example here - https://www.flickr.com/photos/77354897@N07/15715360492/

      Another way of shooting landscapes is using a telephoto lens - something that can zoom up to 200mm or further. This way, you can achieve amazing perspective of viewing a scene from a great distance, still capturing great details. Example - https://www.flickr.com/photos/77354897@N07/15715222042/ 

     Generally, when shooting landscapes, you must use a tripod. Good, sturdy tripod. To get a sharp image and capture all the details, there can not be any shaking of the camera. Hence, number of f-stops is not as vital as it would be in other cases. Moreover, to get a great depth of field, to get everything in focus, you will need to use higher aperture, which decreases amount of light going through, so shooting landscapes hand held becomes near impossibility. 

     People usually ask, what is the best aperture to shoot in. Sure, if you are shooting a wide scene, you want everything in focus, but switching to the highest aperture is not really an option, because lens will not perform well. First, you must calculate, what kind of aperture you need to use, to get your subject and everything else in the frame in focus. For that there is a good tool - www.dofmaster.com. Second, every lens has a ''sweet spot'', or number of f-stops at witch it will perform the best. For zoom lenses it´s a combination of focal length and f-stop. In other words, there is a certain focal length and certain aperture at which you will get the sharpest image. 

    In conclusion, i would like to mention the difference in prime and zoom lenses. Prime lens, or a lens with a fixed focal length, will perform better than a zoom lens. It´s due to its more simpler construction. I know, we are very used to zooming in and out all the time and loosing this ability feels like you are limited in some ways. I found, however, that it makes me move around the scene, find more interesting angles and points of view. I would say, do not fear of loosing your ability to zoom, you can always do that with your legs. 

     

 

 

             

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Posted by Kaspars Dzenis.

    You are right to feel overwhelmed when looking at all the cameras, lenses and countless accessories that are on the market today. I remember how difficult it was for me to choose my first camera. Many of us are under a tight budget, yet we want to spend money wisely, without regrets. Furthermore, it´s not easy to find honest reviews about products. You have to dig deep, past the paid promotional adverts. 

     So, let´s assume you would like to get yourself a semi-professional camera. Here is where you will have to make your first choice - DSLR or mirror-less. DSLR or digital single-lens reflex cameras have a mirror inside and it diverts the light from lens to prism and then to viewfinder, where you can see exactly what camera sees. These cameras have been ruling the world of professional photography for the past decade. DSLRs are big and heavy, thus, ''looking'' professional. However, this is yet another example, where size actually doesn't matter.

    Mirror-less cameras are basically the same DSLRs, just without a viewfinder. Lack of additional mirror makes camera much smaller and lighter. Furthermore, recent advancements in technology have put mirror-less cameras on par with DSLRs in terms of picture quality. In spite of all that, there are few things to consider. Most importantly lens availability. Here is where DSLRs outshine their counter parts. Maybe in few years there will be as many options as it is for DSLRs, but not yet. Another thing to consider - battery life. DSLRs run for longer. And for me, who loves night photography, it´s essential. Still, if you are interested in mirror-less cameras, i would recommend to check out Olympus E-PL7 or M1, Sony A500 or A7 or Fuji X-T1.

     So lets say we are settled on DSLR. Next move is - Nikon or Canon? This question been out there for many years and no one has given a definite answer. At least an answer that would satisfy majority. It´s 50/50 and will probably stay like this for foreseeable future. Just one thing to remember, when you choose one, chances are good that you will stay with that brand for many years. First, you will get used to the layout of all the settings and options. And second, interchangeable lenses. Unfortunately lenses are produced for specific camera brands, so if you have a collection of lenses and you want to switch camera brands, you will have to sell your lenses. 

     Next question is, what´s your budget? If you have around 8000 USD, might as well go for Nikon D4s or Canon EOS 1Dx. Assuming you don't have that kind of money, things get harder. For an entry level go for Nikon D3300. It has newer generation 24 megapixel crop sensor (mind that actual megapixels are not that important unless you are printing huge prints), good picture quality and usually comes with a very reliable and flexible 18-55mm lens. For something more advanced, i´d recommend D5300, same size sensor as D3300, but this model has better focus system a flip out screen and few other additional options that will make your life easier.  

