International | Iceland

The Land Of Fire and Ice

In collaboration with Light.

"I open a window. A breeze sends a chill down my chest ... The air smells of rain and salt. The barren and lifeless desert is gone; in its place, dense tropical gardens percolate with activity."

Iceland is a destination I've fantasized about for the last five years. Because of timing and expenses, the beautiful country was always at the bottom of my bucket list—until recently. When I was surfing ticket prices after Christmas, I serendipitously came across non-stop roundtrip flights for $200. Needless to say, I bought them immediately. Can you blame me?

We arrived in Iceland on the morning of April 11th. As we stepped off the plane, a wall of heavy wind and rain slammed into us. My girlfriend, Caitlin, and I rushed through customs, grabbed our bags, and picked up our rental car. The first thing was noticed once we were out on the road: everyone in Iceland speeds. Since there are so few people on the islands, there's rarely any traffic. As we made our way through the thick layer of fog, we discovered that, in Iceland, your headlights need to be on at all times.

Cafe Bryggjan was our first stop of the day. We grabbed a cup of coffee before making a beeline for the popular Blue Lagoon. 

Day one was full of revelations. Prior to hopping in the hot springs, we were all forced to shower naked. Apparently, the chemicals we have on us can kill the good bacteria in the lagoon.

We’ve all seen the picture-perfect photos of the Lagoon's baby blue water. Now imagine that but with rain, wind, and cloudy weather. I immediately rushed into the hot murky water, trying to keep my L16 dry. I wasn’t the only crazy one though—everyone brought their phones and cameras into the water to capture the unique experience. Steam radiated off the murky blue water making it difficult to see past 20 feet. After a few shots around the lagoon, I cut my foot and decided to put the L16 away in fear of it dropping into the abyss.

A few hours later, we set out to explore downtown Reykjavik. We saw The Sun Voyager Statue, Harpa Concert Hall, Hallgrimskirkja Church, ate Icleand's infamous hot dogs, and drank more coffee. By the end of the first day, I hadn’t slept in 36 hours.

The following several days were spent on the road. We pulled over whenever the moment struck us—or when an Icelandic horse put his nose over the fence.

On the side of a mountain, we found Iceland's oldest hot spring: Seljavallalaug. (Try pronouncing that one.) Built in the early 1900s, this hot spring was originally created for locals to learn how to swim. It's not the easiest place to get to, though. We trekked a couple miles through fields of lava ash to meet this little wonder.

It was worth it. When the hot springs cleared out a bit, I climbed up on the rocks that jut into the pool to capture Caitlin from above.

Icleand's landscape is so dramatic, it's hard not to stop at every new mountain that peeks through the clouds. The contrast of lush green algae with the dark lava rock is too beautiful to ignore.

When I'm shooting portraits in an epic location like Iceland, I try to remember a few things. I always dress my subjects according to the setting. This often produces better visuals. I like photos that showcase tiny details of the setting. It gives context to what textures and colors the landscape consists of. The lighting of your landscape backdrop also matters a lot. I rely on apps like Magic Hour to make sure I have all the information I need for the best light—whether it's golden hour or blue hour.

Along our route, we came across Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss, two of the most impressive waterfalls I have ever seen. Iceland's weather was constantly changing. One moment, the waterfalls looked gray and within ten minutes the cascading water had turned gold.

For a few brief moments, rainbows sprung from the mist that lingered in the air.

Thirty minutes from Skogafoss is the iconic Reynisfjara Beach, known for its distinct matte-black sand. Powerful winds pushed and pulled Caitlin and I toward the surging waves.

Between the gloomy weather and the beach's geometric rock formations, the mood felt ominous.

Caitlin and I are pretty persistent so we decided to hike to the Solheimasandur DC 3 Plane Crash. We walked an hour along a rocky path to discover an old plane that had crashed into the gravel in 1973. It was windy…again. Two men climbed on top of the plane, trying to stand for a picture, but the wind was too strong. I would've tried, but I think it was smart not to try this time.

Jökulsárlón is one of Iceland's crown jewels. The lagoon is situated next to Vatnajökull, Europe's largest glacier and Iceland's largest national park.

Formed naturally from glacial water, the lagoon grows larger each year.

Every now and then, ice breaks off the glacier and those chunks gradually move toward Diamond Beach.

The ice is crystal clear. Some chunks are the size of a house; others, the size of pebbles.

All that ice creates this beautiful blue hue that is so vivid, it's difficult to capture, much less describe in words. It reminded me of blue Gatorade.

After exploring the ice, we settled down in the Hoffell Hot Springs, conveniently located next to our hotel. We climbed into an available pool and relaxed as rain clouds moved passed us. Cold droplets hit our faces as our bodies were submerged in hot water—the perfect contrast. Before we left, I wanted to test out the L16 in low lighting since I typically don’t shoot in those type of situations. We used a nifty pocket light to create a different look.

For six days, Caitlin and I traveled the southern half of Iceland. We spent the majority of our trip making sure our rental car doors weren’t ripped off due to the wind. (That's not an exaggeration—it's actually pretty common.) And even with the bad weather, the other worldly landscapes that Iceland offers are unlike anywhere else. Iceland, you definitely did not disappoint. I'm already scheming for when I can go back to venture the northern part of the island.

April 25th, 2018
Photos: Jose Morales
Words: Jose Morales