Known by some as the Batman Mountain due to its rugged shape looking a bit like the Batman logo, Vestrahorn offers a dramatic subject for photography. Rising nearly 1500 feet on the edge of the sea, adjacent to a lagoon and a windswept black sand beach, the composition opportunities are almost unlimited. Iceland’s stormy weather adds to the drama with low clouds, wind and frequent rain. Under these conditions the face of Vestrahorn can look dark and dramatic or just plain dreary. To maximize our opportunity to capture the mountain in the best light across a various compositions, we planned an extended stay of 6 days in the Hofn area.
There are three iconic shots of the mountain that I hoped to capture of Vestrahorn:
- Sunrise over the mounds of tufted grass as a foreground with the mountain in the background,
- the waves crashing in an arc along the black beach creating a leading line to the mountain, and
- the reflection of the mountain on the wet sand beach.
Little did I realize it would be so difficult.
The weather is always a challenge (after all this is Iceland), but I figured with 5 nights, we’d get at least one night with good photography weather. However, I forgot about the sunlight. This time of year (June) the sun sets and rises behind the mountain such that the mountain face would never be directly lit by the sun during the golden hour. And I forgot about the tides, shooting the crashing waves on the beach requires the tide coming in, while shooting the reflections requires the tide going out. Lastly, the wind. More often than not the wind is blowing and not just a gentle breeze, but full out gale. Setting up to capture a photo on sandy beach in a gale is more like being sand blasted. Then you can add a bit a sea spray to make sure the sand sticks everywhere on you and your gear.
Could I capture these iconic photos of Vestrahorn?
On our first visit to Vestrahorn in September 2019, we had just one day at the mountain. At sunrise, the clouds hung close eliminating all but a few rays of light to the right (east). I had hoped to improve upon this capture, but it would not be possible with the sun rising behind the mountain.
June 2021 – first night
Our first night out. The sky had broken clouds, we hoped we might actually have a sunset. Although the sunlight did not light up the mounds of grass, it was beautiful and we had color in the sky.
On to capture the water breaking on the beach.
After our original visit, I realized I had missed this shot which has become one of my favorite from the trip. Anyone who knows me, knows I love reflections. What makes this so special is that the reflection is actually in the wet sand (not in a lagoon) and can only be seen when you are standing on the beach and looking at your feet.
It was an amazing evening. After an hour of shooting and capturing all the iconic faces of Vestrahorn, Jeff and I looked at each other – we’d done it all in one night. Perhaps, we didn’t need 6 days here?
Second Visit – Daytime
The weather went back to the usual clouds and rain. I was going stir crazy in the small hotel room. When the weather broke just a bit, I sweet talked Jeff into returning during the midday hours (bad light) to capture Vestrahorn in different light.
I was quite pleased, I had images of the three iconic shots and a unique one with flowers. Then the rain started again, the winds picked up, the temperature dropped and the low clouds moved in obscuring the mountain. Hotel bound, with my shots captured, I again wondered if we had scheduled too much time here.
Third Visit – Early Evening
Late the next day, the clouds lifted, Vestrahorn had a new look. Snow!
Thank goodness we stayed. In a few short days we experienced a range of conditions that made the photographs captured at each visit unique.
Which photo of Vestrahorn is your favorite? And why?