How to Photograph the Ilulissat Icefjord on a Midnight Cruise

Colorful accommodation overlooking the waters of the Ilulissat Icefjord in Ilulissat, Greenland.

Our Cruise Begins

The beginning of our Midnight Sun Cruise takes us out onto the waters of the Ilulissat Icefjord. The warm cool color contrast, evident in the town’s waterside residences, also appears in the water. Can you see how the warm sunset light is illuminating the rocks and nearby water. Closer to the camera position the blue color of the water is simply a reflection of the sky directly above.

Photographing Local Fishing Boats

A small fishing boat heads out onto the waters of the Ilulissat Icefjord near Ilulissat, Greenland.

Within minutes we pass local fishing boats as we move towards some of the larger icebergs. In this case I photographed the boat from a relatively low vantage point so as to provide the impression of it moving over the surface of the water.

A small fishing boat amongst huge icebergs on the waters of the Ilulissat Icefjord near Ilulissat, Greenland.

Created just a few moments later this photo was made from a higher vantage point and with a wider angle focal length. The idea here is to depict the boat within its environment and, in doing so, illustrate the immensity of its surroundings.

Under normal circumstances I’d only include one of these two images. However, both are included here for educational purposes.

The dramatic colors and textures of this huge iceberg are emphasized under the light of the midnight sun on the Ilulissat Icefjord near Ilulissat, Greenland.

A World Apart

The shape and texture of this huge iceberg should be interesting enough. But it’s the surreal interplay of colors on the reflective surfaces of ice and water that made the experience so unforgettable.

A Majestic Experience

Icebergs illuminated by the midnight sun on the Ilulissat Icefjord near the town of Ilulissat, Greenland.

A magnificent scene of a gigantic iceberg bathed in the warm light of the arctic midnight sun is really quite something to behold. The trick, when photographing from a relatively fast moving ship, is to be able to compose and record what you see successfully and, with barely a moment to spare, to prepare for the next opportunity.

I spent all but a few short minutes on deck in pretty cold and windy conditions. But I hardly noticed the cold. I was properly attired but, just as importantly, I was very much in the moment. The fact that I was generally excited by the opportunities before me and was having to make decisions continually throughout the cruise kept my brain active. And it was this endorphin generating brain activity (medicos forgive me if I’m wrong about that) and the incredible positiveness of the experience that put any negative thoughts about the lack of physical comfort well and truly in perspective.

Always Look for Opportunities

A stack of shipping containers provide an interesting background for a group of tourists on the docks of the harbour at Ilulissat, Greenland.

At the very end of our adventure I made this photo just as we were about to dock. The people in the foreground where there to pick up other passengers on the cruise. As you can see this is a commercial port and I felt the shapes, tones and textures of the shipping containers would look great in black and white. 

A ship brings passengers back to harbour at the end of a fabulous cruise exploring the Ilulissat Icefjord under the midnight sun near Ilulissat, Greenland.

This final photo shows a ship similar to the one that took me out on the Ilulissat Icefjord. I had only just alighted when I saw this sister ship coming into harbour. It was a simple enough photo to make and a good addition to the series which helps tell the story of what another traveller can expect while on a midnight cruise on the spectacular waters of the Ilulissat Icefjord.

Play it Again Sam

If ever I make it back to Ilulissat, another midnight cruise would definitely be on my schedule. The only difference might be hiring a much smaller fishing boat to take me out onto the waters of the Ilulissat Icefjord. While I wouldn’t have the advantage of photographing from as high a perspective, there’s every chance I could persuade the captain to sail more slowly and to take me to spots the bigger ship may not be able to get to.

I’m not saying it would be a better experience, but it would provide a different experience of the same location. Frankly, if I could, I’d probably take both options. Ilulissat is a heck of a long way from my base in Melbourne, Australia and, after traveling so far, it’s important to make the most of your opportunities. And I think that’s true for all such situations in which we enthusiastic photographers find ourselves.

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I do a lot of one-to-one private photography classes. Unlike more formal, classroom-based courses, these private photography classes are designed and constructed specifically around the needs of the customer. It’s the ideal option if you want to unravel the mysteries of your camera or need some coaching specific to an upcoming trip (e.g., Greenland) or photography project. Think about it, but don’t delay! And remember, there’s no time to be napping when you should be out there snapping.