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The 'Disappearing' Beauty of Greenland

Greenland is hot! Quite literally. Summer this year has been one of the hottest summers in Greenland. The icecap is melting faster than ever before. The current melt was only predicted to happen in 2070. And with 50 years ‘ahead of schedule’ it will only get worse. But Greenland is also ‘hot’ in another way. This summer alone, 40 cruise ships visited the relatively small town Ilulissat on the west coast of Greenland. When I was there for 12 days this summer, I saw 6 different ships come and go. One of them had 13 decks, 3500 passengers and 900 crew on it. To put this into perspective: Ilulissat itself has only a population of close to 5000. This cruise ship almost doubles the town’s population. Tourism is booming. And Greenland is ‘hot’ in the media too, with Trump recently wanting to buy the country!

The town Ilulissat, where I was staying a little less than 2 weeks, is still very laidback. No big airport, no big car rental companies, chill people and a small harbour. But this might change soon. When I saw the amount of people visiting this year I can’t imagine what this town will look like in 10 to 15 years. I was really surprised how many people were visiting Greenland when I was there. I am from the Netherlands myself and none of my friends and family ever visited the country. It’s not really known as a popular tourist hotspot, but when I was actually there I quickly discovered I was wrong. And really, it’s no surprise that people want to see it. Because… it’s beautiful! The amazing ice you see in the sea is an unreal site. With the midnight sun colours hitting the ice and a beautiful color palette in the sky, it’s like being in a dreamworld. Sailing through the ice fjord is magical. And that’s what we did. Every day.

I was in Greenland guiding 2 photo tours. During these tours we sail our 2 little red sailboats (one of them being a record holder of the first circumnavigation around the arctic between the giant pieces of ice. Using our red sailboats we show the scale of the massive shapes and peaks of the icebergs. For me as a photography guide, this location is always amazing. It’s just never the same. It’s challenging which keeps it interesting. Icebergs can be massive and they are floating in the sea. They always move so everyday there can be new icebergs to explore. Basically, I can explore new landscapes at the same location every day! We always try to find icebergs with interesting shapes, arches and holes in them. The guests love it, fly their drone through it while using our little boats as models. With our red sailboats we add a new dimension to the beauty of Greenland.

With this project I aim to show the beauty of the country in my own way. It’s like creating art out of nature. We position and navigate our sailboats through the ice, sometimes taking hours to find a good composition or iceberg. The results are photos that seem unreal. By using clever placement of the sailboats, we create scale, emotion and a certain atmosphere. The boats are our subject, and the ice landscapes combined with the weather conditions are our canvas. We use everything ranging from wide angle lenses, midrange, to super telephoto lenses and drones.

Our captains are extremely skilled and are able to position the boats exactly where we want them. As a photographer, This is something I love to do. People who know my work know that I love to plan ‘extreme’ shots. I have photographed moon shots, volcanos, and milky ways and even a solar eclipse, all perfectly lined up with a subject: sometimes a model and at other times a building or structure. Planning this kind of shots motivates me to the extreme, therefore using these little sailboats to create magical photos is something that I can put all of my passion into.

We planned a wide variety of photos ranging from photos where our boats where behind arches, against a moonrise, against huge walls of ice, around interesting icebergs that you can see through the water, etc. The compositions and possibilities are endless. It’s really a playground for a photographer like me. Our little red boats are of course very tempting to photograph I also tried to capture the beauty of the ice pieces and textures in a closer way. Showing the raw beauty of what nature can do to this ice is another prime goal of this project. Playing with shapes, textures and reflections in the water, sometimes using a seagull or a whale for the scale, shows the real raw beauty of this place. A place that might not exist anymore after a few 100 years, or maybe even much sooner. Maybe even in my lifetime?

With global warming really kicking in over the last year with record temperatures everywhere (record after record broke in my hometown Amsterdam this year, and last year we had extreme draughts) it’s really something that we should be aware of even more. This is not only about Greenland. This is about our whole planet.

Please enjoy these series shot in just 12 days on the waters of Disko Bay, Greenland.

Our 2 red sail boats posing around a cool iceberg (pun intended) . I spotted this one from very far away with binoculars. It took us 1.5 hours to sail to it and we were not disappointed.

When the moon rises everything just looks magical. We planned a bunch of photos with the moon on tops of icebergs or sometimes in between. We used the app Photopills to check where exactly the moon would rise. Photographing the moon from a boat hand held is extremely tricky, especially when we have to position the other boat as well. Everything is moving and we had to use a higher ISO and fast shutter speed to get the shots. But the results were spectacular. This was shot at 400mm! To get the moon big we had to get very far away from the icebergs and the other boat. There are some more moonshots later in this series.

Greenland, which is part of Denmark copies the architectural style with their colourful houses.

An iceberg shaped like a dog? Or a woman and a man? You can see all kinds of shapes in some of these icebergs. And they look different every day.

We are sailing everyday and the light can last for hours during the midnight sun with sometimes spectacular sunsets and sunrises as a result.

Our little red sail boats are always a great object to photograph, especially during ‘bad’ weather. The red sails really pop out with dark skies.

I really love shooting abstract photos from the boat. Different shapes and icebergs come and go. By using my 100-400 I love to play with shapes and lines on the sea.

