• September 10, 2014

Snapshots: Savoring the Light in Iceland

Becky Harlan

As summer draws to a close, I hear my friends and family lament its passing. The days of warm skin and noisy crickets run out too fast. Usually I want to remind them that they knew this was coming. That maybe they should have taken that camping trip or at least spent a few lunch breaks outside. But I also remember that the reason they appreciate summer so much is that it doesn’t last.

Picture of people sitting in a hot tub on a sunny day, a bulldozer looms over the fence behind the hot tub
A family soaks in a hot tub at a pool in Flúðir, which has a population of about 400 people.

A few summers ago I took a trip to Iceland for a workshop with a photography hero of mine, Mary Ellen Mark. I thought that I would focus on documenting fishermen while I was there because I was working on a similar project back home in D.C. But after the first day, I knew that this would not be the case. The ships weren’t going to be as visual as I had thought, and so I just set off wandering through Reykjavik and a few other small towns in southern Iceland.

Picture of a mountain as seen from a bus window, framed by golden colored curtains
Mountain view from a bus window on the return trip to Reykjavik from a small town in southern Iceland.

It was impossible for me to focus on anything but the people I saw absorbing summer against a vast and otherworldly backdrop—bright pops of color in a landscape of consistent greens and grays, a palette I think of as characteristically Scandinavian. The geothermal pools and beaches were a cultural staple, something that everyone from toddlers to senior citizens seemed to enjoy equally. People were picnicking, camping, swimming, and tanning, like there would never be another day of sunshine.

Picture of a man and woman standing on a concrete platform drying off after they took a dip in the ocean
A German couple summering in Reykjavik prepares to leave Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach in the late evening.
Picture of a yellow and white checkered mattress on the grass in the backyard, surrounded by white chairs, a red toy slide, and a red carriage with a toy dog, a small white dog lies on the mattress.
The backyard of a family in Reykjavik. They prepared for a picnic after spending a morning at the swimming pool.
Picture of a girl playing with a red float toy in a swimming pool
A girl plays in the community pool in Flúðir, Iceland. The tiny town is actually a tourist destination for many Icelanders because of its beautiful location in the mountains and its close distance to Reykjavik.

I wonder if, when you live in a place that spends a great deal of the year in darkness, you more wholly embrace the light while it’s there just out of a physical necessity. Like a rechargeable battery pack, filling up and running down again, or like eating a big lunch when you know you’re going to have a really late dinner.

Picture of a small glen of trees under a sky of puffy white clouds
Iceland has very few trees, which makes it ideal for grazing sheep. Here, a grove stands at the edge of a winding rural road.
Picture of the legs of a woman resting in the sand, she has pulled her knee highs down to her ankles to let her legs soak up the sun
An elderly woman rests in the sunshine at Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach in Reykjavik.

The few days I had there were soon over, and I returned to D.C., which held, for me, slightly less inspiration. If not because of Washington’s less-lunar landscape, then because of the distractions of real life. As a photo editor, I spend a lot of my waking hours thinking about and looking at other people’s pictures from all over the globe. But for the photographer in me, I see the time that I’ve spent “in the field” as sort of like sweet summer—something that recharges and inspires me for the rest of the year. It’s something that I always look forward to coming around again.

Picture of a young girl with blonde hair sitting in a green field looking out onto a blue lake under a blue sky
A girl looks out at the lake from the the Úlfljótsvatn camp site, 45 km from Reykjavik, where the 2012 International Scout Jamboree was held.

See more of Becky’s work on her website and follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

There are 15 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. brandon diaz
    November 21, 2014

    Beautiful shots I especially love the little girl sitting on the banks, what kind of camera/ lens are you using?

    • Becky Harlan
      November 21, 2014

      Thanks, Brandon! All of the images were shot using a 35mm lens on a Canon 5D Mark II.

  2. Glen
    September 14, 2014

    A beautiful surprise, thanks for the photos of my third home, spent an enjoyable year there.

  3. Anna
    September 14, 2014

    Having lived in Iceland for 2 years your pictures really captured the air, space and exhilaration that Iceland possesses, thank you! Still miss it 7 years later.

  4. Lillie Iris
    September 13, 2014

    A wonderful escape. Thank you!

  5. Joseph
    September 12, 2014

    Omg old people naked

  6. kathleen
    September 11, 2014

    This is really cool
    love the photographs!
    somday i will go there

    September 11, 2014


  8. Pankaj Dhande
    September 11, 2014

    This is so soothing. Makes you feel relax. Great photos too, I am just already at that place in my mind 🙂
    Please keep up bringing us such stories

  9. judas
    September 11, 2014

    It is so beautiful.
    The landscape,it’s different from my country’s, is very fresh and new for me.

  10. Joel Lee
    September 10, 2014

    Wonderfully done! Thoroughly enjoyed it!

  11. Kay Grogg
    September 10, 2014

    Becky, your work is inspiring!

  12. Charlene Murray
    September 10, 2014

    I love National Geographic, but then who does not. Photos, graphic design, and voice are my loves.

  13. K G
    September 10, 2014

    Great story…great sentiment and great photos!

  14. MIM
    September 10, 2014

    This is so pleasant, Becky! Your photos and words are equally beautiful and easy going. Thanks for reminding us to enjoy these last few weeks of warm skin 🙂

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