In an ice cave, the distance between you and the rich blue ice around you vanishes. I walked into one such cave in southern Iceland, delicately through a tunnel of circular ice arches. They towered over me at roughly 6 meters (19.5 feet) high, covered in long, frosted icicles. And as I gazed around in wonder, I simply forgot that I existed. Instead, from the periphery of my senses, and the edges of my phone screen, I felt the magic pouring through the translucent walls of this place. Some imaginary ocean had carved waves out of the ice tunnel, leaving perfect bowl-shaped depressions of blue glass. Each dappled, sparkling bowl reflected the entire cave at once. As I walked deeper, the tunnel closed in tighter and I could touch both sides with my extended arms, except that there was no need to. There was already no distance between me and the ice.
Non-photographers often comment with disdain, “aren’t you cold out there?“ And I have to answer, “of course not“. But that hides the truth. The simple fact of the matter is that I love being warm–in cold places. I love suffering the indignities of discomfort so that in return I can experience the crisp feeling of being alive. But most of all, I love the light.
The light in the North is precisely the opposite of the tropical beaches. The sun is never overhead, it’s often stormy or overcast, and a blue sky is a rarity. That kind of light is a photographer’s dream. It often looks like an eternal sunset, or an ethereal fog. That kind of light rakes sideways across vast open spaces, always changing, accompanied by tough weather. That kind of light is epic—Arctic light. The challenge, of course, is that the epic light is often also extremely low-light. Learning to shoot in those low-light or nighttime conditions opens up a whole slew of amazing opportunities, like the northern lights or twilight colors. This is an area where the OPPO Find X5 Pro pleasantly surprises, giving me clean files in tough conditions.
When I’m shooting in Iceland, I had to deal with hellacious winds, often sustained at 35 knots (40 mph), as well as torrential downpours of cold rain. Everywhere I’ve worked in the Arctic the conditions are tough. But that’s the price we pay to bring back images in that stunning storm-light, and the price we pay to feel so fully alive.
Iceland, of course, is the landscape photographer’s paradise. Volcanic mounts like Eldborg burst from the ground, which are often composed of the unique volcanic sand that the famous black-sand beaches like Reykjanes are made of. Black sands, white snows. The rolling hills in Iceland’s Landmannalaugar are explosions of color, bursting to life when the golden light hits them. And, of course, the glaciers and their accompanying deep blue ice cover the south coast. You can run around, climbing on an infinite variety of sculpted ice forms, or you can seize the moment to capture the aurora borealis glowing over Skaftafell’s glaciers at night. It’s a wonderful feeling to be so unencumbered, shooting with the capable but pocket-sized camera in the OPPO Find X5 Pro- allowing me scramble all around the glacier. It’s also a relief to be using a waterproof camera in this environment.
As vast as Iceland’s treasured landscape is, it is but a tiny speck of an island compared the remainder of the Arctic. For the more adventurous or those who dislike seeing tourists walking on pristine spaces, there’s Greenland. The scale of Greenland’s Ilulissat Icefjord, a UNESCO world heritage site, blows away Iceland’s glacier lagoon. Here, icebergs the size of the Titanic float by casually. Greenland is far more than just landscape, however. It’s a good place to be introduced to the magic of Arctic culture, of people who have called this inhospitable place their home forever.
Many of the Arctic’s Indigenous peoples still live subsistence lifestyles, hunting and fishing for food. They are happy to share their unique cuisines, from frozen sliced whitefish to caribou stew. When you visit the more off-the-beaten-path portions of the Arctic, you find an infinite number of things to photograph as you experience the culture and community of its first peoples.
The camera takes us places. Like a mysterious ring found in a fantasy novel, the camera lures us to new locales, to see and capture and share them. The Arctic is one such mysterious and magical destination. It’s the place where you have to put on three layers to go outside, and the vastness takes time to travel through. But that’s the wonder of it too.
The Arctic photographer is forced to slow down, to see and hear the beluga whales breaking through the sea ice, or brave the veil of polar night. This is where sometimes the experiences are so overwhelming that a big camera is just in the way. I can make pictures in a mere instant from my OPPO Find X5 Pro, stick it back in my pocket, and jump right back into the experience. Making art, or even just being in the Arctic may be a challenge, but it’s a rich artistic life that few have ever experienced. Go seize those Spectacular moments.