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Author: Des

Photography, productivity and diving geek from Sydney, Australia. Thoughts and opinions are my own.
Hjállparfoss

Hjállparfoss

Hjállparfoss

Hjállparfoss is a wonderful waterfall on the road to Landmannalaugar in Iceland’s highlands.

Meaning ‘Help Waterfall’, Hjállparfoss is actually twin waterfalls that feed from a common source, and merge back in a common pool.

Hjállparfoss is easily accessible and well worth a stop. There are several vantage points for the falls, having tighter shots (like this one), or other shots from further back.

View this image in my Photo Gallery or on Flickr

Image Data

  • C: Panasonic Lumix DC-G9
  • L: Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 12-60mm f/2.8-4
  • E: Lightroom CC
Valley of the Tears

Valley of the Tears

Valley of the Tears

Known locally as Sigöldugljúfur Canyon, the Valley of the Tears is a stunning canyon nearby Haifoss in Iceland’s Highlands.

Arriving in a dusty carpark a short stroll to the edge of a cliff overlooking the valley exposing the stunning vista seen in this image.

As with so many of Iceland’s amazing landscapes, it is difficult to produce an image the brings to life the country’s rugged and amazing beauty.

Sigöldugljúfur is a lesser visited location for visitors to Iceland, but it is certainly well worth the stop on the road to Landmannalaugar. We were fortunate to be taken to this stunning location by our photo guide Kaspars Denisz.

View this image in my Photo Gallery or on Flickr

Image Data

  • C: Panasonic Lumix DC-G9
  • L: Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 12-60mm f/2.8-4
  • E: Lightroom CC
Scuba Diving at Silfra Fissure

Scuba Diving at Silfra Fissure

One of the adventures I looked forward to most when visiting Iceland last year was the opportunity to dive in Silfra in the Thingvellir National Park.

There are two exciting draw-cards to diving at Silfra—the famously clear water and the fact that the dive occurs in the fissure between the continental plates of Europe and North America.

Des & Belinda diving at Silfra Fissure in Thingvellir National Park, Iceland. 
Photo by Tania Roque of DIVE.IS

We booked on with DIVE.IS, and completed our dive medicals and equipment sizing online, well before we left Australia. DIVE.IS’ system and customer service were seamless and responsive.

We were picked up from our hotel in Reykjavik at about 7:15am and then travelled to Thingvellir National Park for our dive.

As stated, Silfra Fissure lies on the tectonic fissure between the North American and European continental shelves. Above the surface the fissure is a couple of kilometres wide, but underwater you can reach out and touch both continents simultaneously.

Europe on one side, North America the other while scuba diving at Silfra Fissure in Thingvellir National Park, Iceland. Photo by Tania Roque of DIVE.IS

The visibility here was nothing short of amazing — it was at least 50m, but the range of vis was limited by the rock shelves and formations in the distance. The water is glacier fed water filtered through the rocks of decades and centuries.

Crystal clear water at Silfra Fissure in Thingvellir National Park, Iceland. Photo by Tania Roque of DIVE.IS

The dive entered at a set of metal stairs onto a metal platform where one group enters at a time, does their buoyancy checks before descending to 5-6m. You swim along, coming back up to the top of a wall in <1m ,before re-descending to a maximum of 18m (we got to about 15m). After a time you do a left turn into a lagoon, with a separate exit platform followed by a short walk to the carpark.

One of the shallow sections at Silfra Fissure in Thingvellir National Park, Iceland. Photo by Tania Roque of DIVE.IS

The water was, of course, very cold. While the dive leader (Tanya) stated that the range was 2—4C, my (borrowed) Oceanic OC1 computer showed that the temp got down to <1C. The rental drysuits (Bear hyper crushed neoprene) and undergarments did a perfect job — no leaks. We also wore mitts and a hood, and although these were not sealed they did an adequate job of keeping relatively warm — although the hands did get so cold that you lost most dexterity.

Des and Belinda scuba diving at Silfra Fissure in Thingvellir National Park, Iceland. Photo by Tania Roque of DIVE.IS

No life to speak of in the fissure — the reason to dive the site is for the site itself, with its spectacular rock formations and crystal clear water. The guide did mention that there are fish in the lake Silfra empties into, but they don’t come back up in into fissure.

Incredibly clear waters at Silfra Fissure in Iceland. Photo by Tania Roque of DIVE.IS

DIVE.IS1 is a professional dive operator, with good equipment, facilities at the dive site and very good leaders. Group sizes were small (3:1 max), and there was a very welcome hot chocolate waiting back in the carpark.

The dive itself was conducted very professionally, following strict safety protocols. There was oxygen at both the entry and exit points, and additional staff were on hand to assist with gearing up and de-kitting, and to assist during entries and exits.

With over 1,500 scuba dives to my name, I have had the opportunity to dive in many very special places, but the experience at Silfra will certainly go down as one of my top five dives to date.

An outstanding dive.

Des & Belinda kitted up and ready to dive at Silfra Fissure in Thingvellir National Park, Iceland. Photo by Tania Roque of DIVE.IS
With thanks

Images by Tania Roque of DIVE.IS and used with permission.


  1. As I write this the world is in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. DIVE.IS has suspended tours until things improve, and are currently intending on resuming limited operations in early May. I wish the DIVE.IS team all the best, and look forward to diving with them again in the future. 
Yasaka no To

Yasaka no To

Yasaka no To

Yasaka no To is a pagoda in Kyoto’s Higashiyama district that is one of the busiest tourist attractions in the city.

The picturesque pagoda, coupled with the adjacent old-style streets, makes it very popular for photographers, tourists and locals alike, and by day you would be hard-pressed to find an angle without dozens of people throughout the scene.

There are a couple of ways of dealing with these crowds:

  1. Ignore them, and in fact embrace them in your images;
  2. Remove them from the scene in post-processing; or
  3. Get up early and capture the streets with no one in them in the first place!

The third option was obviously what I did with this image, and I am really happy with the result. Not only did I get the images that I had in my mind’s eye, I was also able to have the experience of wandering these lovely streets and having them all to myself!

View this image in my Photo Gallery or on Flickr

Image Data

  • C: Panasonic Lumix DC-G9
  • L: Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 12-60mm f/2.8-4
  • E: Lightroom CC
Charles Bridge

Charles Bridge

Charles Bridge

Prague’s Charles Bridge is a pedestrian bridge linking the Old Town to the Prague Castle area.

We visited in Autumn (September) when the crowds were said to be relatively small, through it you look at the number of people on the bridge at sunset it is hard to imagine what is must be like when it is ‘busy’.

It is also hard to imagine what it must be like as I write this during the COVID-19 pandemic, when cities like Prague are on lockdown.

There are a number of good vantage points for shooting Charles Bridge, and sunrise and sunset align pretty well during our visit. PhotoPills was valuable in planning the time and positioning I wanted to get the best image.

In this case I went up the tower at the Eastern end of the bridge for the sunset image. I went up the tower well before sunset to find my spot, and waited there through sunset and into the golden hour and blue hour.

During this time, I made sure to allow space for others to get images, noting the vast majority of people would stay for a few minutes, capturing a small number of shots before moving on.

Tekapo Star Gazing

Tekapo Star Gazing

Tekapo Star Gazing

I’ve had an interesting in getting into night sky / astro photography for some time, but this image was from the first time I gave it a solid go.

We joined a night sky tour at the Mt John Observatory near Tekapo on New Zealand’s South Island.

The night sky was wonderful and although we were a little early in the year for the Milky Way, I am pretty happy with this first image.

The night sky is amazing—you have to have a sense of awe in having the realisation of the immenseness of the universe. Night sky photography is something I will continue to play around with, and hopefully get better at!

View this image in my Photo Gallery or on Flickr

Image Data

  • C: Panasonic Lumix DC-G9
  • L: Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 12-60mm f/2.8-4
  • E: Lightroom CC
Arashiyama

Arashiyama

Arashiyama

The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is a must see site when visiting Kyoto, Japan.

On the edge of the city, Arashiyama is a natural bamboo forest. To have the best experience I recommend you make the effort to get up early—sunrise early—to beat the crowds.

The other advantage of getting the early is to avoid the overly bright skies breaking through the peaks of the bamboo. You can get a more balanced light. Even at 0730, around the time of this image, you can see the bright sky.

Take the time to enjoy the location, capture scenes big and intimate, and soak up the tranquility.

Image Data

  • C: Panasonic Lumix DC-G9
  • L: Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 12-60mm f/2.8-4
  • E: Lightroom CC

View this image in my Photo Gallery or on Flickr

Mont St Michel

Mont St Michel

Mont St Michel

In 2015 I visited France. With some colleagues, we took an overnight trip to visit Mont St Michel, the famous abbey on an island in France’s Normandy region.

We timed our arrival for the mid afternoon and enjoyed a spectacular sunset. We also enjoyed sunrise the next morning, and a day of exploration in this fascinating abbey.

This was one of those locations that the one night there was not sufficient to do justice to the scene, but I am reasonably happy with the result.

I previously worked this using HDR techniques, but was never really happy with the results. I’ve reattacked the image just using a single RAW file, and processing in the current version of Lightroom. No additional processing was used, and I am quite happy with the result.

View this image in my Photo Gallery or on Flickr

Image Data

  • C: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7
  • L: Panasonic Lumix G Vario 35-100mm f/4.0-5.6
  • E: Lightroom CC
Preparing for Icelandic travels

Preparing for Icelandic travels

Iceland is a small country with so much to see. You could spend years in this island nation and only scratch the surface, so it is essential to spend the time and make an effort to plan your trip.

Fortunately, there is a wealth of resources available today to assist in your planning. This post will provide some idea of the process we followed and the resources we leveraged to plan for our trip to Iceland in September 2019.

Belinda and I started and finished our visit in Reykjavik, and drove the ring road around the island, staying at hotels or guesthouses in Grundarfjörður, Akureyri, Seyðisfjörður, Hofn and Vik, along the way visiting many highlights, including those on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and the Golden Circle.

Glacial Surprise

We had a wonderful trip1, and the success of our trip was built mainly on meticulous planning2, which was critical in allowing us to:

  • Decide on priorities. Although tiny geographically, it offers an incredible array of experiences, which for us resulted in a lengthy initial itinerary. You need to work out what is important to you and assume you may never return so you can pare down that list. For us, diving at Silfra and seeing the magnificent landscapes were vital.
  • Accomodate the weather. Even in-between seasons like Autumn (when we visited) proved insanely variable. Rain, wind and poor visibility will slow your travel, may require you to rearrange your itinerary or entice you to return to a location or remain much longer than you realised.

  • Manage the unexpected. During our trip we experienced a flat tyre on our hire car, found that some roads were not open and we had to take some (rather interesting) detours as well as finding new routes that weren’t on our maps.

  • Take advantage of unplanned opportunities. Around almost every bend and over every crest incredible landscapes would appear and when we could, we would stop and marvel at sites such as a lovely lake with brilliant reflections on the road between Seyðisfjörður and Hofn.

  • Linger longer. We loved Akureyri and Hofn more than we thought. In both cases, our schedule allowed us the chance to stay a bit and take in the location a little longer. This was particularly valuable in Hofn when we checked into our hotel after dark, and awoke the next morning to look out the window and realise we were at the base of a glacier!!

Our planning was for a visit during Autumn, with days of a reasonably standard length, where all roads were open and where the weather was relatively mild. Our next trip will likely be at a different time of year, requiring a whole different level of planning. We will probably go in late Winter/early Spring, meaning much colder weather, shorter days, and many roads that won’t be open.

To achieve all of this, we used a variety of written and online tools to assist in our planning. The following are presented in no particular order but were all important in our pre-trip planning.

Reflections en route

General

  • Jeannie of the Iceland with a View website has a fantastic YouTube channel with plenty of great information on sites, clothing, getting around and many of the beautiful experiences to enjoy.
  • Hrafna is a native Icelander who has a great YouTube channel on the nation from a local’s perspective.
  • Various Lonely Planet guides were useful in our planning. In addition to the Iceland travel guide, we also got a lot of use out of the Best of Iceland travel guide.

Photography

Grjótagjá

I’d have to say that Belinda was initially more intrigued than me on Iceland as a destination, although I was certainly happy to go. When I came to realise the enormous photographic potential of Iceland, I got the bug. Belinda (non-photographer) also found some of the below resources both practically helpful and amazing introductions to places not originally on her must see list

  • One of the first resources that got me thinking about visiting Iceland, photographically, was Elia Locardi’s Photographing The World tutorial series, notably Series 1. These tutorial videos were an epic introduction to how Elia conceived, captured and edited some brilliant images of several outstanding Icelandic landscapes.
  • A companion series to Photographing the World was the Behind the Scenes series released on YouTube. This series was a valuable resource showing the logistics and challenges faced by the weather.
  • Mads Peter Iversen has an excellent YouTube series about Landscape Photography in Iceland, which currently consists of 53 videos. Additionally, Mads Peter has a Google map of Iceland Landscape photography, which proved to be a constant companion for us during our travels.
  • International Photographer’s Iceland map and ebook were brilliant planning tools. The map itself was opened up on our dining table constantly in the months leading up to our travels and helped us in pre-visualising our journey. The ebook was a valuable resource and was where I first learned about Grjótagjá—a cave with a geothermal rock pool that was an easily visited Game of Thrones shooting location.
  • Thomas Heaton is a favourite landscape photographer on YouTube, and also has many outstanding videos. His video about the highlands location of Landmannalaugar opened our eyes to a place to visit that had not been on our radar and was one of our favourite experiences.
  • Brendan van Son is a YouTuber with lots of travel photography videos worth watching, with a particularly useful episode on (recommended photography gear for Iceland) and iconic photo spots
  • James Popsys also had some entertaining videos about his visits to Iceland.

This post provides an overview of some of the main tools and resources we used to plan our Iceland adventures. There are further posts intended to cover clothing, photography equipment, and specific experiences we had along the way.

If you’re planning a trip to Iceland, take the time to plan it out, but leave in plenty of room for the unexpected—whether it is the weather, the sites and scenes or simply the people you meet, Iceland has so much opportunity for adventure.

Visit our Iceland Photo Gallery or our Iceland Photo Album on Flickr.

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  1. We certainly plan to go back again and will visit at a different time of year to get an entirely different experience. 
  2. In particular, Belinda’s research! 
Gazing up to the Pagoda

Gazing up to the Pagoda

Gazing up to the Pagoda

The Churieto Pagoda in Japan’s Kawaguchiko region is one of the more famous landmarks in the region, particularly because there is a classic view of the pagoda with Fuji-san in the background—and often with sakura (cherry blossoms) flowering.

An alternative and less common view of the pagoda is from beneath. In fact, the fact that the pagoda can make such a stunning foreground interest object to the distant Fuji-san means that few take the time to appreciate the pagoda for its own elegance.

To be honest, the fact that during our visit to the region in September 2018 Fuji-san was hidden behind clouds forced me to take a look at the pagoda itself in more detail. So we spent more time walking arond the structure and capturing it from different angles than we otherwise might have. Don’t let the sky here fool you—while it seemed relatively clear from this angle, Fuji-san, behind me, was completely hidden in the clouds.

One detail is the offerings left at the altar in front of that gate—I deliberately did not remove the water bottle because it is a feature of the respect paid by those that visited.

So the story remains—irrespective of the conditions at a photo site, look around and enjoy the overall detail of the scene. There is beauty in most scenes, and it is up to us to find it!

Image Data

  • C: Panasonic Lumix DC-G9
  • L: Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 12-60mm f/2.8-4
  • E: Lightroom CC, Photoshop CC

View this image in my Photo Gallery or on Flickr

Our Iceland Adventure

Our Iceland Adventure

In September 2019 Belinda and I spent two weeks in Iceland—a trip that we have been planning and anticipating for some time. It was a goal to get there, and now that we have been, it is a goal to go back and to further explore this amazing island nation.

This post is the start of what will be a series describing our adventures, the planning and preparation to get there, the photography opportunities and challenges, gear for travelling and photography, and more. I guess we will keep posting as long as the stories and supporting images allow us to illustrate how much this land of extremes inspired us.

A Land of Extremes

Iceland is a small country with absolutely massive landscapes.

There is nothing average about Iceland—it is a land of fire and ice; micro and macro; light and dark.

From a photography perspective, you have countless opportunities to capture the massive landscapes, or the incredible details.

To enjoy Iceland fully you need to be ready for anything. And everything.

Our Adventure

We flew into Keflavik Airport and collected our hire car before heading into Reykjavik where we stayed for the first few nights.

From Reykjavik we went on a scuba diving adventure in the Silfra Fissure, undertook an amazing photo tour to Landmannalaugar, and did a self-drive tour of the Golden Circle, as well as exploring the city of Reykjavik.

We then set out to drive around the 1,332km of the Ring Road, with side advemtures to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula with the iconic Kirkjufell on the west coast, and Seyðisfjörður on the east coast. We visited Akureyri in the north, and Hofn and Vik in the south.

Our visit in September was timed for the shoulder season—it was not the high season of Summer with the midnight sun, nor was it the icy winter. Weather was variable, with sunny, warm-ish days, and bitingly cold and very wet days.

Reliving the Adventure

We’re home in Australia now, and this series of posts and the images are a chance for us to relive the amazing experiences. We hope you enjoy sharing our experiences.

Daibutsu of Kamamura

Daibutsu of Kamamura

Back when I lived in Tokyo for a couple of years one of my favourite places to visit was the ancient capital of Kamakura, which is a short rail trip from the modern capital.

The Kamakura Daibutsu (Great Buddha) is a magnificent structure, dating back to the 13th century.

The Daibutsu was originally housed in a hall, which was twice destroyed/damaged in storms during the 14th century, before being washed away in a 1498 tsunami. The Daibutsu has now been an outdoor feature for some 521 years!

The challenge for photography here is the crowds that flock to visit this site throughout the year. Weekends in particular are crazy busy in the area.

To counter the crowds, I setup to incorporate the base, which is actually a couple of metres above the surrounding ground level and then waited patiently to have the fewest number of people in shot. I have then cleaned up a few errant individuals in Photoshop.

The day we visited was actually quite a rainy day, and this provided a dramatic sky (and kept the crowds down a little).

I highly recommend a visit to Kamakura to any visitor to Japan.

Image Data

  • C: Panasonic Lumix DC-G9
  • L: Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 12-60mm f/2.8-4
  • E: Lightroom CC, Photoshop CC

View this image in my Photo Gallery or on Flickr