Fire and ice cave
Stefan Blawath loves mountains, nature, light – and photography. With the ZEISS Distagon T* 2,8/15 he succeeded in taking some quite unique pictures inside a glacier cave in Iceland.
Stefan Blawath travels frequently for his photography — to the Alps, New Zealand, Swedish Lapland or Norway. In the past, he has gone to great lengths to get good shots. But at the beginning of 2014 he went on a tour that was unusual even by his standards: a photo shoot in an Icelandic glacier cave.
Blawath developed the idea for this trip together with an acquaintance, also a photographer, who accompanied him to Iceland for nine days. On arriving, they first drove for an hour and a half by car to the edge of the Vatnajökull glacier, then continued for another 90 minutes over ice as smooth as glass. “With our guide we formed a roped party and, well secured with ice screws, walked across the glacier ice with step irons. At the entrance to the cave we had to descend with ropes. Then we went further, 100 meters deep into the glacier, until we reached the approximately 10-meter high dome where we wanted to take our pictures. To get there we had to negotiate confined spaces that you could only pass through by crawling.”
In order to have the right photographic equipment for this trip, Blawath acquired the Distagon T* 2,8/15 in November 2013. “My photo dealer told me that this is the lens and that nothing will be able to match it for a while. And he was right: it took me less than 24 hours to decide on this specific lens. Ultimately there were two reasons why I bought the lens: the ice caves and the ability to photograph the Northern Lights. During this trip I was able to take some truly impressive pictures of the Northern Lights with the lens. You can see one example below. In Iceland I used the Distagon T* 2,8/15 for the first time.“
Blawath and his companions needed around four hours in the cave in order to realize all their photographic ideas. They not only wanted to take pictures of ‘pure nature’ but also to dramatize the special atmosphere inside the cave with light effects. To do that they placed steel wool inside a whisk, wrapped the whisk on a wire rope, lit the contents and then whirled the burning steel wool round like a lasso. “The flying sparks looked incredibly exciting inside the cave and thanks to the blue light they released a very special effect, making the ice look golden and shiny.”
The dominant color of natural light deep down in the cave is blue, not white. Compressed ice with barely any air pockets works like a weak color filter: red, orange, yellow and green light are absorbed first. Once the ice surface is more than about three meters thick, only blue light remains — the so-called ‘glacier blue’.
“The light that day was relatively weak, which actually had a positive effect on the images. We didn’t have to deal with any potential overexposure. Through a hole in the ceiling, where icicles had formed from melting water, only a small amount of light came through, which lit up the snow that had fallen into the cave. In the foreground you can also see a small stream which, due to the long exposure time, has a particularly soft effect.”
For Blawath, the shoot in the Icelandic ice cave was an intense experience, and not just in a photographic sense. “They way nature is able to form such a cave is so beautiful. And how harmonious and at the same time harsh everything appears. To experience that was simply amazing. The effort was definitely worth it. After all, you only get the chance to take such pictures once. A high-quality lens like the Distagon T* 2,8/15 is a huge advantage here. By and large you can rely on getting a sharp image – from infinity to up close – and that in combination with an extreme wide angle. Incidentally, it turned out that the pictures I took in this cave were literally unique. The winter in Iceland was very mild with heavy rainfall, and less than a week after our shoot the cave filled up with water. The grotto I photographed doesn’t exist in this form anymore.”
About Stefan Blawath
Stefan Blawath has been photographing since his youth. After a longer respite, he took up photography again eight years ago, first starting with a model for beginners. Two years ago he switched to a full-format SLR camera and developed a preference for high-quality lenses. When Stefan is not in the mountains indulging his passion for photography, he manages the client and business partner portal of a large insurance company in Munich.