Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Iceland Day 6 ~ Racing against time in the Ice Cave, skirting the Svinasfelljokull, revisiting Jokulsarlon & a magnificent BANG! of Aurora!!

Travellogue:  Dragging my broken body along in the Race against time, shooting with just a point and shoot camera.. Boy, was I glad I did it!

The Ice Cave, by Serene.
A Whatsapp message from Adrian early in the morning on my handphone read:
"There is not much walking to the Ice cave today.  Only part is the little bit of steep climb into the cave.  If you cannot walk, you can still take picture from the mouth of the cave.  Serene can walk into the cave to shoot.  Don't worry, I will take care of you all the way."

Such reassurance from the Tour leader.  How could I not go?
I got down from bed and hobbled to the bathroom, the ankle was really swollen, and I felt more pain than last night.  But I was confident that I could make the climb.
"Dar, let's keep the broken 1DsMkIII.  You shoot with the 1DMkIV today.  I will shoot with the point and shoot with my good right hand.  I will try to walk slowly."
"Today's shot will all depend on you liao lah..."

The Ice Cave at Vatnajokull

Bukit LWH
Somehow life around this parts revolved around the Jokulsarlon.  Even before we set off for the Ice Caves, we had to be at the glacier lagoon to rendezvous with the Ice cave guides, which allowed me the chance to properly view Bukit LWH in broad daylight. Cute little hill.

As we rode in the two land rovers, the sweet little guide Helen explained to us that there were always new caves being discovered within Vatnajokull, and these caves kept changing.  The boss of her company would trek out to explore new ones regularly.  So far, she said, this one that we were going to was one of the best caves.

Kai Sing so thrilled by the thought of the Ice Cave.

This Helen was very steady with the 4WD. Single-hand on the steering wheel
and chatting happily with Adrian.

"What are ice caves?" I asked myself.  It was later that I understood more about them.  They were essentially formed when melting water from the origin of the glacier ran underneath all the way to the tongue of the glacier.  Apparently some heat transfer from the water created air cavities within the glacial ice.  Some ice caves in Iceland were even formed by geothermal heat activities.
Like what Helen said, many of these ice caves would disappear in time and new ones formed.

We were approaching the Ice Cave.  Could you see the cave right there, in the middle of the glacier?!

Entering the Ice Cave...

Helen took one look at me and said in jest: "Oh, so you are the one with the injured ankle! You didn't look like it to me."  I laughed.  I must have been doing quite well.  Adrian was watching my back as I climbed up the gravel slope to the entrance.  A rope by the side provided an anchor for the descend to the cave.  I took a look at it and knew that it was doable.
Adrian went ahead first.  "If you fall, you can fall on me," said he.
Well, I still had one good hand, which I used to hold on tight to the rope.

Serene entering the ice cave. [Photo: Courtesy of Tan Teck Siang]
Lots of movement blur, but still a shot of our entry into the cave with my
point and shoot camera.

One of our good friends Zhong Xuan shared a link of  video with us of a series of Timelapse of Iceland.
Within this video was a section showing the videographer walking along the long ice cave within the glacier.  After seeing the video, I began to understand why Kai Sing said it was a pity we couldn't explore the ice cave further inwards. Hmmm...  if we ever were to do this again, I think it would be great to be able to walk deeper in.

Crystalapse: Frozen in Timelapse from Blue Eden on Vimeo.

A tripodded shot quickly taken by Serene before we all started moving in.

"Ok guys, listen up," Adrian announced.  "We're going to do the shooting here in two groups.  Group A will photograph the front, and Group B the rear.  Then after that we will swap.   Following that we will do a model shoot."
All in a row to shoot. Serene, Yilin, Norman, Teck Siang & Acrux.
Wow, that was interesting.  We even got model shoot... I wondered where and who was the model.  It wasn't easy to shoot inside the ice cave.  The ambience was truly magical, everything was in shades of blue, and looking up the ice appeared like a slab of translucent crystal.  I'd never seen anything like this.  I was happily shooting away, laughing at the way we were getting into each others' frames.  There were so many angles one would desire,  and some of us wanted to venture further into the cave, but only to be gently herded back.  There seemed to be a sense of urgency in Adrian's voice.

My point and shoot photos really couldn't make it.  Even at a high ISO of 800, there was movement blur, and water droplets on the lens smeared many a photo.  But that was the only way I could shoot.

Click here for a larger version of the photo on the left 

A side profile of Serene.

"Dar, you look that way.  I want to take a shot of this entrance with the side profile of your face.  Your profile is very classic one.  One look we will know it's you."
Well, not bad.  This point and shoot camera could still produce some rather sharp takes.

Me shooting Carren shooting them shooting the Ice Cave.
"Carren, don't move!" I called out to the pink down jacket in front of me. "Wait.. I want to take a shot of you in that exact position."
And she guai guai complied.  I took a few shots.  This one was the most pleasing angle.  "Ok, thanks, Carren!"
Again, the fun of shooting with a point and shoot camera.  Everyone was on tripods and cable release, but I was on one-hand-operation.

"Ok, time for model shoot!" called out Adrian.  And who was the model? Adrian himself of course.  Fortunately later we had Eddy and Michelle as subjects for our second 'model shoot'.  That added quite a bit of fun factor into the event.
The Caveman running out of the Ice Cave as the river swelled and threatened to flood the cave...

"Dar!" again the troublesome lady. "My Facebook friend Shirly Hamra has a photo of the ice cave with her posing very stylishly.  I want a shot like that.  Same as hers."
Ok.  Ok.  For fear of incurring her wrath, I composed and did one as best as I could.  And she now had a 'Serene Hamra' shot of her standing on the ice at the glacier lagoon, and a 'Serene Hamra' shot of her posing inside the ice cave.  Happy?
Here was another shot of the same angle [click], and this time with me in it.

"Hurry hurry!" an even tenser sense of urgency in Adrian's voice. "Quick let's quickly get out of the cave!"  This time his urgency was echoed by the two Icelandic lady guides.  We were all puzzled as to the reason behind the rush.
"Quick, Wee How, Serene... you're done?  Ok, quickly get out of the cave." Adrian commanded.  Usually when Adrian got kan-cheong, we'd better followed his instructions.

Lai Peng making it across the wooden plank in time.  By the time it came
to Yilin's (a few person behind) turn, the plank must have moved.. and poor
Yilin found herself with ice-cave-water-flavoured trekking socks.
We quick-stepped to the makeshift wooden bridge where we crossed the ice cave river near the entrance.  And both of us saw to our astonishment that the river had swelled significantly, and the water now covered the wooden plank.  Oh so that was the reason!  The river had risen!
"Quickly! Let me hold your hand!" said Helen the guide.  
Serene and I made it safely across.
I looked back and took a hasty shot, with all the movement blur and all, Lai Peng making it across in time.

We all made it across the swelling glacial river in time.  And walked up the slope to the entrance.  Apparently the snow and the rain over the last couple of days had increased the volume of the glacial river within the cave.  We now finally understood the purpose of the rubber dingy prepared at the entrance, as Helen explained that in case the river flooded over, they would have to ferry the members out with the vessel.
Serene's shot of the guide emerging from the crevice of the glacier.
This was quite an exciting little adventure!  Once out of the crevice, we were again within touching distance of the Glacier surface.  Again, Serene couldn't help but take a shot of this glacier, especially so since this was as close to a glacier as she had ever been.  So here it was, all gravelly, dark and dirty.

And my shot of a jubilant Serene coming down from the glacier almost couldn't make it, with all the smudges and smear on my lens.

As we walked towards the jeep, we heard a cry and saw the guides pointing towards something on the river gushing out of the cave.  It was that wooden plank-bridge that finally got swept out of its position and was now floating down along with the current.

My mind shudder at the thought of missing that last few minutes and a nervous team leader having to evacuate his members on that rubber dingy thing.  But whatever it was, we all made it up safely.  And here, was Yilin, Teck Siang and Carol standing over the wooden plank symbolically victorious over it.

The drifting wooden plank bridge dragged out of the river by the guides.

A last view from atop the entrance, to remember this view for in a few years time (well, perhaps even in a few months' time) this ice cave would no longer exist, as the glacier tongue retreated further in.

And finally, the 4WD that took us back to Jokulsarlon.  Ice cave DONE!

My Columbia Beanie that had been with me for 7 years-
Lost and found again!!!

Back at Jokulsarlon, everyone was having a hot drink.  Serene and I walked out to Bukit LWH.  The night before as I fell, I must have dropped my favourite beanie.  And I didn't think I would ever find it back.  We searched the grounds, and could not see anything.  But surprise surprise... we saw it wet and cold on the table outside the eatery.  Well, what would be yours, would forever be yours!

It was a very windy morning.  And particularly so at Jokulsarlon, the wind was so strong that we had to struggle to open the door of the shop and hold it firmly to prevent it from banging onto ourselves as the wind swept at it.
We were going up our bus very soon, to go to another location.

