Who wants to come to Iceland? / by Neil Alexander

Yours truly on the road to Landmannalaugar, Western Iceland

"They have two sayings in Iceland that became firmly implanted into my subconscious whilst I was there last year. The first is “if you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes” and the second is “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing”. Icelandic weather can be unpredictable at best and downright bonkers at its worst and I can safely say that I experienced this first hand on more than one occasion.

In September of last year, i was lucky enough to travel to Iceland with Elia Locardi, Ken Kaminesky and Patrick Di Fruscia for a week long photo tour of some of the more common, and less travelled photo opportunities. While the weather was far from ideal (isn’t it always?), the photo opps abounded. Iceland has long been at the top of my bucket list to visit and I can safely say that it didn’t disappoint.

Jökulsárlón, Iceland

While I’m happy to drive from Manchester to the Lakes, Skye or even Ibiza on my own, renting a 4x4 and getting lost on my lonesome half way up a glacier in a blizzard was not top of my list to do, at least not on my initial  visit to the place. I viewed this trip in two ways: first and foremost it was a fantastic opportunity to mix with some like-minded folk, see some amazing sh^t and make some photographs worth selling on my return. And secondly, in case the weather was not on our side, also as a scouting mission should I ever decide that I would like to go back again. That decision to return was made within minutes of my arrival in Reykjavik and spending a few minutes wandering round the city. Never have I felt less apprehensive walking round a strange land. In fact I felt more comfortable meandering around downtown Reykjavik than I do vast swathes of Manchester.

Once we left the relatively urbanised city and roamed further into the countryside, I found my jaw consistently wide open in disbelief at the views.
The scenery around the island is absolutely spectacular and there are more waterfalls than you can shake a stick at. As a famous photographer once said (I forget who. It might’ve been Jim Richardson) “If you want to take better pictures, stand in front of better stuff”. So here I was in front of some jaw-droppingly beautiful stuff and snapping away to my heart’s content.

Hrauneyjafoss, Iceland

Having participated in and led a few trips over the years, I can safely say that a good photo tour is like no other kind of trip. Many a tour guide or bus driver has been completely astonished at just how long us photographers can spend at one given location. The better guides quickly learn that we can’t be rushed. The sun will rise or set in it’s own good time and we’re done when we’re done.  The best guides are the ones that know which waterfalls will be in the shadows during the day, where the best spots are for the dramatic glacial sunrise shots and are more than happy to drag themselves from their bed at daft o’clock in the morning, feed us endless coffee and transport us to some remote location, all in high spirits and in plenty of time for the sun to rise. Siggi, who will be our driver and guide for both the Iceland tours, were there an award for the guide with the nicest manners, best yarns, outstanding local knowledge, understanding of photographers’ needs and generally all round thoroughly entertaining fellow, would take first prize hands down. 

The Sun Voyager scultpure at sunrise in Rekyavik

For me, the other great selling point of dedicated photo tours is the ability to spend hours and hours discussing the minutiae of ball heads, chromatic aberration and the finer points of the Wacom tablet range with others who are genuinely interested. Most of us photographers work away in our own little bubble with few if any opportunities just to chew the photographic cud and slate Adobe for their latest DNG conversion problems. One of the worst aspects of grafting away in your own little world is when the wheels come off. The life of an artist is such that we are seldom entirely happy with our output. It’s not often that everything turns out as good as we’d hoped. In fact, often, everything we do sucks and I’ve had more than one of my own “What on earth ever possessed me to think I could be a good photographer anyway?” moments. My last real “crash” was whilst in Iceland. 

It was late one evening after dinner in a hotel not far from Jökulsárlón. Dinner had been cleared away and the aurora was to be a non-starter that night, so the laptops came out and the group most dutifully got  stuck into some editing and I did likewise. I did a quick cull and then picked a couple that I was going to work on further. I could only really find two images from several days shooting that I felt were even remotely worth the effort. I went back through my images in Lightroom thinking that surely I must have better images than this. But I couldn’t find any. It was at this point that my mind started to crash. Unable to comprehend just how crap my images were, I went wandering round the other guys’ screens in the vain hope that they were having the same crisis I was. It wasn’t to be. One guy in particular that I’d been stood right next to at sunset had images that blew my mind, and I had, well nothing. We’d practically been shoulder to shoulder, yet his images were a million times better than mine. I could practically feel myself deflating right there. Sinking deep into a gloom, I poured myself another glass of wine, and then another. It was at this low low point, that I decided I needed some help. 

Shooting icebergs on Jokulsarlon beach

Fortunately the organisers were there for me. Patrick spent a few minutes pouring over my images and then ran a couple through Lightroom’s develop module and presented me with the results. My mood lifted, a little as he helped me see what I’d missed. Astutely realising that his work was not quite over, Patrick suggested we ditch the laptops and just chat. Which we did, for hours. About vision, process, business, the whole 9. Save to say that I went to bed much later than planned but feeling a whole lot better about my work and with a renewed determination to make the most of the rest of the trip and get the images I wanted to come home with. It wasn’t quite a life changing moment but it certainly saved me from myself and the rest of the trip was met with considerably more enthusiasm and I’m pleased to say, better results! 

And now here I am preparing to return. And this time in a position to impart my own knowledge and wisdom and help others with their own wobbles. The trip starts in Reykjavik on the 29th February 2016 and for the meagre price of around £3,000 you get to spend 11 days photographing one of the most incredible landscapes on the planet, the opportunity to chew the photographic fat with like minds and hone your own photographic skills. It’s going to be incredible! But hurry, seats are filling fast. You can find more details here - http://issuu.com/guildphototours/docs/iceland_11_day_guildphototour

Jökulsárlón, Iceland

Oh, and the trip is not limited to just Guild members. If you’re not a member, don’t worry. You can come too. 

If you've any questions, then please don't hesitate to contact me either in the comments below or by email at neil@neilalexander.net. To secure your place, contact lesley@guildphototours.com.