“The sun fell slowly, kissed the horizon, and raised straight up again. We never lost sight of an inch of its glow. A day ended and began right in front of us. It was something made for the movies”
I have never been to a country like Iceland. As a photographer, it’s been on the top of my bucket list for a long time. It’s barren, rich, other-worldly, alluring, cosy, cold, and full of surprises. In turn, I felt at home yet somewhere way out of this world during the week-long trip. The sun never set and (like all holidays should feel) time didn’t exist, the world was still and peaceful yet the environment was ever changing and sometimes, unforgiving. It gave us something new with every head turn, every bend in the road, every cloud that passed. The colours, plants and landscape felt prehistoric and futuristic all at the same time and the air was so fresh, like a winters morning in a galaxy far far away.
Hiring a 4×4 and exploring Iceland’s ring road is a must. During my trip into the Arctic Circle, I discovered how alive this world actually is, how our impact is gaining effect and the true power of nature. I stood between a continental tectonic rift which is slowly splitting Iceland in two and traced where the earth has shifted rocks. I made my way through the footprints of frozen lava statues. I saw steam, smoke, water erupt out of the ground. I bathed in waters heated by geothermal energy and felt water vapour land on my face from gigantic waterfalls. I climbed an ageing glacier and drank it’s water directly from the ice. I saw clouds move like blankets across mountain peaks and the rain pulling in from miles away. The biggest surprise of all was witnessing the Midnight Sun.
For a photographer, Iceland is a dream. It offers an array of photographic opportunities and every day is different, bringing new weather to negotiate with. Before our arrival, I actually failed to remember that It never actually gets dark at night during the summer in Iceland (I will not bore you with the science behind the Earth’s tilt, it’s just a Google away). But who really knew that? A country widely known for the Northern Lights and star gazing lacks darkness for nearly half the year. This lack of darkness had a huge effect on my experience during the trip. It was a conversation starter to say the least. Many of the locals apparently sleep with the curtains open, a baffling skill. Firstly, lack of the ‘night’ made myself, and the three other girls I was with, feel very jet lagged but knowing that our AirBnB had proper blackout blinds was very reassuring. Darkness wasn’t there to remind us that we were tired or should be hitting the hay. We’d be out exploring the stunning countryside at midnight and it would be bright and light. It took me the whole week to get used to this. The camera always at the ready, Iceland was there to be enjoyed no matter what time of the day.
On our final night, we ventured out at around 9pm to go Whale Watching (a popular time for this activity, apparently). The weather as you’d expect in Iceland is very unpredictable and we hadn’t seen the sun for about 75% of the trip so far. On this night, however, we were lucky enough to watch the sunset on the water with nothing to distract us from the horizon (aside maybe from the occasional fin of a whale we saw, it was a very sparse safari). At around 11.00pm, after hours of bobbing around on the boat, the clouds lifted just enough for us to have a peep at a spectacularly amber sun. The boat was heading back into Reykjavik at full pelt, and the wind was getting much sharper. By this time everyone on board had retreated undercover, but we stayed on deck knowing that the thick layer of cloud would soon part. Once it did, I was mesmerized. The sun fell slowly and at almost exactly midnight it kissed the horizon and raised straight up again. We never lost sight of an inch of its glow. A day ended and began right in front of us. It was something made for the movies.
It’s hard to describe how I felt in this moment, It was so weird to watch the sun fall and rise so slowly. A lingering twilight, warming and tinting the thawing white peaks of the ocean below. The world ashore asleep but the night’s sky alive in an orange haze. The saying ‘chasing sunsets’ went straight out the window. Like a show, it was there for us, to soak it all in. Slow motion and a lot of emotion, the rolling waves beneath the boat only adding to the sun’s alluring movement. It all seemed mystical and ‘made up’, on par with the legendary stories and myths of Iceland. The experience somewhat redefined the meaning of ‘time’ for me. It was one of those bubble bursting, ‘I’m small and insignificant’ moments that left me pondering about it on the flight homebound. I couldn’t tell you much about the science behind it all, but The Midnight Sun is a enchantment worth experiencing in a lifetime. I will one day return for the Northern Lights but for now bask in the memory of that night.
Whilst on my trip I did not hesitate to photograph and film my experience: See Alice’s film HERE
Words & Pictures: Alice Greenfield