Tag Archives: Iceland

Behind the Image: Creating Emotionally-Evocative Travel Photography with Richard Bernabe

Small shapely iceberg on the black sand beach at Jökulsárlón in southern Iceland

Small shapely iceberg on the black sand beach at Jökulsárlón in southern Iceland

I recently did an interview with the folks from Adobe about how I got my start in photography, some of my philosophy when it comes to photography, and the story about the image above.

You can read the whole interview here: Behind the Image: Creating Emotionally-Evocative Travel Photography with Richard Bernabe.

Enjoy.

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Going Coastal

As a landscape and nature photographer, there are few experiences that compare to walking out on the beach in the dawn’s faint light, examining the sky, the clouds, the mood of the surf, and anticipating what the next hour might bring.

What is it, exactly, that unceasingly beckons the photographer back to the edge of terra firma time after time? Is it some visceral, primal urge to “go back from whence we came,” as John F. Kennedy once speculated about the kinship of human beings and the sea? Or is the seemingly boundless ocean a visual metaphor for the infinite photo possibilities offered the photographer? How about the local seaside tiki bar that serves up a kaleidoscopic array of boat drinks with miniature umbrellas during the idle light of midday?

Whatever the reason or excuse, coastal landscapes are a favorite subject for many nature photographers, including myself. So with spring soon turning to summer and the unofficial start of beach season, here are a few tips for better coastal landscape photography in any season.

Find a Point of Interest

Beaches are often nondescript, featureless expanses of sand and endless water without any apparent focal point. With no obvious visual fixture, the scene might leave a photographer confused and viewer of the image bored. Locating a conspicuous geological feature, rock, tree, tidal creek, piece of driftwood, or serendipitous conch shell in the foreground can provide a visual anchor that makes for a more compelling image.

Small iceberg on teh black sand beach at Jökulsárlón, Iceland

Experiment with Shutter Speeds

The ocean is a dynamic body of water, heaving and churning with the ebb and flow of each and every wave. Photography is an interpretative art form, so the shutter speed you choose will greatly vary both the look and feel of the scene to potential viewers.

For example, a shutter speed of 1/250 of a second or faster can freeze the water’s motion, projecting a feeling of power or urgency. Any shutter speed of one second or slower can tame even the most furious ocean swells and ascribe a certain grace or fragility to the sea. A range of 1/20 to ½ of a second with an advancing or receding wave or foam is a good compromise, giving water the illusion of motion yet retaining important detail as well.

The focal length, physical distance, and water’s velocity will all vary the visual effect of the wave’s movement for each shutter speed, so the examples cited above are merely rough guidelines. I think it’s important to experiment with a variety of speeds before ultimately deciding on what you prefer for each situation.

Sunset at Hunters Beach Cove, Acadia National Park, Maine USA

Look For Reflections

As mentioned earlier, beaches can seem featureless with little “working material” to assist in assembling a composition. Reflections in wet sand and tidal pools, however, can add some interest and depth to an otherwise ordinary scene.

Tidal pools and puddles can reflect the sky or clouds like a mirror if there’s little or no wind and the thin film of water left on the sand by a receding wave produces reflections that are impressionistic and expressive.

Look for Patterns and Textures

Wind and water can conceive captivating dunes, mini dunes, ripples, ridges, and basins in the sand. These features can be used as a component of a larger, expansive scene or they can become the primary subject themselves. Look for conditions created by low-angled, directional lighting where the verge of light and shadow add yet more compositional elements with which to work.

These conditions can be difficult to visualize under flat or direct midday light. But as the angle of the sun becomes more oblique, textures, patterns, and lines will soon reveal themselves. Work quickly, as the light and shadows will be fleeting.

Tree stump reflected in tidal pool at sunrise, Hunting Island, South Carolina

 Arrive Early – Stay Late

This advice should be mandatory for any landscape photographer – coastal or otherwise. But does the world really need yet another photograph of the sun setting or rising over the ocean? My short answer would be, “Sure, why not?”

