Church of Budir

One of the iconic shots I wished to capture in Iceland was the northern lights over the Church of Budir, also known as the Black Church. Just before our trip, I found an article that mentioned there was a hotel next to the church and that they would wake you up in the middle of the night if the northern lights were visible. Since I wanted to optimize the chance of getting the shot, I made a last minute change to our hotel reservation so we could stay at the Hotel Budir. We were fortunate to get the last room. There was a wedding at the hotel and every room was booked, save one small room in the attic. Our only window was a skylight on the steeply sloped ceiling that Jeff hit his head on every time he got in or out of bed. Sacrifices must be made to get the shot.   

The skylight window provided a perfect view of the church.

We arrived at the Church of Budir, in heavy fog and rain. I was dismayed. My preconceived image of the northern lights over the church steeple was not happening. We asked the lady at the front desk for us to be woken up, should the clouds part and the northern lights become visible, but she just laughed.

With gloomy skies overhead, Jeff and I slogged up the wet grassy hill in the rain to at least capture a photo of the church.

In the planning stages of this trip, I came across a photographer, “Mads Peter Iverson”, who does great videos on photographing Iceland. One of his images stuck with me. It was a very “minimalist” view of the Church of Budir.  I loved it!   [ Here’s a link to Mads’ photo.]

Now as I looked at the back of my camera’s LCD screen at the photo I’d just taken, I saw almost the same image. I was stunned. 

The clouds provided a blank background by which to isolate the church. I may not have the northern lights, but I was pleased with my photograph.
Shot at: F9, 1/20sec, ISO 100, 70mm

In my landscape photography I have always tried to include as many elements into a photo a possible. I guess I believe that more is better, but this often makes for a very busy photograph. Minimalism for me is a foreign concept. As much as I may want to, I just can’t think that way. But the weather had eliminated all the details of the scene, leaving just the church.

Now fascinated with the concept of Minimalism*, could I do it again? 


The sky held promise of a glowing sunset as we drove the 30 kilometers on Route 711, a rough gravel road, out to the Hvitserkur trailhead. 

Hvitserkur is yet another iconic shot I wanted to capture. It is a large 50 foot high sea stack, shaped as some say, like a dragon drinking water. For me, I saw a double arch in the shape of an “M”, like the golden arches of McDonalds. 

The photo I envisioned capturing, was a glorious sunset behind the rock with both the colored clouds and the rock reflecting in the tidal pools of low tide. The pools of water and the black sand would provide leading lines into the main rock formation. 

Suffice it to say, the sky did not light up, and the tide did not go out that far. I was stuck with another dull iconic shot [see recent post Iconic Shot or Not].  

Later that evening, as I downloaded my images onto the computer, I saw a stunning black and white image. 

A 6 stop ND filter enabled a long exposure that smoothed out the water and simplified the scene. Shot at: 52mm, f20, ISO 64, 30 sec

Inadvertently, I had done it again. 

My conclusion: When there is nothing else to shoot, it is much easier for me to be a minimalist.

Remember, it’s all about the light.


*Minimalism Defined from

Artistically speaking, minimalism depends on high simplicity and involves using a minimal amount of compositional components such as shape, color, and line.

The goal of minimalist art, or photography, is to convey a concept – or an idea – provoke an emotional response, or provide a unique visual experience. Compositional elements must be kept to a minimum, and the ones that are left should be essential for conveying the overall idea, or symbolism, of the photo.

As with any photographic style, minimalist photography has its own set of challenges – mostly due to the fact that minimalism is based on simplicity, and it can be a challenge to eliminate all but the most necessary elements of a composition, and focus only on a limited number of objects and elements when creating a composition. Minimalism forces you to view the world differently, and will challenge you to look beyond the obvious for hidden photographic opportunities.