The magical journey of Greenland’s icebergs in time-lapse | Polarjournal
“Shapes of the Icefjord” by Jonas Høholt is a compilation of beautiful time-lapse recordings of the gigantic icebergs in Ilulissat’s Icefjord. Video: Jonas Høholt

Icebergs move extremely slowly, practically imperceptible to the human eye. Danish photographer Jonas Høholt has captured the journey of the white giants in the Ilulissat Icefjord, West Greenland, in fascinating time-lapse recordings.

Jonas Høholt told us more about himself and his motivation for capturing the icebergs in time-lapse via email. He is a professional photographer and focused entirely on time-lapse photography with his own company between 2014 and 2020. He comes from the north of Jutland, Denmark, and has studied photojournalism and also worked in the Department of Biology at the Technical University of Denmark. He traveled to Greenland three times as a tourist before coming to Ilulissat for four months in 2023 – from mid-August to mid-December – to work. Jonas used his free time to take breathtaking photos of the icebergs and wild animals. He is currently reorienting himself professionally, with a focus on sustainability. “However, smaller projects where I can make a positive contribution to the world and work with loyal customers are still interesting to me,” he tells Polar Journal.

For his unique photographs, Jonas Høholt also explored areas off the beaten track and spent hours taking in the icebergs and nature around him. Photo: Jonas Høholt

What sparked your interest in Greenland?

“The fact that Greenland is still relatively unexplored compared to many other places caught my interest. Nature areas in Greenland are huge and it’s still quite pristine and unspoiled, making it an exciting place to visit for a nature-loving photographer like me. Also, many native Greenlandic people still live with respect for the nature around them, appreciating the rich fishing grounds just outside Ilulissat and maintaining old traditions like dog sledding and cultural gatherings – e.g. gatherings on top of a specific hill to sing for the sun on the first day it rises after the long darkness of winter. Most Greenlanders live a quite minimalistic lifestyle and have a connection to the nature around them. I really like that.”

What does it mean to you to observe and document these monumental and yet ephemeral icebergs?

“The icebergs are a chapter for themselves. Never before had I been struck by such a deep fascination with a natural phenomenon like the voyage of the icebergs. Majestically they travel through the Ilulissat Icefjord, being pushed 40 meters per day by wind and water flow in the fjord. They tirelessly move and push each other, grinding and rumbling when cracking, breaking and sometimes tipping over creating a dramatic show. To me, this raw power of nature is very harmonious and life-affirming and witnessing the ever changing iceberg formations gives me a feeling of being part of nature.

To me, the life cycle of the icebergs is awe-striking. They start their life as small snowflakes falling on the Greenland ice cap. As layer after layer of snow is compressed over centuries, it compacts into very hard ice up to three kilometers deep into the ice cap. Thousands of years later, the ice reaches the sea through one of Greenland’s many glaciers. The oldest ice takes up to 250.000 years to complete this part of its journey.

The ice reaching the glacier foot in the bottom of the Ilulissat Icefjord equals 10% of all ice exiting the Greenland ice sheet. Ultimately the ice breaks off into the Ilulissat Icefjord as small or big icebergs – up to 70 million tons of ice daily. Here, the icebergs begin their one year trip through the fjord reaching the Disko Bay just outside Ilulissat. From there, the biggest icebergs continue their voyage toward the Atlantic Ocean where some of them will reach the ocean currents of the so-called Iceberg Alley, taking them on a years long journey south all the way along the eastern side of Labrador and Newfoundland before melting in the Atlantic Ocean.

The reason why marine wildlife such as whales, seals and fish are abundant around Ilulissat is due to the icebergs. Since the icebergs are tightly compressed snow, they consist of freshwater. Their slow melting process in the sea helps bring nutrients to the surface, fueling the growth of plankton and krill which is the foundation of most life in our oceans. Scientists believe that without the icebergs, a lot of the marine wildlife around Ilulissat will disappear – they simply depend on the continuous supply of ice from the Greenland ice sheet.”

What is, from your point of view, so special about time-lapse?

“What’s special is that you can visualize movement and light changes that you don’t perceive in real time with the naked eye. At the Ilulissat Icefjord, I found it interesting to visualize the movements of the biggest icebergs. Even though the biggest giants initially run aground on the moraine bank at the mouth of the Icefjord, they are still pushed around by wind and current. This slow motion however, is only visible through time-lapse photography.

Also, due to the sun’s path in the sky, sunrises and sunsets last for very long in the arctic, making the light changes more dramatic but also more demanding to capture since you have to spend at least two or three hours in the biting cold to capture a sunset.

I found the time-lapses an interesting way to tell the story of the autumnal seasonal changes in the arctic. Like for example the horizon-near path of the winter sun that I time-lapsed over five hours just days before the winter sun sets for almost two months. The contrast between the arctic summer and winter and the quite sudden arrival of the snow and sub-zero temperatures had an impact on me and was something I wanted to depict through a visual narrative.

I appreciate having experienced the arctic seasonal change in autumn, having to respect the striking cold, the biting wind and the increasing darkness that the arctic autumn naturally brings.”

How many hours did you spend out in the cold recording time-lapse videos in Ilulissat?

“I haven’t got an exact number, but I spent numerous hours hiking the mountains outside Ilulissat with my camera gear. I brought home 58 individual sequences which on average took two hours to shoot. To this is added hiking out to and home from the locations outside the town, shot planning and equipment setup on location.”

The shots demanded a lot from both Jonas and his equipment: when he photographed the Northern Lights near Sermermiut, the temperatures were -20°C, with a wind chill factor of -30°C. Photos: Jonas Høholt

How much time did it take on average to shoot one sequence?

“On average it took around two hours to shoot each time-lapse sequence. However, some are shot over 20 mins while others – like the sunrise-to-sunset shot – is shot over five hours.”

And for the photography enthusiasts among our readers: What camera and which lenses did you use? Did you use any additional equipment? What software did you use for post production?

“I shot this project using only a small Sirui travel tripod, a Canon 5D Mark IV, a 70-300mm f4-5.6 and a 24mm f1.4L II prime lens along with a Everchrom ND64 filter and the LRTimelapse Pro Timer 3.

Editing was done in primo 2024 when I had returned back to my home in Denmark and involved software like LRTimelapse 6, Adobe Lightroom, Adobe After Effects and Adobe Premiere for editing and polishing the raw footage along with stabilizing and deflickering for it to have a smooth and pleasant look.”

Interview by Julia Hager, Polar Journal AG

Links to Jonas Høholt’s Instagram and YouTube accounts:

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