I prefer to bracket and blend exposures in post-processing for sunrise or sunset scenes that need usable detail in both the sky and foreground, but the level, unobstructed horizons are ideal graduated neutral density filters as well.

But if beauty for beauty’s sake is too banal for your tastes, you still have the twilight wedge, dawn or dusk’s glow, and low-angled, warm sunlight during the golden hours to compliment the landscape. Snobbery is no excuse for sleeping in.

Protect Your Gear

The best advice I can offer with regard to keeping your gear looking and working like new: Take someone else’s camera to the beach.

Seriously, the saltwater, sand, and wind can run roughshod on your camera gear. Even if the camera is not dropped in the drink, saltwater spray and mist from the pounding surf can do damage over time. I always wipe down my camera and lenses with a damp, freshwater towel and let dry.

Tripods can become corroded and completely inoperable if the legs are submerged in saltwater. Since I cannot resist getting into the water, I carry an old, backup tripod on my coastal excursions and go for it. It’s still a good idea to rinse off the sand and saltwater off the tripod legs when you are finished shooting to extend its life as much as possible.

Dunes with Snow Dusting, Hatteras Island, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina

Get Wet

Despite the previous point of advice, it often helps to get your feet and tripod wet in order get an interesting perspective. Wading into the water and getting a low angle to onrushing waves can provide a unique viewpoint while vicariously injecting the viewer into the scene.

Waves can move the sand and tripod during long exposures, resulting in soft images. For this reason, I push the tripod legs as deep into the sand as possible before an incoming wave arrives. This usually stabilizes the tripod and camera sufficiently.

Research Tide Information

Your favorite coastal photo locale has many different faces and characteristics, which all depend upon the height of the tide. Knowing when high and low tides occur and how they correspond to sunrise and sunset is vital to both your approach and your planning for a future photography trip.

Tidal information can be found online. For the United States, http://www.saltwatertides.com/pickpred.html is a good place to start. A quick Google search for “tidal chart” and your area will produce several results.

An excellent iPhone application is Tide Graph, which gives tidal information for hundreds of coastal locations, which can then be quickly accessed and deciphered.

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5 Reasons to Love Iceland in Winter

Iceland is a four-season photographic destination. As I wrote in a 2013 Popular Photography feature article, the country has often been mistakenly characterized in the past as cold, barren, and probably hostile to visitors. And with a name like Iceland, one can be forgiven for thinking of this small, northern Atlantic island country in this way. But with tourism on the rise, the perception is changing. It would be harder to find a more comfortable, less barren, and more welcoming country than Iceland anywhere on the planet. It’s also beautiful beyond words, which happens to be a boon to those of us who make a living creating images instead.

But even to those who know and love Iceland dearly, the idea of visiting in winter is too much. But Icelandic winters, for the most part, are no colder than those in New York, London, or Paris. In fact, there are some pretty compelling reasons to visit and photograph Iceland in winter – on purpose.

1. Fewer Tourists and Photographers

Iceland is becoming more and more popular with every passing year and people are discovering that winter is a great time to see and experience Iceland. But there are still much fewer tourists and photographers during this “off season” than there are during the summer months.

Skogafoss is a popular location for tourists and photographers. Bus after bus arriving from Reykjavik unloads dozens of people who make getting a clear photograph of the spectacular waterfall almost impossible. Could I have taken the above selfie during any season other than winter? I don’t think so.

2. The Aurora Borealis

Iceland is one of the best places in the world to see and photograph the aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights in the northern hemisphere. Iceland falls at exactly the right latitude in the aurora belt (yes it is possible to go too far north to see the northern lights) so as long as the sky is dark and clear, there’s a high probability that you will see it.

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During the most popular times to visit Iceland, May through August, the sky never gets dark enough at night to see the aurora. Winter nights in Iceland are long and dark, perfect for aurora photography and watching.

3. Surreal Snowy Landscapes

If you like minimalist landscape and nature images, Iceland in the winter is a target rich environment, particularly after a fresh snowfall. White-on-white scenes (with the ubiquitoius pewter winter skies) can be the perfect canvas for creating some stunning winter landscapes.

No color or epic sunrise and sunset lighting needed here. Just throw in some iconic Icelandic horses and you have winter’s understated beauty at its best.

4. Ice Caves

Ice caves are created by rivers and streams carving tunnels under the glaciers during the warm summer months. There are very few experiences as surreal and magical as exploring these sapphire blue caves with a camera and an experienced guide.

During the winter season – from approximately November through March – the water freezes and the caves become safe to enter. This is one bucket list experience you do not want to miss.

5. Changing Light

The light in Iceland is phenomenal. In the winter, the sun never rises very high above the horizon so the low-angled light is always soft and warm – the type of light photographers dream about.

But even when the weather is bad (and yes, it can be bad) it never seems to last very long. There’s always a break in the clouds somewhere which gives the intrepid photographer hope of something good on the way. Of course, it also makes you appreciate the good weather when you have it. As I said, it’s changeable and highly changebale light is what gives landscape photographers those truly magical moments.

You can experience Iceland in winter with me January 22 – 31, 2017 with Epic Destinations.

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2015 in Retrospect

It’s that time of year again to reflect on the year that was as a photographer: the lucky breaks, the missed opportunities, the long stretches of pulverizing boredom, the fleeting moments of ephemeral magic. That’s 2015, which is a pretty standard example of most years as a wildlife, travel, and nature photographer.

Looking over the choices of my personal favorites, I was somewhat surprised to see no verticals. I hope that’s not a trend and maybe it’s something to conciously consider as the calendar turns over to 2016. Aside from that, there are some very pleasant memories represented in these images. Good times. Good year. Enjoy.

 

Caption

“Cosmic Number 9” February 17, 2015. Inyo National Forest, California USA.

14 degrees Fahrenheit on a cold, still February night in the Eastern Sierra mountain range of California. The 4.5-hour exposure was almost worth being sick the following 3 days. Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF16-35 f/2.8L II USM @ 28mm, about 4 1/2 hours (15,861 seconds) @ f/3.2, ISO 100. © Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

 

Giraffes reflected in sunset light, Etosha National Park, Namibia

“Mirage” May 25, 2015. Giraffes reflected in sunset light, Etosha National Park, Namibia.

The group of giraffes approached the water hole with great deliberation and caution – as they usually do – but this time with perfect sunset light reflected in the water. The symmetry, balance, and separation between each of the animals is what elevated this frame over the others, especially the giraffe on the right with its head and neck arched in the opposite direction from the group. I then flipped the image upside-down to give viewer a bit of a visual puzzle to work out. Canon EOS 7D Mark II, Canon EF24-70mm f/4L IS USM @ 64mm, 1/800 second @ f/4, ISO 2000. © Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

 

Polar bears, Barter Island, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska USA

“Faraway Eyes” October 8, 2015. Polar bears on Barter Island, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska USA.

I knew that one of my polar bear images would make the favorites list for 2015, I just didn’t know which it would be. I suppose I eventually picked this one over the others because of the cub’s quizzical head posture and expression as our boat slowly backed away from the shoreline. Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM @ 371mm, 1/800 second @ f/4, ISO 1000. © Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

 

Gondolas parked for the night, Venice, Italy

“Venice Blues” July 26, 2015. Gondolas parked for the night, Venice, Italy.

Piazza San Marco in Venice is usually a raucous, crowded, noisy place. In the morning’s pre-dawn stillness, the only sound to be heard was the gentle rocking of the idle gondolas to the waves, which is captured as soft blurs in the long exposure. Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF EF16-35 f/4L USM @ 30mm, 13 seconds @ f/14, ISO 100. © Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

 

Light Break

“Light Break” June 14, 2015. A lone oryx crests the ridge of a dune, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia.

