Back in September I made a once in a lifetime trip to Iceland. This was a dream of my wife’s for a very long time and at first, I was somewhat reluctant as I prefer the warmer climates, but it can’t be all about me all the time. Even though I say ‘once in a lifetime’ because it is a trip that is on many people’s bucket list, I would go back in a heartbeat. There is so much to share about this trip – the planning and packing, things remembered and things forgotten, and of course the trip itself, so I decided to break it up into two blog posts. Planning and packing, and the trip itself.
Part One: Planning and Packing.
Since I was not going on my own, this was not going to be a photo excursion. This was a shared experience with someone whom I was not going to inflict the need to wait hours on end to get that “perfect shot”. That said, my wife was very patient and generous, allowing me a great deal of time to hike around with my tripod and Lee filter ND set to get different views of waterfalls and landscapes as she explored on her own. So in my planning and packing I wanted to take the smallest camera system I own, a few lenses, and various accessories that would fit in my allowed carry-on. My tripod I knew would fit in my checked luggage as I have a small travel tripod. This would be snuggled in with my clothes, which included various layers. I know from my past travels it is all about the layers, and three jackets for all types of weather.
I booked our flight with Air Iceland as I wanted a direct flight because I hate layovers, and worst of all, missed connections, not to mention that we didn’t want to waste any time in getting there. There seemed to be several direct flights from Vancouver to Keflavic, (the international airport for Rekjavic) to chose from so that was no problem, the real decision was how long to stay. We decided on 13 days as we would lose a day flying. It’s not that the flight was that long, only seven hours, but when flying against the direction of the sun you have to consider the several time zones you pass through. So with our start and end dates decided, we started planning. Well we, or really my wife, had started planning much earlier when we first decided we were going to go. But now we could start mapping out our trip and booking the key excursions we wanted to do, like kayaking in the glacier lagoon, whale watching, and of course the foodie tour of Rekjavic. We also knew we wanted to rent a campervan. There are lots of campervan companies to choose from, with different sizes and layouts. Since we were not going in the summer we wanted something we could sit in and eat our meals if it was raining outside. We booked one soon after, as it seemed the choices were getting fewer every day. Then a deal came up so we grabbed it. A bit bigger than what we originally planned, but with the sale price I figured it would cover the extra gas it might need.
The next step was the itinerary. We started watching a few YouTube blogs and looking at various online maps trying to figure out how much we could see in the period of time we chose. This is when we stared to think 13 days was not enough to see it all. But Iceland is not a cheap travel destination as we were soon to find out, and we had to work within this time frame. The question now was do we head north or south after Rekjavic.
Rather than bore you with the minute tales of our planning, and the occasional argument at 11pm as we tried to plan through tired eyes, I’ll say that we decided to head south as it made the most sense for where we wanted to go, and I knew that once there, there would be days where we might scrap our plans and take off in a different direction. Now with our itinerary laid out, we got to the the business of pre-packing, which translates to buying stuff for the trip.
The rest of this blog is going to be tempered with a fair bit of hindsight, as I always over pack and have clothes and equipment I don’t use, or worse, forget and leave behind.
Clothes: Now, we were going to be travelling in September, so not summer, but not the worst of winter. We had a look at the weather reports a couple of weeks ahead of leaving and it said it was going to rain every day we were there, or to be more accurate the rain was going to follow us as we travelled. Lucky for us that was not the case but we packed like it might. One of the first things I did was go out and buy a good waterproof jacket. We knew the weather could be wet and cold, two things I hate being, so I invested in a good rain jacket that would keep me dry and warm. The second thing was to pick up a packable down jacket, as I knew the space in my suitcase was going to be tight. Pretty much the rest of my clothing list I had already, a light jacket, a couple of sweaters, casual wear and one nicer thing to wear if we went out to a better restaurant, etc. We knew we would do a fair bit of walking and we wanted to go hiking, so waterproof shoes for walking around the city were a must, as well as my best hiking boots, which I wore on the plane to save space in my suitcase, along with a sweater, jacket ,and a couple extra layers clothing. These all ended up under the seat as I began to overheat. One thing I wish I had brought instead of all the clothes that I would not end up wearing, was a second set of gloves. Even though we were to get some wonderful weather, hiking to some of the waterfalls the temperature dropped rapidly or began to rain and having a lighter pair and one a bit thicker and water resistant would have been perfect. Having a couple toques would also be a good idea. That, I got right at least.
Ok, now on to the fun stuff – camera gear.