Photographing from a boat is completely different than ‘traditional’ landscape photography. Even on sea, you can use your wide angle lenses and play with foregrounds. But you have to be fast! They come and go quickly and when a foreground presents itself, you only have a second to capture it before it’s gone.

Some icebergs have holes or aches in them. This one had a tunnel which was hit by sunlight from the inside.

The ice fjord at ilulissat. You can hike here easily from town and it has an impressive view over all the ice that is coming in from the cap.

A humpback whale making a dive and showing it’s tail. You can see the whales here often but they do not often jump out of the water. Sometimes they show their tale but that’s about it. We had seen some jumping ones but unfortunately I didn’t capture any of them. Maybe next time.

A high key shot of a seagull sitting on the crystal clear peaks of the icebergs.

Sailing at twilight is really magical. The purple blue sky creates a dreamlike atmosphere.

Some icebergs really look like rough mountain ranges. Combined with dark skies and moody weather, they make for a Lord of the Rings atmosphere.

Ilimanaq settlement. About 2 hours of sailing from Ilulissat. Locals really live in the middle of nowhere with a prime view over the ice and the whales. It has about 80 inhabitants. Walking around there is surreal.

A spectacular midnight sunset. These sometimes last for hours!

An abstract shot of an iceberg at 100mm. Sometimes icebergs rotate around. The bottoms usually have these interesting ridges as shapes.

Nice soft light on the ice bergs. These little boats usually take some tourists to go whale watching.

The moon rising on the top of an iceberg. To line up these kind of shots, our captains needs to navigate extremely precise.

A top down shot (by drone) of an ice piece with a bunch of little ‘rivers’. It looks like a snowy landscape.

By using our boats we show the massive scale of some of these icebergs. This one had a lake in the middle, with even a waterfall.

Spectacular clouds on a calm evening in Disko Bay.

An abstract shot of the ripples of the waves, created by our slowly sailing ship.

Rodebay, another settlement about 2 hours sailing from Ilulissat. This little settlement has a population of less than 50 people. You can see a lot of sled dogs everywhere around Ilulissat and in all these little villages. They are being used in winter, but in summer they just chill and do nothing. They are not aggressive in general.

Gloomy weather around the ice fjord. Flat light makes some of the colours of these pieces come out. Look closely and you’ll see the little airplane. Air safari is popular here. Everyday you can see the ice from the sky with these little planes.

A minimalistic shot of our ship next to a giant smooth piece of ice.

These fishing boats live in a dreamworld of colour during the midnight sun season.

An abstract shot of yellow reddish fauna in Ilulissat. When I was there it started to look like autumn already, in August.

Layers of sea, ice, fog and mountains. A layered combination during a rainy day.

Another moonshot of the moon rising behind a giant pyramide with our little red sail boat sailing in front of it. This one was also shot at 400mm at a very far distance.

An iceberg with interesting textures and a hole in it, where you can see the other side which also has the same interesting texture.

Seagulls sitting on the icebergs during a rainy day. You see them a lot, waiting for the whales to show themselves so they can try and steal some food.

A massive wall of ice. Our little boat works great here to show the scale of the whole scene. Our boat is 27 meters tall, so guess how high this iceberg is?

Red sails and moody weather: a winning combination. Especially with some rugged icebergs.

By playing around with arches in icebergs, placement of our boats and the sunlight, we create some beautiful compositions.

A playful composition that I can’t take credit for. It was our captain Daniel’s idea to put our ship in front of this pyramid so we could make a mirrored composition, with the rising moon in the middle.

Foreground ice used as leading lines. Something we try to utilise when there are small floating ice pieces around.

A whale in front of a giant wall of ice. Whales are big, but the ice pieces are huge.

A small gap in an ice piece is just enough to show our other boat at the other side.

I love taking abstract shots of the shapes of the ice when the harsh light hits it. Playing with shadow and light is one of my favourite things to look for when we’re just randomly sailing in between the icebergs.

Calm evenings create subtle reflections. In this photo the sun had already set, but the so called ‘alpenglow’ still works a really long time and works especially well on white icebergs. It makes for great contrast with a dark sky.

Flying my drone (Mavic Pro 2) from the shore over the icebergs is really magical.

Twilight casts a beautiful glow over the sky which reflects in the ice.

A massive piece of ice that looks like a huge mountain. These are just floating around in Disko Bay. You can find different ones each day depending on the wind.

Another calm evening during twilight. The gradient you see in the sky is really magical. Combined with almost no wind and beautiful reflections, this is a dreamworld.

Another planned moonrise where we positioned the moon just between the 2 tops of this ice piece, with our boat as a model.

I hope you enjoyed these series and realise that this is a place that will not be there forever. With posting these photos I hope to create more awareness of the beauty, existence and possible, but hopefully not ’disappearance’ , of this place.

Special thanks to Iceland Photo Tours for making this project and tours possible and for letting me combine both work and passion into one project and sharing it with our guests.

And of course, this would not be possible without our extremely skilled captains Daniel and Andrey that can position their boats exactly where we want them. And thanks to the whole crew that was with us.

Last, thanks to Sony for letting me bring the (at that time unreleased) A7R4 for this trip. All of the above photos were shot with the A7R4 and G-Master lenses. Except for the aerial shots. These were shot with the DJI Mavic Pro 2 drone.

If you’re interested in joining next year: We still have a few open dates for 2020 for this trip.

Gear used in this article:

Feel free to comment or ask me anything!


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