Exploring the ambiguities of nature in Iceland Lisa Michele Burns and the Leica X-U

Travel and underwater photographer Lisa Michele Burns was born in Australia, but has a keen sense of admiration for all parts of the world. Being the explorer she is and traveling to many places, Burns claims photography is a way for her to see the world from a new perspective. Her underwater photography challenges the viewer to see the many shapes and forms that oceans and water offer to the eye, including patters of tidal seas and sand. Now, after a 10 year long career as a professional photographer, Lisa shares with us her unique experience with the Leica X-U, a camera crafted for this type of adventurous yet creative endeavors. Equipped with the Leica X-U and a plane ticket to Iceland, Burns explains how this gem of nature inspired her and how this sophisticated camera helped her achieve her objectives.

When did you first become interested in photography and in the particular style you have developed for the past years?

It wasn’t until a trip to Marrakech, Morocco in 2007 that I really took photography seriously. I was part of a writing group with Lonely Planet and got so swept up in the colours and culture of Morocco that I couldn’t stop taking photos! Soon after I decided to take the plunge and work as a freelance photographer and over the years I’ve developed my eye and learn something new about photography with almost every destination I visit.

Your photography suggests ambiguities of nature, from odd ice formations to high-top mountains. How did you get involved in this type of photography?

I find the extensive variations of nature so fascinating. Before visiting a destination I like to extensively research the landscapes and unique landforms that exist in the region. For me it’s not enough just to visit the must see places and tourist sights, I prefer to drive with an unknown destination and see what I find along the way. Knowing what to expect can be a great thing and then the surprises that await are even better…almost every inch of Iceland surprised me regardless of how much research I did before arriving.

The Leica X-U opens a new door for artists by allowing them to use the equipment under extraordinary circumstances. What’s your experience when shooting under these conditions? 

Having a small camera with these abilities is ideal in extreme climates. I’ve always used a large underwater housing for my Nikon DSLR which has been ideal for achieving quality images but can be a struggle to carry everywhere. The Leica X-U is compact enough to take in your camera bag or backpack yet packs the punch of a high end camera with its DNG files. Being able to take it along for a hike, swim or ice caving for example enhances the creative possibilities available to photographers.

You mentioned using Nikon equipment as well, what differences did you find with the Leica X-U?

For me the main difference is the ease of use and its size. The compact nature of the Leica X-U is ideal for adventure photographers and those who will go that extra mile for a great photo.

What was your creative approach in Iceland, considering you were using the Leica X-U for the first time?

I was always intending to take split-level shots in the waterfalls and ice lagoons of Iceland so when I heard the announcement of the Leica X-U I thought it would be perfect for the job! Having the ability to put a camera in water and capture these images means my ideas can come to life. I will admit to being a little worried the first time I put it underwater though because you just never know what will happen when using a camera for the first time! Luckily, it lived up to its name and was a tough little companion for the trip.

© Lisa Michele Burns

The image above has a truly unique composition including blurred views of the bottom in contrast with the rocky formations on the top – how was it achieved?

This was actually a surprise result for me to be honest. Typically when I take split shots the water level is quite defined however with the camera set on a large aperture and slightly tilted toward the sky it allowed the water from the small waterfall to roll across the lens and create this blurred effect. No special photoshop tricks, just a cool result that I’ve only ever seen happen whilst using Leica X-U.

© Lisa Michele Burns

This picture shows a silky texture of the water with the almost symmetric shapes of the mountain being reflected. Surely, this type of mountain and rock is common around Iceland? The place in general must be very inspiring…

Iceland is one giant dose of inspiration. Every corner and every kilometer brings a photo opportunity and I found journeys that were supposed to take 2 hours, actually took 8 hours after stopping for so many photos. This image is the popular Kirkjufell which is a regular spot on any photographers’ Iceland itinerary. I like to try and capture a different perspective when I visit places like this so instead of standing with everyone else and their tripods, I put my gum boots on and stood in the freezing cold stream. The silky texture of the reflection is simply the pooling water in a shallow part of the stream and by focusing on the mountain I was able to bottom half of the image.

Was here any post-processing done with these images? For instance, the crisp quality in the image with the ice block and its reflection on the water is almost seamless. Can you explain a bit more the process of taking these pictures?

When editing my photographs I never alter what was originally there, only enhance its beauty via consistency in the tones and light. The reflection of the iceberg in that picture was just that, a near perfect reflection in the super still waters of Jökulsárlón Ice Lagoon. The day had ideal photography conditions; not a breath of wind, a warm afternoon light and of course, a lagoon filled with floating icebergs, some of which has seals on them lying in the sunshine!

Lastly, are there any other projects in the pipeline including the Leica X-U

My project ‘The World from The Water’ will continue as I travel to destinations around the world. The end plan is to have a collection of split level images from places all over to create an exhibition showcasing this perspective of the world’s coastlines. The Leica X-U could be a great camera to take along on the journey from now onward!

Thank you Lisa!

To know more about Lisa’s work, please visit her official website and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

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