Crazy Clouds

July 2019

After having spent 5 days practicing landscape photography in Iceland I was lucky enough to witness some amazing scenes. This blog post is an add on to my Youtube video so you can see a few more images and read a little more information and if you would like to know more about the gear I use on my adventures, check out my Gear Blog Post.

The weather in Iceland may always be unpredictable, but this results in it always being interesting. Our first stop was an impromptu one as we could see an enormous amount of dust and sand being whipped up in to beautiful clouds in the distance. This was quite unusual because Iceland is a very wet place, but it hadn’t rained for 6 weeks. As I tried to select a composition, I found I was distracted by a large rock that was always in my shot. I had a dilemma; do I remove this rock during editing to give a more satisfying image, or do I leave it, accepting that this rock is a natural part of the boulder filled landscape. Here you can see the 2 images for yourself. Did I make the right decision?

iceland, sandstorm, landscape photography
ƒ9 | 1/80 sec | 100mm | ISO 100

After photographing the sand storm, we headed to our campsite to set up base camp. During some down time we played a little frisbee and things quickly got carried away. Our videographer Greg’s finger took quite the beating from a diving catch as we tried to test the stabilised footage of my DJI Osmo Action Camera (The footage looked amazing by the way). Despite its crooked state, a visit to the islands hospital resulted in him being strapped and bandaged and ready to film another day! You’ll be pleased to hear that although Greg’s finger is still strapped up right now, he is managing just fine!

Dislocated Finger

Once Greg was back on his feet we ventured out. As we were getting ready to leave we noticed some peculiar looking clouds start to form above our campsite, but we had no idea that they would turn in to one of the best skies I have ever seen.

Photographing Lenticular Clouds

Lenticular clouds get their name from the fact that they’re shaped like a lens or saucer and are often known as flying saucer clouds or UFO clouds. 

Air flow usually travels in a uniform fashion when there are no obstructions, but when its flow is interrupted by something like a large mountain then turbulence is caused and air is displaced. In this instance, the rising air continues to cool and condense, whilst the sinking air is encouraged to warm up and dry. Where this resulting moist air meets in the middle, a lenticular cloud is formed. They are different to other clouds in that they don’t move from their spot, instead, they are continually reformed over the same location by new air rising, condensing and producing the clouds.

What this means for us photographers is that we get to see some amazing shapes over the landscape, and since they are stationary we can often wait for the sun to set or rise, giving us time to photograph them in the perfect light.

lenticular clouds photography
8 Image Pano – ƒ6.3 | 1/320 | 35mm | ISO 640

Although they looked amazing in person, it was a challenge to try and portray their greatness in a photograph and get the viewer to feel what I was feeling. I attempted a pano (see above) to capture the entire sky. I used a high ISO to achieve a fast shutter speed due to the high winds. The image came out ok, but there is too much going on so I needed to simplify things and break the image down.

Luckily more interest started to build on the right hand side as low clouds began to form over the peak of the mountain. This allowed me to zone in on a much smaller area and work the scene.

landscape photography mountains lenticular clouds
Low Clouds Forming on the Mountain

Not only were the low clouds rolling over the peak, but the lenticular clouds had now started to catch the burning red light of sunset and for what looked like flying saucer over the interesting mountain. My first attempt was an 8 minute exposure with a Lee 10 Stop Filter, but it didn’t work out as I realised that all of the interest was actually in the structure of the clouds.

long exposure lenticular clouds
ƒ9 | 496 Seconds | 70mm | ISO 100

I was much happier with my second attempt of 13 seconds after I dropped in a Lee 4 Stop ND Filter. This image retained all of the detail in the scene and that, for me, is where the interest lies.

landscape photography sunset iceland lenticular clouds
ƒ11 | 13 Seconds | 57mm | ISO 100 | 4 Stop ND

I made one more exposure, which was a shot of the entire mountain from a much wider angle. I am still unsure how I feel about this image. Something about it does not feel right, perhaps the balance is off due to the uneven cloud distribution, or perhaps I was at the wrong angle for photographing the entire mountain.

ƒ11 | 15 Sec | 27mm | ISO 100 | 4 Stop ND Filter

If you would like to know more about the gear I use in all of my photography adventures, including photography gear, video kit, clothing and camping gear then take a look at my Gear Blog Post. You can also sign up to my newsletter below to get information on workshops, calendars and various other stuff coming up in the future.

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