Bonita & Estero Magazine - - FEATURES - STORY & PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY GLENN V. OS­TLE

Writer and pho­tog­ra­pher Glenn V. Os­tle trav­els to Ice­land in win­ter to cap­ture its frozen beauty through his lens. From icy rivers and wa­ter­falls to danc­ing skies, this Euro­pean is­land na­tion sur­prises with its own ver­sion of win­ter won­der­land.

When it comes to cre­at­ing breath­tak­ing works of art, it is hard to beat Mother Na­ture. And few places are more proof of that than the tiny is­land coun­try of Ice­land.

When my part­ner, Pam, and I told our friends that we were off to photograph on an is­land, we could see the envy in their eyes as they en­vi­sioned us es­cap­ing the cold winds of February, to a place with sun, sand and drinks with tiny um­brel­las. But when we said the is­land was Ice­land and tem­per­a­tures would hover well be­low freez­ing most days, we could see them men­tally re­vis­ing their opin­ion of our de­ci­sion.

As pho­tog­ra­phers, our pref­er­ence has al­ways been for sub­jects that are un­der wa­ter or in the wild. We had never given much thought to pho­tograph­ing land­scapes in Ice­land, and cer­tainly not in win­ter. But as we had a trip to Scan­di­navia planned, we thought a halfway stop would make sense, so we signed on for a 10-day photo work­shop to visit some of Ice­land’s most spec­tac­u­lar nat­u­ral won­ders.

Si­t­u­ated in the mid­dle of the At­lantic just be­low the Arc­tic Cir­cle, Ice­land strad­dles a ma­jor seam be­tween the Euro­pean and North Amer­i­can tec­tonic plates. The size of Ohio, it is the sec­ond-largest is­land in Europe af­ter Bri­tain, yet has only about 345,000 peo­ple, many of whom are de­scen­dants of Norse­men and Vik­ings who came to the is­land be­gin­ning around A.D. 800.

Get­ting There

Af­ter a quick five-hour flight on Ice­landair from Washington Dulles, we landed in the cap­i­tal of Reyk­javík, a so­phis­ti­cated city founded in A.D. 874 and home to about two-thirds of the en­tire coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion. It has an ac­tive nightlife, and dis­plays a wealth of lit­er­a­ture, mu­sic and art based heav­ily on the coun­try’s Nordic roots, re­plete with myths of elves, ghosts and trolls.

Reyk­javík is also con­ve­niently si­t­u­ated on the south­west­ern coast, within close reach of some of Ice­land’s most spec­tac­u­lar nat­u­ral sights. One of the most pop­u­lar is the 186-mile Golden Cir­cle drive that fea­tures the im­pres­sive Gull­foss wa­ter­fall.

Dur­ing din­ner our first night, we met our fel­low pho­tog­ra­phers—an in­ter­na­tional bunch hail­ing from places in­clud­ing Sin­ga­pore, Tai­wan, France and Is­rael as well as the United States—and met our tour guide, Skarpi Thrains­son. He owns Arc­tic Exposures, which spe­cial­izes in pho­to­graphic tours.

Skarpi, an ex­cep­tional pho­tog­ra­pher in his own right, pro­vided an over­view of the trip. It would be­gin with us leav­ing early the fol­low­ing morn­ing and trav­el­ing east along the coast­line Ring Road, even­tu­ally cir­cling the is­land in a coun­ter­clock­wise fash­ion. He said we had come to Ice­land at an ex­cel­lent time be­cause win­ter was one of the best times t o photograph—as long as we were up to the chal­lenges.

Al­though Ice­land’s sum­mer attractions are many, from glo­ri­ous wa­ter­falls to cute-as-a-but­ton puffins nest­ing and feed­ing along high cliffs, the ad­di­tion of snow brings a new di­men­sion to the land. Vis­tas that can ap­pear muted dur­ing sum­mer, in win­ter are trimmed in white—as if by an artist’s brush—as snow set­tles in nooks and cran­nies of the soar­ing moun­tains and cov­ers homes with a thick blan­ket.

One dis­tinct chal­lenge to pho­tograph­ing in win­ter is the cold. It means heavy, wa­ter­proof cloth­ing, spiked cram­pons for walk­ing on slick ice, and gloves that must keep hands from freez­ing while be­ing flex­i­ble enough to work cam­era con­trols. To deal with icy con­di­tions, we would travel aboard a spe­cially de­signed off-road ve­hi­cle. Upon see­ing it the first time, with its 46-inch stud­ded tires and beefy, jacked-up car­riage ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing 17 pho­tog­ra­phers and their gear, the group quickly dubbed it the “Vik­ing­mo­bile.”

We quickly dis­cov­ered how un­pre­dictable Ice­land’s win­ter can be. Some roads were un­ex­pect­edly closed, and high winds and icy con­di­tions oc­ca­sion­ally pre­vented us from get­ting to some sites. But we per­se­vered and, as Skarpi promised, the re­wards were worth it: Ev­ery bend in the road seemed to re­veal an­other breath­tak­ing land­scape cry­ing out to be pho­tographed.

Snow-capped moun­tains seemed to sur­round the en­tire coun­try, fram­ing a pal­ette of stun­ning wa­ter­falls, vast glaciers, ice cav­erns, and high fiords where cliffs tower over the Nor­we­gian Sea. In con­trast, other parts of Ice­land bub­ble with geo­ther­mal ac­tiv­ity, com­plete with vol­ca­noes, gey­sers, steam­ing hot springs, lava fields, and rock vents that spew su­per­heated steam. It is easy to un­der­stand why Ice­land is of­ten de­scribed as a coun­try of fire and ice.

A Rough Start

Our first stop turned out to be in­aus­pi­cious and gave us a taste of the type of weather we could ex­pect. As we car­ried our gear down to Reyn­is­f­jara Black Sand Beach to photograph basalt col­umns that rise from the ocean like sen­tries just off shore, the weather turned ugly. In the face of quickly wors­en­ing con­di­tions, our group de­cided to call it a day and re­turned to the ve­hi­cle in a some­what sub­dued mood.

The iconic black church known as Búðakirkja, lo­cated on the south coast of Ice­land’s Snæfell­snes Penin­sula. Be­low: Wa­ter from the Skjál­fandafljót River cas­cades down 40 feet over the 100-foot-wide Goðafoss wa­ter­fall, or “wa­ter­fall of the gods.”

Tour guide Skarpi Thrains­son hikes up Sví­nafell­sjökull glacier, which serves as “north of the wall” in the T V series Game­ofThrones.

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