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The Story: Getting Published in the Washington Post

Updated: Aug 5, 2019

My shot from Stokksnes overlooking the Vesterhorn.

Last June, my son, one of his friends and I packed up all our photography gear and flew to a place I've been anxious to photograph... Iceland! We rented a camper van in Reykjavik and drove along the southern coast of the island in search of the numerous well-known landscape destinations with the hope of coming away from each with that "amazing" shot. Well, that didn't quite happen. The weather in Iceland can be relatively extreme - so getting perfect conditions is sheer luck of the draw. We fought heavy rains, winds, and cold; then sun and warmth; then back to cold. They say if you don't like the weather in Iceland, just wait five minutes.

Regardless, we pushed on. We stopped at Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss, Vik, the DC plane, the iceberg lagoon, and a few other great spots along the coast; each location was so unique and different than any other place I've been. But the prize shot I was after was at the far eastern side of the island; at Stokksnes. It's is a remote peninsula that juts out past a small mountain range, which includes the Vesterhorn peak. From Stokksnes, the different black sand dunes and water foregrounds can make for some amazingly moon-like landscape photos. I'd seen so many other photos from this location and was set on getting one of my own. The catch: the peaks in the range often get socked in under mist, fog, and rain clouds - so getting to see them, much less getting great light was a long shot.

It was about 2:30AM and we were driving towards the peninsula in hopes of catching the mountain range at sunrise, but found ourselves constantly distracted by several picturesque scenes off the side of the road along the way. We kept pulling over and taking shots were quickly losing track of the time - which was quickly approaching sunrise.

We finally made it to the entry point to the Stokksnes peninsula and found we had to pay a fee to get into the prime shooting location. Right about this time we looked up and saw that not only were the peaks visible, but some incredible light was illuminating some oddly shaped clouds just above the peaks. We panicked, thinking we were missing the best light! So I hurriedly paid the fee while my son and his friends began running down the road to the spot to get a view to capture the light. Meanwhile, I jumped back in the camper van and drove faster than I should have across a badly rutted road to the parking area, jumped out, grabbed my camera gear and stumbled across some of the black sand dunes to find a vantage point to set up my shot.

Now, I'll say that any landscape photographer worth their weight will tell you to get to the location early, set up your gear, frame you're intended shot, then simply wait for the sunrise to happen. Well, I clearly wasn't that guy that morning! I was out of breath from scampering across the dunes, sweating, and fumbling around my bag to get the camera, lens, and tripod out and set up quickly. I was a mess. Meanwhile, a number of other photographer who had planned ahead and were already out there watched in amusement as I surely looked like a complete amateur fumbling around in a rush.

Although we missed some of the best light, the shot above is one of several I took once I finally pulled myself together. I left the two other photographers in the photo as I felt they provided a sense of scale to the scene, and I liked how the footsteps in the sand lead the viewer right to them. All said and done, I was thrilled we were not only able to see the peaks, but also managed to capture some amazing clouds and light that morning. We were extremely fortunate, as I know of others that have been to this spot five or six times and never had the chance to see the full range due to clouds or rain.

When I got back home, I went through all my photos, editing the ones I thought were the best, and at some point my wife mentioned to me that the Washington Post was taking submissions for their 2018 Travel Photography Contest and I should submit one. So I did, then completely forgot about it.

A few months later, I got a call from someone from the Post who let me know I'd been selected as a finalist from over 1500 submissions. I was caught completely off guard, but was thrilled. She went through a number of questions about how I got the shot and thanked me for my time - letting me know they would publish in a few weeks.

When it did, I unfortunately didn't win, but was a runner-up. Regardless, I was still thrilled to considered, and to be published in the Washington Post (a full half page of my photo in the printed paper, and a featured on their online contest page!). I couldn't help but think that if they had seen me that morning, they would never have taken me seriously as a photographer.

Click here to see the Washington Post online contest article >

#landscapephotography #icelandtravel #stokksnes #adventurephotography

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