Serene shooting just outside the shops.

Talking about their dream Ultra wide angle lenses with gestures..
As I walked up the bus, I saw Kai Sing talking to Carol about his dream lens.. "It's soooo wide!" was what I could hear him saying.

Aiyah.. Must have been talking about his US$4000 dream lens Zeiss 14mm f/2.8, no distortion, no chromatic aberration, no fringing.  Just pure, crystal clear, sharp edge-to-edge lens for Aurora and for star trail.

Svinafellsjokull - yeÞ anoÞher minÞ-blowing greaÞ glacier...

To another great glacier we'd come.  Iceland had a plethora of glaciers that at every turn we would come to close encounter with a glacier.  Here at the vantage point of Svinafellsjokull, we came side by side with another glacier tongue.

The team posing at Svinafellsjokull.

The vantage point for Snivafellsjokull was a small ledge.  It was possible to walk further in on the left side.   I didn't because of my injuries, but Kai Sing, Alex and some other members did.  Serene and I just stayed around and took whatever we could.

Serene's shot.

I was sure the other members were thoroughly inspired by the place.  But for some strange reasons, little lingam came to Serene and I. We could only just shoot what we saw.  But, it was like that one lah... going for photography trips.  One could not possible be lingam-ful every single day and every single moment.  There would be times when you would just feel the lingams slipping out of your mind and your body.

Another one of Serene's shots.

We looked around and saw the other side of the shoot... one of us and some of our good members doing something totally non-photographic.  Here, Carren, Adrian, Serene and I were fascinated about the pebbles on the ground.
Looking for pebbles,

Adrian the accomplice helping search for souvenirs - as he had always said:
Support the local industries.

Next stop...
Another Vantage Point of Jokulsarlon

My ankle was starting to act up a little and I was finding my point and shoot camera a little limiting when it came to shooting.  We came to another glacier lake.
"This is another vantage point of Jokulsarlon," said Adrian.
Oh, so it was another side of Jokulsarlon.  After being bombarded by icebergs after icebergs, and after the happenings the night before, it seemed like a little anti-climax.  But it must have been just me.  I walked slowly holding Serene's hand up and down the little hill and came to the lovely outcrop.

Holding on to Serene, we walked leftwards.  The boys and girls were all far away at the other end of the ledge.
"Dar, I think... we won't walk to the other end, can?  We will just stay at this part and enjoy this part ok?"

So we did.
And enjoyed ourselves shooting everyone else.

Carren, Lai Peng walking towards the left side..

Kai Sing shoot leg open open...
Lai Peng at her icy catch again.
The 'H'

Hand in hand, Serene and I made it thus far on my busted ankle, and the point and shoot in my right hand.  I considered myself not bad for having made that ice cave in the morning.  Any additional destination for this day would had to be considered bonuses to me.
We came to this 'H' shaped depression on the ground... hmmm, must have been tyre marks.

Long shadows
We saw our own reflections on the ground as the sun started to descend.  Long shadows these were, at 4pm in the afternoon.  Yes, indeed it struck me that so high up in the latitude the sun would be quite close to the horizon even at this point in time.

And from where we were we could see all our friends still having fun both on the ground and way below at the shore level just next to the ice.
For Serene and I on this day, we had had just about enough of ice.  And we decided to slowly take a walk back to the bus.

All having fun on top and at the bottom.
... and back to where a moment ago I was frantically trying to ease my bladder here without anyone seeing... only to have a tall skinny Ang Moh man jump out from the side onto where I was standing and peeing, a few seconds after I'd stowed away my member..

On the right, up and over the small slope, was my pee point.
Back to... Jokulsarlon, again?!!
Yes, after Jokulsarlon, we drove back to.. Jokulsarlon again.
"Ok guy," said Adrian. "We are going to shoot Jokulsarlon in the sunset. Just wait and watch the sun goes down."
My point & shoot shot of Jokulsarlon at Sunset.
Yeah.. it was great to be hardcore.  But when you have a broken hand, a broken rib, a swollen ankle, and only a point and shoot in your only other working hand, it was like "sigh.. how am I going to shoot the sunset scene?"  I began to feel a little let down by myself.
I took one shot with the point and shoot.  Serene knew me only too well.  She past me her 1DMkIV and the 16-35mm and forced me to go shoot with this, while she grabbed the P&S and went gallivanting.
"How am I going to shoot with the big camera?" I protested. "I got no hands to hold the lens!"
"You can one lah!" retorted the woman.
And I walked around with the DSLR in my right hand, enjoying the feel of a heavy camera with all the filters in there again.  I felt like I was whole again!

Serene's point & shoot capture of ice on shore.
But as I previewed the shots, I begun to see the angles, the shots that Serene took with the P&S.  And what I saw on her point and shoot far far excelled what I saw on the DSLR I was holding onto that evening.
The sun was setting.  And the wind came in strong gusts. We were all mostly covered up, leaving our fingers occasionally exposed to the freezing wind for a short moment to adjust settings.  It was really cold, with the wind factor.  And being just next to blocks of ice definitely enhanced the coldness.

Serene's point & shoot capture of the ducks in ice.
Serene feeling the cold...
... and while I struggled with my tripod and filters with only one good hand, she went around enjoying herself shooting with freedom unleashed, without the DSLR's holding her back.

... but her enthusiasm didn't get frozen...

Norman motioned me over and showed me how
to take a video of the scene.  My gratitude to him!

Kai Sing was totally warm. "I felt warm and not cold at all" he said later.

Yilin forever camera-shy...

But Carol forever dressed in a fashion that simply
screams for total and undivided attention.
Alex felt no effects of the cold, but Adrian seemed to be chilled to the bones...

The Leng Zhai Eddy waiting patiently to do his magic.

Yan Yan and Lai Peng really braving it out in the
cold wind.

Teck Siang & Acrux showing what they were
made of.

Surprise surprise! She found one of my favourite scenes!

So, Serene continued to shoot and shoot, running all over the edge of Jokulsarlon, in typical Serene Gan fashion.  Sometimes I really didn't know what this girl was made of.  Certain times she could be so manja and wailed at the slightest of discomfort, other times she would amaze me by her resilience.

And she displayed an eye that I used to see in myself, but which, somewhere along the journey, I seemed to have lost.

... and captured it with her point and shoot with the setting sun behind,
The bone...
Meanwhile, I struggled with my set up, and kept myself entertained by talking to Hannah, jabbering about 'What foreground subject should I be looking for?" "Should I shoot this piece of bone?" "Yes, I think I am going to shoot the bone, Hannah..."
I must have bored her to death that evening.  But she very kindly humoured me.

The cold was becoming more and more unbearable.
I kept calling out to Serene.

"Dar, it's very very cold!  I'm going to go back to the bus now," I would say.  But only to suddenly see the orange of the sunset radiating out like magic from th setting yolk.
"Aaaaawwwww... Dar, the orange keeps getting nicer and nicer!  Even if I want to go, I keep telling myself to stay and shoot the orange."

It was magnificent indeed.  One of the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen.  Fancy having to come few thousand miles up north to Iceland to behold such a lovely sunset.  Perhaps it was true that we weren't able to catch such beautiful sunsets back home.
Kai Sing, the icy lagoon, and the beautiful sunset.
While I was planning for the perfect sunset shot (and failing miserably at that),  Serene was looking for birds on ice, and over the sunset.  Capturing astonishing images far better than mine.

The bird landing on ice...
Over the sunset...

My last sunset shot.
From my vantage point above on the ledge, I saw one huge chunk of ice breaking off from a bigger piece and starting floating away downstream, gaining speed as it flowed.  The sunset was almost over, and the sun was below the horizon already.  But the orange hue that remained giving the sky and the clouds its dye remained as strong.

First Planned Aurora Chase

Chase?  What chase? Last night we tried chasing.. and I ended up broken.  So tonight whatever it was I'd decided that I wasn't going to chase any Aurora.  I would let them come to me instead.
I told Serene:
"Dar, tonight both you and I will share one camera and one tripod. I will adjust the setting and you will press the cable release.  We sit down and shoot together."
So it was decided.  So at 9pm we all set off from Gerdi Guesthouse towards Jokulsarlon (again!).  That 15 minutes drive to the bridge over the past couple of days had become familiar to us.
Along the way, Acrux cried out:
"Hey, at 5 o'clock position.  I saw green light!"
"Where got?"
And Acrux was proven correct.  His eyes sensed out Aurora like radars.  Adrian instructed the driver to cross the bridge to one designated position he originally recce-ed.
Can see the aurora.. but not full-blown
yet, and hidden behind the clouds.
It was in the dark, and we strode over some rope to walk up some small knoll overlooking the Jokulsarlon.  The sky was clear on this night, and stars were aplenty.  Excitement mounted as we began setting up our tripods and fumbled with the remote cables in the dark.
We automatically formed a line along the cliff, as close to the edge as possible.
Among us, we shouted out the settings again.  I remembered Adrian was talking about reducing the ISO from 3200 to 400.   Of course, it was always a dilemma.  A slower shutter speed would mean more foreground details, but it would also reduce the definition of the aurora, merging its path into a blur.  Sometimes we would want the lights to be more defined.  It was rather tricky trying to get the horizon straightened in the dark, and we had to take a few test shots to make sure the foreground elements were correct and well composed.

