With a huge duffel bag, a million sweaters and fleeces, a mono pod, and a shoulder rig; my friend and I found ourselves in the mesmerizing country of Iceland for an adventurous campaign shoot. We started our commercial advertising journey in Reykjavik, as one does, but we didn’t stop there.
We pulled up to this really beautiful little cabin on the side of some of the best mountain ranges I've ever seen in my life, and we were greeted by a farmer named Hodur. Hordur used to work in finance, but has built himself into an Iceland Viking to ‘embrace his cultural roots.’ His cabin was stunning, and he cared for a stable of majestic Iceland horses. With this exquisite setup, Hordur has made a simple living allowing people to come and stay with him.
15 years ago, the idea of welcoming complete strangers into your home would concern anyone. Thanks to brands like Airbnb, the fear of a stranger is replaced with harebrained trust. A normal lodging experience transforms into awe and wonder for just how close the world really is and can be. Airbnb is truly building people and communities by providing alternate income streams and doing so in a way that's culturally and ethically responsible.
I want to share with you the story behind the scenes of working on a two-day catalog shoot for Airbnb Experiences in Iceland. This is one of my very favorite stories, and the photos look so beautiful and serene. However, the logistics of working an outdoor shoot in Iceland, with both motion and video, were quite the feat. I am super grateful to the amazing people at Airbnb, who have so much trust in me. I think that's the main thing I look for in clients these days as well… Harebrained trust. It was such an honor to be asked to build up a library of images for an entire country.
When it comes to immersive photography shoots, you simply ask people to do what they normally do. At Hordur’s cabin, I just spent time with them; whether it's with the dogs running in the barn, or saddling the horses; I just chose a spot where the light was beautiful. If it doesn't look good, you just move them a little bit and then let them do what they do.
One of my favorite moments on the shoot was when I created these portraits of Hordur. The group of riders was so in the moment and he was just laughing and being himself having a cup of tea in his old cozy chair. Those portraits of him speak volumes about who he is and about the life that he's created for himself.
Hordur, his friends, and I had this beautiful Icelandic dinner; roast lamb and potatoes. I can still taste it. We sat in a warm sauna for thirty minutes talking about the presence of God and just how very real and tangible He is. And at that point, everyone was so used to me being there because I'm me. Being “me” allowed people to just be “them.” As a lifestyle photographer, that is something I have tried to cultivate over the years. But in reality, you can't ever cultivate that trust. You just have to learn to be okay with yourself and that gives people permission to be okay with themselves.
When we ventured out to the black sand beach for the hero shot, I was getting ready to take this very serene shot. That was until Hordur leaned over to me and said, “Abigail, if you walk around us in the black sand, there won't be any footprints on it.”
It was a long slippery walk, but as I cut around the beautiful black sand dune by the ocean with driftwood, I saw them coming down the beach. There they were in this glorious unbroken line, a phalanx moving through the day that looked like night..
Later, watching them bond with their horses and playing with the dogs on the long stretch of sand berach, I felt this moment of quiet contemplation. We jumped back in the jeep and drove. We galloped the horses, and ran them… there was this beautiful rhythm where you just know that you've had a good day with good people. You forget that only hours ago you were strangers. Through moments, adventures, and harebrained trust, we found friendship. And that’s beautiful.
Check out the entire Airbnb brand catalog here.