July 12, 2018
Very few people in this world have the charisma to touch the lives of others. It’s irresistible to wait for the next morning just to hear your voice one more time. Albeit I haven’t known you for long, which I would love to, there are things ’bout you I know for sure, like the colors of your mood are hard to be painted even by the finest artists.
Mary, irrespective of whether anything happens between us in times to come, I would like you to wear a smile when you think of me, for that’s what I always do when I think of you. You are and will always, for me, be a person with immeasurable zeal, passion and compassion. In our time together, you’ve frustrated me, irritated me, confused me. But most importantly, you’ve made me feel again.
You know what’s so peculiar ’bout you? You are like music, an addiction. I can listen to you for hours and hours and hours and yet it won’t be enough to quench the thirst of the soul. You’re like a bright star twinkling in the darkest sky. I can gaze at you whole night and yet my eyes won’t tire.
I’ve read many love folklore, of Cinderella and Prince Charming, of Adam and Eve, of Romeo and Juliet. But ours will always be my favorite.
Vampires, we’re. Bright screens are our sun. In broad daylight, we love to stare at the geeky characters under shiny roofs. Caffeine is our rescue, in times of exhaustion.
Before I begin with my journey at Microsoft, let me tell you that the views and opinions expressed are completely mine. Please bear with me, as I speak, for my style is pretty inconsistent. Drowned in the pool of experiences, I am reinventing myself while writing all this. This post is bit long even for me. After all, squeezing 5 years of experience is difficult to fit in one blog. Go and grab a cup of coffee. I will wait.
Where do I start? Sticking to one place is no joke and I don’t expect anyone to stay this long, unless they are really happy. My chase for money faded away long ago and work contentment, for me, has been the driving force ever since holding the utmost importance in this agile Tech world.
When you reach the stage where you can afford all the food you want, all the travel, the cars, and the entertainment, you want, what else is remaining? It becomes a never ending battle to reach to the top. A rat race, I would say. A wise man once said, “Save nothing but experiences”. If not, you would end up having all the materialistic pleasures, but your life would be wrapped up in emptiness. It would lack the sense of fulfillment you seek. While slogging away in the name of money, a day will come when you’re gonna ask yourself, “Was this all worth it?”
It doesn’t seem long back when I set foot in the Microsoft campus. But when I look back over the years I spent here, I oftentimes, get overwhelmed. Microsoft, as a company, what has always seemed to me, is a great place to work at, while leaving my imprints across the globe as billions of users get to use its products.
My fascination for Microsoft products goes back to as early as 2002. In those Windows 98 days, we used to have sixty minutes of computer class once a week with one PC being shared between a class of ten students. I used to wait passionately for just 5 minutes of my hands on the PC.
May 2009 – When it all started
Memories of the tough time and the difficult decision while joining Graduation college are as fresh as morning dew. 2008 recession had plagued the software industry and associated opportunities adversely. The sheer fear of decreasing market demand of software engineers had panicked young blood to not pursue engineering in Computer Science. Despite the risk involved in those times and an admission in not so famous university, my passion & optimistic mind entwined their wings and somehow worked together, and here I am, penning half decade of my experience at Microsoft, in astonishment and all flabbergasted.
July 15, 2013
Fresh blood joins. All the vampires rejoice.
5 years it’s been and it feels like it were only yesterday, when I wandered the corridors of the humongous campus for the first time. Days bled off into years. I have seen people come. I have seen people leave. Life moves on. Everyone is replaceable. The higher, one is at the management hierarchy, lesser is the tolerance for mistakes.
The time I joined Microsoft, peers around me were celebrating 5 years of completion and I had one naive question — “How come they never thought of a switch?”. Spending long time at one place is quite a thing, and more than the place, it tells a lot about the person — Happiness, Patience, and sometimes they just let life go with the flow. Well, for me, it never really occurred to me that there is a world outside Microsoft that also builds awesome products and has huge user base. Having worked on world class products like Microsoft Excel and its underlying complex architecture, I feel my existence in this universe is making a mark upon people changing their lives through technology.
In this short span of time, I got to work on 6 version-1 projects each having different complexity and its own problem space. The journey has culminated in a great experience, adding a check to my learning curve at every stage.
The world of flow-charts and diagrams – Office Visio
My career started as SDET in Visio team, a part of Microsoft Office division. It was embarrassing that I was going to work on something I never heard of. Visio is an enterprise software not so famous among students. It captures a huge market for clients looking forward to create flow charts and diagrams. In a nutshell, it is something that simplifies tens of millions of human life. As a test engineer, I designed test suites and wrote automation for various features to make sure the regressions are caught early and help stabilise the product.
