Touching Down in Ilulissat, Greenland

The wild beauty of Greenland seen through my plane window just before landing in Ilulissat, Greenland.

Canon 5D Mark II camera and Canon 24-105mm f4 L series lens @ 24mm. Exposure: 1/800 second @ f8 ISO 800.

Here’s a photo, taken through the airplane window, as my friend Joseph and I where about to touch down in Ilulissat, Greenland. As you can see it’s a very wild and unforgiving landscape, consisting mainly of ice and rock.

Have no doubt the landscape is largely barren, eighty percent of it being ice and, for most of the year, the climate is inhospitable in the extreme.

But then, during the long summer day’s the climate, while changeable, is less extreme and the landscape, particularly when illuminated by the midnight sun, can be breathtaking. 

Pre-History

Habitation of Greenland is said to date back to around 2,500BC when tribes from islands north of the North American mainland, themselves likely descended from inhabitants of Siberia who migrated into Canada tens of thousands of years ago, settled in various parts of the island.

Erik the Red

Icelandic Vikings, from Norse origins, followed in the 10th century. The most famous Icelander was Erik the Red, a viking explorer of Norwegian decent who, having been exiled from Iceland for three years for the crime of manslaughter, discovered the massive country to the west we know as Greenland.

Danish Humor

The reality is that, while Greenland is mainly ice, the coastal regions of Iceland are in fact green and relatively lush. It’s said that Erik the Red gave Greenland its name to entice others to join him when he returned to Iceland looking to settle the new country he had discovered. An exercise in public relations, to be sure.

Like Father, Like Son

In the year 1000AD Erik the Red’s son, Leif Erickson, ventured south of Greenland to discover several new islands and territories, including Baffin Island and, almost certainly, Newfoundland. As a result he discovered North America around 500 years before Columbus.  

Photographing from an Airplane

The above photo was simple enough to make. I needed a relatively fast shutter speed to ensure sharpness, but not so fast that it would freeze the motion of the spinning propeller (airplane wheels don’t generally spin until they hit the ground). I only had a moment to choose and took a guess at 1/800 second.

That little bit of propeller blur is important as it adds a sense of motion to this otherwise static image. If the propeller was sharp it might look like the plane was, somehow, suspended in mid air.

This was a pretty small plane and my seat was quite close to the front. I needed a 24mm focal length lens, on my full frame Canon 5D Mark II camera, to allow me to fit in such an expansive view.

To reduce the chance of reflection I moved my camera really close to the window pane, without actually touching it. That would likely have introduced vibration and a loss of sharpness.

Greenland is a wild and potentially dangerous environment. But it’s also pristine and, for the most part, a wilderness offering spectacular opportunities for the enthusiastic photographer. While the opportunity of photographing the Aurora during the long winter months would be exciting, the opportunities to see and do more during the long days of the midnight sun would be, for most folk, a better option.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru