How To Photograph The Spectacular Ilulissat Icefjord

Colorful accommodation overlooking the waters of the Ilulissat Icefjord in Ilulissat, Greenland.

I was fortunate indeed to travel to the West coast of Greenland and to visit the tourist town of Ilulissat, on the edge of the spectacular Ilulissat Icefjord.

One of the highlights of that visit was a cruise, under the midnight sun, out into the icefjord. It was a truly incredible experience. 

Making Photos On A Midnight Cruise In Greenland

The beginning of our Midnight Sun Cruise takes you out onto the waters of the Ilulissat Icefjord. The warm/cool color contrast, evident in the town’s waterside residences, also appears in the water.

Can you see how the warm sunset light is illuminating the rocks which are reflected back into the water? Closer to the cameras position the color of the water is a reflection of some of those aqua colored buildings.

A small fishing boat heads out onto the waters of the Ilulissat Icefjord near Ilulissat, Greenland.

There Are Many Ways To Tell A Story

Within minutes you'll likely pass local fishing boats as you move towards some of the larger icebergs.

In this case I photographed the boat from a relatively low vantage point so as to provide the impression of it moving over the surface of the water and through the icefjord.

A small fishing boat amongst huge icebergs on the waters of the Ilulissat Icefjord near Ilulissat, Greenland.

Created just a few moments later this photo was made from a higher vantage point and with a wider angle focal length. The idea here is to depict the boat within the environment and, in doing so, illustrate the immensity of its surroundings.

Under normal circumstances I’d only include one of these two images. However, its important to note that the angle from which a photo is made can significantly change the way that image is perceived.

Notice how each photo tells a slightly different story: that of the boat moving through the fjord; and that of the boat dwarfed by the surrounding ice.

I think the lesson here is that there are many stories to be told or, said differently, there are many ways to tell the same story.

Photographers are story tellers and the choices you make determine not just how you perceive the reality unfolding around you, but also how you present that reality to your viewing audience.

The dramatic colors and textures of this huge iceberg are emphasized under the light of the midnight sun on the Ilulissat Icefjord near Ilulissat, Greenland.

Greenland Is A Truly Unique Experience

The shape and texture of this huge iceberg should be interesting enough. But it’s the surreal interplay of colors, on the reflective surfaces of ice and water, that made the experience of a midnight cruise on the Ilulissat Icefjord such an unforgettable experience.

Icebergs illuminated by the midnight sun on the Ilulissat Icefjord near the town of Ilulissat, Greenland.

The Spectacular Fjord Under The Beautiful Midnight Sun

A gigantic iceberg, bathed in the warm light of the arctic midnight sun, is really quite something to behold. But how do you photograph such monumental beauty?

The trick, when photographing from a relatively fast moving ship, is to be able to compose and record what you see successfully and, with barely a moment to spare, to prepare for the next opportunity.

I spent all but a few short minutes on deck in pretty cold and windy conditions. But I hardly noticed the cold.

I was properly attired but, just as important, I was excited by the opportunity to photograph such monumental structures and, while doing so, was living very much in the moment.

Glenn Guy at Quadrant Gallery

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The fact that I was generally excited by the opportunities before me and was having to anticipate photo opportunities and continually make decisions kept my brain active.

And it was this endorphin generating brain activity (medicos forgive me if I’m wrong about that) and the incredible positiveness of the experience that put any negative thoughts about the lack of physical comfort well and truly in perspective.

When your mind is in the right state notions of physical comfort become largely meaningless.

Someone asked me once if I did drugs?

I replied, “I don’t need to. I’m a photographer.”

A stack of shipping containers provide an interesting background for a group of tourists on the docks of the harbour at Ilulissat, Greenland.

Even At The End Always Look For Opportunities

At the very end of our adventure I made this photo just as we were about to dock. The people in the foreground where there to pick up other passengers on the cruise.

As you can see this is a commercial port and I felt the shapes, tones and textures of the shipping containers would look great in black and white. Besides, the guy on the right is a giant and that’s got to be a story worth exploring.

A ship brings passengers back to harbour at the end of a fabulous cruise exploring the Ilulissat Icefjord under the midnight sun near Ilulissat, Greenland.

This final photo shows a ship similar to the one that took me out on the Ilulissat Icefjord. I had only just alighted when I saw this sister ship coming into harbour.

It was a simple enough photo to make and a good addition to the series which helps tell the story of what another traveller can expect while on a midnight cruise on the spectacular waters of the Ilulissat Icefjord.

Glenn Guy, Paradise Harbour, Antarctica

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Do You Dream Of A Return Journey? 

If ever I make it back to Ilulissat, another midnight cruise would definitely be on my schedule. The only difference might be hiring a much smaller fishing boat for a longer, more personalized adventure into the waters of the Ilulissat Icefjord.

While I wouldn’t have the advantage of photographing from as high a perspective, there’s every chance I could persuade the captain to sail more slowly and to take me to spots the bigger ship may not be able to get to.

I’m not saying it would be a better experience, but it would provide a different experience of the same location. Frankly, if I could, I’d probably take both options.

Ilulissat is a heck of a long way from my current base in Melbourne, Australia and, after traveling so far, it’s important to make the most of your opportunities. And I think that’s true for all such situations in which we enthusiastic photographers find ourselves.

I do a lot of one-to-one private photography classes. Unlike more formal, classroom-based courses, these private photography classes are designed and constructed specifically around the needs of the customer.

It’s the ideal option if you want to unravel the mysteries of your camera or you feel you need some coaching that’s specific to an upcoming trip (e.g., Greenland, African Safari) or photography project.

These classes are for folks who live in or around the city of Melbourne, Australia.

Think about it, but don’t delay! And remember, there’s no time to be napping when you should be out there snapping.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru