Iceland, Part 3

After a few days of trekking through Iceland i was sore. Really sore. I don’t know whether it was the trudging through the snow or the constant squatting to look through the eyepiece of my tripod-mounted camera. Either way, my thighs and back were killing me. I thought the best way to relax for the six hour flight back home was to relax in some industrial waste at the Blue Lagoon.

That’s right – i said industrial waste, but it’s not what you think. The Blue Lagoon is located near the Svartsengi Power Station which produces energy from the geothermal-ness of Iceland’s volcanic activity. They take the steam from the super-heated water from below the surface and use it to run turbines to generate electricity. They also use heat exchangers to get energy from the water. The thing is, this isn’t ordinary water. It’s rich in algae, silica and other minerals that give it an other-worldly blue, opaque character. The outflow from the power station is diverted to natural pool inside the Blue Lagoon where you can sit and relax in 100 degree water for however long you like. The water is turned over every two days, and guests are required to take a shower with soap before entering the lagoon. They even have pictograms depicting which 5 important parts of your body need particular attention in case you never attended a high-school health class.

But lounging in the water and slathering a silica mask all over your face isn’t the only thing you can do there. They also have these hobbit hole steam rooms that are natural lava caves, a waterfall massage that pounds your neck and upper back and they give water massages. That’s right, a massage…in the hot water. Did i mention that there’s a swim-up bar?

And don’t worry if you’ve forgotten your swimming trunks, robe or towel – they’re all available for rent. The complete package (minus the awesome water massage) will run you about $65 – stay as long as you like though, hopping between the waterfall, steam rooms and the water.

I thought i’d also share a photo i took while flying over Greenland. It’s not as green as you’d think, given the name.

Iceland, Part 2

We come from the land of the ice and snow. From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow.

 I was reminded that Led Zeppelin wrote The Immigrant Song about Iceland by a gregarious local named Finn between shots of Brennivin and Opal in a bar called The English Pub in downtown Reykjavik (aside from the dart board, The English Pub is an English pub in name only). Brennivin is a potato-based fermentation flavored with caraway seed often used as a chaser to Hákarl (fermented/rotten shark that tastes like a sponge marinated in ammonia). Opal is a licorice flavored cough syrup…i mean liquor.

I’ve mentioned that Iceland is populated by extremely friendly people, and it’s no joke. I had just ordered a beer at the bar and had barely taken a sip before i was asked if i wanted to join in on a game of darts between Olig and Finn. Never one to pass up an opportunity to have my ass handed to me in a friendly game of Cricket, i said ‘Sure!’. The next thing i knew, we had closed the bar and i was making my way back to my hotel. Reykjavik is that kind of town.


Reykjavik is a lively place that’s not only the capital and largest city in Iceland, but it’s probably the one place in Iceland most familiar to people (at least  until that volcano erupted last year and pissed off anyone with a flight in or out of Europe). In 1986 the former French consulate was the location of the famous Reykjavik Summit which eventually lead to the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty in 1987 – one of the events that led to the end of the Cold War. I remember hearing about that summit and imagined, being such an important event, it would have taken place in a Versaille-like estate – not the understated  house that sits at the edge of the Faxa Bay in the North Atlantic.

But that understated aesthetic extends to more than just the location of that summit. It’s prevalent throughout the capital. Reykjavik doesn’t look or feel like any European city or town i’ve been to. The modern architecture is simple and functional, yet with a cheerful disposition most noticeable in the bright color scheme of the houses in and around the capital. Structures are painted in bright yellows, greens and reds that are juxtaposed against the stark backdrop of  the basalt mountain Esjan – the informal symbol of Reykjavik. I also came across several large, graffiti-like wall murals that echoed the playful nature of the people of Reykjavik.

While the main road downtown is home to the highest density of shops, cafes and restaurants in the city, there are a number of side streets that intersect it and are lined with small antique shops and boutiques. Several of these side streets lead to the famous Hallgrímskirkja Lutheran church. It’s an unmistakable structure whose architecture is reminiscent of the geological landscape that surrounds it. The striations of the basalt mountain ranges around Reykjavik are echoed in the sweeping parallel lines that make up steeple and wings of the church. Inside is a massive organ that seems more at home in the structure than any other organ i’ve ever seen inside a church or cathedral – again, following the clean, parallel lines of the surrounding architecture.

Having had only a few days to explore, i left a lot of the city and surrounding areas untouched. In doing so, i didn’t really got a good sense of the size of Reykjavik. According to Wikipedia it has a population of ~120,000, which seems like a lot. I never got the feeling that i was in a city of that size – it seemed more comfortable than that. It’s someplace that i’ll definitely be going back to, even if it’s for only a portion of my next trip.

Iceland, Part 1

I know what you’re thinking. With spring just around the corner who goes to Iceland for a vacation? Truth is, we all know it’s not going to get warmer until around June, so i figured if i have to endure more cold and snow, i might as well do it in a place as breathtaking as Iceland. It’s someplace i’ve always wanted to go for a long weekend and since i’ve returned i’ve already started thinking about when i’m going back.

I don’t do a lot of landscape photography because, quite frankly, the landscapes around here don’t really inspire me. Sure, we have great autumns, but i’ve seen that all before. I wanted to go someplace and shoot some something that was awe inspiring. So i chose Iceland. And i wasn’t disappointed.

After deciding on going to Iceland, i had to get my gear in order. I figured that i would bring my 50mm f/1.8 and my 70-200mm f/2.8, but i really wanted something a lot wider to capture the great, big vistas. So i rented a 14-24mm f/2.8 lens from  I was a bit skeptical about renting a lens, because i was pretty much resting the fate of my entire trip on the quality of the glass that would show up the day before i left. I have to say that not only was the service great, but the condition of the lens was almost brand new. That lens, by the way, is incredibly sharp – even wide-open, with little barrel distortion at the wide end. I only used the 50mm when i was walking around Reykjavik and only brought out the 70-200mm to fill the frame on only a few shots. I used the 14-24mm almost exclusively while shooting landscapes.

My plan, if you can call it that, was to stay in Reykjavik, rent a car, plug in the coordinates of a town about 200 Km away and just drive. If something caught my eye, i would pull off onto a side road, pack my gear into a backpack camera bag and hike until i found what i was looking for. The first day it took me about 3 hours to travel about 80 Km…there was just so much to see and capture. I shot mostly on a tripod, with the occasional poke-the-lens-out-of-the-window shots when the weather turned ugly. Iceland’s weather is even more temperamental than here in upstate New York, so the drizzle/showers/flurries/white-outs only lasted for about a half hour. I didn’t have to wait long for the weather to break to get back in the action. The temperature was just about the same as it was here, although it was much windier there, with gusts in the 20-30 mph range. No wonder most everyone there wears those great sweaters.

Aside from the amazing landscapes, the people of Iceland are also fantastic. Everyone i met was outgoing, friendly and extremely helpful (i’m looking at you, Christian and Gunner, who helped pull me out of the 18″ snowdrift i drove into, high-centering my4wd rental car). At no point did i feel like a tourist (well, except for maybe getting my car stuck), more like someone that simply didn’t speak the language. Icelandic is a tough language to get down – not only are there sounds my mouth isn’t used to making, but the written language has changed little in the thousands of years it’s been around. There are letter that are beyond foreign to me, in combinations that make Cyrillic words look quaint. But everyone i came across spoke English – and very well at that. And if you’ve ever heard a four year-old speak Icelandic, you’d agree that it’s one of the cutest things in the world.

So, while you may think an island the size of Kentucky in the middle of the North Atlantic, with a population of a little over 300,000 may not seem like an ideal location to spend time in late March, i would urge you to reconsider. The people are super friendly, the night-life in Reykjavik is non-stop and the sights, sounds and tastes are incredible. I’m already trying to figure out which festival i want to attend when i go back during some upcoming August. It’s a place that you can feel you’ve left the rest of the world behind until you head into a town and are welcomed as one of their own by any number of the locals.

You can view all of the photos from my trip (and get a sneak-peak into my next post) here

Figgs Holiday Show 2010

At one point during their show Pete Donnelly remarked that he had heard Howie’s voice, like a beacon, on the radio as he was coming into Albany. And who better to guide the Figgs to their first of two shows “back home”  than Howard Glassman. I only caught the first show at Valentine’s on Friday, but if that was any indication, the crowd at the Putnam Den on Saturday was in for a long, sweaty night – after all, there were people in the crowd that had driven from Cleavland to see them.

They ripped through a full set of old and new songs, interspersed with the traditional cover of the Kink’s Father Christmas and threats of not playing anything from Sucking in Stereo unless their vinyl sales picked up. Of course, they weren’t serious about not doing Sucking in Stereo (in album order) because before you knew it they kicked it off with Opening Night. They played through the whole album and then played another encore set. I may be biased but damn, that was one fine evening of music.

To top if off (or to start it off right, depending on how you look at it) The Charlie Watts Riots were the opening act. I was really excited to hear that CWR would be opening since i’ve missed all of their shows since Tulip Fest. I was really glad to see them at Valentine’s – kind of the opposite of where they were playing the last time i saw them. They belong in a small room where you can crank the speakers up and feel the music. Their quick set covered a lot of ground, and i was really left wanting more.

When shooting bands i’m a fan first, and a photographer second. I shoot shows because i like hearing live bands and i’m a photographer, so it just seems natural. I’m really there to listen to the bands and take some photos along the way. I try to be as close to the band as possible, since i usually shoot with a pretty wide angle in small venues – 35-50mm, but i don’t fight my way to the front of a crowd if i step back either. If i’m angling for a better spot it’s not to get a better photo, it’s to get a better view. I have a feeling, though, that sometimes people secretly hate me when i’m shooting at a show – maybe it’s because i’m kind of tall and block people’s views that are standing behind me. I try to move around the crowd so that my gigantic head doesn’t block anyone for too long (better to block everyone for a little bit?), but if i’ve stood in front of you at a show, i’m sorry. At least you might take some comfort in the fact that i’m not just a jerk with a camera, i’m a jerk who’s there to listen to some great music.

Halloween Freak-out at Valentine’s

I didn’t wear a costume, but plenty of others dressed up to get their freak-out on Friday night at Valentine’s. There were four bands playing too including Around the World and Back, who were just recently profiled in Metroland. The others were Sea of Trees, Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned and Beware! the Other Head of Science – all great local performers and worthy of a trip out to see any individually. But all four together in one show? Excellent.

They were all playing upstairs at Valentine’s, which is a difficult location to shoot in. It’s really dark, and the bands are really close to the lights. I was shooting with my 50mm f/1.8 and i shot between f/1.8 and f/2.8 at ISO 1000 and a shutter speed of 1/60th of a second.

The lighting changed considerably from set to set. It was pretty well lit for the first two bands (Dunbar and Sea of Trees), but then Around the World pretty much dumped all of the lights. They also used green and blue gels, which don’t make for great shots…in color. So i converted them to black & white, and i think i got a couple of decent shots. They were also dressed as 50’s greasers, so it fits to show them as black & white…lucky break.

One thing i wanted to mention about the shot above is the microphone stand. Damn that microphone stand. It’s very distracting to the image, and i wish i had taken a few steps to my left in order to compose it out of the frame. You really have to keep continually focused on what you’re shooting when you’re shooting – foreground, background, is there something hanging from the ceiling that’s going to look like the subject has something growing out of their head?

Sea of Trees were dressed as Pac Man – genius! The best part (the cherry on top, you might say) was the drummer.

There was also a three-way-tie costume contest and cupcakes. Cupcakes!

Sgt. Dunbar Sea of Trees Around the World and Back Beware! the Other Head of Science Beware! the Other Head of Science

Another thing i want to mention, in addition to thinking about your composition to crop out things like mic stands, is a general awareness of changing conditions. I mentioned the costume contest, but i don’t have any good shots of the contestants. Why? Because i was shooting them as a band. I wasn’t using a flash, and i turned off my autofocus assist light. Since there weren’t any bands playing during the contest, and there were other people taking flash photos, the lighting was poor…it never occurred to me to pop my on-camera flash. I know that it’s only a pop-up, but i could have managed. I was in the mindset, however, of shooting a band in a small location where a flash would have been really out of the question. But an audience costume contest? I should have used my flash.

See the rest of the set here.