Exploring Ilulissat, Greenland (Part 3)

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After lunch on our arrival day we settled into our rooms (ie, we had a kip!), it was time to head to the conference room of the Arctic Hotel, meet our fellow photographers and listen to our guides give tips on safety, what to expect, camera settings and processing.

To be honest, none of us could wait to just get out on the boats and see for ourselves. Our group was truly international and had flown from all four corners to be on this trip. We thought our journey to Greenland had been a bit tricky to organise but we soon realised we were lucky! The guides were Daniel Kordan and Raymond Hoffmann from ‘Iceland Photo Tours’, themselves from Russia and Iceland respectively and top travel photographers. They were experienced, fantastically enthusiastic and understood exactly what we were looking for. They explained we’d be on two yachts, both were crewed by extremely experienced and veteran sailors who’d navigated much harsher and awkward seas than Disko Bay where we’d be all week. The Russian crew sail all over the world in both Arctic and Antarctic seas, taking guests to amazing places to see incredible sights. The main yacht (Rusarc Aurora) would be the one we’d spend most of our time aboard and the ‘prettier’, red sailed second vessel would offer support and photo opportunities.

Both boats are suitable for icy seas having specially adapted hulls to cope with most small ice collisions but we were warned that in particularly iceberg laden areas we would be told to sit down and get out of the Captains view clearly and abruptly. No ill feeling would be meant but they’d rather upset us than face a collision!

We then went for a delicious dinner and chatted to our new found friends and before we knew it, we were off for our first trip on the boats. To say we were excited is a bit of an understatement. Joking and laughing we were driven down to the harbour we’d seen earlier in what can only be described as a makeshift minibus. I think the guides called it ‘Black death’ due to its antiquity and, shall we politely say, DIY seating. We didn’t care, we were off to see icebergs up close and personal and fulfil a lifelong dream. The drive was all of 1.5km and took about 3 minutes in total.

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“Black Death” in all its unreliable glory!

 

We waited patiently as the “Rusarc Aurora” pulled up to the jetty and we clambered aboard for the first time. The Rusarc is a 60ft yacht and built for navigation rather than guest comfort but again, we had no problem with that. It was 9pm, the 16 guests fitted on board comfortably and we were wrapped up warm. The seemingly late start time offered us the best photographic opportunities as the sun sets and rises early in the morning (1am for setting and 2am for rising) in this place 69° North well into the Arctic Circle.

We sailed south-west towards the biggest bergs we could see in the distance. When we got there we were just simply blown away. The icebergs are every bit as beautiful, stunning, odd, awe inspiring and down right gorgeous as we’d expected. But better. It’s one of those moments where there just simply are no words. Photo’s don’t do them justice no matter how hard you try. Being there, up close, feeling the cold breeze on your face, the colours, the sounds, the majestic beauty, is just almost too much for the senses to take in.

Several times on this trip we all said we’d had moments where we were quiet, sailing on the tranquil dark sea, drinking in the whole place. The whole ‘feeling’. If it’s not too poetic of me, I just don’t think I’ve ever been to a place more serene, a place where I felt so insignificant and yet so alive. It’s purely majestic in so many ways and totally addictive.

The bergs in front of us were absolutely massive. Huge chunks of calved ice, already sculpted by the sea, the wind and the slow but inevitable melt. At odd times we heard massive, thunderous roars in the distance. This was the bergs all around us calving and turning as the elements slowly take their toll. It was exciting, calming and base level natural.

 

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The mammoth size of these things is simply awe inspiring. I knew they were big as I’d seen the reports in the news the same as everyone else but when you see them, totally dwarfing our large yacht, you get to understand the scale of the glaciers that spawned them. The colours, the variety of shapes and sizes, WOW! Imagine then, being in this place for the first time, in an almost dream-like state, marvelling at the sights before us when, totally out of nowhere, someone shouts “Whale!”. This place just doesn’t stop giving. There we were, in the middle of all these enormous bergs when in front of us fluke’s a Humpback whale. Not once but several times. We’d barely been on the water an hour. This took me over the edge and I’m not too proud to say that my attempts at photographing this gorgeous beast were not too successful. Hels was almost a gibbering wreck as whale’s are her ‘thing’, Humps her favourite.

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Reluctantly, we sailed away and left ‘our’ whale to its own world. The weather wasn’t particularly camera friendly but we didn’t care. I pressed the shutter hundreds of times, the sky looking moody and overcast but not heavy. Each turn, each 100 yards of travel revealed a new beauty. We wondered at the spectacle before us and breathed in the sumptuous land/seascape. The light changed before our eyes, remaining overcast but subtly altering its hue every few minutes.

We popped below deck a couple of times for some warming tea and biscuits but couldn’t stay away for long. We couldn’t see the views from down there and didn’t want to miss anything. We stayed out for hours before everyone started to droop. A mixture of the excitement, the cold, the (for some) travel lag and lateness of the hour meant we had to return to base. We disembarked at around 1:30am with virtually no sign of a sunset/rise but still buzzing about our first encounter with this magical world. We wearily headed for bed and a well earned sleep before our next exciting day in the Arctic.

 Me with Ian enjoying warming tea and shooting on deck

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Exploring Ilulissat, Greenland (Part 2)

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Epal Harpa, Reykjavik

 

Our trip began on the 1st Aug, very early in the morning. We’d booked an Easyjet flight to Reykjavik, Iceland from Luton taking off at 6:55am. In order to keep costs down, we didn’t stay overnight nearby so had to set off at stupid o’clock to make the flight. The Easyjet leg was the cheapest of our tour with no hand baggage limit on weight, so we patted ourselves on the back as we checked in, miraculously underweight for all our hold baggage (max 20kg).

We’d packed as if for a very cold snow holiday. Although the temperatures are not particularly icy at this time of year in West Greenland, they’re often still in single figures. We’d be sailing when the sun was very low and out on the water in the middle of an ice fjord! We layered up and packed our big goose-down overcoats just in case. We also packed hiking boots and lighter waterproofs to make sure we had everything covered.

Camera wise, I packed two bodies, a Canon 7D Mark ii and 5D Mark iv and the following lenses; Canon 70-200mm L f2.8,  Canon 24-70mm L f2.8, Canon 8-15mm L f4 (Fisheye), a 1.4x Canon teleconverter and Sigma Art 14mm f1.8. Manfrotto tripod with geared head and a Lee Filter set up (mainly for the polarising filter). With this kit, I felt I had everything covered. (I could have done without the fisheye but wanted to have a play. The rest of the kit was all used and proved to be very useful indeed).

Having a non-photographer travelling with us (Hels), meant we were able to spread the weight load of 2 people across 3 allowances, which was important for the 2nd leg (Air Iceland) of our journey! Air Iceland only allow 6kg weight limit on hand baggage, not easy for camera gear and requires careful packing!

We arrived at Reykjavik International Airport on time and proceeded to get a taxi to the city itself. Not the cheapest option but a convenient one (Keflavik is approximately 50km from Iceland’s main city).

As we’d a whole day to spare we decided to drop off our luggage at our overnight accommodation and head on out to explore the city. We’d plumped for a large B&B in the heart of the city that suited us perfectly. Accommodation gets booked up quickly during the summer months in Reykjavik so it pays to book early and shop around.

Reykjavik is a gorgeous, vibrant city, small enough to be friendly and personal but large enough to enjoy exploring. It manages to retain a genuine Icelandic culture whilst catering for most needs. It’s expensive but hey, it was nothing to what we were about to experience in Greenland. Our attitude when visiting this sort location is to save up beforehand and then not think about the cost of everything. It’s expensive comparatively, get over it and don’t spend your whole time moaning about it. It’ll spoil your trip. It’s a different culture, a different society that has different demands. It’s not a tourist rip-off, it’s the way it is, if you don’t like it, don’t go.

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We ate breakfast/lunch in a gorgeous cafe and wandered down to the waterfront to see the Epal Harpa, an architecturally unusual concert hall and then walked back up for the obligatory visit to Hallgrímskirkja, the modern but impressive Cathedral. We could have done much more but wanted to be fresh and ready for our expedition the following day so didn’t overdo it. The obligatory beer was in order though (to help us sleep!) so we stopped off at a street bar and watched the sun go down!

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We snatched an early night in preparation for our flight onto Ilulissat the following morning from Reykjavik’s Domestic Airport. This is thankfully almost in the city and only a very short cab ride away. By midday we were airborne and excited as we took off over the North Atlantic towards our final destination in a small, twin propped DASH.

The details of our itinerary:-

  1. 1st August – Easyjet flight from Luton to Reykjavik International (Keflavik)
  2. 1st August – Overnight in large B&B in Reykjavik
  3. 2nd August – Air Iceland flight from Reykjavik (Domestic) to Ilulissat
  4. 2nd/7th August – Arctic Hotel, Ilulissat
  5. 7th August – Air Iceland Ilulissat to Reykjavik (Domestic)
  6. 7th August – Overnight in large B&B in Reykjavik
  7. 8th August-  Easyjet from Reykjavik to Luton

Annoyingly the overnight stays in Reykjavik added to our costs but due to the flight times not coinciding, it was a necessary expense. However, the stop-over wasn’t wasted and formed part of the whole experience for us. All flights to Greenland are expensive and the only other option we had was to fly to Copenhagen and then to Greenland. Those flights still didn’t work time-wise for us and from the UK, would have been more expensive. Hand luggage on the Air Iceland flights are not only weight restricted but also a smaller size bag. Don’t try to beat this system as the overhead lockers are small and your bag won’t fit in them. The result, all your camera gear gets loaded into the hold!

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Rich boarding Dash 8-200, Reykjavik Domestic Airport

We had to watch the tickets for the Air Iceland leg as their website selected the cheapest fare. Nothing wrong with that but the different ticket types adjusted the luggage allowances quite dramatically so keep an eye out for that one!

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Note the small overhead lockers!

The flight itself was uneventful and relaxing and the views flying over Greenland (when we could see them through the cloud) were stunning and promised much. As we came in to land at Ilulissat, we could see Disko Bay and the ice fjord and to say we were getting excited is an understatement! We landed safely in light rain and proceeded to the little terminal to collect our luggage and hop onto the Hotel Arctic shuttle service.

Once we’d got into our rooms at the 4* Arctic Hotel, we went for a short walk around the grounds and down to the little (but packed) harbour before lunch. The rain had cleared providing us with gorgeous views. To say we were awe struck is an understatement. Our first steps on Greenland’s soil offered us views across Disko Bay and of real life icebergs. Proper, beautiful, sunlit icebergs! Wow!! We now couldn’t wait for our first day/night aboard our boat for the week…

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Ilulissat Harbour

 

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Igloo style pods available as rooms at the Arctic Hotel
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Exploring Ilulissat, Greenland (Part 1)

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Disko Bay, Ilulissat, Greenland

It’d been a lifetime’s ambition to photograph icebergs, a bucket list itch that was increasingly needing to be scratched. I’m not sure of the particular lure but I just wanted to be amongst them, breathe them, witness them and take a few shots before I died. It was just one of those things. They’re beautiful, awe-inspiring, natural and glaciers are declining fast, the bug was growing.

I’d started to hound my buddy, Ian, who’d also expressed an interest in coming with me. Not ones for a normal package tour, we decided to investigate getting there and hiring/chartering a boat to get us in amongst the ‘bergs. However, there were a couple of things stacked against us…

  1. Getting to and from Greenland isn’t as easy and as regular as most places (obviously)
  2. The cost involved meant we’d have to plan very carefully to get what we wanted

After nearly two years of saving and investigation (and, at times, trying to convince each other it was a silly idea) we’d decided Ilulissat, nearly halfway up Greenland’s west coast on Disko Bay, seemed to offer us the best ‘platform’ for year round icebergs and viewing opportunities. It’s accessible (relatively speaking), has a town of 4,500 people, a few Hotels/B&B/Rooms and a thriving harbour. Perfect for us.

Timing was important, we needed the sea to be navigable (not frozen) and be able to generally get around, however, we didn’t really fancy the height of summer given the increased cost of accommodation and everything else, including our perception of less boats available.

After much head scratching and costing the only real difficulty remained with a boat charter. This one was proving to be very difficult, the regular ‘cruises’ weren’t offering what we were after and expensive. Anything else very tricky to organise and, on the face of it, seemed prohibitively expensive.

During this period of head scratching, Ian emailed me a link to a photographic tour with Iceland Photo Tours along with the words, “not for us but shows the potential”. Along with their “Greenland – Midnight Sun” itinerary the link contained a beautiful video of Disko Bay and the photographic opportunity that existed there. When I looked at the pricing of their ‘tour’, which was for 24/7 daylight (in the height of summer) and included accommodation, breakfast and evening meal, boat charter for 5 days and an organised exploration of Disko Bay, the Icefjord and local settlements. It didn’t seem to be too bad cost-wise (comparatively speaking) and ticked many of our boxes sightseeing wise. I replied with, “Are you sure? Here are the numbers”, and pretty soon after, despite our desire to DIY our trip, we booked ourselves up! I must admit to a bit of soul-searching re the price but we convinced ourselves it was a once in a lifetime chance to get to see what we’d always wanted and dreamed of seeing.

