David Ward explains how he took this simple shot of an oasis in Iceland and why he finds the country so fascinating

Photo Insight with David Ward


David Ward is one of the UK’s finest landscape photographers. With more than 20 years’ experience in large-format photography, he has photographed extensively throughout the UK and in countries such as Canada, Iceland, Norway and France. He has also led workshops for Light & Land. David has written two books on his photographic philosophy called Landscape Within and Landscape Beyond. Each month, he will discuss the story behind one of his fantastic landscape photographs

I spend a lot of my time leading workshops around various locations throughout the world. Not only is it a great way of meeting people, but it’s also a way for me to pass on all the little titbits of knowledge that I’ve accumulated over the years.

This shot was taken during a group workshop in Iceland when we were moving our way inland. In the colder months, many of the journeys through Iceland stick to a particular area called Route 1, which circumnavigates the island. In the summer, though, you can travel inland and capture the breathtaking landscapes that would otherwise be denied to you.

The shot was taken on the F208 mountain road to Landmannalaugar in the central southern highlands north of Vik. It’s an area famous for its incredible mountains. They’re very strongly coloured volcanic formations that range from pale yellow through to deep oranges, ambers and reds. They’re really quite spectacular.

It was during a brief moment of rest on the journey that I spotted this scene. I’ve been fascinated by the moss in Iceland since I first travelled to the country back in 1999, as it’s so vibrant. You’re travelling across what is effectively a cold desert. The land here is essentially just crushed rocks, and where the water flows through it very fast you get these little oases where the water gathers – and, subsequently, the moss you see here.

As the landscape is very minimalist, it makes it easy to find details that are simple yet strong. One thing I would say about this shot (and it’s something that my work has been criticised for in the past) is that it’s predominantly along a central axis. I prefer images like this because it’s a very straightforward way of showing things. It’s just saying, ‘Look at this – it’s interesting.’ It’s not so concerned with the graphic nature of the scene and it’s not employing lines and diagonals. The image is strong enough on its own, so it doesn’t need anything else added to it.

Looking at the shot, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s the light that’s causing the strong contrast of tones. Actually, it’s an evenly lit shot that was taken around midday, so the colours really are that incredible. Human vision is fantastically adapted to seeing green. We see something like 40,000 shades of green and that’s why most sensors on digital cameras have two green colour filters for every red and blue. If the sensor didn’t bias the rendition of green in that way, the colours would look wrong to us. Fujichrome Velvia film is very good at seeing greens, which is the film I used for this shot.

You can see that the pool is very dark, which you would only expect to see in the UK if the pool were incredibly deep, but it is relatively shallow as you can see the details in the bottom. The pool is shaped like an inverted ace of spades, and the simple nature of that shape was a very attractive quality for me.

Iceland is a popular location for photographers. For me, it’s the elemental nature of the land that keeps me going back – the fire, ice, water and rock. It’s a very stripped-down landscape. There is some farmland on Iceland, but most of the interior is basically wilderness. The area where this picture was taken has a few sheep dotted around, but it’s not farmland as we know it. Basically, it’s a heath, which is a Norse word for land beyond cultivation, and it is very open and wild.

This isn’t a typical Iceland image. A lot of shots you see of the country are very stark and black & white images that concentrate more on the snow, glaciers and geothermal features than something that’s lush and vibrant. Iceland has a very particular landscape because it’s freshly colonised by life. It is young in geological terms, being 50-60 million years old. It’s fresh from the perspective of a photographer coming from the soft landscapes of Britain, as I do. To find these lush oases of water and moss is so unexpected. When I first visited Iceland I expected to see just lava, yet there are scenes like this all over the country. It just goes to show that Iceland is a country with many faces.

David Ward was talking to Oliver Atwell

To see more of David’s images or to book a place on one of his workshops, visit www.into-the-light.com

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