Late September here in 2019, what a very special time for me. I’ll always remember, what a night.
Jökulsárlón Lagoon, or Glacier Lagoon, is a fan favorite among tourists and photographers. It is extremely easy to get to, parking on the side of the ring road (A1), with a very short hike to the lagoon. With mountains and glaciers surrounding the lagoon and ice bergs, bergy bits and growlers in the lake, it can be a photographic extravaganza. But, like always, you need great light. Otherwise you can walk away feeling disappointed, not able to capture what your brain thinks, “such an amazing scene and all I got was this?”
Last year we got some nice results at sunset and before. Most of our shots centered around a single berg, bergy bit or growler. There was so much to choose from, ice scattered everywhere, on the beach, in the lagoon. Fast forward one year and things are much different, so little ice compared to last year. Getting compositions with a single bergy bit was nearly impossible. We had to focus on the entire landscape, incorporating what icebergs were present and the ever receding glacier behind the lagoon.
As we waited for sunset we wondered to ourselves, would tonight be the night? Our sunset shoots on our trip had been less than stellar. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the show began, hypnotizing, mesmerizing me. The colors came from a palette of which I am unfamiliar. Then I felt the rush like a rolling bolt of thunder as the climax occurred.
With sunset completed we had a few hours to kill until it was dark enough to see the northern lights. We made the 25 minute drive back to our hotel for dinner in their restaurant (excellent food at the Foss Hotel, Glacier Lagoon). We each had the salt cod, though that is very much unimportant.
At 9:30, the sky very dark, we traveled back to the lagoon, anxious to see what was in store for us. There is no way it could compare to sunset. It was a mostly cloudy night which is not conducive to seeing, much less photographing, the northern lights. This was the most important thing we came to Iceland to see and being shut out so far due to inclement weather was distressing. On the bright side, our KP index was at 4 meaning the aurora is “Active” with bright, constant and dynamic northern lights visible. Sounds perfect if only the clouds would disappear.
We set up for our shoot with the hope of using Glacier Lagoon as the foreground, the glaciers as a midground and the aurora is the background, hopefully the star of the show. It was looking bleak but we remained hopeful and ever vigilant with our fingers readied just above the trigger. I did a few test shots to set up the composition. Then we waited and waited and waited some more. After what seemed like hours, we heard a voice behind us deep in the dark. That voice said that the clouds will clear at 11 PM. Could it be the voice of God from behind us? Doubtful unless God speaks in a Japanese accent.
We started chatting, photographer to photographer. I was doubting his prognostications, he was talking about something, though I really wasn’t listening. Then, lo and behold, right at 11 PM, the clouds started to dissipate. The show was about to begin. It did not disappoint!
Why did it take so long to see this light?
Remember, it’s all about the light! What a place, what a night!
(special thanks to The Four Seasons for writing such a great song (among many others).