Iceland – A Nature Lover’s and Photographer’s Paradise


(Sunlit Atlantic Puffins on a cliff overlooking a black sand beach. The female puffin is standing at the entrance of her burrow nest.)

In late May 2015, I traveled to Iceland with two friends (Caesar and Ernie), who are also photographers, to photograph Iceland’s landscapes, seascapes and wildlife. I had high expectations, having seen many incredible photographs of Iceland over the last few years. Iceland’s natural, unusual and unspoiled beauty has become very popular among photographers from all over the world, and after visiting for ten days, it is very obvious why.

Steve, Ernie, Ceasar_MG_1755

(Ceasar, me and Ernie photographing puffins at sunset on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic and a black sand beach. Photograph by Páll Jökull Pétursson)

To better ensure our trip would be productive, I hired a professional Icelandic landscape photographer and tour guide to take us to Iceland’s iconic locations, as well as those locations that only a local photographer would know. Páll Jökull Pétursson was our guide for ten days and conducted an extraordinary tour. After our 6 hour flight from northern Virginia, Páll picked us up in his four-wheel drive SUV with extra large tires for off-road driving, which was necessary to get to many locations. Páll immediately began driving our preapproved itinerary and route around the island on Ring Road. Páll planned the details of our trip to include hotels, guesthouses and restaurants. If you are considering a trip to Iceland, I highly recommend contacting Páll Jokull Petursson to either conduct your tour or to prepare an itinerary, if you choose to do it on your own.

As you can imagine, after ten long days in Iceland (sunrise was 3:30AM and sunset 11:30PM), I returned with many RAW image files–over 3,500. Many images were bracketed (same shot, but at different exposures), for focus stacking (same shot, but with different focus points), and various views of the same location. I have spent a lot of time reviewing the images, but have not reviewed them all. I am taking my time, and only reviewing them when not distracted, while enjoying the memories. As I have been selecting images, I have been posting some to Facebook, Instagram, 500px and to my website. Therefore, you may recognize some of the images in this article. They are some of my favorites (so far).


(Kirkjufellsfoss Waterfall with Kirkjufell mountain in the background at sunset – 11:16 PM. Stayed up late after a long day, but it was well worth it.)

I considered different options for writing and sharing some of my many images, such as by each day of the trip, region or subject. I decided to start with a general overview (this article), followed by other articles by subject, as follows:

  • Waterfalls (Iceland has many picturesque waterfalls)
  • Glacier Lagoon and blue glacier icebergs
  • Landscapes and seascapes
  • Geothermal activity
  • Atlantic Puffins and other wildlife

In this article, I am including some of my favorite images covering the five subject areas. In future articles, I will also include information about the subject, where the image was taken and how it was photographed.


(Seljalandsfoss Waterfall on the Seljalandsá River drops 200 ft over former coastline cliffs.)

Our route around the island was predominantly on Ring Road, a road well named as it circumvents the entire island. The places we visited included all of the locations and wildlife I had hoped to see and  photograph, making my trip outstanding in every way.  Although it would be difficult to have a bad tour of Iceland, Páll Jökull Pétursson ensured our trip was a success. When I return to Iceland next year, I will be traveling the island again with Páll.


(An amazing view from Ring Road of unusually shaped mountains partially cloud covered that was constantly changing as the wind blew.)

I need to go back to reviewing and processing RAW images; so, I am going to conclude this article with a few representative images of what I will sharing over the next few weeks.


Above, an unusually shaped sea stack, like a square, just a short walk from Ring Road, but a slippery decent to the black sand beach.


A very old lava field (above) covered in moss at Hellisheidi.


Last, but not least…an amazing location where the remains of glacier icebergs wash up on a black sand beach. Glacial ice is blue because the dense ice of the glacier absorbs every other color of the spectrum except blue – so blue is what our eyes see.

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Iceland – Initial Images


I returned from Iceland last week after spending ten full and long days photographing some of Iceland’s most iconic and many other spectacular locations. I have barely had time to unpack my gear and upload images from memory cards, but made time to process a few images that caught my attention while uploading them. Since I am still excited about this amazing photography experience, I want to share that excitement by sharing those first processed images. When I am caught up and have processed more images, I will begin writing a series of articles about my trip and include more images. In the meantime, here are those initial images.

The above photograph is a 12 image panoramic taken on the last day of the trip (go full screen and click on it to see more detail), and below is an Atlantic Puffin lit by the setting sun. I was hoping the Puffins had returned from the sea to their nests so that I could see and photograph them. Well, they had!


Below is the Skaftáreldahraun lava field covered in green moss and with a small group of trees, which are somewhat rare in Iceland. I will probably write an article just on Iceland’s unusual and beautiful lava fields.


Below is a panoramic image of Lómagnúpur mountain and its reflection in the nearby water.


