A Walk In Mordor, Iceland

Leirhnjukur Lava Fields at sunrise provide a spectacular, albeit eerie, experience for visitors to Myvatn in northern Iceland.

I've written extensively about Iceland as a fantastic location for landscape photography. This photo, made at sunrise near Myvatn in northern Iceland, is a case in point.

I pulled the car up in the very early hours of the morning after a long day on the road. I was exhausted and more than ready for bed. But the light looked interesting and, while this location was both hidden from view and a decent walk from the car, I somehow felt the need to get out and explore.

The Inspiration Behind This Photo

And what a joy it was. I'm a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I've read the books at least four times since form three (year 9) at high school and must have watched the films around a dozen times.

A Land Riddled With Fire And Ash

It's not hard to make the connection between the Land of Mordor and the amazing location depicted above. Is it not J.R.R. Tolkien's vision brought to life?

How I Made This Photo

I vividly remember exploring this wild and barren landscape. I had to watch where I stepped as the ground was so hot. I carefully searched for a suitable location that would allow me to make a compelling image as the sun began to rise.

Rather than photographing the rising sun I positioned myself behind a hillside and hoped that the sun's rays would spread through the low lying clouds and illuminate the sky above.

I remember having to shuffle my feat to stop the soles of my shoes melting. Eventually I made the photo and was glad that, despite the extremely high contrast conditions, I was able to use composition to produce a compelling image that consists, in roughly equal amounts, of opposites which we can describe as follows:

  • dark and light
  • earth and air
  • sulphur (fumes and the color of the sky) and ash

Why We Value Certain Photos

I think that, over the years, I've developed the ability to judge the success of my photos from a relatively objective viewpoint. But that's not to say that I don't form attachments to certain images, particularly those that were difficult to make. In that regard I'm no different to anybody else.

I think the success of this photo is due to the following:

  • fascinating subject matter
  • amazing light
  • the very early hour of the day
  • being alone allowed me to work in a relatively unrestricted manner
  • a desire to explore and take risks
  • my state of near exhaustion and the physical difficulty associated with the location
  • strong composition
  • my love of middle earth and the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien
  • 30 plus years of photography experience and, what was then, nearly 50 years of life experience

It takes more than great gear to make a compelling photo. And no, you don't need 30 plus years photography experience nor do you need to wait till you're almost 50 years of age. My point is that our photos contain our life's experience, who we are and what we've done with the opportunities presented to us. At the end of the day the life we've lived and our world view have a great deal to do with who we are. And who we are is, to my mind, the biggest determinant in the photos we make.

Please don't discount determination and pure hard work as major components in your ability to make great photos.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru