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Marvel over these breathtaking photos of the Geldingadalur volcano in Iceland, and find out how you can take similar pictures yourself!
Once again, Iceland has gripped the world’s attention with its most recent volcanic event! On March 19th, 2021 - for the first time since 2015 - the landscapes opened into a vast ravine of gleaming lava and a spectacular array of frothing, fiery craters.
The eruption at Geldingadalur, however, is unlike any other recent eruption in the country due to its proximity to Reykjavik. While Holuhraun went off in the middle of the Icelandic Highlands, and Grimsvotn and Eyjafjallajokull exploded beneath enormous glaciers, Geldingadalur is happening on the Reykjanes Peninsula, the stretch of land that connects the capital with Keflavik International Airport.
As such, it has never been easier to witness and photograph a volcano erupting in Iceland!
Many have grabbed hold of this opportunity already. Youtube is filling up with breathtaking aerial footage from those with drones; anyone that has friends in Iceland will see their Facebook feeds enlivened with images from their visits; and within this article, you’ll be presented with a range of photographs by Iurie Bergurschi that you’ll barely believe are real.
Some individuals, however, have arrived with high hopes of a portfolio defining opportunity, only to find their footage and images unable to capture the majesty of this incredible event.
So how do you get the best photographs of Geldingadalur volcano? Are there any key tips that will drastically improve your images, and what regulations must you follow when on your shoot? Furthermore, what equipment is recommended for volcano photography in Iceland? Continue reading for a comprehensive look at the Geldingadalur eruption in Iceland and how to shoot it.
Before getting into the technical tips regarding photographing the eruption at Geldingadalur, it is important to look at the volcano in the wider terms of landscape photography in Iceland. After all, although it is a very unique phenomenon, many of the tricks that apply to shooting other parts of the country’s nature still apply to Geldingadalur.
The first main considerations for photographers before going on any shoot in Iceland are the time of the year and the time of the day. This is due to the dramatic differences between the seasons here. Throughout summer, the nights are illuminated by the phenomenon of the Midnight Sun, meaning you will have plenty of light for 24 hours and a ‘Golden Hour’ of photography that runs from evening to morning.
Throughout winter, meanwhile, the days are short and dim with the sun hovering just above the horizon; optimal shoots thus occur around noon. It is possible, however, to get some incredible photographs at night due to the brilliance of the elusive aurora borealis.
Geldingadalur’s eruption has occurred towards the end of winter, which should mean the best of both worlds; the vivid light coming from the eruption, however, makes it impossible to shoot with auroras as a backdrop, as it completely outshines them. This means that many photographers pray that the eruption continues well into the summer when it will be much easier to access and the opportunities to shoot it will be extended for many more hours.
Now, however, is still a great time of year to visit, as the days are getting ever longer; skilled shutterbugs will also be able to take some striking images of it at night.
A second thing photographers to Iceland must consider before going out on any shoot is the weather. There is a local saying that if you don’t like the weather in Iceland, wait five minutes, and in the windswept, abandoned valleys of the Reykjanes Peninsula, this can be incredibly apparent.
As such, you’ll need to prepare for all eventualities. The cold of Iceland’s climate, for example, can quickly drain the life of even fully charged batteries, so be sure to bring spares; the rain can be torrential, so waterproof protective gear is highly recommended; and the winds can be sudden and strong, so tripods should used with caution and never left unattended.
Finally, you must be aware of the landscapes you are going to, not just so you can dress accordingly, but so you can guarantee the best compositions in your images. Do you want to shoot Geldingadalur against a field of snow, and highlight the stark binary that defines the Land of Ice and Fire? Or would you prefer photographs that incorporate the green moss that coats the surrounding lava, and contrast between the vibrant life on the earth’s surface and the deadly forces that churn just beneath?
All of these considerations are essential when planning your photography trip to Geldingadalur, both in the weeks and the hours leading up to it.
With a half-decent camera phone and a minimal knowledge of photography, you’ll be able to take images that encapsulate the beauty of Geldingadalur’s eruption that are certainly impressive enough for social media. With a quality DSLR/mirrorless camera, a drone, and a background in the art form, however, your images will seem much more worthy of a professional gallery than an Instagram post.
When selecting which DSLR or mirrorless camera to bring for volcano photography in Iceland, the following qualities should be prioritised:
It should be noted that the choice between a classic DSLR or trendier mirrorless camera is entirely up to personal taste, with some preferring the former’s real-time viewfinder and larger form, and others preferring the sleekness and easiness of the latter.
Some examples of great cameras for photographing the Geldingadalur volcanic eruption are Nikon D3500, the Sony RX10 III, the Fujifilm X100V, and the Canon EOS 5DS R.
Aside from your camera, you will also want at least one suitable lens. A wide-angled option with a 24-35mm focal length is always the best for landscape photography, although a standard lens with a focal length of 50mm or less will do. If you are hoping for more unique and unusual images, however, then you may want to go a little ‘off-book’.
An ultra-wide angle, fish-eye lens, for example, will allow you to reflect the scale of the lava field spilling from Geldingadalur. This is also a great option if you want more in your composition than the volcano itself, as you’ll be able to incorporate some of the surrounding landscapes and even the crowds in attendance.
A telephoto lens, meanwhile, will allow you to shoot the fires spurting from the craters as if you were mere metres away, whereas a macro lens will let you capture the fine details of the glowing rock on the edge of the lava field.
Though it is great to have as many options as possible, remember that reaching Geldingadalur requires a degree of hiking, so you will want to travel lightly. As such, it is better to have just a few reliable lenses than your entire selection.
