Following numerous travel restrictions and flight cancellations, Jeroen Van Nieuwenhove finally fulfilled his dream and landed in Greenland to photograph his majestic floating icebergs in sub-zero temperatures.
Adventurer at heart, Belgian photographer Van Nieuwenhove has captured the beauty and power of nature around the world. Starting from one extreme, like the eruption of the Geldingadalir volcano in Iceland, Van Nieuwenhove has now set his sights on Greenland, which can see temperatures drop to -50 degrees Celsius (-58 degrees Fahrenheit) in winter.
Van Nieuwenhove has always had a fascination with the Ilulissat Icefjord in southern Greenland.
“In nature documentaries, it was one of those places that captivated me,” he says. “It still felt like it was filmed on another planet.”
When planning his trip, Van Nieuwenhove had two main considerations: how to uniquely capture the location in a way that showcases its vastness and scale, and how to overcome the logistical hurdles of getting there and filming in the cold.
“I have been trying to get to Greenland for a very long time. It has been a rather elusive destination for me due to several factors including the ever-changing COVID-19 regulations and consequent flight cancellations,” said Van Nieuwenhove. PetaPixel
“Greenland has been in lockdown for more than two years (unless you’re Danish),” he adds. “Over the past two and a half years, I have tried several times to get to Greenland without success. While I had the utmost respect and understanding for the situation, the disappointment only fueled my anticipation.
In early March, he noticed flights had resumed from Iceland to Greenland and immediately booked his tickets. Originally, he had planned to travel during the summer but didn’t want to wait any longer.
“When it finally looked like this attempt was going to succeed, I was cautiously enthusiastic,” he recalls. “It wasn’t until I got on the plane that I dared to get excited for it.”
How to photograph in sub-zero temperatures
Icebergs look great in photos and videos, but seeing them, in reality, is an experience like no other.
“It’s hard to grasp the scale of something you can’t really stand beside, but once you pay attention to the birds it gives you a good idea,” says Van Nieuwenhove.
“Some of these icebergs are bigger than the tallest buildings in the world. It’s amazing when you know that after calving from the Greenland ice cap, these were already floating 50 kilometers away. Some of them they “survive” for several years before the last piece melts in. The most traveled Greenlandic iceberg even ended up in the Azores less than a century ago!
To capture the impressive views, Van Nieuwenhove was careful not to follow in the footsteps of those who have already documented the location. To enter the scene with a clear head and capture it through his own eyes, he stayed away from accounts on social media platforms that show Ilulissat in all his glory.
Along with the creative considerations, it’s the practicalities of shooting in such extreme conditions that pose the greatest challenge to photographers.
“Being outside in -28 degrees with no shelter isn’t a problem unless you stop moving, which is exactly what I was doing a lot taking pictures and flying my drone,” says Van Nieuwenhove.
“Living in Iceland, I’m used to the cold but it was a next level even for me. I decided to ask for advice on my social media and luckily some people came back with sometimes strange but sound advice.
One of the tips he found valuable was to keep your feet warm by using a plastic bag to trap in moisture and sweat so you don’t get the shoes wet inside. This can be done by putting on a thin sock, wearing a plastic bag over it, and putting on another thick wool sock as the last layer. It may sound weird, but to Van Nieuwenhove’s surprise, it worked well and kept his feet “snug”.
Another tip was to wear a balaclava to protect the face and nose and to avoid frostbite, as well as wearing wool – not just like thick wool socks, thermal underwear and an Icelandic wool sweater, called lopapeysa, but also as insoles for shoes.
“The insoles are wool with an insulating sheet at the bottom,” he says. “That way your feet are protected from the cold ground. I tried them before the trip and it worked like a charm! I immediately noticed a difference.
Caring for Equipment in the Cold
Many photographers will likely be concerned about the safety of their equipment in such extreme temperatures. Fortunately for Van Nieuwenhove, his equipment worked well throughout the trip. The only exception was his DJI Air 2S which warned that its batteries had gotten too cold, but he let it hover for a minute before flying off, which apparently warmed them up. He also kept the rest of his stacks in one of his woolen socks to keep them warm.
“One thing I had to be careful of and had been warned about in advance was that my breath was freezing on my gear,” he says. “If you weren’t too careful, it could freeze on the front lens element, viewfinder, or screen.”
“It’s also good to know that you have to be just as careful with the glasses if you wear them like me,” he continues. “Your breath, moisture and sweat can quickly freeze on your glasses. The cold also makes it difficult to get rid of the ice.
Become addicted to the vast beauty of Greenland
In total, Van Nieuwenhove undertook three boat trips to further explore and photograph the Icefjord. Each boat trip is entirely dependent on the conditions on the ocean.
“The second trip, in particular, was incredibly special,” notes Van Nieuwenhove. “Because the wind had died down the previous night, the ocean began to partially freeze as I left port on the second excursion. This meant that the surface water was partly ice. and partly water.
“That in turn created a huge reflective surface, which meant all the huge icebergs reflected off of each other,” he continues. “All this time was amazing. Big light, big highlights and big subjects.
After spending five days getting a taste of Greenland for the first time, Van Nieuwenhove is ready to see and experience more. He has already planned two other trips, both in the form of photography workshops that he will lead with photographer Andy Mumford.
One will take place in the same area but in winter this time, while the other will be a sailing expedition discovering a whole system of fjords in eastern Greenland during the summer.
Other works by Van Nieuwenhove are available on his website, Instagram and YouTube channel.
Picture credits: Photos by Jeroen Van Nieuwenhove.