Image Building (the old fashioned way)

Gary Hart Photography: Sun and Surf, Dyrhólaey, Iceland

Sun and Surf, Dyrhólaey, Iceland
Sony a7R V
Sony 24-105 f/4 G
ISO 100
1/20 second

Today it’s possible to open an app on your computer, type in a few descriptive terms, and faster than you can take a sip of coffee your very own beautiful image will appear. No frozen extremities, missed meals, or sleep deprivation required. What could possibly be better than that?

I’ll tell you what’s better: the frozen extremities, missed meals, and sleep deprivation necessary to witness Nature at its best, and to remind me that the best things in life are even better when a little sacrifice is involved. There’s simply no substitute for the multi-sensory opportunity to worship with nature—coming away with a beautiful image is just icing on the cake of the experience of simply being there.

Icing this winter morning’s cake involved more than a little effort, as well as a good degree of physical discomfort. Dyrhólaey, on Iceland’s South Coast, has a network of short but steep trails leading to broad vistas of rugged lava cliffs, a long black sand beach, several sea stacks (including distant Reynisdrangar), and lots of open sea. (It’s also the location of a truly epic aurora show about 10 days earlier, but that’s a different story.)

Since this was a week or so into a workshop (the second of two Iceland workshops Don Smith and I did this past January), and Dyrhólaey is so spread out, after the brief location orientation everyone had scattered quickly to search out their own scene, leaving me to my own devices. Iceland’s interminable gray winter twilight was already underway when we arrived, but actual sunrise was still an hour away, so there was no real rush.

This morning’s temperature (F) and wind (MPH) were both in the teens, but I was bolstered by multiple layers covering virtually every square inch of delicate California skin. Not immediately drawn to any one scene, I was quite content to wander the trails, taking in the view. On my travels I connected with as many in the group as possible, keeping my eyes open for potential images along the way. Eventually I found myself atop the highest point, enjoying a bird’s eye view of the violent surf’s relentless pounding. I stood there at least 15 minutes, completely mesmerized by waves arriving from all possible directions, each one reacting to the rocks a little differently than the waves preceding it.

This surf was on a different scale than anything I’d seen in California or Hawaii—more violent, and clearly more determined to punish anything in its path. Each wave exploded impressively onto the rocks, but occasionally just the right combination of size and direction resulted in a nuclear explosion that mushroomed far enough skyward to obscure some of the sky.

While the sky lacked clouds to add visual interest and catch sunrise color, I recognized the potential for a sunstar when the sun finally crested the horizon. With this thought in mind, I managed to pull myself away from my perch and move along the cliff’s edge, identifying and organizing the various elements for a possible composition.

I knew the sun would be the strongest background element, and decided that putting it on the right of my frame would provide the best foreground. Widening my frame to 27mm allowed me to balance the sun with Reynisdrangar (the 3 sea stacks in the distance). With that framework in place, I moved around looking for the best combination of close foreground that would also allow me to include the large rock with the greatest potential for a big wave. Since the sky wasn’t especially compelling, and I really liked the surf and rocks below me, I minimized the sky in favor of the much more interesting foreground.

Hoping for a sunstar, I stopped down to f/20, which had the added benefit of extra depth of field cushion. I focused on the large grassy patch. With my composition in place, I just stood back and waited for big waves, clicking each time one reached its apex. The biggest waves were few and far between, but I crossed my fingers for one to land while the sun was still on the horizon.

Turns out I got one really big wave—not the biggest I’d seen, but big enough. And as you can see, haze on the horizon meant the sunstar never materialized, but it also kept the sun from washing out the sky’s rich gold sunrise hues. (I actually think I like it better without the sunstar, which might have overpowered the rest of the scene.)

This is probably not a picture that will make me rich, but I like it not only for whatever aesthetic value it might possess, but also for the reminder of this beautiful Iceland morning, the sacrifices we nature photographers make in pursuit of our passion, and for the way my effort to assemble the scene’s disparate elements into a coherent scene actually came together (never a sure thing).

Assembly Required

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4 Comments on “Image Building (the old fashioned way)

  1. Wonderful image, and story, Gary. I take pictures to remind me of the experiences that were behind the images. Be well, Mark

  2. Pingback: Image Building (the old fashioned way) - OnlineWallpapers

  3. Thanks Gary. Inspiring image and true words. Sounds like a wonderful day.

  4. Pingback: Image Building (the old fashioned way) - Photography

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