Blast from the past: Iceland 2011 Workshop Review by Kees van Straten

Passionate photographer Kees van Straaten joined our Iceland workshop with Hasselblad Master Hans Strand in 2011. As we are celebrating Better Moments’ 10th birthday, Kees sent us a story about his experience traveling with us.

Haifoss waterfall

Haifoss waterfall | Photo: Kees van Straten

Kees van Straten in action

Kees van Straten

Iceland hot and cold

How come so many visitors are drawn to this treeless country? Christian must have known the answer when he organized his first photo trip in 2011. In one of the Dutch photo magazines Hans Strand published some of his aerials, and I didn’t hesitate for a moment to sign up.

In the years after I made quite a few trips with Christian, but this first one will stay in my memory for ever! We met in Reykjavik, had our ‘meet and greet’ and the next morning we left the main road along the south coast with a group of photographers from Europe and Australia in a large 4 x 4 (with the kitchen cart behind it) and were absorbed into the lava landscape.

We drive on lava gravel roads (in summer mostly fairly dry, but often closed off in winter) and see the Hekla volcano in the distance. The only vegetation on the black lava mountains is green moss. Very strange, it’s almost luminescent, even when it rains; in autumn the moss turns grey, which makes the mountains look rather gloomy.

But right now it’s a magnificent sight. In the valley of Landmannalaugar, the rhyolite rocks offer more nuance: yellows, reds, browns, grey-greens and everything in between, illuminated by the sunlight. Christian turns out to be a perfect host, Hans gives us a lot of advice and the cook surprises everyone. The landscapes inspire everyone to shoot great images.

River Delta taken from the helicopter | Photo: Kees van Straten

But then, 300 meters up in the sky!

Once in the helicopter (the doors are out), the pilot’s assistant helps me with my headphones. I’m a bit more concerned about the lap belt, similar to the one in an airplane; just a brush of the hand could unbuckle it. I demonstrate how easily one could fall out – and what a shame that would be, losing all of that expensive photography equipment! Looking somewhat weary, the assistant pulls some tape out of his pocket and quietly wraps it around my buckle.

“You don’t have a moment to lose,” Hans Strand warns. “Set your camera, check it once or twice, and then, Shoot, guys! Shoot!” It does all happen very fast and our time up in the air is limited. It takes hanging out of the doorframe if you want to take some shots straight down, avoiding the landing gear. It works out great. And yes, that buckle holds!

We fly along the coast and look for the Ranga river that foams into the sea.

The images of the Delta area are pure art! Rivers transport mineral particles into the open ocean, which causes a phenomenon comparable to the Northern Lights, where sun particles appear in the atmosphere; under the influence of the light, the mineral oxides not only take on many, (sometimes bizarre) colors, they also constantly shape-shift with the moving water.

The results are like abstract, colorful paintings, ready for displaying on the wall – which many people do.

It’s almost dark when we drive back to base camp.

We admire our driver who clearly has no trouble finding his way on the unlit roads. And then all of a sudden we see our chef Sigurion’s kitchen tent. Using several pits for lava barbeques, he creates a perfect dinner, worthy of any cooking magazine. It is after midnight and minus 4 degrees Celsius as we watch him work. And we’re having a glass or two. Cool!


Geese taking off | Photo: Kees van Straten

The next Better Moments Iceland workshop will take place from 12-20 September 2022. Updates will first be announced to our newsletter list. If you aren’t signed up yet, you can do so here.

Head to the workshop page to learn more about our adventure to incredible Iceland.


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