      I don´t think it´s worth going up a ladder any further. These entry level cameras are as good as any to get you going. It takes a while to learn the camera, to get used to it. Once you feel that you are somehow limited in what your camera can do - upgrade. However, by then, there will be new toys on the market.

      Many don´t realize, that lenses can be as expensive or even more expensive than actual cameras and there is a good reason for that. That, however, I will explore in further entries. 

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Posted by Kaspars Dzenis.

Right, so you are in Reykjavik and would like to see some of that landscape beauty of Iceland, but don't have enough time, money or means of transportation to go anywhere far. Not surprisingly, you don't have to go anywhere far to reach some great nature spots, especially for photography. Yes, of course, they might not be grandeur in terms of attractiveness, especially compared to some of the most iconic landmarks in Iceland. However, I believe that these places are highly underrated and deserve much higher attention. Here are just few of my favorite places of nature, that I like to go photograph on a beautiful day, but especially in the mornings and evenings. 

Lets begin with what's closest to downtown Reykjavik. If you have researched anything about Reykjavik, Perlan probably came up as a place to visit, just to see Reykjavik from above. Well, Perlan is situated on top of Öskjuhlíð and around this hill there are many paths through rather thick forest with few nice spots that look like it could be somewhere deep in the forest.

Seltjarnarnes is a peninsula just West of downtown Reykjavik. It has open access to an ocean with a beautiful lighthouse at the very end of it. Great for sunrise and sunset pictures. It's also one of the closest and popular places to get out of city lights and shoot Auroras.  

 

There are number of forested areas around Reykjavik and one of the nicest ones, in my opinion of course, is Elliðaárdalur. This valley has a river (Elliðaá) cutting through it and you can find couple of waterfalls in the heart of it. Sure, there are more impressive waterfalls in Iceland, but I love that it only takes minutes from downtown Reykjavik to reach a little seclusion and ponder about life while sitting by a waterfall.

 

Heiðmörk is another forested area around Reykjavik and it's one of the biggest ones. I generally just like to walk through some of its paths, especially in the autumn. However, I'm sure that you will be able to find something interesting regardless of the season. There are also few lakes around the area, which are great for Northern light photography.

 

Now, this is a bit of a reach as this place is located little bit outside of Reykjavik, close to Mosfellsbær. However, I love this area and even though it's just short of half an hour drive, it has an aura of a remote and wild place. Intrigued? You should be! It's called Tröllafoss. A waterfall, surrounded by a beautiful canyon and I would recommend to just walk around the canyon on both sides, up and down. I can guarantee, you will get some great pictures there. 

 

Finally, I would like to mention Hvaleyri. This rocky beach is located in Hafnarfjörður, at the very edge of the town, on the way to Keflavik. During low tide, sea exposes moss covered rocks that look amazing during sunrises and sunsets. Just make sure weather is good enough as it can be quite dangerous in a stormy weather or when rocks are covered in ice.

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Posted by Kaspars Dzenis.

Everybody knows where are them main attractions in Iceland. You can just pick up handful of brochures at any information center and you will know how to find them. They are beautiful, no doubt, but sometimes it is hard to enjoy them with countless camper vans, tour buses and all the buzz around. So, if you were hoping to enjoy some stunning scenery and experience wild and peaceful nature on a remote island, you might feel disappointed.

However, Iceland is big and if you´re not afraid to explore, there are still places that are just as stunning, but at the same time, you can completely immerse into the landscape and feel the beautiful desolation.

Another point concerning photographers. It is kind of a same deal when it comes to the popular landmarks. With million pictures out there, getting a unique shot in Iceland is getting increasingly hard. Sure, you can chase the light and make it unique, yet, I feel that in this day and age, it´s just not enough.

One of my main tools is satellite maps. I explore them thoroughly, searching for any mountain peak, river, waterfall, valley, sea shore, that is not marked, but looks interesting. Then I travel to the location and find compositions that would look great in pictures. I gather this information so I can include it in my photo tours, but also, just to share them with other enthusiasts, who are looking for something, maybe not completely, but different. 

One of the places I would like to talk about in this post, is a mountainous area right in the heart of Reykjanes. In this area you will find a recently active geothermal area, beautiful valleys and lakes and is just a joy to hike around, with no one else in sight.

You can reach this area from two sides. From the east side, after leaving Reykjavik, on the way to Keflavik, you can take the road that goes to Keilir mountain and drive until the very end. Park your car and follow the trail that leads into a geothermal valley. From there you can follow different sheep trails that will lead through the valleys and around the three kettle lakes.

You can also access this area from the east. This time, drive to Kleifarvatn following the road 42 and just before heading into the mountains, turn where the sign says Vigðísarvellir. Then drive until you reach Djúpavatn lake, where you can begin your hike there.

   

 

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Posted by Kaspars Dzenis.

If you only have a day or two to spend, but would like to capture some of the best landscapes Iceland has to offer, Snæfellsnes peninsula should be on your priority list. Located just north of Reykjavik, this 100 kilometer long peninsula is packed with amazing landscapes, mountains, fjords, waterfalls, caves, charming little villages, sea cliffs, beaches and even a glacier. One might think, that it´s almost like Iceland within Iceland. Obviously each place is unique, but as a compressed version of Icelandic landscapes, Snæfellsnes is a perfect destination.

If driving from Reykjavik on the road 54, before reaching peninsula, there are few stops you should make. First a crater called Elduberg. To reach crater itself will take a rather long hike, and honestly I have not done it, but you can take a picture of the crater from a distance and with Snæfellsnes mountains in the background, it can serve as a rather interesting and dramatic scene. Just little further up the road from the crater is a row of basalt columns called Gerðuberg. Maybe not the most spectacular basalt structures in Iceland, but still worth the stop.

If you turn from road 54 north to 56, before starting the descend from the mountain, there is a small lake called Selvallavatn. There is a parking space just after crossing a small bridge. If you follow the small river nearby, you will reach a nice little waterfall. I enjoy stopping here every time i cross this road. There are no signs leading to the waterfall, so I suspect that it´s missed by a lot of tourists that are in the area. Also, area nearby is beautiful, with remains of dramatic volcanic activity.

When going downhill while on the road 56 you will reach crossroads with road 54. If you have time, I would suggest to turn east and follow the road to check out Álftafjörður. It´s a small fjord surrounded by high mountains and in my opinion is a great place to capture some great shots.

If you follow the road 56 it will lead you straight to Stykkishólmur. This lovely village has been recently made famous by being a shooting spot for a movie Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It also has a charming harbor surrounded by basalt formations from which you can see Westfjords and countless islets of Breiðafjörður.

You can skip Stykkishólmur and Álftafjörður altogether and turn west on road 54. Soon after you will reach a turn to Bjarnarhöfn. Farm where you can check out how they make that nasty fermented shark. Area itself is also interesting, where you can explore lava field named Berserkjahraun. I will not go into it, but there is a rather interesting mythical story behind it´s name.

Close by, surrounded by this lava flow, is a lake called Hraunsfjarðarvatn. Another place where you can just explore and be sure to find some interesting compositions for great landscape shots.

Next stop is probably one of the most famous spots in Iceland. Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss. Kirkjufell is a 463 meters high mountain, which is spectacular by itself, but I would argue that to get the most impact-full composition is to combine this mountain with the waterfall (Kirkjufellsfoss), which is right next to it. If you would randomly search pictures of Iceland, I´m absolutely sure, that this scene will come up.

I´m sure that there are few places that would be worth mentioning, but generally after leaving Kirkjufell, I hardly find myself stopping anywhere until I reach Hellisandur village. Right after leaving the village, Snæfellsness national park begins. Generally I would not say, that area of the park is more spectacular than rest of the peninsula, maybe even on the contrary. However, there are many interesting spots worth a look. With Snæfellsjökull glacier right on the edge, this park is basically a huge lava flow field with different types of beaches (rocky beaches, black sand beaches, pebble beaches and even golden sand beaches). First place I would like to specifically mention is Djúpalónsandur. Needless to say, this beach is surrounded by a lava flow field. Additionally, there are few places around that look really interesting. You can wonder around this beach or take a small hike to the nearby Dritvík. Less than 10 kilometers further are another place with very interesting rock formations on the beach. You can get a great picture of Lóndrangar by climbing up þúfubjarg cliffs.

Another 10 or so kilometers away are two small villages (Hellnar and Arnarstapi). Once again, area is full of great photographic opportunities of cliffs and rock formations on a rigged and lava scarred beaches. You can just hike all the way from Hellnar to Arnarstapi. Be sure to check out harbor in Arnarstapi. Look around and you can notice few interesting compositions with inclusion of nearby mountains (namely Stapafell).

Last place I would like to mention, before heading back, is Búðarhraun and Búðir church. You might have enaugh of seeing lava fields and rocky beaches, but this small black church Búðir is particualry photogenic. Depending on the weather and time of the year, you can get a really nice shot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted by Kaspars Dzenis.

          As with anything in the world today, be it a hobby or a profession, you have broad choice of accessories that are meant to enhance your experience. Landscape photography is no exception. With all the gadgets around, it´s sometimes hard to decide weather they will actually improve your photography or not. So I would like to list some of them, that i think are essential to take that next step in landscape photography.

           For landscape photography, the most important accessory, hands down, is a tripod. I use tripod for 95% of my photos. Tripod is used to eliminate any camera shake and even if you think that you have super steady hands and you´re using a lens with vibration reduction (VR), when shooting with relatively slow shutter speeds, you can not produce a sharp image that will look good even on a computer screen. Here you can take a look at the spreadsheet that illustrates this.

It´s also essential to have a sturdy tripod. Cheap, lousy tripod will not do you any good. We shoot outside and a lot of time weather can be a little harsh, so it´s important that tripod can withstand winds as well as waves if you´re shooting near the beach. 

      Another piece of equipment that helps to reduce camera shake to a minimum is a remote shutter release. When you press that shutter button on the camera, even if you are extremely careful, sometimes you might move your camera only slightly, yet on the final image it can be rather visible. Of course, you can also use a timer on the camera, but i find that having a remote shutter is more convenient if you need to time your shot. On a side note, you can also find mobile applications that will do this for you, but i prefer an actual remote.

      Another gadget that any landscape photographer should have in their arsenal is a neutral density (ND) filter. Basically, it´s a piece of black glass or resin that allows you to lower your shutter speeds to create pictures with ''silky'' water, be it a waterfall, river or ocean. Those are also great to create dramatic and smooth clouds. These filters come in great variety, depending on your needs. Also, you have to remember, that it´s an additional piece of glass, so it´s important that filter is of great quality or your images will suffer in terms of sharpness, vignetting or color hues. I would recommend 2 type of filters - ND8 which allows you to stop down your shutter speed by three and is just about perfect to shoot waterfalls and beaches to get that smoothness in water. Another filter that you should consider is a so called ten stopper, that helps you to reduce the shutter speed by ten and will allow you to produce very dramatic scenes.

          Additionally, you should also consider a gradient ND filter. Let´s say you´re trying to take a picture of a sunset. Even though cameras have improved dramatically, in terms of dynamic range, human eye still excels. Most estimate that our eyes can see from 10 to 14 f-stops of dynamic range while DSLRs 3-4 stops less. This difference is even more pronounced in low light and high contrast scenes. So gradient ND filter lets you cover that part of the frame which is brighter and allows you to take a properly exposed picture across the frame. Alternatively you can bracket your shots, by taking multiple pictures with different exposures and later merge them with a software to get a perfectly exposed scene. While were on filters, I have to mention ultra violet (UV) filters that supposedly helps you to reduce UV light and cuts through that blue haze which is created by the sun. However, i think that unless you´re using a very high end, high quality product, it might reduce the quality of the picture. They do have a use though and it´s protection. It´s way cheaper to replace a UV filter than a lens, so that´s something to keep in mind.

      Now, lets move from physical accessories to software products that every landscape photographer should know about. There are dozens of applications available on laptops and smartphones, so you can choose the one that fits you best, but first and foremost I want to talk about www.photoephemeris.com Planning is a big part of landscape photography and this application helps you to understand the position of the sun and the the moon at any given time anywhere in the world. This way, you can decide beforehand, where to position yourself, so you can take that perfect shot. Next one is www.dgstides.lt. It helps you to understand movement of the tide. It´s essential as there are many places where high tide and low tide can change the composition dramatically. Another helpful tool www.dofmaster.com. This application helps you to calculate hyperfocal distance, or the closest distance at which a lens can be focused while keeping objects at infinity sharp. When the lens is focused at this distance, all objects at distances from half of the hyperfocal distance out to infinity will be sharp.

     There are lots and lots of other accessories on the market - lens cloths, camera bags, lens hoods, battery grips etc. However, I think that the ones I mentioned here are the most essential ones to actually improve your pictures. 

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Posted by Kaspars Dzenis.

      There are plenty of places to travel to when you first arrive in Iceland. South of Iceland, for example, gives you an opportunity to go around the so called ''Golden circle'', visit mighty waterfalls along the ringroad on your way to Skaftafell national park, see puffins (in the summer) in Ingólfshöfði, and enjoy the sunset by Jökulsárlón. Those are all ''must visit'' places. However, how about those people, who are coming back for more. Sure, you can revisit those places, especially if you´re a photographer and you´re trying to get a shot in that perfect lighting. But what if you´re looking to go somewhere new, to a place that has no road sign and no parking lot. In essence, you can just stop by any valley, get your lunch pack, lot´s of water, hike into the wilderness and i can guarantee you will find something spectacular. In this article, I want to tell you about one of my favorite places in South Iceland - Hvannadalur.

      This particular hiking path is located not far from one of the main travel destinations in Iceland - Jökulsárlón. If you continue east (around 12km) you will arrive at Hali country hotel and this farm is the birth place of one of the most beloved writers in Iceland, þórbergur þórðarson. It is not a coincidence that the name of this hiking path is Söguferð (Literary walk). þórbergur loved to take long walks and it is said, that this hiking path was one of his favorite. After reaching Hali you continue east along Steinafjall, which is on the left. In about 5 kilometers you will see a small house on the foothill called Sléttaleiti and after another kilometer a valley will open up on the left side. There you take the first dirt road into this valley and continue until you reach Steinasandir (Open sands with multiple rivers crossing it). If you have a 4x4 then crossing sands and rivers will not be difficult. Road is tough, but you can reache the very beginning of the path, where you can park your car and locate the first checkpoint. First part of the trail is not difficult and will take 1-2 hours to complete it. Trail is marked with small wooden poles, as well as signs describing the area. AFter finding first one, following the trail will be easy.

      Path will lead you up the hill, alongside small rivers with multiple waterfalls, caves and breathtaking landscapes. 

      At the end of the path is a place called Klukkugill (Bell Gully). Legend states that Irish monks threw their golden bells there when vikings first arrived.

      Klukkugill is where Literary walk ends, however, those who feel physically fit and have 4-5 extra hours can venture further down the valley, into Hvannadalur. Old sheep trail is located north of Klukkugill and leads down into the gully. From there you can hike up the stream. It´s a magical place and well worth the effort. 

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Posted by Kaspars Dzenis.

   Kálfafellsdalur is a long glacier valley located south east of Vatnajökull. Valley is scared with streams collectively called Miðvötn or Landkvísl and at the very end of the valley you can find steep glacier tongue called Brókarjökull (Breaches glacier). This is another place, where you can not find any signs and is rather difficult to hike in. However it´s a perfect place to disconnect from the outer world and marvel the ''beautiful nothingness'' of Icelandic nature.

   Valley is easily spotted from the ring road. Entrance is located near Kálfafellsstaður farm and it´s possible to drive inside the valley until Kaldá river. To venture further, there is no other way but to cross the river. I´ve not tried to do it with a car, and I would not recommend it, unless you have a monster truck.

From there you can venture further inside the valley. Landscape changes rapidly, from rock covered sands with steep mountain slopes, to green meadows, full of birds and grazing reindeer.

End of the valley splits into two, with glacier tongues at the end of each. Brókarjökull is a very steep glacier tongue that divides around the rock Brók. On the west side glacier forms lagoon. Nearby you can also find number of kettles - shallow ponds formed by retreating glacier. On the east side you can find a small valley called Vatnsdalur. There glacier literally hangs of the mountain. It´s a thrilling, yet a scary feeling to stand close to it. 

   It takes pretty much the whole day to explore the valley and it´s a demanding hike. But if you are looking for that feeling of peaceful desolation, it´s a perfect place to be in.  

   

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Posted by Kaspars Dzenis.

         ''It´s a photographers paradise''. You might have heard this before about Iceland. Well, i certainly have. But is it really? And f it is, what exactly it is people are referring to when they say that there is no place better to take a landscape photo than here, in Iceland.

          One thing is sure though. No way you can say that Iceland is undiscovered by photographers. Certainly, not in the last few years. Amount of photo tours and workshops have been rapidly increasing and there's a stream of amateur and professional photographers coming in all year around. However, this land has still many places that are untouched by men. Rugged and pristine is how i would describe landscapes i have encountered deep inside valleys and highlands. Part of me wants for it to stay this way. And the only way to accomplish it is by keeping people out. However, there is something magnetic about theses places that attract us. And when you see them, you want to share this beauty with the rest of the world. I think a compromise is in place here. To get to these places you must work hard. No roads or signs. It should stay a challenge.

        One must remember, Iceland is a giant volcano. Come to think of it, all land in the world came to existence through various volcanic processes, however, in Iceland you have a first row seat to experience formation of the land. Do not expect to see erupting volcanoes the minute you step on Iceland, but if you look closely you can see traces of volcanic activity everywhere - lava fields, craters, ridges and dykes. All of these places are great for photography. I will not go into details, but there are different types of volcano and they erupt in different ways and in different circumstances. All this adds to landscapes that are different from each other. So it does not matter, where you are going, you can expect that the landscape will look unique. 

       Iceland sits on a hot spot, so there´s always a chance for an eruption. At the moment we have an ongoing eruption in Bárðarbunga volcanic system and there´s no telling of when or where will be the next one. It´s not advised to get close to a volcano, but it sure as hell provide for a great picture. This hot spot is also to ''blame'' for geothermal activity underneath the earth that translates into many hot springs above the ground. That´s also the reason why we have hundreds of pools and hot springs where you can bathe after a long day of sightseeing or hiking. 

      Now, some people may argue that Iceland and Greenland should swap their names. It´s true, due to Gulf stream, Iceland is not as cold as you might have imagined. However, it´s still pretty far north, so a cold snap and a winter storm will make you reconsider the name change. It´s also cold enough here to form glaciers where land elevates over a kilometer. Many glaciers are accessible and serve as great objects to photograph.

      Lighting is everything to a photographer and this is what i think makes Iceland a ''paradise''. In the summer, when sky is not dark enough for stars to appear, you have this amazing light of constant twilight all night long. Sure, during the day, you might want to take a nap or do some post processing on you images as sun sits right above the head, but those night hours are amazing for photography. During the winter, on the other hand, you have ''golden hour'' lighting extended for several hours while the sun is up. Obviously, in the winter darkness rules over the day, but that means you can hunt for some lovely northern light scenes.  

      I guess it is true. Iceland offer so much to a photographer, to the point where one might call it a paradise. Uniqueness of landscapes, their shapes and forms, colors and lighting provided by the contrast between night and day. All that adds up to a must visit place.  

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