On my second last day in Iceland I had the opportunity to join a snorkel trip with dive.is to the famous Silfra gap.
What’s the big deal about this place? Well, I’m glad you asked!
Silfra is the only place on the planet where you can literally swim/dive between continents / continental plates: The American and the Eurasian tectonic plates.
The water here comes fresh from the glaciers and has been filtered through mountains and rock for the past 80 years before it reaches this spot. That makes it not only 2-3ºC cold but also crystal clear, drinkable arctic water. In fact, the water here is some of the clearest you can find on the planet!
So yes, I was excited to be taking my camera for a swim here!
The guys from dive.is were kind enough to pick me up from my hostel in Reykjavik and take me along with them to the location at Silfra.
This is where the long (first time) procedure of getting into a drysuit began. A pyjama like underlayer would keep me warm and by the time I was sealed up and ready to go I had tape around my wrists to keep the water from coming in, was wearing oven mitt neoprene gloves and a hood and could barely move my head or speak. So perfect for taking photos in the gap between continents (not!)
I felt confident that I would stay dry and warm – since I was promised that only my head and hands would get wet / cool.
By the time I had put my goggles underwater for the first 2 seconds I got it. I got why this place was so special, why everyone visiting Iceland should do this. The clarity was unbelievable! It felt like I had just entered a different world. I had basically just gone through a portal and could now fly and silently observe the empty space between continents. For a moment I forgot why I was here. Ah yes! Take photos and film the episode!
The snorkel only lasted for about 30-40min as the slow flowing current carried me down the narrow channel that was the gap between the slowly separating continents. My air filled drysuit keeping me floating effortlessly on the surface. Unbelievable: I was in nomansland, looking at a different world so clear I thought I could breathe the air out of the water.
By the time I had let some air out of my drysuit to be able to dive down a little the water temperature had caught up with me. 2ºC is the coldest I’ve ever been in. Instant brain freeze if you try to fully submerge your head! So I was pretty much limited to my top-down perspective and focussed on what was below and directly in front of me. Textures, reflections, clarity, people and this amazing vertical drop/gap.
It’s not that easy to ‘work’ when you’re in such an extreme environment. My brain turned to slow-motion and my creativity was crippled down by the cold. But I tried my best and in the end I’m quite happy with what I captured.
Respect to the people who take creative images in these conditions! It’s not easy!
Warmed up by a hot chocolate and some biscuits my fingers slowly returned to normal and I was able to open the housing and find that my camera had done a great job at staying dry and capturing the experience. Yes!!
For any photo nerd I reckon this is the interesting part. How did I shoot it? What gear did I use? How did I prepare my gear? Let me tell you!
I own the Olympus PT-EP11 underwater housing. Which means I’m limited to using the E-M1 when I go underwater.
Most of the important preparation points I tried to pack into the video. (sorry if that part turned out a little longer)
This time I had the opportunity to use the M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO since Olympus has given me the dome port + extender + adapter that allow me to fit this awesome combo into the housing. THANKS!
The wide angle lens was incredibly helpful for this shoot. It really allowed me to shoot the whole picture.
The lens really helped with the composition of most of the shots because I had the 2 sides of the gap left and right in the shot making for a nice symmetrical look or/and a foreground. The wide angle perspective of the 7-14mm made the gap look small in the distance emphasising depth and clarity of the location and because it is so wide I was able to capture so much of my environment.
So this was the obvious lens choice for me.
My biggest concern was the battery life. In such a cold environment the battery can drain like crazy! And I was right. 20min into the snorkel (I was pretty much shooting and filming constantly) the battery started flashing red at me.
But I’ve seen this in the past. In the colder water the battery will last so much longer than it thinks it will. I think the cold fools the camera into thinking that the battery level is lower than it is. Anyway, the easily battery lasted all the dive and even a whole series of shots more after I got out of the water.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 – http://bit.ly/2kwIkf7
M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO – http://bit.ly/2kgKjWo
Peak Design camera straps – http://amzn.to/2Bm5b40
Zeiss lens cleaning kit – http://amzn.to/2rvqj89
Silica Gels – http://amzn.to/2n4xbE2
O-Ring Grease – http://geni.us/ORingGrease
Olympus PT-EP11 Underwater Housing – http://geni.us/OlympusPTEP11housing
Olympus PER-E01 Lens Port Extension –
Olympus PAD-EP08 Lens Port Adapter – http://geni.us/PADEP08PortExtention
Olympus PTLH-E01 Dome Port –
I edited all the images with Adobe Lightroom and had to create a totally new preset since the white balance and the way colours are rendered are very different below the surface. Almost 90% of the image was Yellow-Aqua-Blue – not a great range of colours to work with. So it was incredibly important to get the intensity and saturation of these right. I wanted it to look natural but still add my style into these images.
But how do you make an image interesting if you have only 3 very similar colours to work with? Composition and contrast! In order to show how deep and clear the water is I needed to add ‘layers’ to my image: a foreground, subject and background.
Additionally depth can be shown by contrast: light and dark. So a great deal of the editing time was spent fine tuning the amount of black and whites in the images as well as adjusting the tonal curve.
Quite a long process to be honest.
In the next episode I will be failing. Follow along and learn about what it takes to NOT shoot a photo and why I love shooting skateboarding shots. And I will show what I think makes the difference between a good and great outdoor adventure skating shot. So stay tuned!
If you enjoyed the video or have any suggestions for future videos please leave a comment below and I’ll try and improve / add the ideas into future episodes.
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If you haven’t yet seen the first 2 episodes. I recommend watching (and reading about them) in the links below.
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