Icy wind beats against the plexiglass window of a light Cessna plane as it soars high into the sky 1000 feet above Iceland. Inside the plane are two people: a local pilot, and a Sri Lankan photographer by the name of Suranga Weeratunga. The weather is clear, but that does not stop the outside air temperature from dropping with every passing minute. In the distance, an aquamarine body of water sparkles into sight, the marbled blue and burnt orange sediment melding together to form an exquisite pattern. As they near the scene, Suranga pulls up his neck warmer and re-adjusts his glasses, bracing himself for the onslaught of wind, then slides the plane window open to begin photographing the spectacle below him.
Aerial view of glacier rivers in Iceland - Nikon D810, ISO 640, f/4, 1/320 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR at 20mm
Aerial view of glacier rivers in Iceland - Nikon D810, ISO 400, f/4, 1/800 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR at 35mm
These glacial rivers are one of the world’s most captivating natural events. Ethereal and mesmerizing, the aerial views of these rivers are a sight few people are privileged to see, and reveal the complex yet integral relationship between Earth’s elements.
The interconnectedness of the lines and colours are formed from sunlight hitting the sediment from the glaciers. The varying depths of the river and slow degradation of mineral deposits create a unique pattern, as the water and ice slowly move out to sea. Shooting for over three hours in sub-zero air temperatures, advanced preparation is essential in order to capture this unique phenomenon.
“I thought about this shoot for more than six months. I sent over fifty emails to my pilot before going to Iceland. I wanted to prepare for the conditions, to find the best rivers to photograph, and know the best camera settings to use”.
Aerial view of glacier rivers in Iceland - Nikon D810, ISO 400, f/4, 1/800 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR at 25mm
Aerial view of glacier rivers in Iceland - Nikon D810, ISO 400, f/4, 1/1000 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR at 35mm
Aerial photography is a fine skill that requires patience, stamina and often, a little luck. Weather conditions can prevent photographers from delivering clear images, and shooting in high wind speeds at -15 degrees Celsius requires quick thinking to change the ISO and shutter speed correctly.
“It is very cold when you open the window with the wind speed”, says Suranga. “My hand almost froze and I could not shoot continuously. I had to maintain a high shutter speed to avoid the camera shaking, but the results were amazing”.
This temporary discomfort is well worth the effort. When done well, aerial photography has a surreal, almost unearthly quality that leaves a lasting impression on its audience. Sights like this often ignite in people an appreciation of nature’s gifts that leaves them awestruck - a response that is difficult to achieve with regular landscape photography.
“The aerial photos of the glacier rivers are the most amazing things I have ever witnessed and captured so far”, Suranga says. “The view is so unique. They seem like paintings or drawings, but they are real”.
Using Nikon camera gear for over twelve years, Suranga has a preferred set of equipment for almost every occasion. For aerial photography, his favourite cameras are the Nikon D850 and D810, as well as two lenses: the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II and the AF-S NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR.
He notes that having a high-resolution camera is the most important step for serious photographers. As both an aerial and landscape photographer, he emphasises that owning a high quality tripod, filters, extra batteries and memory cards are also essential, especially for landscapes.
Having a personal connection and fascination to Earth’s natural phenomenon was the main catalyst for Suranga seeking out beautiful destinations. Raised in Sri Lanka, he was continuously inspired by his surroundings, which sparked a love of travel and capturing unique sights with his camera.
“I love nature… I feel like I have a close relationship with the earth. When you love nature, it treats you well too”.
Suranga was also recently able to take breath-taking aerial photos of Grand Prismatic Spring at Yellowstone National Park using his Nikon D850. He admits that seeing these sights still rendered him speechless, even after other aerial photography trips.
Aerial view of Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park, USA - Nikon D850, ISO 320, f/5, 1/800 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II at 90mm
“Sometimes, people do not believe these things exist in the world. Sometimes I cannot believe it, even when I see my photos. It looks like another planet. The most rewarding experience as a photographer is being able to visit these places and witness some of these unbelievable sights”.
Suranga Weeratunga is a self-taught photographer, based in Colombo, Sri Lanka. With over fifteen years of experience, he specialises in landscape and aerial photography. He has travelled across Europe, North America and Asia, and considers Iceland his favourite country for photography.