Photographer Captures the Magical Beauty of Greenland’s Disko Bay
The last time I visited West Greenland was in 2019. It was a beautiful summer with calm and sunny weather almost every day. Because of COVID-19, I didn’t get to visit again until this year, and this year it was different.
For our photography tours with Iceland Photo Tours, we are sailing in our (now quite famous) sailboats with red sails while taking photographs of each other in between the giant icebergs. It’s a creative process started by my friends Daniel Kordan and Iurie Belegurschi. And as much as I like to sail around these giant icebergs (that I often call mountains) with our little red sailboats, I challenge and encourage myself and others to come home with a variety of different shots from the area, not just the red sailboats.
In this photo series, my goal is to show you an impression of Disko Bay around Ilulissat from this year during the almost 4 weeks I spent in the area — the huge icebergs, Ilulissat (my home base), the little villages around like Oqaatsut and Iliminaq, the sled dogs, the whales, the little ice details, the different weather conditions, and of course our red sailboats.
Each photo has its own description with a little piece of information. Please enjoy the series.
Purple Night. Sailing all night in the midnight sun period where the sun never goes below the horizon in July. Colorful skies all night. Sometimes the weather is very calm which causes beautiful reflections.
The Humpback. I always enjoy seeing the whales in the bay. It took me a while to find their favorite spots this year but eventually I found that they enjoyed being at certain locations inside of the ice fjord. Depending on the tide and current, they would wait at certain channels and openings in the ice fjord, simply opening their mouths and just letting the current flood all the krill in their mouths. Lazy, but smart.
Frozen Mountains. This year we experienced lots of days with fog and rain. Sometimes that caused extraordinary conditions. When the fog opened for brief moments, the icebergs would rise from the fog. They would look even more like real mountains, like this big pyramid that stayed in the same position for weeks.
The Perfect View. Imagine living on the coast of this area with new icebergs constantly passing by your view. The ice fjord constantly moves and spews ice into the ocean. The scenery literally changes every day, with ice coming and going with the wind and the tide. A magical sight, especially with the colors of the midnight sun.
The Spaceship. Icebergs come in different shapes, sizes, and colors. The underwater part looks especially beautiful as it’s super blue. This one had the shape of a spaceship with a little pool on top. We positioned our little red sailboats to show the real scale of it. This photo was taken with a drone.
In The Mist. Sometimes we couldn’t even go out of the harbor because of thick fog. But when we did and there would be a nice enough view to see the first icebergs and our sailboat, the atmosphere was magical. Note that it was difficult to navigate through icebergs and thick fog, so we did not venture far out of the harbor under these conditions.
Little Sled Dog/ During my time staying in Ilulissat I started to know all the sled dogs and their little puppies. At some point in my daily visits, they started to get comfortable with me (both the pups and the moms) so I could take some nice photos of them. In Ilulissat, there are more sled dogs than people living there. They are used to getting around in winter, but in summer they’re not doing much (except for being a model in my photos).
Rising Mountains. Fog clearing revealing the ice fjord behind the harbor, like mountains towering above the clouds.
Blue Beauty. In photography, people often love beautiful sunsets and sunrises. But I also love the muted tones and dark skies. They give the icebergs a more blue color that is very pleasing. Also, our red sailboats really pop in this kind of weather condition.
Sun Halo. I was lucky to witness a bunch of spectacular sun halos this year. Something that I had not seen often. While spending a few hours in Oqaatsut, Rodebay, a little village with only about 30 people living there, this sun halo covered the sky.
Sun haloes are caused by thin cirrus clouds around 20,000 feet or higher above us. They are made of tiny, ice crystals. Sunlight through the ice crystals causes the light to split, or be refracted. When at just the right angle, it causes us to see the halo.
Glass Line. During my time on the boat in Greenland, I took a lot of detailed images with my 100-400mm lens. Interesting lines and little pieces of ice caught my eye, like this big wall of ice that had a line going through it.
Twin Peaks. A huge iceberg that we found in the middle of Disko Bay. I often capture these by drone to show the massive scale of it, plus you can see the even bigger underwater part of it.
Ilulissat Layers. This year I decided to take more photos of Ilulissat itself, my home base for the weeks in West Greenland. Ilulissat features interesting architecture with lots of different colors. I especially liked the layering in this photo with the long iceberg in front and the rows of houses in the background, popping because of the sunlight hitting it through the dark atmosphere. The photo was taken from a boat with a long lens.
Chasing Ice. I always say that there is beauty in the little things. And you really have to spot them, because it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the big icebergs around you. In this image which shows some very small pieces of ice in the sea, I saw some interesting interactions. It looks like a man chasing a woman running away.
Unexpected Light. On this particular night, it looked like the sky would just be covered in clouds. This actually happened a lot this season. But during sunset through a tiny opening, the sun showed itself casting a beautiful warm glow over the ice. The great thing about the midnight sun is that the sun will just hover around this area for an hour or 2, so you can enjoy that tiny opening in the clouds for a much longer time than you would expect.
Sailing Next To The Wall. Every time you leave the Ilulissat harbor you would see the giant wall of ice coming down from the glacier next to it. Even though the wall changes throughout the year, it’s always there. Sailing next to it is always very impressive.
Darkness. During some nights the clouds would be very dark, but light would come through from the other side hitting the lonely icebergs in the ocean.
Another Dimension. Fog would sometimes suddenly roll in causing extremely low visibility. Like sailing in a different dimension.
Below the Surface. Some smaller pieces of ice would have huge areas below the surface, with spectacular structures. Especially with darker skies the parts under the ocean would really pop out.
Living Next to the Fjord. Living right next to the ice fjord in Ilulissat is amazing with the direct view of the ice. It also comes with downsides of course. In summer, the views are spectacular. But in winter, you won’t see the sun for a few months.
Ice Tooth. Interesting ice structures photographed with my 100-400mm lens. I would always try to spot these details in the giant icebergs. They would often form at tie lower area because of the water affecting it, caused by wind and tide.
The Perfect Night. You might be a bit confused when I call sunset ‘night’. That’s because these sunsets happen around 01:30 AM at night in July in Greenland. And that’s why they call it ‘Midnight Sun’. And when you get spectacular light and beautiful skies, they can literally last for hours. This was one of those nights. With calm conditions, reflections, and beautiful light this is one of those perfect nights.
Frozen Swan. Icebergs come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Here we see a small piece of ice in the foreground that looks like a swan, with a ‘mountain range’ in the background. Finding relations between these pieces of ice is challenging but very rewarding if a shot works out. Note that this was shot from a moving boat in rather dark conditions.
Touchdown. A bird touching down on an iceberg with a very satisfying texture to it. I would always enjoy photographing the birds sitting on the interesting icebergs when we left or entered the harbor.
Waiting for Lunch. Spending some time in Oqaatsut Rodebay which is about 2 hours sailing away from Ilulissat I met many sled dogs. This one was waiting for his afternoon food. In general, the sled dogs are pretty chill. They are chained and can’t move far, and are mostly relaxing during the day. In winter, they are used as sled dogs.
The Mountain. This iceberg looks like a mountain towering high. By putting the red sailboat next to it (which is close to 30 meters high), the photo shows the real scale of this scene.
Dark Reflections. Sometimes the skies would get very dark. Combined with a super early blue hour (it doesn’t get darker than that in summer), this would cause a unique atmosphere in Disko Bay. The icebergs would appear very bright against the dark sky. And with calm weather they reflect in the calm water, making the photos very pleasing.
Golden Touch. The sun coming through an opening in the cloud at the last minute, giving a golden touch to the landscape. For this shot, we positioned our boat in front of a little piece of ice functioning as ‘a foreground’. This maneuver is very difficult to pull off for our captains as the boat needs to be quite still and can’t hit the ice. When a shot like this works out and everything aligns (the other red boat also needs to be in perfect position, it’s super rewarding. It requires very good communication and a good crew.
Living in Isolation. You can find this house in Oqaatsut, Rodebay, where only about 30 people live. On top of that, you can only reach it by boat. I visited occasionally to eat at their super nice H8 restaurant and walk around photographing the place. It’s really special walking around there and incredible that such places still exist.
Spiral. An interesting detail on an iceberg. It was probably caused because this iceberg initially had a different position on the water and slightly flipped. The sharp edge was caused by the previous line and angle of the water.
Color Spectrum. Houses in Ilulissat (and in Greenland in general) have lots of different colors. It makes for some very interesting options in regards to compositions for photographs.
Purple Peaks. When the subtle twilight light hits the icebergs they look so soothing. Here it looks like you’re seeing frozen mountain peaks hit by the last night.
The Tunnel. This huge piece of ice had a tunnel through it with a curve. You can see the light hitting through it. By positioning our boat next to it you can see the real scale of the scene.
Golden Waves. Intense sunset light reflecting on calm ripples in the sea. I could shoot these little scenes for ours and try to capture very abstract photos of little sea waves. Very addicting.
Midnight Sun. 3 AM at night and still seeing the magical colors of the midnight sun. They can last for many hours when the clouds align.
Monotones. Even when the weather is quite flat, the atmosphere around the ice fjord is always very interesting. The atmosphere can turn quite monotone, but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful.
Scale. The walls around the ice fjord can be quite impressive. The boat with red sails is about 30 meters high. These walls can be much higher than that!
Sled Dog Family. A mother with her 3 little cubs. I found this family in Ilulissat and visited them almost every day for 2 weeks. They got quite comfortable with me and the mother did not mind at all. The middle one was especially cheeky and always came to greet me. I felt like I really bonded with them and took quite some photos of this family throughout the weeks.
Towers. It was often very foggy around the ice fjord which caused some very atmospheric conditions. At this moment, the sun tried to peak through, revealing the silhouettes of some of the towers in the background. These towers really looked like mountains but were just big chunks of ice.
Whale Family. I always enjoy seeing the humpback whales having a good time in the ice fjord. Here you can even see a little baby swimming with the pack. They were swimming back & forth around a small part of the fjord here eating krill.
Deep Blue. Shortly after the midnight sun season, the skies turn deep blue in the night. It still does not get dark completely, but it’s like an endless blue hour. This causes everything to turn deep blue with a great soft blue light on all the ice.
Sailing the Tunnel. Even though this big iceberg has a tunnel, it was not really possible to sail through it. And even if it was, that’s way too dangerous. Icebergs can collapse or flip at any moment, and it’s important to always stay at a safe distance. We’ve seen many big pieces collapse or fall down. These pieces can also create giant waves, which is another danger to be aware of.
Winter Tuscany. This is a close-up of the top of an iceberg that looks like it had tracks of a vehicle on it. It really reminded me of the Tuscany landscapes with grassy hills and tracks in them.
The Lookout. A person standing on the edge of the cliffs. Lookout out over the spectacular ice fjord right next to Ilulissat. Yes, you can actually just walk there and the views are spectacular just from the land. Even though we sailed most of the time, you can see the beauty right there from the edge of the village. It’s spectacular.
Ridges. This iceberg had a super interesting texture on it which we used as a foreground to play around with during sailing with our red sailboats. Fun little detail: Closely check the top of the mast. One of our crew can be seen sitting close to the top!
Winter is Coming. With the reference to Game of Thrones, some of these sceneries around the ice fjord really look like they come straight out of fantasy films. And even though they are not real mountains but just giant icebergs, they do look like them.
All the photos in this series were taken and selected over a period of almost four weeks. I hope you enjoyed this series of photos and felt like you came along with my journey through Greenland.
About the author: Albert Dros is an award-winning Dutch photographer. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. His work has been published by some of the world’s biggest media channels, including TIME, The Huffington Post, The Daily Mail, and National Geographic. You can find more of his work on his website, or by following him on Facebook and Instagram. This article was also published here.