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Contre Jour Geyser

From a hole in the ground great volumes of boiling hot water suddenly gush upwards with a lot of force. This is Strokkur at Geysir in the Haukadalur region of South Iceland. The land in this region is not only beautiful, but very valuable and there exists very strange claims of ownership. For example the ground I am standing on to take this picture is owned by an American, although the Geyser itself is not. Of course the Icelandic government wouldn’t sell such an important National treasure to a foreign businessman, would they? Actually they do this a lot with waterfalls and landscapes if there is a fast buck to be made, but this time they managed to keep the erupting Geyser for the people of Iceland… you just have to walk onto private property to view it.

Back-lit Gush

The photograph on the right is one of my most successful captures and was published internationally. This is a Contre Jour photograph because I am shooting directly into the sun, although technically, because the Geyser blocks out the sun, this is more of a back-lit photo than a Contre-jour photo. (Anyone, feel free to correct me on this if you know better!) This was taken in December (Mid-Winter), so the sun is low in the sky, this is important because the stronger light of the sun should be back-lighting the thickest part of the eruption – at the base. If the sun was higher, the bulk of water would be too dark and the top of the Geyser would be too bright. So the position of the sun allows a better balance of light through the different thicknesses of water.

Tripod Work

Tripods are normally brought in to photography when the shutter speed gets too low for hand-held. This shutter speed was 2000th sec (very fast). The tripod was used for a different purpose – to hold the camera for me. There can be several minutes wait between eruptions and your tired arm is very likely to drop just before an eruption.

CAMERACanon EOS 5D Mark II
LENSCanon EF 24mm f/1.4L USM
ISO400
FOCAL LENGTH24.0 mm (23.4 mm in 35mm)
APERTUREf/4

Small Compromise

My shutter speed was set very high because I wanted to freeze the water action. The freezing of the tiny droplets communicates the eruption in a way that lets you see more of what is going on, much like high speed videography. To achieve such a fast shutter, I used f/4 aperture and iso400. The aperture is not too bad and is actually the sweet spot on my 24mm prime lens. Ideally I could have done with f/6.3 to cover the depth of the Geyser more comfortably, but this would have compromised the iso further and might have introduced a grain. I was compensating by + 0.7 stops. This is because the geyser eruption will darken the scene quickly.

Contre-Jour Geyser

Machine gun

My final consideration was to use continuous burst mode, so that took several shots during a single eruption.

Geysir Iceland

My starting position with the sun directly behind the caldera.

Geyser eruption at Geysir

First shot as the eruption starts.

Large Geyser Iceland

The final shot of the sequence as the Geysir disappears out the top of the frame.

Lightroom Geyser eruption.

Very light post-processing to increase contrast.

A normal photo of Strokkur as it is seen by the public on a daily basis.

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