Category Archives: Iceland

Bus Window Impressionism

Bus Window 5 © Harold Davis

Riding in a bus is not always exalted or exalting, but it does leave one time for conversation and for looking out the window. In my case, on my recent trip to Iceland, it also left me time for ICM (In Camera Motion) impressionistic landscape photography. 

I used the Slow Shutter Cam app on my iPhone, with a shutter speed duration of roughly two seconds. With this app, you start the exposure by pressing a button, and can stop the shutter as the image comes into being on the LCD by pressing the button again. Keeping the shutter open too long risks turning the composition into formless mud; not having a long-enough duration means having a too literal, and not very interesting, landscape.

As with any ICM image, there are many more misses than hits!

Using ICM (In-Camera Motion) and a long-duration shutter speed, I created this collection of impressionistic landscapes through a moving bus window while visiting Iceland.

Besides the two images in this story in the Bus Window Impressionism story; also, check out the three images in The Windows on the Beast.

Bus Window 4 © Harold Davis

Also posted in Landscape, Photography

More about seeing in Black & White

Recently I’ve been thinking about black and white photography. One context is the landscape of Iceland, and the relative appropriateness of color and monochrome.

A comparison of black & white versus color ways of seeing also came up in correspondence I recently had with someone I shall call X. Without going into details, X has a medical condition which means that he cannot perceive color.

Black Sand Beach © Harold Davis

As someone recently enamored with photography, X wanted my opinion as to whether photography was viable since he could only see in black and white, and how much of a liability his perceptual challenges might present. At one point in our conversation, I asked X to consider if only seeing monochrome might not actually be a “super power”—and confer unexpected benefits.

In the course of our conversation, X brought up four issues that concerned him:

  1. How do you decide what is best in Black & White? I understand fundamentals like composition, light, contrast, texture etc. but is there anything else in your thought process?
  2. Have you found photographic subjects which simply do not work well in Black & White?
  3. Do you think your photography would be different if you never saw color?
  4. Do you think that even when viewing the most stunning B&W photograph, people still feel something missing?

Falling Water © Harold Davis

I answered X as follows:

First, asking about the subjects that work best in black and white, is fully answered in my book Creative Black and White 2nd Edition in the first part The Monochrome Vision (pp 16-83). 

Your second question, subjects that don’t work well in monochrome, is the obverse of the first question, and, as such, is also discussed in The Monochrome Vision section of my book. The short answer is that any image that is truly about color would not work in black and white. Some of the photographs of Ernst Haas and William Eggleston come to mind (and some of my own, for that matter).

Taking this into the wider world of art, the work of some of the impressionists (Monet and Gauguin most clearly) are really about color, and would not work well in monochrome. This list could go on, and (reductively)  the work of color-field painters (Arshile Gorky, Kennith Nolan, Mark Rothko, Mondrian, etc.) would not work without color. To summarize, when the subject is color, the image won’t work in black & white.

Two Towers © Harold Davis

Whether my photography would have been different if I had never seen color, the third question, is hard to answer, because it calls for speculation on a negative. But personally, color has always been very meaningful to me, and some of the earliest art that inspired me was about color, so I think my work would likely be different if I’d never seen color. But, you know, it is impossible to unsee things once they are seen; so I have no real idea how I would be different as an artist. I do know that I still could have made art even without any perception of color.

Finally, whether black and white is missing something, I don’t think so. Of course, people differ: but my own opinion is absolutely not, perceptive viewers do not feel anything is missing in a striking b&w photo. So long, that is, that the black and white is intentional, and it is not just a color image squashed to black and white. As an example, it would be a dullard indeed who thought anything was missing in the best of Ansel Adams or Edward Weston.

Spiral Stair © Harold Davis

A little about the black & white images that accompany this story: In Black Sand Beach a white line (of incoming surf) splits the dark beach from the storm-tossed ocean on Iceland’s south coast. Falling Water is a capture of water in motion, a subject of endless fascination, and often essentially monochromatic. There are spirals, but not much color to be found in Two Towers or Spiral Stairs. The towers are small-scale industrial silos on the Westman Islands off the coast of Iceland, and I found the spiral stair in a gift shop in downtown Reykjavik. 

Also posted in Monochrome, Photography

Iceland in Monochrome

There’s something about the wild and stark landscapes of Iceland that compel me towards monochrome. Oh, there’s plenty of color in Iceland, depending on the time and place (as examples of color, consider my version of the Godafoss waterfall under the setting midnight sun, and this Highlands landscape).

But in my opinion, the spectacular landscapes of Iceland when rendered in color can verge on the “postcard” look; the high-contrast scenery that reminds one of the existential struggle to eke out survival over the last millennia is, for me, truly a study in black and white. 

Vestrahorn © Harold Davis

Haifoss Variation 4 © Harold Davis

Also posted in Landscape, Monochrome

Farewell to Iceland

It is bittersweet to say farewell to a destination as lovely and memorable as Iceland. But it is good to be home, and I have many images from our time in Iceland to process!

I want to thank and recommend our wonderful guides Jon Hilmarsson and Kaspers both photographers extraordinaire,  as well as the Iceland Photo Tours organization, which did an excellent job managing our logistics.

I think one group participant summed up the experience well when she wrote “I had the very best time in Iceland. What an adventure we had! The burgundy beast [the all-terrain 4wd converted truck-bus we traveled in], incredible cloud formations, terrain rich in color and textures and rain. Real rain. I could easily return for more! Looking forward to more travels in the future.”

Seljelandfoss © Harold Davis

Seljelandfoss Shadows © Harold Davis

Also posted in Landscape

In the Winter of 1477

In the bitter-cold winter of 1477, a foreigner stayed for a while at the community around the site of this church at the tip of Iceland’s rugged Snaefells peninsula. The mission was to find and read the diaries and navigation logs of Leif Ericsson, Erik the Red, and others who had sailed centuries before to Vinland (now believed to be the coast of North America). The name of the foreigner was Christopher Columbus.

Icelandic Church © Harold Davis


In common with many photographers, I like to collect visual oddities. Yellow Stanchion, below, is odd because of the prosaic foreground subject contrasted with the almost elegiac background of the big rocks guarding Westmanyar harbor in the fog.

Wrapped Hay Bales (far below) is visually odd for a number of reasons, including the threatening sky, and the absence of scale indications. If you aren’t aware of the Icelandic habit of wrapping hay bales in plastic against the frequently wet weather, then the whole composition probably seems improbable.

Yellow Stanchion © Harold Davis

Wrapped Hay Bales © Harold Davis

Also posted in Bemusements

Gullfoss Rift

An unusual feature of the famous and spectacular Gullfoss waterfall is that the water flow makes an almost immediate 90 degree turn to the left at the bottom of the falls, down into the rift shown in the distance in this image.

It’s an almost surreal experience standing with one’s camera above the head of the turn of the flowing waters, trying to make an exposure through the intense, wind-blown spray, and enjoying the grandeur of the setting. 

Gullfoss Rift © Harold Davis

Also posted in Landscape, Monochrome, Photography


Puffin Portrait © Harold Davis

Winged Puffin © Harold Davis


Godafoss—“Waterfall of the Gods”—is one of the largest and most visited waterfalls in Iceland. It is shown here at sunset (maybe midnight at this time of year!) from above. The waterfall gets its name from Icelandic history around the time of conversion to Christianity. This was about 1000 CE when the AllThing (Iceland’s parliament) adopted Christianity by decree, and Pagan idols were thrown into the Godafoss. I think maybe some Pagan idols were kept, and the waterfall is just named for a Diety because it is so beautiful.

Godafoss © Harold Davis

This image is created from five exposures, with each exposure at 28mm, f/22, and ISO 64. The camera was tripod-mounted. Exposure times varied between 1/20 of a second and 0.8 seconds. The trick was to wait for a moment without spray hitting my camera lens!

Also posted in Landscape, Photography

The Windows on the Beast

We call our bus on the Iceland circumnavigation “the Beast”—because the wheels are unimaginably high, the 4-wheel drive is potent, it bounces with a hard suspension, and it is red. A trip that involves bus travel means sitting on a bus, which at first glance can seem boring, but if you look out the window can prove magical, at least in Iceland.

These images were made out the windows of the Beast with my iPhone using the Slow Shutter Cam app, with the shutter speed duration set to 2 seconds, along the roads to the Highlands.

Bus Window 1 © Harold Davis

Bus Window 2 © Harold Davis

Bus Window 3 © Harold Davis

Also posted in iPhone, Photography


As is I suppose well known, the waterfalls in Iceland are superb, and seem to have a character of their own. They are not like waterfalls I have seen anywhere else, although it is a little hard for me to put my finger on the difference.

We spent a happy day in the Highlands that included photographing several waterfalls. This image shows a portion of the one named Haifoss. I used a +4 neutral density filter and exposure-duration bracketing to create the dramatic effect in this photo.

Haifoss © Harold Davis

Coming into Iceland

Coming into Iceland after a long-haul overnight flight, the land near the airport looked flat and green as a steady mist fell. Talking the shuttle bus in from the airport, I wandered around Reykjavik with my camera—this slight motion blur of the distinctive Hallgrims-Kirkja tower perhaps echoing my disoriented state of mind!

Hallgrims-Kirkja © Harold Davis

Also posted in Monochrome