K2 phase: It’s Android baby
When I had a feeling that I have learnt enough that would help fasten my deliverable, a reorg happened and devalued most of the things that I worked upon. As they say, only skills acquired through the process matters in the long run, skills to understand and solve a problem. New team and new manager, it was a tabula rasa. Satya’s vision to focus on mobile and services landed me in Android team. Familiar environment and some prior experience, starting was as smooth as butter. Nightmares begun when I was assigned a problem to apply effects on an image. The office codebase is huge, medieval and it’s an ocean if you don’t know where to start. I still remember those hard moments when I was just looking through the code to pick hints, searching keywords like pImage, IImage in the hope that at least the naming convention would lead me somewhere. It was one of the fastest paced project and I was (un)lucky to be a part of it. Learning was great and sleeps were compromised. My team owned low level Graphics rendering stuffs, everything that you see on screen.
It was an exhilarating roller coaster ride as I had never worked on a project of that urgency before. K2 is the second most dangerous mountain to climb and so was this project. Satya’s leadership and his vision for the company was as clear as a bell. We didn’t want to box ourselves in the Windows world. This was a big leap from our past rusted thinking and it was the beginning of reinventing the company. In Satya’s words, we needed to Hit Refresh. Even if we lost the war in Mobile Operating System, Microsoft could make a mark by releasing products on other platforms. SaaS (Software as a Service) was on the top of mind and Microsoft wasn’t behind. But to truly unlock its potential, we needed to annihilate the platform barrier. The world was transitioning at steep pace and the way users used the computing devices was reshaping. Desktop PCs and laptops were no more in trend and to succeed as a company, users needed to feel connected wherever they go. What is the benefit of all those technologies when users can’t edit a document on mobile while going to office and resume on laptop? Delaying this project could have been catastrophic. Decisions are good as long as they are taken at right time.
The idea of Shared code had always fascinated me and I got a chance to see how it works. The biggest challenge of developing apps on Android was device fragmentation. Apps you build might work like a charm on one device, while it might be completely screwed up on others. This project literally boosted my confidence as I was really quick when it came to building something on Android. It was an honor to be recognized as Subject Matter Expert. When I got empty hours, I contributed to Android community on StackOverflow and earned many medals. As of now, I hold 12 gold, 48 silver and 89 bronze medals.
Apple, A costly affair
Satya’s vision for efficient engineering annihilated the concept of tester & developer and rendered everyone a Software Engineer. I moved to Graphics team for iOS where I made core design changes and wrote code to be shared across various apps cross platform. The biggest challenge was to think of design that could sail well across multiple platforms and apps. Making changes at such a lower level was risky, heart throbbing and required solid understanding. Tolerance for mistakes was minuscule and the impact was so huge that making even a small mistake had big ripple effects breaking many features across the apps. Some of the nasty bugs gave me nightmares. It becomes worse when you have to fix the bug overnight and when you do it, you get response on the top of your fix mentioning that your change would be impacting twenty millions customers. Even 1 millisecond of performance regression raised eyebrows asking critical questions related to the design and the solution. I have learnt that this is part of life and as long as the learning curve is steep, things would just work fine. It has taught me the skill to never give up. Perseverance and grit are great virtues to survive in this industry.
Before the release of K2, shared code was a myth. As much fantastic as it may sound when discussed, it was practically not possible given the platform differences, language barrier at different end points and the engineering cost involved to bring the complex humongous codebase together. With the release of WXP on Android, we proved it to be doable and sealed it after moving iOS codebase to the same shared codebase.
Having got familiarized with both Android and iOS, I must say that I would choose Android over iOS any time of the day both as a developer and a user. Apple’s developer tool XCode hangs and crashes every now and then and sucks. Things that can be achieved in a straight forward way in Android can be pain when it comes to iOS.
Recalc or Die – Excel
About 30 years ago in a place far, far away, when C++ was still in diapers, Microsoft Excel was born. We even shipped Excel on floppy. We didn’t have much of C++ that time. So we wrote our own wrappers.
Shared rendering was over and I moved to Excel iOS team where I worked on Excel rendering component. Excel is one of the most complex projects and there are dozens of layers of architecture. Few of the bugs literally drove me crazy. I remember frying neurons of my brain for days without a clue on where in the code the problem might be. Some bugs were in the Apple library itself.
Excel on Mac
Another year, another project. Some familiarity with how Excel works, at least a part of it, landed me into another Excel endpoint. This time, it was Mac. It was way more complex than iOS. The quality was super important, for most of the people with big names use Mac, all of them being paid customers. A simple screw up could motivate one of the journalists to write and given how powerful social media are these days, it could have gone viral in no time. We did get good detailed feedback from a NASA scientist which reemphasized the impact we had been making.
While working on Excel and rendering technologies was fascinating because of the huge mass reach, lack of opportunities to add much design and code in Excel troubled me. The Data Structures and design used were fascinating. But they were written in 90s. Another good thing was that I never had to explain Excel to anyone. I remember meeting a college friend in Seattle who was widely surprised when I mentioned that we are fixing bugs in Excel. She always thought Excel to be super stable.
My restless mind, always looking forward to swim out of comfort zone to try and learn new things, found its medicine when a new SharePoint team in IDC was formed. I never realised the sheer potential of SharePoint until I started working on it. New technologies & tools, two decades old product, unknown territory, ownership of core components and never ending challenges, I couldn’t have asked for more.
Normal days at Microsoft
If you wonder how normal days as a Software Engineer at Microsoft look like, well it can be summarized something like:
You get a feature and are asked to come up with a design and various approaches to develop this.
You discuss various pros and cons and why one approach should be preferred over others.
You write code to develop the functionality. If the code is not shared, Bingo! your life just got easier. If it is shared across apps and platforms , you have to make sure it doesn’t regress anything. There are tons of test cases your code must pass.
If you get a bug due to your code and it is hi-pri, a hot mail thread starts overnight stating it impacted ‘X’ millions of customers.
If you get a bug not related to your code, well happy debugging. There are tens of millions of lines of code and you don’t have slightest of clue in what layer of architecture, the issue might be. I remember debugging a bug for 8 continuous days and at the end, I found that it was a race condition issue. The bug reproduced every once in 30-40 attempts.
Your code performance is super critical. I remember being part of a burning mail thread once because my code regressed the performance by 1 millisecond. I couldn’t see the difference manually as 1 millisecond is something your eyes can’t perceive.
You think you’re smart. Well think again. There are smarter people talking to whom is so much fun. You are stuck debugging an issue for 2 days. You don’t see anything working. You are pissed off. You send a mail to the people asking for help. They read your issue on phone, respond with a fix and it works.
In a nutshell, the emphasis is more on reading and understanding code than writing a new one. If you can’t understand well what is written, how are you going to modify it? This varies from team to team. Since office was released in medieval time when C++ was still in diapers, making changes in the code becomes a bit difficult, especially when you are making changes to an existing feature.
Microsoft is full of smart people. You can learn something from almost everyone.
Why I chose to stay at Microsoft?
There were many times I thought of a switch. The thing that always seemed to hold me was the thought that I would be doing the same kind of work that I am doing here. Besides, I am happy here, living life as I always wanted, trying out different things, exploring the world around me and pursuing my hobbies one after the other.
While we’re busy in earning money, life is busy in deducting time
If you ask me if I’m happy with the salary I get here. I would probably say, Yes. And I will shortly explain why. Pay is decent, but it is lesser than what competitive companies offer. Many of my friends have switched to other companies for higher pay. There was hardly a day in my 60 months of career at Microsoft that forced me to think of a switch, because of following reasons:
The best thing I like about Microsoft is the work-life balance. The timings are flexible. If you get a good manager who knows how to handle pressure well, you won’t have to work overnight unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Company culture and vision
At Microsoft, we strive to build products that amaze customers within thirty seconds of usage. If we fail to wow them, we lose them for life. That’s the underlying principle behind every Office product. Productivity and efficiency are taken very seriously. Effort is important, but knowing where to make an effort makes all the difference.
I chose to stay at Microsoft because while working here, I can pursue my hobbies. You get plenty of time for things you want to do. I travel, do fashion and landscape photoshoot, play piano and write blogs, all while writing code in week days.
Money is a good servant but a bad master
The money I earn here is enough to survive and buy things of interest. If I would earn more money, I would buy bigger car or dine in more luxurious restaurants. The standard of living will improve. But the question is, how far are you willing to go for the sake of money. Run for money never ends. Having lived my fair share of life, I realized that life should be made up of moments. As long as you are happy with what you have, you are living a good life. With more money, comes more responsibility. Yes, there are times when I regret not being able to afford a Grand Piano, but I can settle with a smaller version of it.
Although Microsoft pays lesser than few startups, I love it. My granddad proudly says that his grandson works at Microsoft. Microsoft is one of few companies that has survived four decades while staying relevant. People are still crazy about it.
Products that I work on are used by billions of people. I can say that the part of picture manipulation code in Word/Excel/PowerPoint has been written by me. This kind of huge impact can only be felt by working at some of the biggies like Google and Facebook.
When Satya Nadella took over, the change was visible sooner than we had anticipated. The company was at the cusp of transformation and is going through a significant transition phase as we speak. It’s not just a Windows company anymore. The focus has gradually shifted to its mobile first, cloud first business. The reason is simple. With so many technological advancements and automated home & car systems generating a lot of data, the humongous data has to be stored somewhere. 90% of the world’s data has been generated over last two years. Microsoft is pushing hard to make a dent through providing cloud services and thereby, stay relevant.