Below is one of the many waterfalls that I saw and photographed — Svartifoss Waterfall. Many of the others were larger and more spectacular. I will be writing an article on the waterfalls. I loved Iceland for many reasons and am looking forward to telling and showing you more.


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Spring Trilliums


On Wednesday morning this week, I went with my friend, Ernie Sears, to photograph trilliums at Thompson Wildlife Management Area near Front Royal, Virginia. Ernie had heard Thompson WMA was a good place to see and photograph trilliums, but we had never been there and were not sure where to look for them. Trilliums are perennial flowering plants found growing wild in forests at higher elevations from Canada to Georgia.

The rarer of two species of trillium found in northern Virginia is the large-flowered trillium (T. grandiflorum). They carpet the forest floor in April and May in certain locations. Large-flowered trillium flowers start out white and turn pink before dying. The name trillium is derived from the Latin word “tres” because the flower’s parts are in groups of three.


We parked in the second parking area, got our cameras and tripods, went to the kiosk and looked at the park map, and then entered the trail. As soon as we were on the trail, we saw the trilliums. They were everywhere and in full bloom. Our timing was perfect, because the trilliums do not bloom for long.


I photographed the trilliums using a Nikon 105mm macro lens on a Nikon D810 camera body. I shot three to four images of each flower, focusing on the center and each of the flower’s petals. When processing the images, I blended the three to four images together to get a sharp focus on the entire flower. This process is called focus stacking.

This was a short article, because I wanted to share the trillium images and get back to preparing for my trip to Iceland. My next blog article will be about Iceland and contain some of the images I shoot while there. I am expecting to see and photograph many amazing and unusual landscapes while in Iceland.

Comments on this article are appreciated and can be entered by clicking on “Comments” found below the Share this: section. You can also read other’s comments there.

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Bulls Island in Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge


Two weeks ago, I spent three days on Bulls Island. Bulls Island is an uninhabited barrier island at the southern end of Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, consisting of over 66,000 acres and 22 miles of the South Carolina coast.


The six and a half mile long Bulls Island contains pristine maritime forest, wetlands, freshwater and brackish water impoundments, and unspoiled natural beaches. It is the home to wildlife and endangered species. More than 275 species of birds have been seen on the island.


Barrier islands line our east coast from Florida to Maine. Most barrier islands the size of Bulls Island are covered in houses, hotels, and resorts and crowded with people. Bulls Island is predominantly unspoiled and natural, making it a nature photographer’s paradise.


I traveled to Bulls Island with two friends, who are also nature photographers. We were hosted by Coastal Expeditions and their very knowledgeable guides, Gates Roll and Olivia Wilson. Our goal was to explore the island and photograph sunrises at the Boneyard, other landscapes, and wildlife. We achieved that goal.


The first three images (above) were taken at sunrise. It was very overcast and lightly raining. When the rain stopped, the newly hatched mosquitoes moved in for breakfast (me). We were told that if we had been on the island a week earlier, there were no mosquitoes. It was worth getting wet from the rain and being devoured by the mosquitoes to see and capture the unforgettable sunrise on Boneyard Beach on Bulls Island.

Bulls Island is changing shape from shifting ocean currents and waves, and the shoreline is moving inland, leaving the trees behind on the beach and in the water. The saltwater kills the trees, and over time the sun bleaches their dead bark and branches, hence the name “Boneyard Beach.” I photographed a similar boneyard beach in northern Florida on Little Talbot Island, but the boneyard on Bulls Island extends over a much longer distance, providing many more photography opportunities.




Obviously different than the other images, the below image is black and white. I do not usually shoot many black and white photographs, but sometimes they just work. This B&W image highlights the contrasting light and dark areas, the parallel lines of the ocean’s waves, and the ripples in the sand around the tidal pool at the base of the dead tree.


Another Boneyard Beach image below, but on a sunny afternoon at low tide.


Below is a very small crab, about the size of a quarter, climbing a palm tree. I have seen crabs in trees before, but it still amazes me to see them in trees rather than on a beach or in the water.



There were many birds on and around Bulls Island. Above is a Northern Parula signing loudly as I photographed it, and below is an Oyster Catcher walking among oysters at low tide.


Below is an image of a Loggerhead Turtle swimming in Bulls Bay. Loggerhead turtles are typically 36 inches in width, weigh 300 pounds, and live from 50 – 70 years. In the spring, many turtles lay their eggs on Bulls Island, and volunteers check the beaches each morning for new turtle nests. Often the eggs within the nests need to be moved to higher ground, which is done by the volunteers who then cover the nests to protect them from predators. When the eggs are moved, they are relocated so that the eggs are placed in exactly the same position as they were in the original nest. This is extremely important because the temperature of eggs within the nest determines the sex of the young turtles, and the temperature varies at different levels within the nest. Eggs incubating at 82°F become males and females at 90°F. An incubation temperature of 86°F results in an equal ratio of male to female hatchlings.


