TAKING GOOD ICE CAVE PHOTOS WITH A SMARTPHONE
Traveling light to Glacier Iceland? Don’t worry, your phone has it all. Enjoy and capture the pristine beauty Iceland has to offer doing an unforgettable, glacier tour, ice cave tour or glacier hike. When doing Glacier Adventure Crystal Ice cave tour or Blue Ice cave tour this article will teach you all the magics your phone has to offer.
Reality for most travelers
The reality is that most clients doing a glacier tour with Glacier Adventure will not have a dedicated camera. They are usually only travelling with a phone either out of convenience or the restrictions of travelling light. This article will teach you how to make the best picture on your phone and at the same time capture memories to share with your friends and family. ( For professional tripod and camera setting tutorial please check out this blog post )
Let´s start learning
Welcome to Glacier Iceland and enjoy the further reading on how to take amazing ice cave photos in crystal ice cave or a pristine blue ice cave.
Everyone is also aware phone cameras have improved dramatically both in the quality of the lenses and their range of functions. For someone not well versed in photography and limited in time they can often in fact achieve a better result with their phone than with many cameras. That is provided they understand the phone’s features relative to the unique and typically low light conditions found in ice caves. This article was written to help you come back with photos with good depth and detail and plenty of punch from that amazing blue ice! And be the most popular person in your group, since you will be able to take the best pictures! Without necessarily needing to resort to relying on gaudy ‘fake filters’. You may be surprised what your phone can do!
This is the most convenient way to take photos of good depth with your phone and capture plenty of the intensity of that precious blue ice. Most newer average or even older high end phones will have a night mode. It may be automatic based on the phone’s sensors but on many phones this feature will have to be selected. Night mode works by taking a few images at different exposure times and settings. It then automatic ally processes these images so they are combined as one photo. This increases the dynamic range (giving detail in the shadows and increasing highlights overall) without having to resort to extremely long exposures which would be impossible to keep steady with a handheld phone and it’s tiny lens. If your phone does not have a night mode then check out the next section!
If your phone does not have a night mode it may have a burst mode which h
as been all the rage with full size cameras in recent years. As its name suggests it simply takes bursts of photos usually around 10 per second. You can easily rack up 50 or 60 images by keeping your finger on the ‘button’. Unlike with night mode the exposures are extremely short and uniform which works well for action in bright settings. To make use of this for low light settings you need to ‘stack’ these images to reduce the ‘noise’ using some simple software (noisy photos are grainy and dull) This editing is best done back at your hotel room or once back home.
However if you have the time available and are going to go to the editing trouble of stacking then you are better off taking a minimum of 20 images in a conventional mode. Using moderately longer exposure settings with something to keep the phone steady (you simply need to increase the seconds of exposure, see the video) . It’s a good idea to experiment with a few shots to see how long an exposure
you can manage if going handheld – snap a few shots at different exposure times and see how they look. The end result is less of a compromise than the auto-burst mode and is well worth it if you have the time. The individual images will have less noise and more detail in the shadows with the final product being closer to what you can achieve with night mode. While stacking you can also manually eliminate or align images upset by a shake or wobble.
Keep it Steady!
Whichever settings or method you use it is very important to do your best to keep the phone as steady as possible any time the light is challenging and Ice Caves are a prime example. Phone specific hand grips, mono-pods and mini tripods such as the Gorilla Pod are very useful for keeping your phone steady, just having the extra weight and a fuller grip helps. If you want to take remote shots or bursts with a mini tripod then very cheap Bluetooth remotes are available for both I-phone and Android. If you are partaking in our Crystal Ice Cave Adventure then it is fine to take a full size tripod if you so wish. However if you are on our Blue Ice Cave Adventure Tour then definitely stick to the more compact options, unless your a serious photographer.
White Balance and filters
All phones will have some sort of white balance and filters (‘light temperature’) adjustments with some more sophisticated than others. When taking photos within Ice Cave’s it can be useful to experiment with a phone’s camera app’s white balance or filters. Glacier Adventure recommend Vivid Cool it makes the blue Ice look so cool on the photo, even though it can´t coop up with the beauty you see with your necked eye. Setting it to ‘shade’ or if this is not an option pick the ‘cloudy’ icon. This is particularly useful as a quick way to increase detail in the darker areas and reduce the dominance of the flare and glare if taking photos towards the bright overexposed entrance of caves from within. This will also help your phone to showcase the deep blue of the ‘crystal’ clear ice, though some phones achieve this with very good auto white balance functions – the key word is experiment. If you don’t have an app with white balance adjustment the most basic phone cameras will still have a simple slider scale for adjusting white balance. Experiment by turning the balance down bit by bit, lowering or ‘cooling’ the dominant light temperature to enhance or match the blue light emanating from the ice.
Using Available Light
Much of the light within the cave is from the ‘cold’ blue end of the spectrum as the glacier ice does a good job of blocking or absorbing the red end, essentially it acts like a filter. Often there are small areas within the cave that have an increase in natural light coming directly from holes in the ceiling or beaming in from the entrance. When these areas are small they are very useful for adding ‘warm’ or neutral light to subjects, usually your fellow travelers. Aside from the obvious of illuminating your subject these areas of ‘outside’ light compensate for the dominant cold blue light emanating from the ice and help warm up skin tones which otherwise in most cases end up unnaturally pale. Now If your visit to the cave coincides with sunrise or sunset which is particularly common from November to mid-February, any of that soft winter light directly entering the cave will be at its warmest and can create some spectacular contrasts. This is a big advantage with the South East facing Breiðamerkurjökull glacier where the Crystal Ice Cave and Sapphire Cave’s are located. When taking portraits simply switching the white balance to a warmer option would appear to be a solution however this may end up suppressing the detail and brilliance of the blue ice around your subject and create glare.
Using Artificial Light
Many sources of artificial light can help as a filter or to illuminate subjects though some forms are much better than others. When it comes to the flash on smartphones those with dual or quadruple LED’s are best. Usually the single Led units emit a fairly cold light starting to edge towards the blue end of the spectrum which is sometimes too cold to give natural skin tones when taking portraits of your travel buddies. The multi LED units often have both warm and cold or neutral LED’s so much more natural results can be achieved. However the range of the flash is still very short and it can illuminate too wide an area of the foreground which will dull or suppress the precious blue of the ice close to the subject.
Rather than the flash you ideally want something you can accurately spot subjects with rather than flooding an area. There are many additional light source options that are more subtle, confined and don’t upset the foreground or intensity of the blue ice. For example many compact headlamps come with a red light mode which is very low powered and this can balance the dominant blue light out when spotting subjects. If the red is a little too intense it can be balanced out with the relatively weak flash-light function on your phone, not to be confused with the Flash itself which should be turned off. Most headlamps in normal mode can be adjusted to a dim setting though the LED’s are often of the colder variety.
An old school cheap normal incandescent flashlight with Krypton bulbs actually gives off about the best light for spotting if you can adjust it low enough. The trouble is they are getting harder to find. However, there are still low cost Xenon compact flashlights readily available and some even come with simple filters. Almost any camera store will stock relatively compact low-cost rechargeable lights that are specifically for the purpose of illuminating subjects and they can be chosen in different color ranges or ‘temperatures.’
Crystal ice cave tour ( 3 h tour, 3 km walking to the ice cave, easy to moderate )
Blue ice cave tour ( 5 – 6 h tour, total 5 – 6 km walking, 3 km glacier hiking, moderate to hard )
Ice cave action ( 4 – 6 h tour, combo tour with snowmobile, Crystal Ice cave + Snowmobile tour )