Taking in the scene and moment allows
you to create landscapes that can speak
to your viewer. Michael Schaake explains
his process and offers advice to aspiring
My Land, Iceland
Living in one of the world’s most incredible landscapes, Páll Stefánsson carries a camera with him everywhere; often it’s his favoured Sony Alpha 7R III with one of his many prime lenses, but he does use other Alpha bodies too. His work takes him to the most remote parts of the island. Even as we were talking to him about these images, he was standing on a cliff where he hadn’t seen another person, or even a car, for 15 hours.
Thankfully, after walking around to find phone signal, he was able to tell us about some of the favourite images he’s taken of his homeland.
© Páll Stefánsson | Sony α7R II + FE 85mm f/1.4 GM | 1/1600s @ f/5.6, ISO 160
“When I’m taking aerial shots, I like to crop in really tight to create these abstract images. I had flown over this location a couple of times in the summer, but I knew I wanted to return in the winter so I could capture the beautiful contrast between the snowy white ground, the volcanic black rock and the bright blue glacial water.
“The most difficult part of capturing aerial shots is that you have to use a very high shutter speed to counter the movement of the plane and its vibrations. To get this close crop I used the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM lens, and I had to open the window of the plane to shoot out of! You have to be quick with your thinking and know the shot you want to capture before you take it. At that altitude, in the freezing cold of winter your hands get very, very cold very quickly. When you’re in the moment and shooting you don’t think about that, but afterwards you realise that you are absolutely freezing.”
© Páll Stefánsson | Sony α7R II + FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA | 1/500s @ f/11, ISO 100
“This image was interesting for Reykjavik. The snow was like a carpet; I walked outside and was like ‘wow!’ - you couldn’t drive as there was about 60cm of snow. I just knew that I had to be higher up to capture this, so I called the Minister and asked if he could open the cathedral so I could climb to the top of the tower.
“Because it was early and the sun was rising, I captured the long shadow of the iconic cathedral as it stretched across the city. But this was actually a happy accident; my initial intention was just to capture the white carpet of snow which had taken away all the colour from the city.
“I shot the image with the Sony Alpha 7R II and the 50mm f/1.4 lens - it was all I took with me. I never use zoom lenses as I think using a fixed focal length really allows me to concentrate on the image and composition.”
© Páll Stefánsson | Sony α7R II + FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS | 1/640s @ f/6.3, ISO 100
“One of the things I love to do is go out shooting on the shortest day of the year. People sometimes forget that in Iceland we have 21 hours of darkness in the middle of December, and this shot is taken around midday. The sun barely comes up and then it goes straight down, and the light during those few hours is very soft.
“I didn’t actually plan this shot. I had the location and went to that area to try and photograph something with my Alpha 7R II. Then, whilst I was there, I spotted the horses and there were the islands in the background, and with the midday light it just made for a lovely image.”
© Páll Stefánsson | Sony α7R III + FE 24mm f/1.4 GM | 1.6s @ f/13, ISO 100
“This image was taken with the Alpha 7R III and the FE 24mm f/1.4 GM lens. When you’re shooting in the ice caves you need a wide-angle lens as it is a very small space. I think 24mm is a nice focal length as it isn’t too wide and it gives you a sense of the space.
“I mounted my camera on a tripod inside the ice caves as it was so dark inside. The light you see coming in is the natural daylight coming through the glacial ice.
“In the distance you can see the guide in the shot. I think this is important as it gives the shot a sense of scale; without the person in the scene you have no idea how vast these ice caves are. They’re formed from the melting glacial ice creating small rivers that carve their way through the glacier. What I find amazing is the sound; it’s so quiet and very strange. Occasionally you will hear a crack or creak as the ice breaks and you do get scared - you don’t want thousands of kilograms of ice falling on you.”
“I really believe that I am privileged to have Iceland as my home, and I really want to let people travel with me. But ultimately, my main goal is to just take nice images!”