This image is all about fortuitous timing and LIGHT! Canon EOS 7D Mark II, Canon EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM w/1.4x extender @ 448mm, 1/160 second @ f/6.3, ISO 500. © Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

 

Sea stacks along Iceland's southern coast.

“Njord’s Temple” September 25, 2014. Sea stacks along Iceland’s southern coast.

Iceland’s Reynisdranger basalt sea stacks are formidable and impressive from almost any angle you view them, but from the side – the angle you see here – they appear other-worldly if not dangerous. Still, without the rim light on the foreground rocks, I would have never even bothered to lift the camera to the tripod. This is one of those rare images where I knew it would be a black and white interpretation at the time I captured it. Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF24-70mm f/4L IS USM @ 55mm, 1/80 second @ f/16, ISO 500. © Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

 

Last Stand

“Last Stand” November 14, 2015. Arches National Park, Utah USA.

The warm light on the dead juniper tree was so visually striking, especially against the shadow which was cast along the wall of Skyline Arch. I simply used the shadow’s edge as a frame to the tree while leaving out any of the sky, which is just out of the image frame along the top. Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF24-70mm f/4L IS USM @ 70mm, 1/80 second @ f/11, ISO 500. © Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

 

A family of African elephants takes a drink at the water hole is late afternoon. Etosha National Park, Namibia

“Generations” May 25, 2015. A family of African elephants takes a drink at the water hole is late afternoon. Etosha National Park, Namibia.

The title I gave this image, Generations, refers to the relative size and position of each elephant in the frame. Of course these elephants may not represent distinct “generations” but it’s a nice thought anyway. The light comes from a soft glow on the western horizon just after sunset. Canon 5D Mark III, Canon EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM @ 316mm, 1/500 second @ f/4, ISO 800. © Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

 

A shapely tree and spring reflections in the Little River, Great Smoky Mountians National Park, Tennessee USA

“Sang-froid” April 21, 2015. A shapely tree and spring reflections in the Little River, Great Smoky Mountians National Park, Tennessee USA.

While the tree was shaded by the mountain behind me, the river was getting some beautiful reflections from the illuminated forest on the other bank, giving the background a soft, lemony color wash. Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF70-200mm f/4L USM @ 126mm, 2 seconds @ f/20, ISO 100. © Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

 

The surreal landscape of Deadvlei, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia

“Dry Bones” June 14, 2015. The alien landscape of Deadvlei, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia.

A stark and surreal landscape, Deadvlei never fails to inspire with an amazing array of compositional options. The best time is just after the pan falls to shadow and the surrounding dunes are lit from the low-angled sun. Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF70-200mm f/4L USM @ 168mm, 1/8 second @ f/18, ISO 250. © Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

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Last Chance to See Northern Lights?

2016 might be the last best chance to catch the aurora borealis in a decade.

If seeing the aurora borealis (otherwise know as the northern lights in the northern hemisphere) is on your lifetime bucket list, then next year might be your last best chance to catch the eerie celestial display for quite some time. According to scientists, the current 11-year solar cycle is quickly winding down and next year could very well be the show’s final act for nearly a decade.

The auroras (both northern and southern) occur when highly-charged electrons from the solar wind interact with elemental gasses in the earth’s atmosphere. These particles stream away from the sun at speeds of about 1 million miles per hour and follow lines of magnetic force generated by the earth’s iron core, flowing through the magnetosphere, an area of highly-charged electrical and magnetic fields. Each atmospheric gas produces a distinct color: green is oxygen up to 150 miles, red is oxygen above 150 miles, blue is nitrogen to to 60 miles, purple is nitrogen above 60 miles.

The sun is now just past peak in its current 11-year period, Solar Cycle 24, meaning the number of solar flares and the electrons they produce will begin to wane until the next cycle begins. This winter might be the last best chance to catch the lights for a while. Here’s a good article on Yahoo Travel on the disappearing aurora.

Some of the most popular places around the world to see the aurora are Alaska, northern Canada, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland.

 

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