When people see some of the location shots I have produced with models I often get similar questions, things like “How do you find your locations”, “That must have been cold”, “That looks dangerous”, “You must spend a fortune”, “That’s such an iconic location, how did you manage to shoot there”. So for those looking at doing their own location shoots, or who are just generally interested in the background to some of the images, I thought I’d retell a bit around a trip to Iceland I did this year with the very special Lulu Lockhart, as well as show some of the images, of course. I also produced a calendar with images from the trip, for those who are interested.
A number of models contact me, and can’t believe that I plan my shoots so far in advance. We went to Iceland in June 2018, but we started planning it in August 2017 when I was on a trip with my good friend, and talented photographer, Randall Hobbett. We were on a joint shoot in Ireland, again with Lulu, and while discussing a previous trip to Iceland in June 2016 Randall expressed an interested in going there. This also sort of answers the “You must spend a fortune” question. I do lots of joint shoots, which as well as providing a spotter cuts the costs in half. My photography is expensive, but I have no other vices, I prefer to spend my money on shoots rather than camera gear, new cars or other expensive items, and by doing joint shoots the fortune required for these trips is halved!
Once we’d agreed we were going the next step is finding locations. I usually prefer to find areas with potential locations, and then book accommodation near to them. I get my locations by researching using the Internet, Google Maps, books, and networking with landscape photographers or people who have visited the area, I did all of these things with Iceland. One person left a comment once on a blog post about Iceland, and they have been visiting Iceland for over 55 years, we are now good friends and they provided suggestions. I also emailed all friends I knew who had visited, plus friends of friends. I also look at other people’s pictures and work out where the shot was taken when they don’t say. For this trip I will have spent will in excess of 100 hours doing research for locations.
Iceland is an amazing place, nature in the raw, but it can be very difficult to shoot there as in the main months when it is good to shoot there with models, June and July, it is full of tourists. However you do have 23 hours of daylight then, which gives you flexibility with the times you shoot to avoid the public and bad weather.
This first shot was taken while driving down the F35 mountain road through the centre of Iceland. These roads are only open for a few months of the year, and you have to have a 4×4 and ensure that your car hire insurance covers you for driving down these roads. We had driven around 100km down what is basically a gravel road with this mountain looming ever larger. It is illegal to drive off road in Iceland to protect the environment, but just at this spot there was an area off the road set aside for parking.
We found a handy posing rock, and I just love Lulu’s pose and the moody background.
Shortly after taking that shot we turned off to get to our accommodation. Unfortunately a bridge was down so we had to drive through a river. Icelanders are using to driving through rivers, but I was a bit more than nervous as your car hire insurance states that you are uninsured when driving through them, so you are liable for the full value fo your vehicle! There’s lots of guidance available, but basically you follow the same route that others take, you don’t go too quickly, and you don’t stop.
Randall took this video of the next vehicle crossing after we had safely crossed, watch it until the end and you will see why I was extra nervous!
The next image provided answers to both “That looks dangerous” and “How do you find your locations”. I asked the woman running one of the guesthouses we stayed in for location suggestions, after showing her some images from our last trip, and she suggested this great rocky bridge. It looks extremely precarious, and while it is a long sheer drop down to the sea the path along arch is actually something like 12ft wide, so she is well away from the edge.
We would never do a shot that was dangerous, and we walk away from quite a few shots that look great but where we consider the risks too great. However, with the magic of composition and shooting from the right angle the shots can look precarious. Here’s a close up of her feet, so you can see there’s lots of rocks between her and the edge.
Iconic locations are usually iconic because they look great, but that does make them very popular. So in answer to “That’s such an iconic location, how did you manage to shoot there” the simple answer is that you get there before anybody else. That means getting up early, around 4am is common, and having your accommodation near to the location.
One of the iconic locations in Iceland is Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach near Vik. We stayed the night before in a lodge on the road down to the beach, so we were literally only a km or so from the beach. We check the weather forecast regularly, and on the night before I received this email from the car hire company “Weather Warning 25/6/2018: ..The Icelandic Met office is predicting gale or severe gale on these parts of Iceland. ..”, which covered our area.
We only had one night at this location, so this was our only chance to shoot there. We discussed it and decided to get up and make a decision in the morning. At 4am there was indeed a gale, but we were so close to the beach so we drove to take a look. At the well known area where the basalt columns are we literally could not stand up, I did some investigating and found an area around a corner where Randall and I could shoot from a more sheltered position, although Lulu would have been only slightly sheltered, but could at least stand up.
In the end the final decision is always up to the model, and Lulu decided she would attempt a very short set as she could hardly stand up, and the extreme wind took the wind chill temperature down significantly. When a model goes above and beyond, as Lulu often does, I’m actually quite nervous as if I mess up the images then her discomfort and suffering would be for nothing. Fortunately we got the shots, and love I them. We stayed well away from the sea as the waves are very powerful and unpredictable, as many tourists find out when they lose equipment to the sea , get injured and sometimes worse.
Compared to the beach at Vik the shots at the similarly iconic Kirkjufell were a piece of cake. Our accommodation was 3 minutes away, and we were staying 2 nights there. The first morning we were up at 4am and got there but the peak of the mountain was covered in mist, fortunately on the second morning the conditions were more favourable.
Onto by far the most common question “That must have been cold”. The short answer is, well yes it was cold! But I will also try and give a longer answer.
I don’t deliberately try and get a model cold, in fact I always try and minimise the discomfort a model has to suffer to get the images. However, early in the morning or at some of the locations it is extremely cold. Fortunately I am very quick at shooting, so that minimises how long the model has to be cold and nude for, and the model always makes the final decision about whether they are happy doing the shot, and how long they pose for. Also, in my defence, I have taken Lulu to Corsica where it was actually too hot, and we are going to some other hot places as well!
Waterfalls make great locations, but they are also so damn wet and cold. Stupidly for the waterfall in the first 2 shots we waited in the car for 20 minutes until it stopped raining, and then when we got to the waterfall by the end of the shoot we were all soaked through to the skin. We try and work as quickly as possible, so Lulu can get back to the car and dry herself, warm up, and use the well deserved heated seats, that is not always possible especially when members of the public decide to visit the waterfall as well and we have to wait for them to go.
So how cold is it next to a waterfall? Well for this shot I was much further away from the waterfall than Lulu, but while taking the shots I had to change the finger I used to press the shutter button as I lost feeling in the finger I normally use. This was another of those times that I was pleased that I managed to get images that we both thought were worthy of Lulu’s discomfort. Again it eas a very short set.
Snow is very photogenic, but fortunately in solid form it’s not as cold as a waterfall as the coldest areas are only really where you are in contact with it. These 2 shots were from our previous trip.
Iceland also, unsurprisingly, has a lot of ice, most famously in the glacier lagoons and Diamond beach. Again they are very busy places, we got to the beach at 4:30am and there were already people there who we had to wait until they left.
We spent a lot of time at both locations assessing whether it was safe to take shots. I often go to to where Lulu will pose first to assess how safe it is, as in this shot at the glacier lagoon where I went to see how stable the mini-iceberg was, and how deep the water was. This is where a monopod is useful to check water depth, and trousers that zip off at the knee so that I can stand and walk in water. This is glacier melt water, so rather cold!
Here’s Lulu looking rather serene on the lump of ice I checked out. People have noted that they would like the whole reflection of her to be in the image, but we made sure we kept close to shore, so I’m more than happy with the image, and Lulu’s safety was far more important than a slightly better composition.
I hope I’ve answered all the questions, in brief – “How do you find your locations” – Hard work, “That’s such an iconic location, how did you manage to shoot there” – Get up at 4am in the morning, “You must spend a fortune” – Half a fortune, but I forgo other things that other people spend their money on, and I thoroughly enjoy my photography, “That looks dangerous” – It may look it, but it isn’t, “That must have been cold” – Yes it probably was, but hopefully worth it!
Many thanks to Lulu for all she endures to create the images we produce together. Unsurprisingly nobody ever asks why I work with Lulu so much, if they ever do I shall point them to this blog post.