Microsoft is in right hands. Its stocks are soaring all time high. Investors have confidence and they’re betting in its bright future. It’s far from pinnacle of success and there is a long way to go. But I believe in the company’s vision. And as an employee, it’s a great feeling and amazing place to be at, while being part of the major transformation. I can either watch it happen or be a part of it. Well, the former doesn’t excite me enough.
You might like my other posts along the same line:
A thing in particular I don’t like about life is that sometimes, you get to know someone only to realize later it wasn’t bound to last and a time comes when you have to let it go. It all starts as fun. You screw up sleeps only to live an extra hour in that enchantment. Slowly it grips you in its storm and before you know, it throws you to the other side of the emotional landscape where golden sunshines are annihilated by gloomy thunderstorms, pleasant autumns are taken over by harsh winters and rays of hope are veiled by incessant rains.
Sometimes, I find myself drowned in flood of emotions and if I don’t pen it down quickly, my head will burst for it can’t hold so much of information. It’s like hundreds of thousands of volts of current passing through the brain cells. It doesn’t matter if you read it. It doesn’t matter if I publish it. Akin to Pensieve it’s for me, where I pluck segment of my memory and preserve it, may be to review years later if it was worth all the pain and efforts.
It’s a small world we live in. An event, no matter how small, triggers a ripple effect chaining to a myriad of things. The consequence? It takes into effect slowly, like a big monster, swallowing most important things around us. Who is at fault? Probably we don’t know for sure. The event might have happened in a different timeline, with us not being aware. We lose the sight of right and wrong, questioning our ability of judgement. And in such times, the greatest question to us is, “How do we react?”.
Thoughts are powerful things, being driven by such events. And then there are people who think that it’s just a piece of writing.
I never ceased to marvel at the astounding beauty of the nature. Of all the wonders in the world, night sky intrigues me the most, for it obscures the path I walk on, yet it shows me the reason to do so. That’s life, isn’t it?
Stars and milky way have fascinated me since I gazed the sky the first time. As a child, I always fantasized about far away untouched lands, bright night skies and galaxies millions of light years away. The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart. Night skies, as dark and gloomy as they may sound, reminds me of the pleasing childhood routine to lie down on the roof and gaze the stars, slowly drifting in space at the peak of night until I fell asleep. The time when gadgets were less and skies used to be darker. I must say I found that curious child in me again in these cold dark winter nights.
Future is uncertain. You can’t predict it even with the greatest power.
A small change in the past and Kaboom! The resulting ripple effects rewrite the whole timeline. Every decision we make results into a different possible future. The detail can be as tiny as answering a phone call or taking a left instead of right while walking on the pavement.
While returning through a door between universes, the ice on the surface broke, drowning Dr Walter and Peter from the alternate universe. September pulled them out of cold water. That day Peter caught a firefly. Well, September couldn’t possibly have predicted the event. It was irrelevant in the course of timeline. When Peter caught the firefly, a girl 3 miles away lost herself into a nearby jungle because she wanted to show her dad how beautiful fireflies were. She didn’t come home on time and her father was worried. He took his truck in the incessant rain looking out for her. At the traffic signal, his truck skidded out on the wet road killing a pedestrian. The world lost one of the best music band that night because the pianist lost the purpose to live after his only son was erased from the face of earth.
How far are you willing to go to save the life of one you love? True power is when you have the power to destroy the entire world and yet you choose to save it.
I just finished watching Fringe and the only thing oscillating in my mind is John Noble, John Noble, John Noble. The brilliance he put in the Walter Bishop character is fascinating and mind blowing. The craziness of losing mind in St. Claire’s Hospital, ruthless scientist doing experiments and playing god, eternal bond between father and a son, his taste buds craving for delicacies of food, his fear of what he was becoming and the length he went to save his son, his score in every mood is just perfect.
Meet the Einstein of our generation:
Love is important because it prevents you from becoming cold and calculative.
Emotion is as important as intelligence. Though Fringe seems to be more about weird events happening all around, I feel, in its very core, it depicts a very emotional relationship between a father and his son. How a father crossed the universe to save a boy who wasn’t his. After all, love conquers all.
Two tech freak scientists, sharing the same lab and experimenting drugs on children to untap hidden potential of mankind, one ends up in a mental hospital. While the other goes on to become the richest person on the planet. In William Bell’s words:
A good TV series is one which is intriguing with tight story keeping you hooked up right from the beginning till it ends. I loved how they showed futuristic people visiting in important time in history in bits and pieces and then in one episode, they capture everything. Each detail starts to make sense as the series progresses. It is an assorted union of Love, Romance, Sci-fi, Thriller, Strong acting and Lovable characters.
Fringe has reminded me again that Technology can be catastrophic in wrong hands. And even the ones who hold greatest power look for a sign from God. Walter longed for a white tulip, which he believed would be a sign from God that he has forgiven him for breaking the universe and playing God.
Sacrifice is necessary for the greater good.
It was sad to see Walter leave in the future and his prints being erased from the timeline. But as he said, he cheated fate to be with his son and he had to do this for the future of his son and his grand daughter.
While I am writing this, my heart throbs in the hope that somewhere in the alternate universe, Abrams is writing new episodes and a version of me is watching them peacefully eating popcorn.
Twelve days. Twelve people. Three cars. An anticlockwise road trip of 3500 kms in “The land of Fire and Ice”, the third windiest place on earth where weather changes every hour of the day.
When we leave our homes, when we step out of our comfort zones and escape to places we imagined only in our dreams, with bunch of people we never met before, walking in the foreign mysterious land in complete wilderness, in the quest of finding the unexplored version of us, to fathom out what’s in control and what’s not, that’s when we truly realize the gigantic possibility of unimaginable and get acquainted with vivid landscapes of life.
There is a saying in French, “Rester, c’est exister; mais voyager, c’est vivre”, which translates to “To stay is to exist but to travel is to live”. Travel, as it may seem, reminds me of train journey of life. We meet people, sometimes familiar, sometimes strangers. We talk a thing or two, share smile, share meals, share experiences, share wisdom and eventually they leave. We may not see them again. But we have to keep going to reach the destination. The essence and fun is in the journey itself. People we encounter leave a part of them in us, marking our souls forever.
Iceland was no less than a dream came true. A dream destination I had in mind since a very very long time. There are things in your life which are just beyond words. No matter how many adjectives you use to describe the magnificence and grandeur, they always fall short. Landscapes I witnessed were majestic and breathtaking. There were times I literally felt myself being teleported to one of the movies. It was fantabulous to be away from the IT world and witness the gigantic nature, beautiful mountains and humongous waterfalls. A fairyland where we experienced everything, from strong wind to spine chilling cold, from golden sunshine to dark cloudy nights, from incessant rain to misty fog and most importantly lights of the north aka Aurora Borealis. We even had a over-speeding ticket.
Like every good thing, the trip has come to an end. I wish to go back there in foreseeable future in a different season with someone I love, when fall colors will be prominent all around
The most amazing thing about Iceland is not that it’s the third windiest place on earth. It is that hardly anyone lives on the first two places.
Though Iceland is often coined as The land of Fire and Ice, there is much more to it. Black sand beaches, gigantic waterfalls, lustrous rainbows, dramatic geyser, hot springs, giant canyon, pristine mountains and the most exciting, northern lights.
Icelandic weather is enigmatic. It’s not the winter that matters much. It’s the wind.
Driving in Iceland can at times be insanely exhausting. Sitting at the edge of seat, with eyes glued out of the window in the fear of missing out untouched landscapes and capturing photos every five minutes until you understand you can’t keep on doing this, is the story of every new traveler there. Every scene is a photo opportunity. It is soul satisfying, breathtaking and refreshing. A day can never be the same in Iceland.
On our way to the hotel, we stopped the car to capture this narrow water stream leading to the pristine mountain range. Everything in this picture is just perfect. Water resembling a stream of mercury, enough drama in the sky, the warmness in grass and the mystery in mountains.
October was a good time to visit Iceland because of couple of reasons. It was Aurora season. Days and nights were equally long. And there was less chance freezing down to death in cold.
As much awestrucking as Iceland was to me, it has left me wondering if I’ve ruined all of my trips in coming time, because I might have traveled the most beautiful place on earth. Chances are higher that a new location may not astound me the way Iceland did.
People call it Iceland. I call it Narnia.
The magnificence of Iceland lies in its vivid landscapes. Sometimes, it would freshen you up with memories of Narnia, while the chilly glacier would render you speechless reminding you of the epicness of Game of Thrones. It’s like a flight of fantasy has landed right in front of your eyes.
If you are a Bollywood fanatic, you will feel romance in many scenes. Shahrukh’s (aka King of romance) Dilwale was shot here.
A visit to Iceland is incomplete without this ingredient. Seljalandsfoss, probably the most reachable waterfall in Iceland attracts a lot of tourists because of one reason. It’s the only waterfall where you can walk behind and witness the beauty of the sunshine through its vertically falling crystal clear water.
Resembling the kind of pool where fairies take shower, it showered me with the epicness of Narnia.
It was a very bad day for us. 90% of the time we shot went in removing mist, flying water droplets and avoiding people in the frame. The walk to the spot where I positioned my tripod itself was very slippery and muddy
Jokulsarlon Glacier is iconic because of its unique and brilliant icescape, giving a feeling that you have set foot in an ice painting. Spine chilling wind, clean fresh air and ice mountains are something you can’t take your eyes off. This beauty was delightful and life affirming. Few scenes of Game of Thrones were shot here.
Traveling to Iceland
Traveling to Iceland is easy. You just need a plane ticket to the capital city of Iceland, Reykjavik, Schengen visa, warm clothes to withstand the harsh winter and chilly wind and healthy dose of crazy mindset to explore it in full glory.
Planning and Execution (20th Oct – 1st Nov)
I flew from Hyderabad on 20th October, 2017 and reached Reykjavik on 21st. Sequence of flight was:
Hyderabad > Bombay > Amsterdam > Oslo > Reykjavik > Rental Car (Blue Car Rentals)
It’s pretty chilly in Norway. At 5 degrees celcius, dark sky, the wind whistling in unguarded ears and the Icelandair airlines having picture of northern lights carved over its body, this place seems promising.
Strokkur (Icelandic for “churn”) is a fountain geyser in the geothermal area beside the Hvítá River in Iceland in the southwest part of the country, east of Reykjavik. It is one of Iceland’s most famous geysers erupting about every 7 minutes, sometimes 15 – 20 m high.
PS:Shot by my friend Saurbh Chugh in Iceland.
Chasing Northern Lights
Aurora is one of the most beautiful phenomena of nature. The sole reason to choose October to travel was to chase Arctic Lights. And luckily we had Aurora activity 4 out of 11 nights we wandered. Apart from the green color, we were fortunate to see purple band too. You can expect the disappointment and frustration when you don’t see for what you traveled so far the first 4 days. It was spectacular to see the sky bath in northern lights. I had never seen something like this before, the green lights swirling and dancing all around. Vedur app showed good Aurora forecast.
“The day the earth stood still”
Even 23 hours of continuous driving, photoshooting and 2 sleepless nights in a row couldn’t dampen our excitement of shooting Aurora Borealis. That night, sky was beaming with the collision of sun particles and oxygen in the atmosphere. Before leaving Vestrahorn, I captured this picture as a memory that I finally lived my dream. No matter how many more places I visit, Iceland will always remain close to my heart, because now I believe that that green light is real.
This capture reminds me of some extraterrestrial environment and a suited alien preparing to invade.
My first day in Iceland wasn’t as fruitful as I expected. I was disappointed with the results I was getting. After hunting down aurora for 4 nights and not having a good sleep for 2 days, we drove to Jokulsarlon glacier for shooting aurora. This was a crazy exhausting day. 23 hours of continuous driving and photoshooting in which we visited the Glacier twice and Vestrahorn mountain thrice. We drove around 60 kms from our stay to witness this beauty. It was terribly chilling cold. Even 5 layers of clothing wasn’t working. But what I saw there is beyond words. The whole sky was illuminated with green lights and the lake under the glacier was showing beautiful reflection.
While capturing this magnificence, a car slowly inched towards the glacier with its headlights on, illuminating the icy peak of the mountain.
“The three elements”
Presenting to you, my most favorite breathtaking capture from Iceland trip. Jokulsarlon Glacier is probably one of the most iconic places in entire Iceland. Mainly famous for ice-peaked mountains, floating ice-bergs and crystal clear water formed from melting glacier. Later, it gained popularity because of Game of Thrones and DIlwale shooting. We drove there at 11:30 PM to shoot the green lights. Spine chilling cold and tough weather. The view was spectacular and literally rendered me awestruck and speechless. For a moment, I forgot that I have to take pictures. Aurora Borealis was dancing like crazy and the sky was bathing in green lights. I didn’t see anything more beautiful than this my whole life.
It was kind of difficult to get the perfect lighting as there were many photographers and tourists lighting up their torches here and there. This picture is the result of multiple attempts and right timing. Northern lights is volatile and it annihilated after 45 minutes or so.
Nights can never be boring in Iceland 🙂
Third day of aurora activity in Iceland.
Last night I was watching a mutant TV series where a genetically changed couple were holding hands and green, purple light was coming out. The girl said, “See how beautiful it is. You know, Aurora Borealis is the most beautiful thing in the world”.
Had I not seen the green lights myself, I won’t have understood the essence of what she said.
“The purple band”
Aurora Borealis is probably the most beautiful natural phenomenon on earth. When sun particles enter earth’s atmosphere near poles because of weak magnetic field, it collides with Nitrogen and Oxygen to form dancing purple, blue and green bands of color. Purple and blue bands are seen less often. Out of 4 nights I witnessed Aurora, purple band was seen only once.
I was probably in deep sleep when Nakul knocked the door at 4:30 in the morning. There were signs of some Aurora activity. Vestrahorn was 80 kms away from our stay. We stopped for a while near a lake on the way. The sky was beaming with dancing purple and green colors and the lake was having beautiful reflection.
Aurora is highly volatile. When we reached Vestrahorn, the activity was gone. This was one of few good pictures of that morning.
It won’t be an overstatement to say that Iceland is full of hundreds and hundreds of waterfalls. And each of them is unique in its own sense.
“Waterfall of the Gods”
There’s an Italian painter, named Jean-Albert Carlotti, and he defined beauty. He said it is the summation of the parts working together in such a way that nothing needs to be added, taken away or altered. I couldn’t agree more with Carlotti when I saw this waterfall.
The Goðafoss waterfall is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland. The water of the river Skjálfandafljót falls from a height of 12 meters over a width of 30 meters.
Godafoss is not very tall or powerful; but admirers point to the separate cascades forming an elegant semicircular arc, the swirling patterns in the blue-green (or sometimes brown) water, and the strange bubbliness of the surrounding lava.
Godafoss is closely connected with one of the most important event in Icelandic history, the conversion to Christianity from heathendom or “the old custom” in the year 1000.
“Waterfall of the Gods – Part 2”
The top angle of the famous waterfall. I am in love with vibrant colors in the frame.
The first day in Iceland started with shooting 3 beautiful waterfalls. Brúarfoss was eye catching because of its blue-ish water and looked like a giant devil’s eye. The weather was just perfect and sky had a bit of drama.
“The destroyer Part 1”
Gulfoss is the largest waterfall in Europe. Standing there on the edge and witnessing the power nature holds to destroy anything that comes its way, can’t be explained in words. Even big apartments could have fallen apart. Taking this picture was extremely difficult. Wind was whistling like hell. Water droplets and mist were all around. I had to take my glasses off to see the camera LCD and continuously keep on wiping it to avoid any droplets in frame. Slippery stones and muddy trek further bumped up the challenge. Out of around 15 shots, I got only this one which looks slightly better. It was kinda once a lifetime opportunity to witness such beauty.
I showed this picture to my friend and first thing that came to her mind was:
“It’s serene, but gloomy. It’s beautiful, but dangerous. It’s infinite, but alone.”
I couldn’t have explained it better.
Such is the beauty of a photograph. It lets you imagine as if you’re standing right there, seeing with your eyes.
“The destroyer – Part 2”
Another angle of the Gulfoss, the largest waterfall in Europe. I liked the way water was falling down with huge force, generating mist smoke.
Another misty waterfall from Iceland. Dettifoss waterfall is present in Northeast Iceland with 44 meters fall height. The sky was dull and had no drama when we visited there. I like the mist being formed when the water strikes the rock with force and the misty path beyond.
I missed Selfoss Waterfall due to lack of time which is situated close to it.
This is not just a picture. It’s a feeling. Capturing this scene was the toughest thng I did in Iceland. 2.5 kms of steep trek in chilly wind followed by another 500 meters of trek down. By mistake, I chose the wrong path to reach there which made it even more challenging. I had never seen rocks that slippery. It was hard to stand still at one position and take sharp picture. It was getting darker every single minute. Returning from there was one hell of a task. Luckily, my tripod came to rescue acting as old man stick. I was literally praying for life that evening. One of the biggest challenge to shoot waterfall bed is that it is hard to know the depth of running water. First step, it is 5 inches and the next, it might be 1 feet. What I like about photography is that if put efforts, it rewards you well.
“180 degrees of miracle”
Skógafoss is another beautiful waterfall in Iceland. What makes it more charming is that when sun shines over the horizon, it forms a rainbow across the falling water. Seeing the thick stream of crystal clear water fall from a height of 60m and colorful 180 degrees rainbow was eye-popping. Since, it is just few minutes walking distance from car parking, this waterfall sees a lot of visitors. I had to wait for quite long to capture the half rainbow with no people. Due to the hide and seek nature of the sun in Iceland, the rainbow kept on eloping every now and then. The rainbow was clearly visible only when closer to it, which means inviting more mist.
To be honest, this was the most beautiful rainbow I’ve witnessed in life.
Challenge: Visitors, mist, Intermittent rainbow
PS: As a matter of fact, part of Gerua song was shot here 🙂
Seeing this picture still gives me chill. It was one of the windiest evening in Iceland. Wind strong enough to tremble legs, leave alone the tripod. While standing on the edge to capture Aldeyjarfoss, I was in constant fear to not fall down. I liked the big bowl shape of this waterfall.
