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The Expressive Photograph – Iceland Landscapes by Örvar Þorgeirsson

By Pye Jirsa on June 10th 2013


“Both the grand and the intimate aspects of nature can be revealed in the expressive photograph. Both can stir enduring affirmations and discoveries, and can surely help the spectator in his search for identification with the vast world of natural beauty and wonder surrounding him.” – Ansel Adams


The great trait of photography is how it educates the photographer and, as an extension, his or her audience. And, it is one of the few forms of art that immediately and accurately expresses the scene; no other form comes quite as close in terms of immediacy and accuracy whether it is painting, literature, or music. It is the only form of art that is instantaneously authentic.

I find that photography is a great educator in that it causes you to learn about its many subjects, and also about yourself. Ansel said it above, “[it] can surely help the spectator in his search for identification…” That specifically is what fascinates me about landscapes (and photography in general); it’s as much about realizing the qualities of the natural world as it is understanding your own.




In 2011 Icelandic photographer Örvar Þorgeirsson earned the title of European Wildlife Photographer of the Year for his portrayal of arctic landscapes. Örvar first delved into photography through his desire to share stories of his mountaineering adventures; he hiked in remote and untouched wildernesses, and as a young man captured these with his camera. I write about Örvar because his photography raises questions about the scene; the subjects are unfamiliar yet intriguing.

Lee: Where is your favorite area to shoot?

Örvar: My favorite area to shoot in Iceland is the glaciated south east coast of Iceland. The turbulent weather and scenic landscapes there creates very dynamic and ever changing shooting conditions. I go there many times each year and always find new subjects and perspectives to shoot. My 2nd favorite area is Landmannalaugar in the highlands of Iceland. Although the colorful rhyolite landscape there is very different from the glaciers of the south east it has the same character by offering endless shooting options and each time you go there you can shoot something new.



Lee: I assume that what you do is very dangerous. Can you speak to something that was particularly dangerous?

Örvar: In 2010 when shooting lava flowing into a deep canyon at the Fimmvörðuháls eruption a large steam explosion rained large volcanic rocks over us (see picture above). The rocks being thrown hundreds of meters into the air gave me enough time to run for cover under a truck.

Also that same year I found myself Aurora hunting on a frozen glacier lagoon in the middle of the night when we wandered onto thinner ice and suddenly cracks in the ice started to appear and water started flowing between my feet. Those adrenaline filled moments there in the dark when we tried to get onto thicker ice won’t be forgotten anytime soon.



Örvar offered this tip: “If you are into landscape photography do it for the passion. Learn all the technical tricks, spend as much time out there as you can and study the work and art of the photographers that inspire you. When you have mastered the craft you can start to think about getting some income from you work. A friend of mine told me you need to put in 10.000 hours before you are really good at something. But from the start be active on the social media like flickr, 500px, and facebook. If your work is of good quality you will get good exposure there and requests for publication will come in. Don´t be tempted by fee less publications offers where you only get a credit line. You are promised good exposure by these offers but you will be on the short end of the deal as a credit line exposure is much more limited than promised.”

You’ve likely come across some of Örvar’s work before. Do you find it interesting to learn about the person behind the picture and their experiences? Which of the photos do you like the most?

Visit Örvar’s website, and be sure to let him know that you enjoyed his work with a kind word below!

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Q&A Discussions

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  2. Jenna @ Green Global Travel

    Gorgeous photographs! Iceland is one of my favorite places and this interview really makes me want to return! We loved the south east coast as well–the landscape is so beautiful there!

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