Overview, Ilulissat, Greenland

Public housing on the shores of the Ilulissat Icefjord, Ilulissat, Greenland.

Welcome to Ilulissat, Greenland. Located 200 kilometers above the arctic circle in western Greenland the town's population of around 4,500 makes it the third largest town in Greenland. Situated on the shores of the Ilulissat Icefjord, a world heritage listed site, and in close proximity to Disko Bay it's also the country's most popular tourist destination. The fantastic Ice Camp Eqi, where I stayed for two nights, is 80 kilometers north of Ilulissat by boat.

Photographing Under High Winds

I made this image around midnight, handheld at a shutter speed of 1/60 second and at ISO 400, during an exploratory walk around town. I climbed a hill on the edge of town and headed for the radio tower for a view over the city. It was incredibly windy and, on a few occasions, I had to duck right down to prevent being blown off the rock face. Under such conditions it's a good idea to get your body, which in this case meant my guts, close to the ground as quickly as possible.

Wind and Tripods Don't Mix Well

The use of a tripod, which I didn't have with me at the time, would have been problematic. A tripod positioned on rock picks up considerable vibration, thereby negating the stability normally associated with its use. Just put your hand onto one of the tripod's legs, under such conditions, to confirm this fact for yourself.

Managing Flare When Photographing Into The Light

I also had the problem of photographing directly into the sun which, at this time of year, was positioned just above the horizon. To reduce flare, resulting from direct light hitting the front of the lens, I employed the appropriate lens shade/hood (which I use every single time I make a picture) and, while holding the camera with one hand, held a hat in front and just out of frame to help keep the lens's front glass element in shadow. Not an ideal solution, but a real life situation where I was able to achieve an acceptable result.

Even low level flare is problematic. It causes a loss of sharpness and saturation and produces flat images with reduced dynamic range resulting in weak blacks, insufficient shadow detail and veiled highlights. So, PLEASE, use a lens shade/hood every single time you make pictures.

I employed Adobe Photoshop to locally burn (i.e., darken) any areas still adversely affected by flare. I also added quite a bit of extra saturation to add some punch into this predominantly backlit scene. Is the result realistic? Gosh no! But it's an improvement, and isn’t that the point?

The Value Of An Average Image

While not a portfolio image I'm still happy I made this photo. It was a bit of fun and is helpful to describe the conditions under which many local folk live in this most remote location. This image helps tell a story, and surely there's value in that.

From a distance the various houses and apartment buildings look a little like a lego town with the structures organized into nice neat rows of freshly painted dwellings. In reality, down at ground level, things are a little more gritty. I only saw one house with a garden or anything resembling a lawn.

However, in addition to the rocky terrain, the fact that these folk are surrounded by spectacular wilderness may well make a nice lawn somewhat redundant. Though, from a westerners point of view, there might well be a psychological need for spaces offering more controlled, predictable and safer reminders of the natural world.   

Documenting Integration

Greenland is basically a huge rock, most of which is covered in ice. There's very little that's actually green which would have a lot to do with the fact that the population of this enormous country is only 55,000 people. The indigenous Greenlanders, the Inuit, historically are a hunter and gatherer society.

The housing in this picture is a result of the Danish occupation of the land and the inevitable difficulties involved in assimilating Inuit into the modern world. Greenland is now an independent country, although Danes form a significant part of the population and the Danish government still provides substantial financial support.

I had a week in and around Ilulissat which gave me loads of time to explore the town and the region. I enjoyed my visit to Greenland very much. In particular the hikes I undertook both in Ilulissat and at the Ice Camp Eqi, which I reached after a boat cruise of several hours through the wonderful Disko Bay, were hard but memorable experiences.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru