Ice gets up early
I’m not a morning person. “Grab hold of your attitude” I admonish myself, and try to remember the satisfaction of looking at the clock after a productive day and finding it’s only 11:00.
That prospect was paler than the predawn light when Ben’s cell phone beeped its excessively merry tune into the stuffy air of our three-bed room at the Gerði Guesthouse.
It didn’t take too long to remember where I was, and that if it was raining, I could go back to sleep. One step spanned the modest room and the photographic shrapnel of tripods, cases, and battery chargers in it. My sleep-soggy fingers parted the blinds to find…stillness. No rain, no falling snow, no car-tipping wind. Yet. The horizon was nearly identifiable above the gray Norwegian Sea, and the ground lay immaculate after an overnight snowstorm.
Fine then. Let’s go.
Getting up that early for something stupid like starting the dryer, letting the dogs out, or feeding one’s children, that’s difficult, but we had a more rewarding task at hand: photographing the hunks of glacial ice that lay on the black sand beach below Jökulsarlon, a short drive away.
It was still difficult to tell where exactly the sun would rise as my oversized boots pushed through the top snow into the volcanic sand below. Somewhere south. But I’d already decided where I would splay my tripod, so I tucked my chin to my chest and pushed into the Arctic wind.
On our first visit, the day before, the ice was gorgeous, but the flat light of afternoon did us no favors. Then it started raining. That evening we went back for sunset, but the punitive winds had coated everything in black grit, including the ice, the lenses, and our retinas. Now, before dawn, everything was snow-globed into softness by the storm, and even more than the wind, we struggled against high expectations for pink-lit ice as Arctic rollers frothed in the background.
The problem with Iceland is that it’s infested with photographers, and sunset had been a mad dash to get in front of everyone else and their DSLRs. Even before dawn we were just three more among the crowd, whose eyes flicked from their own camera settings to assess the value of competitors’ gear. My friend nudged me, “See that guy’s tripod? $7,000.”
I guess it’s time to admit something. “Before dawn”? Sunrise in Iceland in early March is about 8:30. teeheehee.
I set up. Thought better of it. Moved. Got chased off by a rogue wave. Again. Photographers are a restless sort, and the ocean is always a capricious neighbor. Nothing in my viewfinder matched my advance vision, and what might have been a good capture was ruined by a tripod-tipping gust of wind, but screw it, I was wandering a snow-caked beach in Iceland while the waves rocked the glacier’s chipped teeth; photos or no, I was having fun.
The vagaries of framing brought me into proximity with my two co-travelers, and it occurred to me that even better than waiting for the sun to rise would be to make a giant flat snowplate, throw it in the air, and all try to pelt it with snowballs before it shattered on the sand.
We were so close. All four times. Forthcoming frostbite forbade a fifth fling.
It wasn’t distraction, because we had six eyes on the job, but somehow the sun just sort of seeped past, smuggled above the horizon in an oceanic haze, and our pristine images never quite…crystallized. But that was okay, I had a few hundred exposures to choose from for this blog, a good time, and if we drove fast enough, we’d still be in time for breakfast back at the hotel.
And it wasn’t even 11:00 yet.