Adventure and outdoor photographer Tim Kemple often photographs in extreme conditions, whether he’s rappelling down a sheer rock face or capturing kayakers heading straight down waterfalls. While on assignment for National Geographic Adventure Kemple also faced a challenge all travelers face—constantly changing weather. Here, he shares his experience traveling and photographing Iceland’s ever changing climate.
Like it or not, weather is probably the most inconsistent constant we face in our everyday lives. That is, after all, why it’s one of the first things mentioned in family catch-ups or business calls and one of the most popular categories of mobile apps. We even have television stations dedicated to telling us how dry (or wet) our weekends are going to be. For a photographer, weather becomes a separate obsessive art in and of itself—so much so that expeditions are often planned to far-off lands simply because the weather, or light, is particularly agreeable for the mood we’re trying to capture. The visual feeling of a photograph is almost always directly related to the weather, so travelers we photographers often become.
Traveling is the way that I’ve built a career in photography, capturing the world’s best outdoor and action sport athletes in the planet’s most extreme landscapes. While photographing everything from spiky rock summits in Pakistan to elite runners in the sweaty, wet jungles of Brazil, I’ve seen a lot of wacky weather. But nowhere else in my travels have I seen the weather change so quickly and dramatically than as in Iceland. Now, we could go on for hours about the geography, the waterfalls, and the otherworldly color palette that make Iceland stunningly beautiful, but to me it’s the ever changing weather that makes Iceland a photographer’s dream.
Never was this more apparent than on an assignment I took to capture images along Iceland’s famous Ring Road using a new point-and-shoot camera. The goal was simple on paper: Spend a week driving the 800-mile loop around the island, and document anything and everything that happened with my point-and-shoot.
At first I was worried about leaving my trusty SLR at home (OK, I packed an “emergency” SLR in the trunk), but as we put Reykjavík in the rearview mirror, I found myself psyched to just have the small camera in my pocket and my mind free to absorb the epic beauty that Iceland is famous for. By day two, I realized that having your camera in your pocket has other distinct advantages. Namely, if you find yourself needing to jump over a river to get the perfect shot of a passing rainbow, you’re much quicker and nimbler. Or if you come around the corner on one of Iceland’s infamous F roads and there happens to be a field of Icelandic horses in a freak blizzard before you, capturing the fleeting moment is only a five-second process.
As the week wore on I realized an unexpected and bigger benefit: I was interacting with my travel companions more and tinkering with my cameras less. I was truly enjoying the adventure—in the moment, as it happened. Free of the burden of heavy camera bags and worrying about equipment and getting “the shot,” I could simply sit back and enjoy the feeling of the electric-green moss near Höfn as we lay in a brief moment of sunshine, watching the clouds fly by overhead. Or accept the challenge to fly a kite as the wind gusted to hurricane levels on the beaches in Vík. It was liberating.
They say that if you don’t like the weather in Iceland, wait five minutes. In our week traveling the Ring Road, I think we saw every type of weather imaginable: rain, snow, wind, sun, rainbows—usually all in the same day. But with my trusty point-and-shoot in my pocket, I think I had the perfect tool for the job, always within reach and ready to capture those fleeting moments of light and weather across the epic Icelandic landscapes.
Kemple photographed with an Olympus Tough TG-2 iHS camera.
Follow Tim on Instagram at @TimKemple.