Travel Photography 101 10.5/18

21 11 2008

Confessions, tips and musings from a snap-happy wanderer.

“Bartender, the ice in my drink is stale.”    (Close-up of Vatnajokul glacier, Iceland) 


The Big Picture isn’t always the best picture


One of the most difficult animals to photograph in Africa is the elephant. It is so big that it’s very difficult to photograph it and capture any sense of perspective. Too often elephants end up being a solid mass devoid of contour, colour or size. The same can be true of anything else that’s particularly large be it a building, a mountain, a canyon or any natural feature. When this happens, in addition to snapping the ‘Big Picture’, also look for an interesting detail of a smaller aspect that helps paint the whole picture. With a building, it could be a particular angle, corner or finishing touch. Focus on that which others may overlook.


Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan


Live And Let Fly

13 11 2008

“Blogger, Adventure Blogger.”                   (Jökulsárlón, Iceland)


I will confess that James Bond films leave me shaken and stirred like a slightly imperfect vodka martini. I’m not really a huge movie buff, but I do look forward to new Bonds with much the same anticipation as a bloodthirsty villain cradling a luxurious Persian cat looks forward to the suave agent’s elaborate demise. I love the gadgets, Bond’s sinister opponents, the cars and luxury lifestyle, the touch of humour, the chases and spectacular action…and the Bond girls haven’t gone unnoticed either.  I also love the exotic locations.


The latest episode, “Quantum of Solace” debuts in North America tomorrow – not that I’m counting down the minutes like an Omega Seamaster clocking the countdown to nuclear annihilation at the hands of a disfigured evil genius or anything – and was filmed in Chile’s Atacama Desert, California’s Baja, London and Siena amongst other destinations. And while I doubt I would go out of my way to visit a Bond location, I do get a kick when I find myself in a spot memorable from one of my favourites.


I would first like to stress that I am not now and never have been a candidate to play James Bond. It’s an understandable mistake given my proclivity to rappel down the sides of buildings, jump out of aircraft, fly in helicopters without doors, sip champagne in first class and hob-nob with world leaders, but alas I also sleep in youth hostels, get the bulk of my culture from yogurt, cry over paper-cuts and the closest I have ever come to a tuxedo was dressing as a penguin in a school play. But it doesn’t stop me from quietly humming that famous Bond tune when I find myself somewhere Bondly familiar.


During it’s more than 40 year history, celluloid Bond has popped up in such exotic locales as India, Thailand, Azerbaijan, Japan, Brazil and Iceland.


Jökulsárlón is a glacial lagoon several hours east of Reykjavik, Iceland. It’s an impressive waterway filled with giant floating icebergs in virginal whites and sumptuous blues surrounded by icy clear waters. While an impressive sight from the shore, it’s best explored from one of the sightseeing boats that weave among the towering bergs. If you screw up your eyes or pick your views carefully it’s easy to believe you’re in the Antarctic, especially when the fog rolls in from the sea and obscures the surrounding countryside. Jökulsárlón was the backdrop for one of Bond’s megalomaniacal nemeses and played its part well, but in reality it is a place of serene beauty like much of Iceland. Seals rest on the rocks beneath the bridge that separates the lagoon from the ocean while seagulls wheel and soar overhead. The salt air is fresh and crisp even at the height of summer and bracing ocean breezes invigorate. 


Not far away, the magnificent Vatnajökul Glacier sweeps down from the island’s centre carrying millions of years worth of ice and geologic history with it. Guides will kit you out with ice-axe and crampons and lead you – Bond-like – up the glacier’s sheer ice walls and into hidden cathedrals of blue and crystal that drip and crackle with life. At the glacier’s edge where the mighty ice transforms into pristine water, wild flowers explode in a riot of reds and yellows like the inevitable movie-ending destruction of the Bond villain’s imaginative lair.


Iceland is arguably one of the most photogenic of countries and has lent itself countless times to productions seeking untouched wilderness, sci-fi beauty, stark nature or raw agelessness. Although you might not want to hike its volcanic quicksands, black lava fields, verdant hills or rocky cliffs in your finest Turnbull and Asser dinner jacket and Church’s shoes with Honey Trip-a-lot on your arm and a bottle of Bolinger and Lalique flutes in your hand, even the most un-Bondable desk-jockey can feel ruggedly free in such magnificent desolation.


Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan