From Iceland — Wild At Heart: Capturing The Rawness of Iceland

Wild At Heart: Capturing The Rawness of Iceland

Wild At Heart: Capturing The Rawness of Iceland

Elías Þórsson
Photo by
Einar Guðmann
Gyða Henningsdóttir

Published August 9, 2017

The book Wild At heart is the work of photography super couple Einar Guðmann and Gyða Henningsdóttir. Around ten years ago they had a realisation they wanted to follow their dream of becoming professional photographers.

“Both of us have been dabbling in photography basically all our lives,” says Gyða. “We wanted to become better, to do more and we are incredibly fortunate to be equally interested in taking pictures. Plus, it helps that we are both equally mad.”

So, they quit their jobs, took up the cameras and took off into the wilderness.

The view from their office is better than yours

Lómagnúpur was a place of visions in the Sagas

Even in the barren sands life finds a way

The wild in pictures

The book comes in two sizes one large, which is perfect for the coffee table, and a pocket sized one that is ideal for taking along on a cross country trip to get inspirations as you look for places to go and things to see. The book is divided into nine chapters, with each dealing with a different theme. It documents everything from the unbridled power of the country’s waterfalls to the barren ice landscapes of the glaciers and to the moss covered fields of the island. Each chapter starts with an introduction to the theme and there you can learn fascinating titbits about Iceland. For instance, when the glaciers were formed (spoilers 9,000 years ago) and the history of habitation on the cold island.

My personal favourite chapter, however, is the one about the fauna. Amazing pictures of the might white-tailed eagle feeding its young, of arctic foxes hunting birds and the tourist favourite puffin in mid-flight. It is really this what sets Wild at Heart apart from the abundance of nature photography books in circulation. These are pictures you feel should be accompanied by the soothing voice of Sir David Attenborough.

“It is truly wonderful to watch foxes and other animals in their natural habitat,” says Gyða.

You can’t buy this one in a shop

No animal migrates further than the Arctic tern, meaning it sees two summers a year

Hvítserkur means white robe, and the white colour comes from bird droppings

The majestic seagull is know as the best dancer in Iceland

A harass of horses is harassed by winter

Living the dream

Talking to them it is very apparent that they live for their work. They spend a large chunk of the year in the countryside, sleeping in tents, waiting for hours and possibly days for the right shot. Freezing on cliffs as they wait for an eagle that might never come, or a fox that is too shy to show itself. But none of that matters when you are living your dream.

“Being able to do this full time is an amazing feeling,” says Einar. “I worked for the Environment Agency of Iceland for 14 years, but 2 years ago I quit. I was starting to fear that if I kept on working for an institution I would turn into a statue of a bureaucrat.”

To city boys like me the idea of sleeping in a tent far away from Reykjavík for months on end doesn’t sound particularly appealing, but for this power couple it’s more a privilege than a burden. They emerge themselves in the nature and the book is a retrospective of sorts–a collection of the last decade of shots. Their aim with the work was to depict Iceland as they have experienced it through their career–to show it honestly and truthfully.

The raw truth

“We want to show the wild nature and that is what we’ve attempted to do in the book–I hope we’ve achieved that,” says Einar. “This is not supposed to be easy. It has to be natural. We are Icelanders and I think many visitors to our country are interested in what characterises the country. The unique highlands, the glaciers and the rough, harsh winter. We’ve done everything we can to capture that.”

Having travelled the country myself, I can testify to the authenticity of the work. The pictures capture the raw aesthetic of Iceland and probably more importantly the bathing light, which often proves so elusive on film.

Dynjandi is the pride of the Westfjords

The reason why there are so few abstract painters in Iceland is because you can’t compete with nature

Here in Askja, NASA trained Neil Armstrong and co. to prepare them for the Moon landing

The castle of the Night King

We are all just a speck of dust that nature allows to survive

Chasing the light

The over ten years experience has equipped them with the skills needed to capture the wild Icelandic nature. Many professional photographers from other countries struggle with capturing the uniqueness of the light in the country. It messes with equipment and finding the correct ISO settings can be frustrating. But the pictures in the book achieve perfectly what so many fail at.

“The light in Iceland is quite special. Because the sun is so low in the sky, the light is very soft and the shadows aren’t rough,” says Einar. “What I hear from photographers who come from abroad is for instance how long it takes for the sun to set, closer to the equator it sets a lot faster. The other thing about Iceland is that in a single day you can get all kinds of weather, from sunshine to rain and even snow, all in a matter of hours.”

Gyða and Einar are vivid as they talk about their trips and missions in the unbridled nature. And there is a clear sense that this is a couple following their dreams.

“It really is amazing to be able to wake up in nature and go out to find things to photograph,” says Einar.

The frustrations of the wait

Despite their love of the craft, they are not shy about admitting to the many challenges of the job.

“It can be very draining, but we haven’t had enough yet,” says Einar. “It’s never boring, even though you aren’t smiling all the time, but there is a feeling of accomplishment when you’ve returned home after battling the elements.”

“Of course can be hard–especially when it has been difficult to capture the right pictures,” adds Gyða. “It can be very demanding both physically and mentally.”

Iceland is not exactly a tropical paradise and even during high summer the weather can be bad and punishing, and looking for the right shot takes time and a lot of determination.

“We got permission to photograph a eagle in his nest–just to give an example of how things can get,” says Einar. “We spent five to six days waiting for the right shot and often you have to sit in a tiny, cold tent for 14 hours waiting to capture a moment that might last just a couple of seconds.”

But to Gyða and Einar, all of the waiting, the cold and the punishing conditions are worth it–they wouldn’t change it for the world. And the enthusiasm they have for what they do is clearly on show in Wild at Heart–this couple loves what they do, and having each other has made it all the more easy

“It doesn’t surprise me that very few people can handle doing this, it needs a lot of planning and patience,” says Einar.

“I wouldn’t bother doing this alone, but it is very important that our connection is good. I think it also helps that we are always competing over who takes the best pictures,” Gyða interjects laughing.

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