Greenland, a land of icebergs and Inuit’s. Conventional wisdom says Greenland is only visited by intrepid explorers’ like Amundson and a few hardy trekkers who come in the summer, but ordinary people like us just don’t go to Greenland in the winter. Well they do now!
Greenland in winter is a land of indescribable beauty, where icebergs of un-imaginable size are born. Capturing this beauty on camera proved to be a major challenge, especially as the temperatures were around -13 to -20C during our visit, but a challenge we relished.
I’ve been to Greenland twice before, once in winter and again in the autumn, but I was looking for somewhere new to go, when I spotted a photo of Uummannaq’ s heart shaped mountain and I was hooked. I did a lot of research, but getting to a place as remote as Uummannaq isn’t easy, so I decided to travel with a company called Wild Photography Holiday’s and they did a brilliant job.
I flew to Reykjavik on day one, then flew on to the tourist town of Ilulissat for a couple days, giving me a chance to visit the world famous Kangia glacier. The last time I’d visited the glacier in 2017, the temperatures were exceptionally low (-34C), so the sea was completely frozen over, but this time the fjord was filled with a fascinating jumble of broken sheets of ice.
Sea ice in the mouth of the Kangia glacier
Whilst Ilulissat is a modern, tourist town, they do like to keep in touch with their traditions and keep a lot of sled dogs on the outskirts of the town at a place christened “Dog Alley”. I spent some time shooting the dogs on my first morning in Ilulissat, but I wasn’t happy with my results, so when I woke to blizzard conditions the following day, I went back to the dogs to try and capture some behaviour.
I was conscious that I didn’t want to stir up the dogs, or upset the owners, so I just sat down near the dogs and waited for something to happen. The dogs are semi-wild and often fight, so you don’t have wait too long for some action.
Later that day we got the devastating news that our flight to Uummannaq had been postponed due to bad weather, but fortunately Air Greenland were picking up the bill for this delay. However WPH were immediately on the case and organised a couple of days in the tiny Inuit settlement of Oqaatsut, 20 kilometres north of Ilulissat.
We sailed north early the following morning and the captain had to use the bow of the boat to push the icebergs out of the entrance to the harbour so we could get in.
This is us arriving on a fishing boat and disembarking onto the sea ice.
Our accomodation for the night was a little makshift to say the least! We were to stay the night in the “closed up” H8 restaurant and sleep in sleeping bags on mattresses on the floor.
Getting settled in the H8 restaurant The downstairs sleeping quarters in H8
After an afternoon spent exploring, I went back to the restaurant for a warm up, before I ventured to the sea edge to shoot the sunset. Against my better judgement, I still arrived a little early and froze!
Sunset over Disko Bay
However, the down market accommodation was soon to prove to be well worth it. We’d just finished an excellent dinner of reindeer stew when one of our party looked outside and shouted aurora! For the next two hours we were treated to an amazing light show. Seeing an aurora is one of those life events you just have to see once in your life, so I feel privileged that I’ve been able to see and photograph the aurora several times.
The northern lights over the blue house Disko Lights
Though I have to admit that I’d disappointed in myself. I’m well aware that someone shouting “aurora” is enough to send us all into “headless chicken” mode, but I should know better, as I’ve shot the northern lights several times before. Fortunately I’d done my homework. I’d fitted and focussed my wide-angle lens and set the camera ready to go. I’d even scouted out some good locations, but I rushed out and started “snapping” all over the place, rather than concentrating on honing my compositions.
With a full moon in the sky and a bright aurora, we had a lot of light, but I also made the mistake of lowering my iso, rather than shortening my exposure time to compensate for all this light. This meant that my images tended to have large areas of green in them, rather than more defined curtains of green. Lessons learned for next time!
Sea ice in Oqaatsut harbour
Next time, we move on to Uummannaq.