So when you think of the amazing photos of Iceland, three things mostly come to mind – waterfalls, the Aurora Borealis, and volcanoes. So to do a decent job of photographing these you you will need a good travel tripod. I brought my SIRUI A-1005 tripod kit with ball head. It is small, folds up on itself and holds a fair bit of weight. It extends to a decent height and packs up quickly, great for when I needed to move to another location or to photograph a waterfall from a different angle. It is also small and light enough to easily pack around the crowded walkways leading up to the waterfalls, and most importantly fits perfectly in my suitcase without taking up too much space! (The SIRUI A-1005 kit is a tripod kit we don’t stock at Beau Photo but I can order it in for you, otherwise the SIRUI ET-1004 kit is also a great choice).
My Camera: I knew I wanted to travel as light as possible, so I brought my Fujifilm X-T30 (now replaced by the Fujifilm X-T30II). I didn’t want to pack my DSLR and larger lenses, but I did see many photographers walking/hiking around with them, and some with impressive longer lenses. There was even one guy in a tour group with his Blackmagic camera. The lenses I brought were a mix of primes and zooms. I tried to use mostly the prime lenses, but the compact tele-zoom XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS fit in my bag and my budget. The primes I brought with me were the XF 16mm f.1.4, the XF 27mm f/ 2.8R WR , XF 35mmF1.4 R and the XF56mmF1.2 R APD. I can tell you now that the XF 16mm f.1.4 lived for the most part on my camera, except when I needed a longer lens, like when we went whale watching. Near the end of our trip I began to challenge myself to use each lens on a different day. The XF56mmF1.2 R APD is a very unique lens and I was hoping to do more portraits, but as it turned out that did not happen. Not that you can’t use this lens for other types of photography quite effectively, it just makes a beautiful portrait lens. I wanted to take lots of camera batteries, and you will too. I knew the cold weather can greatly tax the battery life and my wife was going to use my older Fujifilm X-T10, plus I didn’t know how often I would have access to electricity so I made sure all six of my batteries were fully charged and ready to go. I also have a Hahnel Pro Cube Dual Charger so that was on my list to pack, along with my international travel adapter.
More Camera gear: I knew it could be wet, as the forecast was for rain more on than off for most days. What I didn’t know at the time was how soaked you can get from the waterfalls, especially when the wind changes direction. I purchased a Think Tank Emergency Rain Cover – Small. These are not as big, nor robust as the Think Tank Hydrophobia, but since I was bringing a small camera and planning to use it only occasionally, it would be perfect for my needs. I also picked up a few extra SD cards with higher capacity. I definitely did not want to run out of memory. I decided to bring along an action camera as well. I had a GoPro a long time ago but had purchased a Safari5 4k action camera to replace it, as I didn’t use it very often and it fit my budget.
I also wanted to test out the LEE Filters 85 Aspire drop in filter kit. This would pair up very nicely with my Fujifilm camera and lenses. The LEE 85 system is more compact than the 100 system, and designed for smaller mirrorless cameras. This kit includes a LEE 85 Holder, LEE 0.6 Neutral Density Graduated Medium, LEE 0.9 Neutral Density Graduated Medium, LEE Big Stopper (10 stops) , 72mm, 67mm, and 58mm adapter rings. I also picked up a 65mm adapter for one of my other lenses, as well as a step-up ring. I knew a kit like this would be ideal to help me create the images I wanted to make, with long exposures and balancing the contrast in the sky with the brightness of the waterfalls. (See photos in the next blog instalment!)
So with with my clothes, tripod, cameras, and camera accessories packed, I started filling up my suitcase with things I may or may not need, like a flashlight (very useful), a deck of cards (for late night card games), and a bunch of stuff I can’t even remember now (not useful). Also I brought with me a book for the flight over and leisurely nights at the campsite (which turns out, there would be none). In one of the YouTube videos we watched before we left, it suggested a book “The Sagas of Icelanders” to understand a bit about the psyche of today’s Icelanders. It’s available from Indigo and Amazon. This is a much bigger book than I expected and it would just fit in my one personal bag. One thing I do recommend you do before you go, especially if you don’t have time to read the book is watch “Eurovision Song contest: The Story of Fire Saga”. This Netflix movie, which besides being hilarious, gives you a glimpse into Iceland’s beautiful landscape and their relationship with the Eurovision song contest. It has many “Ugh huh” moments that are revealed once you go, and might even be the start of you falling in love with Husavik! https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8580274/
Now it is the night before our flight. My suitcase packed, carry on packed and one personal bag packed. What I know now, which I should have done then, is go through a check-list of the most important items to bring. This would have avoided something I left behind.
Part two: ‘The Journey to Iceland’ coming soon.