Ice Caves are one of the most breathtaking spectacles I have ever experienced. They are formed by rivers carving out the cave under a glacier. The Blue Ice is real! As a matter a fact you will see all kind of colours in the ice; blue, green, clear even black… it is like nothing you have ever seen before, that’s why it’s many people’s favorite memory from Iceland.
I started Photographing Ice Caves before Ice Caves became this huge tourist attraction. Back then there were only three guides operating the Ice Caves and If I remember correctly they took groups of only eight people, and one group never overlapped another. So eight people in a huge Ice Cave with all the time in the world, and it was fantastic!
Now it’s a different story. I have no idea how many Tour Operators are offering Ice Cave tours, there is no schedule so chances are there will be over hundred tourists when you arrive with your tripod expecting the cave to be empty, because there were never people on the photos you saw on the internet. This is the reality now so instead of being pissed off, we just have to adapt.
Groups are constantly coming and going so there will always be a opportunity for you to get your frame. I am quite happy if I get one usable frame from an Ice Cave trip, but usually I get much more. The trick is to find your frame, set up, do your test shot and wait for the frame to clear. On the off chance you’ll get no clear frame just shoot a few, in Photoshop open them all as layers in PhotoShop and mask the people out. If you don’t know how it’s done there are hundreds of free tutorials on the Internet and there will be one on this site soon. If you sign up on my mailing list I will let you know when I post new articles on my site.
Another thing you have to think about is that many of the photos you get in the Ice Caves need a huge dynamic range, often more than any camera can handle, so my advice to you is to always exposure bracket your shots. It is so frustrating to get back with a nice composition and you have blown out highlights or unrecoverable dark areas.
So when to bracket and when not to bracket? There is no right answer here, it depends on your camera, some have more dynamic range than others, it’s trial and error… and of course you need to know your camera and it’s capabilities. The best advice I can give you is, When in doubt… Bracket!
To shorten the exposure time raise the ISO a bit, you can’t do a 1-2 minute exposure with hundred people in the cave, and of course always use tripod. And lastly shoot a lot! Don’t rest until you are called out.
If you try to be smart about it you will get amazing shots in a crowded Ice Cave. And of course, don’t forget to enjoy the stay 🙂