If you enjoyed seeing the images in this article and want to see more, one of the two friends that accompanied me to Bulls Island, Ernie Sears, made a video that contains some of his images, as well as mine and those of Ceasar Sharper, the other friend on the trip.

Comments on this article are appreciated and can be entered by clicking on “Comments” found below the Share this: section. You can also read other’s comments there.

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Protected Places Media Releases First iBook on the Outer Banks

This week, Protected Places Media released its first in a series of iBooks, Protected Places: The Outer Banks. The iBook is a Nature guide to the refuges, parks and preserves of the Outer Banks (OBX) and Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula of North Carolina. All of the images in this article are from the iBook and were photographed by the author, Ernie Sears.

Sunrise copy

If you are planning to spend time at the Outer Banks, are interested in exploring more than the beach, and want to experience one or more of the many natural locations in the area, then this iBook will ensure you have that experience. Every nature park, refuge, preserve and trail in the Outer Banks area is included. Examples of what is described in the book follows.

  • A dune system that is never crowded and second in size only to Jockey’s Ridge
  • The best place to see bears and other wildlife
  • The best locations for sunsets and sunrises
  • Where you can see wildlife without leaving your car
  • Nature trails from easy to difficult, but worth the effort
  • World class birding hotspots


For every location, the iBook provides information about available facilities, hours, fees, handicap access, pet policies, websites, trails and directions. Every location was visited and photographed by Ernie Sears. The book covers over 40 locations, some of which are identified below.

  • Currituck NWR
  • Mackay Island NWR
  • Currituck Coastal Reserve
  • Kitty Hawk Woods
  • Sandy Run Park
  • Nags Head Woods
  • Run Hill Natural Area
  • Jockey’s Ridge
  • Oregon Inlet
  • Pea Island NWR
  • Buxton Woods Coastal Reserve
  • Alligator River NWR
  • Mattamuskeet NWR
  • Palmetto-Peartree Preserve
  • Gull Rock Reserve
  • Swanquarter NWR


Every page of the book includes some of Ernie’s stunning, high-quality images taken at each of the locations. The book also includes maps, active website links, and animations and pop-ups that add interest and clarity.


Protected Places Media (PPM) was established as a creator and distributor of books, video, photography and apps related to exploring, understanding and appreciating the natural world. PPM was founded by Ernie Sears, a close friend and talented artist and photographer. Ernie wrote Protected Places: The Outer Banks and has other similar books underway.


Ernie asked me to join PPM and to participate in ongoing and future projects. I am excited about this opportunity, and I will join Ernie next week as we explore and document the Low Country of South Carolina and Georgia. By sharing our appreciation for and experiences in the natural world, PPM hopes to inspire others to equally appreciate our fragile natural environment and, ultimately, help or support local, state and national efforts to restore and protect wildlife habitat for future generations.


To obtain a copy of Protected Places: The Outer Banks, you can download it from the Apple iBook Store or from the Protected Places Media website at


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Shenandoah National Park Winter Views


Yesterday, after dropping my son-in-law off at Massanuttan Resort to go snowboarding, I spent the day in Shenandoah National Park, exploring and looking for either wildlife or an eye-catching view that I could make into a “keeper” landscape image. I only briefly saw a few small birds and heard a Barred Owl in the distance. It turned out not to be a good day for photographing wildlife.

Since it snowed earlier in the week, I hoped to capture an image of the snow on top of the mountains with a view of the snow below in Shenandoah Valley. I searched for a couple of hours until I found what I was looking for, as shown in the opening image. I located a group of large boulders covered and surrounded by snow at the top of a mountain with a clear view of the valley below. And, Mother Nature/the weather was cooperating. It was 22 degrees, and fortunately, the wind was not blowing, keeping everything still. To further enhance the image, a weather front was passing through, providing an interesting semi-clouded and blue sky.

One way to make a landscape image interesting and to give it depth is to photograph something in the foreground, while capturing the overall landscape in the background. As you can see in the above and below images, I moved to different locations around the group of boulders to capture different perspectives. Below are two different views.



Although I like the two above images, the opening image is my favorite. I like that the boulders are off-center, and that the clouds, blue sky and terrain provide leading lines to the subject of the image.

In the second image, although also appealing, the boulders are in the middle of the frame. From a photographers perspective, I try to avoid placing the subject in the center. In the third image, I included a small tree to the left of the boulders, which adds interest to the image. However, the tree blocks the view of the valley.

The images were photographed with a Nikon D810 and 16-35mm wide angle lens. The detail captured by the D810 is incredible. I suggest clicking on the images to see them in full screen mode.

Shenandoah-Valley-from-the-Shenandoah-MountainsI included the above image as an example of the need to have something of interest in the foreground of a landscape image. Although this image is interesting, showing an unobstructed view down the snow covered slopes of the mountains to the distant valley, it is not as appealing as the above images with the boulders.

Below is an image of Mary’s Rock Tunnel in Shenandoah National Park.  It is the only tunnel in the park and was excavated through solid granite in 1932. It is considered one of the engineering feats of Skyline Drive. I have always enjoyed seeing and driving through the tunnel. I just had to stop and photograph it as I was leaving the park to pick up my son-in-law at Massanuttan.

I bracketed the below image and processed it using HDR software. By bracketting, I captured the tunnel at five different exposures so that in post-processing I could retain the detail in front of the tunnel, as well as at the end of the tunnel. Without bracketing and HDR, or some other method of blending images, either the view at the end of tunnel would be blown out/lacking in detail, or the boulders at the entry of the tunnel would be very dark/lacking in detail.


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Posted in National and State Parks, Nature, Shenandoah National Park | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

January in North Central Florida


In early January, I spent a week in Gainesville, Florida, and while there visiting my daughter, I was able to squeeze in some photography. One afternoon, we joined my daughter with some of her friends at Mill Dam Lake in the Ocala National Forest. We stayed long enough to see a beautiful sunset across the lake.

I purposely framed the above and below images between Spanish moss hanging from a large oak tree. In the above image, the sun was dropping below the clouds and reflecting in the lake. In the below image, the sun was about to drop below the horizon, and as it was getting darker, the colors intensified and the clouds were more prominent in the sky.

The two sunset images were taken with a Nikon 1 V3 and 28-300mm lens at 28mm, 1/400 sec, f/16 at ISO 400. I like the Nikon 1 V3 as a backup camera, or when shooting family events. It is very versatile and can be used successfully for nature photography too.


The following day I captured, and previously posted, images of a young American Alligator perched on its mother’s head. Below is one of those images. This alligator behavior is not often seen and rarely photographed.


The same day I photographed the above alligators, I shot the below images of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. In the first image, the ducks were very aware of my presence. To see me more closely, they stretched up their necks and watched intensely. It was not long after spotting me, that they all flew off, as seen in the below image. Black-bellied Whistling Ducks get their name from their call, which sounds much like a whistle–they do not quack!



Two days later, my friend Ernie Sears joined me as we explored and photographed Paynes Prairie and Cedar Key. Some of my favorite images while shooting with Ernie follow.


Above is one of the many bison that freely roam Paynes Prairie. In the above image, as I was trying to get a good shot of a bison that was heading away from me and into thick reeds and undergrowth, the bison turned to at look me, eye-to-eye (and camera), before heading deeper into the reeds. Notice how the bison’s tail is raised. That behavior is a sure sign of one of two things. One the bison is potentially aggressive and could charge, or two, the bison is about to fertilize the Prairie. Fortunately, it was number 2.

Below are three images of a Green Heron that I spotted deep in a thicket surrounding a small pond. The heron sat still as we worked our way around the thick undergrowth to get a different view. While shooting, I noticed the heron reach down and snatch something. I could not tell what the heron was doing until later when I looked at the images. Then I could see the heron had caught a small Anole. Click on the second image to see the poor little Anole.




In the below image, I photographed a Great Blue Heron that flew into a Spanish moss covered, old oak tree on the edge of Lake Wauburg in Paynes Prairie. The heron perched in the tree looking over the lake for its next meal. The gray, blue colors of the heron blended in well with the similarly colored moss and background across the lake. (Click below to see the heron)


Shortly after photographing the heron, an Anhinga swam nearby with a fish that it had just speared. It was heading toward the shore to enjoy its catch. Timing with a bit of luck helps to capture such shots.


Later that day, Ernie and I walked the La Chua Trail on the Prairie heading to the observation platform at the end of the trail. Along the way, we passed a small group of Ring-necked Ducks. Below is an image of one of the ducks with its wings spread and flapping. Ducks fall into two categories, dabblers and divers, based on their feeding behavior. Ring-necked Ducks are diving ducks, and after several dives, they raise up and flap their wings to shake off water from the dive.


Although we saw and photographed many birds and some gators along the way to the viewing platform on the trail, the highlight was sunset and photographing the Sandhill Cranes as they flew onto the Prairie to roost for the evening. Below are two of those images–one with the cranes against the colorful and glowing sky, and the other a black and white image of a pair of crane silhouettes against the heavily clouded, early evening sky.



As I mentioned above, Ernie and I went to Cedar Key, which is about an hour and a half drive west from Gainesville. It is an old fishing village on the Gulf coast. Along the way, on a narrow stretch of two lane highway, I noticed an eagle on the side of the road eating some form carrion. I immediately pulled over and the eagle flew up into a nearby tree. We were able to get off a few shots before the eagle flew away. Below is one of the images.


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Posted in Bird Photographs, Nature, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments