Touching Down in Ilulissat, Greenland

The wild beauty of Greenland seen through my plane window just before landing in Ilulissat, Greenland.

Here’s a photo, taken through the airplane window as my plane from Reykjavik was about to touch down in Ilulissat, Greenland.

As you can see Greenland is a very wild and unforgiving landscape, consisting mainly of ice and rock.

Have no doubt that the landscape in Greenland is largely barren, eighty percent of it being ice and, for most of the year, the climate is inhospitable in the extreme.

But then, during the long summer day’s the climate, while changeable, is less extreme and the landscape, particularly when illuminated by the midnight sun, can be breathtakingly beautiful. 

Patterns in the Ice, Greenland

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Greenland Pre-History

Habitation of Greenland is said to date back to around 2,500BC.

Tribes from islands north of the North American mainland, themselves likely descended from inhabitants of Siberia who had migrated into Canada tens of thousands of years ago, settled in various parts of the island.

Erik the Red Enters Our Story

Icelandic Vikings, from Norse origins, followed in the 10th century.

The most famous Icelander was Erik the Red, a Viking explorer of Norwegian decent who, having been exiled from Iceland for three years for the crime of manslaughter, explored and settled the massive land to the west we know as Greenland.

Sailing over the pristine waters of the Ilulissat Icefjord in Greenland.

Viking Humor

The reality is that, while Greenland is mainly ice, the coastal regions of Iceland are in fact green and relatively lush.

It’s said that Erik the Red gave Greenland its name to entice others to join him when he returned to Iceland looking to settle the new land.

An exercise in public relations, to be sure.

Like Father, Like Son

In the year 1000AD Erik the Red’s son, Leif Eriksson, ventured south of Greenland to discover several new islands and territories, including Baffin Island and, almost certainly, Newfoundland.

As a result Leif Erickson was likely the first European to discover North America, nearly 400 years before Columbus.  

A huge region of ice and water photographed from a plane over Southern Greenland on the way to the tourist town of Ilulissat on the West coast.

How To Photograph from an Airplane

The photo at the very top of this post was simple enough to make. I needed a relatively fast shutter speed to ensure sharpness, but not so fast that it would freeze the motion of the spinning propeller.

Airplane wheels don’t generally spin during flight, except initially after leaving the runway.

I only had a moment to choose and took a guess at 1/800 second.

That little bit of propeller blur is important as it adds a sense of motion to this otherwise static image.

If the propeller was sharp it might look like the plane was, somehow, suspended in mid air.

It was a pretty small plane and my seat was quite close to the front. I needed a 24 mm focal length lens, on my full frame camera, to allow me to fit in such an expansive view.

To reduce the chance of reflection I moved my camera really close to the window pane, without actually touching it.

Touching the window would likely have introduced vibration through the lens and camera and a loss of sharpness would have resulted.

By moving in very close to the window pane you’re able to shade the front of the lens and, thereby, reduce the chance of people and objects reflecting back into the lens from behind you.

Wearing a black top can be an extra aid to reducing reflection.


Best Time To Visit Greenland

Greenland is a wild and potentially dangerous environment. But it’s also pristine and, for the most part, a wilderness offering spectacular opportunities for the enthusiastic photographer.

While the opportunity of photographing the Aurora during the long winter months would be exciting, I feel that the opportunity to see and do more during the long days of the midnight sun would be, for most folk, a better option.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru