Photography: “This country seems to have a sacred bond between earth and sky”
Fire in the sky You don't have to go far from Reykjavík to witness this spectacular natural phenomenon in all its glory and sometimes the northern lights are also clearly visible from the city. Christophe captured this photo on Reykjanes peninsula, only a few minutes drive away from the capital. Photo/Christophe Suarez
This autumn French photographer Christophe Suarez is heading to Iceland for the third time in the hunt for the northern lights. He is represented by a French agency specialized in nature and the environment and has had his photos published in various magazines, mainly in Europe but has also in the United States and Asia.
Christophe lives in the French Alps, near Annecy, a city that is often called the little Venice of the Alps. His home is located one hour from the Italian border and is framed by magnificent high mountains, which he says he frequently photographs during thunderstorms and other spectacular occasions.
Christophe says he his fascinated by the sky, the earth, and the elements and although living in such dramatic location he is always seeking other challenges.
What brought you to initially to Iceland?
I had been dreaming for a long time about the northern lights. Since the solar activity went up in 2013, creating the ideal condition for northern lights, I felt it would be the perfect opportunity to achieve one of my goals. I’m fascinated by volcanoes as well and visit Etna regularly. I wanted to photograph the northern lights over a volcanic landscape. It's my Holy Grail.
On my first trip in 2014 I fell in love with Iceland. This country seems to have a sacred bond between earth and sky. The presence of man is almost unusual in such a wild place. Actually, I have traveled a lot, but rarely seen so much beauty in a country.
I met a lot of French people in Iceland. One of our great writers Jules Verne, was making the Snæfellsjökull glacier an entry point to the center of the earth. Curiously, the exit point was the Italian volcano Stromboli, also one of my favorite destinations! I think that in the collective unconsciousness of French people, Iceland has a special place. Now I understand better why.
Do you have a favorite season?
My quest is the aurora borealis, and I come in late February, early March. This period seems favorable, despite the terrible weather conditions.
I would like to see Iceland in the summer, but I'm too busy chasing storms. I ‘ll come in October this time, to experience a different period.
Have you traveled the world to take pictures?
I traveled the world in the 80s and 90s. In my photographer's life, I travel mainly in Europe. On one hand because we can find enough interesting subjects on our continent. On the other hand, because my testimony has more strengths if it happens in Europe, rather close to us. Of course, I dream of subjects in the United States, Africa or Asia, but if during a story I miss a tornado or a volcano eruption in Italy, I will be disappointed.
Where did you go while on the island?
I went to all the places you might want to visit in the south of Iceland. But I never forget the goal of my trip: capture the northern lights. In winter, some parts of the country are less accessible, and I cannot risk to get stuck and miss several nights of northern lights. That's why I prefer to stay in the southern part of the island, where the N°1 is generally reliable.
I'm an aurora hunter, with specific techniques. I sleep during the day and I take photos during the night. As soon as I wake up, I check the weather models, and then drive to the most suitable place to observe the sky. In fact, this is like chasing the storms. The only difference is that I'm not looking for the bad weather but the good one.
Any favorite part of the country?
I mainly know the south of the island. After each turn, there’s always a good surprise. Iceland landscapes are varied and grandiose. This year, the weather was difficult, and I spent more time in the Reykjanes peninsula. I do not regret it, because Reykjanes is a concentrate of Iceland. Sometimes you search far away what is in front of your eyes.
What kind of equipment to you use?
My first digital camera was a Sony. In 2005, I acquired a Nikon SLR. Despite the advanced technology of Canon in the early 2000s, I remained loyal to Nikon. Today, I do not regret. I use two expert SLRs, with FX sensors, to prevent the noise while using high isos, at night. I also own several bright wide-angle lenses, the renowned 14-24/2.8, and the new 20/1.8 afs. Finally, as I often take photos in difficult conditions, I use two Manfrotto solid tripods. I do not make videos.
Can you recommend a restaurant and something a guest should not miss to experience while in the capital or tasting in Iceland?
I like Reykjavík a lot, but staying there is not the goal of my trips. I usually only spend time there when the sky remains covered elsewhere. That said I think Reykjavík is a very European and cosmopolitan city, and the countryside is never far away. I particularly liked the Restaurant Reykjavik in the centre of the city and its impressive buffet of fishes. I discovered there the nice taste of the whale. The restaurant Loki, close to Hallgrímskirkja churh in Reykjavík, is a good address also, where we eat well for a reasonable price.
But I found the highlight of the Icelandic cusine outside the city. The Icelandic Meat Soup at Víkurskáli, the restaurant of the gas station in Vík village in South Iceland, is the best soup in the world in my opinion. I may be biased, but when you spent three hours driving in z blizzard, and you taste this soup, it's like if you come back from a 6-month trip in Amazonia and you eat in a good restaurant. Wow it's just addictive!
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