Anne Sterck, Women on the Road’s photographer, just visited Iceland with far more photographic gear than anyone should decently carry but as you’ll see below, it was worth every extra backache. Here, she shares a few words about Iceland’s ice caves – and with her photographs you can see them for yourself.
My adventure started at a desolate old garage on an exposed high road somewhere in south eastern Iceland. The scene reminded me of those artistic dilapidated 70s road trip pictures from the American Midwest, but bitterly cold.
Our guides efficiently loaded our group’s monstrous pile of photographic bags and tripods into an open pick-up truck while we rode in a serious but comfortable off-road vehicle for a slow crawl to the glacier caves over what seemed to be a totally unmarked track. Blowing snow added to the tension but gave relief to the black exposed moraine left by the retreating melting glaciers. The wind never let up. Combined with the snow, it added to the otherworldliness that is often used to explain Iceland to newcomers.
Before we reached ‘our’ cave I couldn’t help but notice some huge previous cave collapses outlined in the surface of the snowfield. It crossed my mind that travel has its risks.
Upon reaching our cave, the guides said it has been full of water just a few days before but everything had either frozen or dissipated down to the sea. I was pleased to have lugged my ice spikes in my camera bag because I was able to position myself, the camera and tripod wherever I wished.
Hard hats donned. So, what was it like?
Another world hardly begins to describe it. Gone were the incessant winds against which we struggled both physically and photographically, gone were the stinging ice pellets masquerading as snow but we faced a new challenge: being in the moment, taking in the feelings and eerie beauty while simultaneously trying to do it all justice in images. After the perfunctory first shots to get exposure, ISO and lens choices sorted, the madness starts. Get down low, shoot upwards, crawl to the lowest side walls to maximize the water-scalloped ceilings in your picture. The afternoon was overcast and the only light in the caves came through the thin ceilings (don’t dwell on this), the entrance and the strange boreholes up to the surface.
The cave was longer than I expected and every few yards the view changed. The furthest point of the cave held another surprise: nature’s shrine, a flamboyant excess, sapphire in all its glory, with animals and other shapes easily imagined in the fall of light. Touching the walls I was amazed at the depth of the ice before the colors and shapes began, the ice so clear that depth perception was easily fooled.
So would I do it again? Yes and yes again. No cave is the same, not to mention the challenge of the shot while trying to control your senses and yes, your fear. Iceland has a way of encouraging thoughts of parallel universes, the ethereal and the unexplained. Its pull is like a mermaid song that I need to experience again and again. I hope to return.
What every Woman on the Road should know
- If you get a chance to visit the incredible blue glacier caves of Iceland, don’t miss it: they are open only from November to March. And they get booked early. This isn’t mass tourism; groups are small and led by qualified guides. Don’t be tempted to visit on your own, as people have died in cave collapses.
- This particular ice cave shoot took place at Vatnajokull Glacier in the Breidamerkurjokull Region of southeastern Iceland. It was organized by Muench Photography Workshops and Iurie Belegurschi and was worth every penny and every sleepless moment chasing pictures.
- When you go, take a few moments just to experience your surroundings before getting into the photography.
- Use a tripod in the caves and don’t forget to use wide angle lenses and bracketing. Learn how to use manual controls on your camera and don’t waste this experience by trying to learn a new camera in the ice caves!
- Kahtoola Microspikes (affiliate link) saved my butt on many occasions in Iceland. Down jackets and pants are highly recommended for winter in Iceland. A warm hat, however silly looking is required, make sure it has a strap to keep it on your head. Walking boots always required.