Let me tell you about this photograph. I shot it using a Sony a6500 with a 10-18mm lens on a two-foot tall travel tripod and a 10-stop neutral density filter. The water looks pretty cool, right? All soft and flowy with the spray looking like mist. It takes time to make a photograph like this, and I’m not talking about the eight hours on an airplane to get to Iceland, and then the two hours to get from Reykjavik to Reynisfjara. To get water to look soft and silky, you need a long exposure- in this case, the camera’s shutter was open for eight seconds, and I took several in a row so I’d be more likely to get a shot with the water looking just right. I ended up crouching there for a long time, adjusting the camera settings, with my knees aching and one eye on the water to make sure the waves stayed far enough away.
See, Reynisfjara is subject to a phenomenon known as sneaker waves, where you’ll have a bunch of little waves and then seemingly out of nowhere, a large, powerful wave will suddenly wash over the beach. If you’re not being careful, they can wash you out to sea. There’s a sign at the top of the trail down to the beach warning you about sneaker waves and that you shouldn’t turn your back to the ocean. So I didn’t turn my back to the ocean.
I was being pretty smart, I thought, staying up on the rocky part of the beach despite the fact that I had a bit of tendonitis in one ankle and walking on those rocks was painful and tiring. When I picked a spot to photograph those famous basalt columns, I picked an area well away from the water line. It looked high and dry, and so I plunked my tripod down, set the camera up, and started on that series of long-exposure photographs.
I still had one eye on the water when that particular wave washed over the shore, ran well past the water line, and right up to my knees as I grabbed the tripod- camera and all- and ran away with an undignified squeak.
So the pursuit of this photograph (which turned out in spite of the wave), is how I ended up sitting on a rock on an Icelandic beach, barefoot, wringing seawater out of my socks, and squelching through the rest of the day with soaking wet shoes.
Please enjoy it.