Icebergs at the beach - Jökulsárlón, Iceland

Iconic Locations: Why do you keep going back?

I can’t count the number of times someone has said they think a popular location has been overshot. It’s true that some iconic locations see hundreds (or even thousands) of photographers every year. It’s easy to think that a location has been so overshot that it has lost it’s appeal – at least as far as new compositions are concerned. Here’s why I don’t believe that.

Iconic Location of Jökulsárlón, Iceland

Iconic Location of Jökulsárlón, Iceland

The black sand beach near Jökulsárlón in Iceland is one of those iconic locations. Over the past few years, tourism has taken off in Iceland – and because this spot is easy to find, and easy to access, it’s been visited by a whole lot of photographers. I took the above shot in the middle of the night, in the short space between a midnight sunset and a 3am sunrise. The world seemed completely blue. This large chunk of ice broke off an iceberg, floated from a beautiful lagoon to the sea, and washed up on the beach. As I watched, waves crashed against it, smoothing its surface and constantly changing the patterns of shadow and light that danced through it. It was mesmerizing.

Varina at Jökulsárlón, Iceland

Varina at Jökulsárlón, Iceland

This is a location that we return to again and again. Each time we visit, it was completely different. Sometimes, the beach is free of ice… and then, moments later, an ice-jam breaks up, and huge chunks of ice sail down the river and out to sea. They smash into one another with such force that they break into pieces… some as big as cars. And then they wash up onto the beach, where they rock in the waves. At night, the colors are muted and blue. At sunrise and sunset, the ice glows with color. When the sun is high in the sky, the light scatters through the ice with such intensity that it drips with melting water.

Some places seem to gain an entirely new personality from one moment to the next – and others show much more subtle changes. But it’s always worth coming back. If you can, return to a location repeatedly. Explore it in different conditions and get to know it’s moods. There are so many variables. Changing seasons… changing light… different angles… rain and snow and mist. And of course, your options for tripod height, lenses, filters, and camera settings give you such a huge variety of creative control. A long exposure let me capture the smooth patterns of the waves in the shot above. I used my tripod to keep my camera perfectly steady for a couple of seconds while the waves pulled back towards the sea.

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For the shot above, I set up my Induro tripod low to the ground and focused on the lacy patterns in the ice. A wide-open aperture softens the background – while still offering a subtle hint of the sunrise over the distant mountains.

Lots of photographers get discouraged because they feel that it’s all been done before. They think that most locations have been photographed so many times that there’s absolutely no way to get a unique photograph. I don’t believe that. I believe in getting to know the soul of a place. When you take the time to do that, you’ll find that it is as changeable as the shifting patterns of light in the ice at Jökulsárlón.

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Now – of course, you can argue that you can’t always visit a location over and over again. That’s absolutely true. But if that’s the case, go beyond the usual. Don’t just stand at the overlook. Explore the place. Try different lenses and adjust your tripod to make the most of its agility. Look past the obvious. Inspiration is there. You just have to find it.

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Do you have unique photos of iconic location? If so please feel free to share them by clicking in the comment box below.

About Author Varina Patel

There is nothing more remarkable to me than the power of nature. It is both cataclysmic and subtle. Slow and continuous erosion by water and wind can create landscapes every bit as astonishing as those shaped by catastrophic events – and minuscule details can be as breathtaking as grand vistas that stretch from one horizon to the other. Nature is incredibly diverse. Burning desert sands and mossy riverbanks… Brilliant sunbeams and fading alpenglow… Silent snowfall and raging summer storms… Each offers a unique opportunity. I am irresistibly drawn to the challenge of finding my next photograph, and mastering the skills required to capture it effectively.

  • Jökulsárlón is one of the worlds most amazing places, for photographers and for anyone really. We discovered it not having seen any pictures before and we could hardly believe we were actually there and this was happening.