Whenever I travel, I like to seek out things that are starkly different from what I’m used to, be it foreign cultures, new people, or unfamiliar landscapes. Having grown up in the northeastern United States, the landscapes I’ve grown to know best consist of tan, sandy beaches along the coast and leafy, green trees inland. Nowhere in Massachusetts will you find bubbling mud pots, steaming geothermal vents, or volcanic activity. So, I went to Mývatn, because it has all of those things.
Mývatn, which translates to “lake of midges,” is a 14-square-mile lake located about an hour’s drive from Akureyri, the second largest urban area in Iceland. And, based on the dense cloud of midges I accidentally drove through during my visit to the area, I can confirm that “lake of midges” is an extremely suitable name. I can also confirm that the resulting carnage was not easy to clean off the windshield…
Hverir, which is situated about a mile east of Mývatn, is an active geothermal field complete with orange soil and pits of boiling mud. Several fumaroles, which spew steam and gases such as hydrogen sulfide from holes in the Earth’s crust, can also be found at Hverir. All the geothermal activity makes the landscape look like that of another planet, and it makes the air smell like eggs….and not at all in a good way. After exploring a bit, I set up my tripod and at the most prominent fumarole and waited patiently to begin snapping away. Given that Hverir is so accessible by car from Akureyri, the area is a prime target for tour buses, so I had to stand by idly while processions of elderly tourists shuffled up to the fumarole to investigate, all blissfully unaware of the man with the camera in the neon green jacket they were standing in front of. When I break in the action finally came, I didn’t waste time firing off as many shots as possible. The resulting image above is a still frame from a timelapse film I shot while traveling around Iceland, which I’ll hopefully have ready to share sometime this summer.
In addition to Hverir, my other motivation for visiting the Mývatn area was to climb Hverfjall, a 1 kilometer-wide tuff ring volcano which erupted approximately 2,600 years ago. The crater-like feature left from the eruption is an unusual and dramatic addition to the landscape around Mývatn, and I had never seen anything like it. My first introduction to Hverfjall was this photo taken by Frank Giess, which instantly earned it a spot on my list of places to see while in Iceland.
Wanting to pack as much into the day as possible, I hiked to the rim of Hverfjall via an over-ambitious sprint. About ¾ of the way up I stopped for a few seconds of much needed wheezing before taking the last 100 yards at a more reasonable pace. Once I crested the rim, I was met with one hell of a blast of wind, but also one hell of a view.
Due to the high winds racing over the top of Hverfjall, the clouds were moving by at a noticeably fast pace. My hope was to take a long exposure which showed the clouds streaking across the frame, but the wind gusts were strong enough that it prevented me from getting a sharp image. Instead, I decided to shoot another timelapse, and came out with some great footage of the clouds and their shadows racing over Hverfjall.
Because of the winds, this shot ended up being a fairly simple single exposure. My camera was set to f/14 so that I could get both a deep depth of field and a shutter speed that would show smooth motion of the clouds in the timelapse footage. I converted the image to black and white in Lightroom and adjusted the contrast a bit to bring out a bit more drama in the clouds. After I was satisfied with the number of images I had captured for the timelapse, I made the hike back to the car at a more reasonable pace, and got back on the road to drive west towards the Vatnsnes Peninsula.
Unfortunately, several midges were hurt in the making of these photos.