There were already some people down at the level of the lake with their cameras.  Inevitably, despite our best efforts to maintain light discipline, there bound to be certain time when we needed to whip out our torch lights to check on the settings.

"Can you PLEASE turn off your lights?!" the Ang Moh
below shouted up at us. Well, he was good. He was using
red lights.  But he became a foreground subject due to that.
"Hey you up there!" shouted the irate Ang Mohs down under. "Could you PLEASE turn off your lights!"  We hew-lan them. Why? Because there were also cars behind us parked, and with their headlamps turned on full-blast. On my left are some other Ang Mohs who continued shining their torch lights all over the place. But we were all quite cooperative because we all also wanted no light pollutions.

The aurora started gently...

Watching the aurora unfold was a brand new experience.  To those of us in the team who had seen the aurora previously in Norway, they might find it not so much of a big deal. But for myself and Serene, it was really quite something.  Although I kept saying before the trip that I wasn't really so hot about the aurora, but when it came to the moment, I couldn't help but got caught up by the elation of the moment.
Both Serene and I carried a pair of foldable canvas chairs thousands of miles just for this moment for us to sit down and enjoy the scene while we hold the cable release.

And we did just that.  All the boys and girls were looking at us while we sat down and whispered sweet nothings into each other's ear.  The only other couple who brought chairs was, if I remembered correctly, Alex and Lai Peng.
So, for a good one hour, we sat there, occasionally pointing the camera left or right depending on where the aurora was strongest, and kept shooting.  We played with different settings, different ISO and had a whole lot of fun.

It began to take on a more define shape...

'Ooooo's and 'Aaaa's from all sides came as the lights took a different shape, emerged from another corner, or whipped themselves into several layers.  The term 'dancing lights' was truly apt as the light was literally dancing in front of us, only varying in intensity and shapes.
It was later that Adrian said this very precise location was where he wanted us to be for the aurora for he found the perfect foreground with the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon and the volcanoes in the background for the aurora.

... and more layers appeared...

It was undeniably cold, this night.  But we held on to our cable releases.
Acrux was shuttling between cameras doing timelapses and all.  And Teck Siang had also two cameras.  These fellows were the true blue hardcores. 

Then suddenly a car swerved in on the far side of the shore of the glacier lake.  We all groaned as the front light of the car spoilt the shot, for those who were half way through a long exposure.  I previewed the shot, and found that the light gave a very interesting contrast to the foreground and the aurora.  Not bad actually.  And here was that shot:

I considered ourselves to be most lucky, to have arrived at the exact location as the aurora was about to start and to have been there throughout the whole concert, until right at the end, as the lights faded off. Adrian waited for the performance to be more or less over before giving the 'exercise cut' order.  By then, we were all chilled to the bones, and we'd all had enough.  All one needed was a few good shots, and it would have been job done already.
And on this night, it was an overwhelming great job done.

Here was a magnificent Timelapse done by our good Acrux Pang with his intervalometer.
For the enjoyment of everyone, here it was, courtesy of Acrux:

And back at Gerdi Guesthouse, jubilation was written all over our faces...
[apologies, several of our members were changing when this impromptu shot took place]

What was that noise outside the window?

My eye lids could hardly open.  Serene was already almost falling into sleep beside me.  I pulled the quilt up.  Then it came.  A pitter patter on the window pane outside.  Getting out of bed, I pulled the curtain aside to see raindrops on the glass.
"Hmmm...  a rainy night.  What fantastic timing.  It started raining only after we finished our aurora session.  I couldn't ask for more."
The cold of the outside air through the day had been a form of constant icing for my broken finger, broken rib and swollen ankle.  I felt minimal pain throughout the day.  Even at night, the pain wasn't significant.  And I could sleep very well.  Very soon after my head hit the typical super-soft Icelandic pillow (with which I was very very uncomfortable), the melatonin level in my blood rose and I was lost in Icelandic slumberland.

 Iceland Day 7 ~ Snow snow snow and back to Reykjavic!