Planning the trip, organising flights, baggage limits (for photographic equipment) and stop-overs to enable us to participate on the 6 day tour became our priority. Details of our itinerary and providers will follow in the next update but suffice to say, it took a bit of fun planning and researching. Always an exciting part of any trip away. Hels, my wife, took one look at the promo video and announced that she was coming along too as there was no way she was going to miss out (the link stated Humpback Whales were always around and in hindsight, this was inevitable!) It was brilliant news but of course, doubled the already eye-watering expense. Having taken out the appropriate second mortgage, we were set up and raring to go… My itch was about to be scratched!

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Sweet (Lady) Jane

                       Model: Lady Jane               Location: Wiltshire, UK

As Lou Reed said “Some people like to go out dancing, And other people, (like us) they gotta work”, Alex and I? We decided to work. Well…a bit, we messed about more but somehow we managed to get some shots in the bag and WOW, they are incredible.

Sometimes, things just come together and a shoot just, well, works. This human being is an awesome son of a gun and it was an absolute dream to meet and work with such a beautiful and talented person.

Alex (Lady Jane) is not only a stunning model, she can sing, write songs, perform and pretty much do anything she decided to turn her hand too. She’s creative, funny and incredibly easy to get along with. So, needless to say, the images we produced were way beyond my expectations and requirements. The fact I was only taking portraits and then converting them to black & white means I can also look forward to working with her in colour next!

As I said to her at the time, I could produce a book with just her in it! Ho hum, till next time and hopefully, many more shoots to follow…

 

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(R)in the house

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Model: Sinopa Rin                     Location: Wiltshire, UK

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of working with Sinopa Rin here in Wiltshire. I had long been an admirer of her work and messaged her to see if she would be willing to sit for some portraits for my black & white project.

A few messages and days later, she arrived at the station up the road for our shoot. After having been near licked to death by my lab we set about the task of creating some images.

As I expected, Rin was effortless, great fun to work with and we got loads of brilliant pics of her being…well….Rin I guess! (Which is kinda what I’m after).

The wonder of doing this project is that I get to meet so many amazing creative people and although it’s becoming a bit of cliche in the photographer/model world, cliches are cliches for a reason!

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Ezzie

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Model: Erin                   Location: Wiltshire, UK

One of the aspects I want to capture in this B&W portrait series is a kinda candid feel. That not all of the pictures are staged and posed. To be honest, for a model and photographer, these more ‘relaxed and natural’ shots are probably amongst the hardest to capture. It’s like setting up a video camera and being told to ‘walk normally down this road while we film you’. As soon as you think about how you walk ‘normally’, you can’t.

The reason I think, lies in the fact that you don’t think, you just do it. As soon as your conscious brain takes over, it becomes hard to be natural. It’s why most of us really struggle to act well or perform simple ‘natural’ poses when being photographed.

From a photographers perspective, the key to getting these shots is to create as relaxed a shoot as possible. However, for different sitters this will mean different things. What is relaxing and natural to me isn’t necessarily the same for your model. Judging and reacting to your sitters character, attitude and even mood during the shoot can be vital in achieving the results you want.

I have no idea how a model like Ezzie manages to make this look so easy. I know it takes a lot of hard work and I also know she sometimes mentally puts her mind in a situation that invokes the look she’s after. Beyond that I’ve no idea and just marvel and am in awe at the seeming ease she is able to transform from one look to another.

All that said, for me, shooting with Ezzie means none of the above applies. Over the couple of year’s we’ve worked together we’ve become friends and her full time job is an actress. We have to occasionally remember we have work to do and have to literally drag ourselves away from tea drinking, chattering and laughing in order to do some serious work!

These shots were achieved with one strobe/beauty dish and during a moment we were either taking the piss out of each other or performing our huge array of fake accents that always revert to Irish for some reason neither of us has yet fathomed!

The technicals are Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 24-70 II f2.8 L at 50mm, 1/160th sec, f5.6, ISO 100 for the top image and Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 24-70 II f2.8 L at 70mm, 1/160th sec, f5.6, ISO 100 for the bottom.

 

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Belle-Eve

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Model: Belle Eve               Location: Wiltshire, UK

The beautiful Belle Eve contacted me to see if I was interested in a shoot as she was ‘in my area’ on a tour. One look at her port and I jumped at the chance.

She arrived ready to go and we spent a few hours chatting, shooting, chatting and shooting some more. We tried different styles, we varied the lighting and I changed lenses throughout.

Eventually, when it came to editing, as I’m finding with many of these portrait shoots, the tricky bit is choosing which shots fit my own brief and work with the other images I already have.

This isn’t one of the chosen images but I love it all the same. I like Belle’s near smile and eye contact. A lovely image of a lovely model!

Shot using an LED continuous ring light on Canon 5D Mark IV, Sigma f1.4 85mm at 1/500th sec at f2.5, ISO 1600.

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