Photographing the Land of Fire and Ice
When Iurie Belegurschi moved from his native Moldova to Iceland in 2006, he quickly fell in love with the country and its people. Thirteen years later, it’s now his home and the place where he runs Iceland’s leading photo tours travel agency. Inspired by the country’s natural beauty, Iurie picked up a camera to capture it and hasn’t looked back since, making the country’s ever changing landscape his always on-going project.
For Iurie, being within touching distance of the Arctic Circle with its hugely varying climate and lighting offers so many opportunities for him as a photographer.
© Iurie Belegurschi | Sony α7R II + FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM | 15s @ f/2.8, ISO 1000
“The climate and the light always have a huge effect on my photography,” he explains, “and I always need to keep track of the weather so that I can prepare as best I can to be in the right place at the right time for the best images.”
As the light in Iceland also varies hugely, with winter days lasting just a few hours and summer days having almost 24 hours of daylight, there is a lot for Iurie to work with.
“I can spend all night outside shooting in winter,” he says, “if the conditions are favourable and the Northern Lights are making a display! In summer, with almost constant daylight, there’s a lot of time to work with. However, the best light, the golden light, can last for hours around midnight, so I often have to rest during the day and shoot all night.”
© Iurie Belegurschi | Sony α7R II + FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM | 1/13s @ f/22, ISO 50
As well as having to keep himself warm while he’s out shooting, it is also important that Iurie’s cameras and lenses can manage in the harsh conditions, and his Sony Alpha kit is well up to the task.
“With older cameras,” he tells us, “the battery life and LCD screen could be easily affected by the cold, however the battery life on the α7R III is great and has really good weather-sealing so I can spend a lot longer out in the cold capturing my shots.”
With the volcanic island still being carved and chiseled by the elements with each passing season, new landscapes are being created over time, which is why Iurie says he will never be bored of photographing the country; and why it remains an ongoing project.
© Iurie Belegurschi | Sony α7R II + FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM | 1/8s @ f/16, ISO 500
“New ice caves are found every year and glacial rivers are continually changing their direction of flow,” he says. “This means that no matter how often you photograph a certain location, there is always a new composition to be found the next year. I can go back to the same places many times and find that the light and weather is completely different, which means that it’s always exciting!”
Great light is obviously important in a landscape image, but what Iurie is really looking for are features in the landscape that will grab a viewer’s attention and pull them in to the scene. “When I’m able to combine something that draws in the viewer’s eye with good lighting,” Iurie explains, “then I know that I have a great image.”
Iurie Belegurschi | Sony α7R II + FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM | 30s @ f/2.8, ISO 1600
To capture these scenes, he uses wide angle lenses, with his current ‘go-to’ lens being the Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 G Master lens. “I often use it to get up close to a subject in the foreground,” he tells us, “really exaggerating it to make something otherwise mundane into something really interesting, and it also helps to add depth to a landscape scene.”
Once he has found the scene he wants to capture, Iurie’s focus is then on making sure he gets the perfect exposure. “I expose all of my images manually,” he explains, “using the histogram on the camera screen as my guide. My aim is to try and avoid clipping in the highlights or the shadows. Thankfully, the dynamic range offered by my α7R III means that this has become less of an issue for me as it has fantastic details in both the highlights and shadows.”
© Iurie Belegurschi | Sony α7R II + FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM | 10s @ f/2.8, ISO 3200
With the scene now captured, the final stage in Iurie’s creative process is editing, which he enjoys almost as much as being out shooting. “It’s an opportunity for a photographer to really achieve their own style,” he reflects. “Once I’ve edited an image I will often leave it for a few days, then look over it again with a fresh pair of eyes. You’ll be amazed at what kinds of changes you might want to make after taking a break away.”
© Iurie Belegurschi | Sony α7R II | 1/1000s @ f/8.0, ISO 200
And what advice would Iurie offer to those visiting Iceland? “Make sure that you are well-prepared,” he stresses, “and that you’ve done your research. This includes not just knowing where you want to go to shoot, but also planning ahead to make sure that you’ll capture them in the best light. It’s a lot of work but it will guarantee that you will return home with stunning photos.”