Other equipment you will want to bring with you includes the aforementioned tripod and spare batteries.
A tripod with adjustable legs will be able to balance on the uneven terrain, helping to keep your camera still and level; keep in mind that high winds may make this unfeasible, however. The spare batteries, meanwhile, are essential due to Iceland’s cold; there are few situations more frustrating than hiking to such a photogenic location and finding your only battery already dead.
Many of the most impressive photos and footage of Geldingadalur Volcano have come from those lucky enough to possess a drone. After all, what better way is there to witness the scale and power of an eruption than from above?
There are, however, some rules and regulations you must adhere to if you plan on shooting this incredible phenomenon in such a way.
Firstly, all drones must be marked with the name, number, and address of the owner, so individuals can be held accountable if behaving recklessly; there are high fines for flouting this rule. Secondly, drones used in rural areas in Iceland must be below 25 kilograms in weight and stay under a height of 120 metres.
Thirdly, you must not fly your drone above any crowds in attendance at Geldingadalur. Because of its accessibility and novelty, many are gathering at this spectacular site every day, and more are expected as the weather improves and Covid-19 regulations ease. As such, you must launch your craft on the edge of the crowds, and ensure it never hovers over them, even in passing.
Fourth, you must avoid all other aircraft with extreme care. Of course, you don’t want your drone jousting in the sky with another due to the damage it can cause to both, but this is even more important regarding manned aircraft. Many helicopter and small plane tours are currently operating to allow guests to experience this marvel from above, and a collision with their propellers could quickly end in disaster and tragedy.
Other than these essential criteria, it is highly recommended that you behave responsibly and within your skillset when using your drone. While some of the most impressive videos have come from crafts soaring within inches of a fountain of lava and skimming the molten rivers, these have been taken by highly experienced professionals.
One wrong sputter of lava could easily destroy your equipment or cause you to irreversibly lose it on the lava field, so it is best to avoid the temptation to fly your drone right in the middle of the action.
When photographing the volcanic eruption at Geldingadalur, the most important technical issue is the balance of light in your composition. The vivid brightness of the lava asks for a short exposure time, but if this is too short, the landscapes around the eruption will be darkened and unclear.
As such, you will want to experiment with different exposure times based on the amount of sunlight present. On a bright day, you should be able to attain some spectacular, balanced images with a quick shutter speed; if it is quite cloudy and gloomy, you may need to rely on the balance of your tripod for a longer exposure instead. Images created using the latter technique also tend to boast a unique beauty, as they reveal the movement and flow of the lava.
If visiting at night, you will almost certainly need a tripod and long exposure time, or else your photos will simply be an indistinct orange glow against a sea of pitch black.
Another recommendation, particularly for more experienced photographers, is to turn off your auto-focus. There are many moving parts in a volcanic eruption, with wisps of smoke, bubbling flecks of lava, and grains of ash, all of which can confuse your lens as it tries to hone in on one detail. The resulting pictures are thus often blurred where you don’t want them to be.
Aside from these details, however, your best course of action is to experiment with a range of settings on-site. Zoom in on a crater and take several frames per second for a ‘flip-book' effect of lava spurting from the eruption; take an intimate portrait of a fellow traveller with the Mordor-like landscapes unfurling behind them; or create a panorama to show what it is like the midst of Geldingadalur.
Get creative, and who knows what incredible images of the eruption you will be able to add to your portfolio!
With a much more full understanding of how to photograph Geldingadalur, it is important to be aware of the local safety precautions before your visit. After all, in spite of its gentle lava flow and predictability, it is still an erupting volcano and has all associated dangers.
The most important considerations are also the most obvious. Keep well back from the edge of the growing lava field, as there is a chance that a surge of magma from beneath could cause it to spill forth with sudden haste, particularly if you are focused on your camera. Similarly, if there is a crater spewing molten rock, ensure you are well out of the blast zone.
On a similar note, you must try to stay upwind from the eruption. The most dangerous aspect of effusive, remote volcanoes like the one at Geldingadalur is the fumes that they release into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and sulfur dioxide are all very poisonous gases that, if inhaled for an extended period of time, can cause serious damage.
Due to the unpredictability of Iceland’s winds, this can be somewhat hard to enforce, but if your stay is reasonably short and you do your best to avoid the smoke, you should be fine. The only exception to this is for those with respiratory conditions; it is not recommended for those guests to get so close to the volcano, but of course, it is up to the judgement of the individual.
Another safety concern for visitors to Geldingadalur is the hike required to get there. Although on the easily traversable Reyjanes Peninsula between Reykjavik and Keflavik International Airport, it is still remotely located in a sheltered valley. While some tour operators are allowed to drive closer to it, other visitors must park a good distance away and take a hike that lasts around three hours.
This hike is almost entirely conducted across the difficult terrain of lava fields and ashy slopes, requiring a decent level of fitness; this is particularly the case in winter when the conditions can make the journey even more challenging.
If you are sure you are up for it, it is thus essential that you bring water, some snacks, a charged phone, sturdy hiking boots, and clothing for any eventuality.
Geldingadalur’s eruption has also coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic, requiring a few other precautions. Even if the site is crowded, ensure you do your best to stay two metres away from other guests; wearing your mask is also recommended, to both lessen the impact of the harmful gasses and reduce the risk of spreading the virus. It is also unwise to handle the photography equipment of those outside of your bubble and to let others touch yours.
By following these common-sense safety guidelines and the tips and tricks listed above, you will be able to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime experience at Geldingadalur and successfully photograph it in all of its majesty!