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Photos from Iceland - Land of Fire and Ice - North Europe Landscape Photography

Iceland; an amazing country, the second largest island in Europe 103,000 square kilometres in area, but part of two continents; formed at the junction of the Eurasian and North American plates. A country where over 10% of the land is covered by ice and 50% is volcanic lava and wasteland, where only 1% is cultivated and 20% is used for grazing. It is no surprise then, that with the population of a medium sized city (280,000) and a huge area to look after, that Iceland is one of the most expensive countries in the world.

It may be expensive but this is more than made up for by the dramatic scenery, flora and fauna. At the heart of the island is the almost uninhabited centre made up of permanent icecaps and volcanic mountains, hot springs and other volcanic features; where glaciers flow away from the icecaps (jokulls) and melt, mighty waterfalls plunge into steep gorges below. Smaller waterfalls cascade at regular intervals down winding river valleys towards the sea. It is something of a surprise to photograph sites like Dettifoss and find yourself totally alone, once the few tourists have left in mid afternoon, to gaze in awe and wonder at the power of this mighty waterfall, the largest in Europe, even more incredible to stand at the edge of the chasm with no barrier to protect the visitor from the raging torrent as it gushes over the edge of the fall.

Iceland is famed for its volcanoes and volcanic activity and rewarded with spectacular photos. Hekla, Heimaey, Surtsey and Krafla have made their mark in the last century but it is perhaps Laki that has gained the most notoriety when in 1783 gases from the eruption swept across Europe killing tens of thousands of unsuspecting citizens with the lethal gas that billowed from its vents. Today many of these volcanoes lie extinct or dormant but it is only a matter of time before subterranean movements stir life into them once again. For the photographer who passes by or takes makes the journey to stand on their slopes to made a photo, it engenders a feeling of trepidation and fascination to see geysers erupt, mud pools boil and steam and smell the pungent aroma of sulphur as it permeates the air in all directions.

Although the island is so large, travel is not easy. The one main road circumnavigates the island, whilst for the more adventurous traveller, a couple of others traverse the deserted  centre, but this is strictly for the determined and well-prepared with four wheel drive. However, to make the journey around the island gives more than a fair share of adventure and excitement. The thermal area at Geysir is a detour well worth making, and although the great Geyser itself no longer erupts, Strokkur performs frequently and the steaming turquoise pools and colourful mineral deposits complement this. Not far away Gullfoss (the golden falls) is a magnificent spectacle. One should also remember Iceland’s history and culture as the world’s first parliament was established at Pingvellir in this southwest corner of the island.

Travelling clockwise around the island other waterfalls such as Skogarfoss are easily accessible and worthy of a visit, whilst the black sands and stacks on the shore at Vik are a contrast to the red grasses of the Myrdalssandur. Eventually one approaches the majestic Vatnajokull and Skaftafell national park with dozens of glaciers flowing towards the sea and breathtaking views of glaciated valleys covered by carpets of flowers, unique scenery for the natural photography.  At Jokulsarlon icebergs slowly melt waiting their turn to flow out of the lagoon into the sea beyond. The Lon Lagoon provides wonderful reflections of the mountainous coastline and the deserted coastline. Here also, Whooper swans congregate and breed in their thousands.

Turning north into the Eastern fjords the scenery changes dramatically around every bend and the decline in the area over past years can be seen in the number of old farmsteads that have been abandoned in favour of more modern dwellings. A detour to Seydisfjorder is also worthwhile to see the pleasant valley with its many pretty waterfalls and pools filled with cotton grass. The picturesque town was once the home of Norwegian Herring fishermen who brought their own houses with them and erected them in situ.

More impressive volcanic features are to be seen in the Lake Myvatn region as well as the spectacular waterfalls and canyons in the Jokulsargljufur National Park to the northeast. Mention should also be made of the little churches here and dotted around the rest of the island; some old and built in the traditional timber style with possibly a turf roof for insulation and modern, angular buildings standing out confidently against the rounded hills and mountains. These also remind us of the religious beliefs of the Icelanders who must have believed they lived at the gates of hell.

The Snaefellsnes Peninsula in the west of the island juts out into the Atlantic is complete with its own icecap and  jagged basalt coastline. Huge colonies of kittiwakes cling tenaciously to their rocky nests and Arctic terns hang majestically on ocean winds while defending their nests ferociously from enemies both large and small. Meanwhile the ocean ebbs and flows shaping the volcanic coastline; attacking and sculpting the lava flows to form arches, stacks and coves in an ongoing process of change.

Before one returns home with his photographs there is time to discover the picturesque capital with its painted wooden houses and finally to chill out in the therapeutic waters of the famous Blue lagoon