No matter how good a picture is, it’s not worth your life.
The first day in Iceland started with witnessing Öxarárfoss waterfall. This might look very ordinary now, since you have seen far better landscapes, beachscapes and Aurora pictures of Iceland. But believe me, the moment I saw white water singing and gliding down the small rocks, I was awestruck.
Did you notice the small rainbow on the right of waterfall? 🙂 PS: The vignette you see on the top-left frame is the result of wrong choice of variable ND filter. I realized it on the third day of my trip when It had already screwed up several of my captures.
Beaches and Black sand
“Fire and Ice”
It was one of the brightest day in Iceland. While sun was playing hide and seek, we had our tripods dipped inside the black sand for stable capture. This place is famous for big floating ice-bergs. A bit risky because of crazy sea waves, and the ice-bergs.
This picture is unique, because it shows the 5 elements of the nature ( EARTH, FIRE, AIR, WATER, & SKY)
The warm color in this picture symbolizes hope. No matter how dark your day might be, sun will always shine and darkness will annihilate.
“The plane wreck”
This picture is perfect example of how film industry is helping bloom the tourism and making the life difficult for photographers at the same time. This location peaked popularity right after Shahrukh shook his legs with Kajol in Dilwale’s Gerua. Due to extreme popularity, cars are not allowed to park nearby and we had to walk 2.5 miles to witness this beauty. As a matter of surprise, this is the first picture from my trip that is not gloomy and depicts that Iceland oftentimes sees the sunshine in early winter.
In 1973 a United States Navy DC plane ran out of fuel and crashed on the black beach at Sólheimasandur, in the South Coast of Iceland. Fortunately, everyone in that plane survived. Later it turned out that the pilot had simply switched over to the wrong fuel tank. The remains are still on the sand very close to the sea.
The scenery of this white abandoned DC on the totally black sand is quite cool and surreal and the landscape around is pretty amazing too. The sight is actually like from a science fiction movie and is of course a photographer’s paradise in every way.
An escape from a normal day to mysterious fantasy dream. That’s what this picture is all about. Reporting from Diamond beach, Iceland.
“No man’s land”
While flying from Norway to Iceland, I read a PDF which had a page on Dyrhólaey. The first question that itched my mind was, “Does Iceland have a place like this?”. The moment we set foot on that small peninsula after a visit to the black sand beach, Vik, I saw those ghost stones standing tall at a far away distance, with white waves continuously hitting it as if they were trying to destroy and carry with them.
This picturesque view reminds of the famous scene from “Harry Potter and Half Blood Prince” where Harry and Dumbledore go to a cave to fetch Horcrux.
“The hugging stone”
This is another picture from Dyrhólaey, famous black sand paradise. If you take a close look at the stone in the front, you will feel that it resembles a couple with their faces close and getting ready for an intimate, yet beautiful dance, like Kizomba.
I saw those ghost stones standing tall at a far away distance, with white waves continuously hitting it as if they were trying to destroy and carry with them.
This picturesque view reminds of the famous scene from “Harry Potter and Half Blood Prince” where Harry and Dumbledore go to a cave to fetch Horcrux.
Setting foot in Game of Thrones
North of the wall – Part 1
Kirkjufell mountain is probably the most famous location in Iceland. If you have seen Game of Thrones, you must be knowing why. This location was shot in season 7 in North of the wall.
Just 10 minutes drive from our stay and 10 minutes of hiking, witnessing this beauty was a treat to eyes. I always pictured a dark mood in my mind while thinking about this location. Iceland is the third windiest place on earth and Grundarfjördur showed us the power of nature. The hardest wind I experienced in my life. Our legs were shaking, keep aside the camera and tripod. It was tough to get a longer exposure. I also broke my camera there because of wind.
My dream shot was to capture aurora dancing above the “Church Mountain”. But due to wind, cloud, rain and void of luck, I couldn’t get it.
North of the wall – Part 2
Another angle of Kirkjufell mountain
“The church mountain”
While returning from Kirkjufell mountain in wind-chill weather, we saw this beautiful lake beside the mountain which was showing nice reflection. We decided to pay it a visit later that day. It was around 5:30 in the evening that I got to capture the heavenly sky, the church mountain and the lake in the blue hour. It was getting darker with every passing minute.
Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. This photograph renders me with peace, as if I am in some other world, serene and solumn. It reminds me to stand as calm as that mountain and hold strength to face tough winds. The beauty of strength is that neither the sky is high enough nor the ocean deep enough.
If you are planning to fly to Iceland, this (will be adding soon) itinerary might be helpful.
Car and Hotel booking
We rented Kia and QashQai from Blue Car Rentals and booked hotels through booking.com.
Get that Schengen Visa (Check list)
Iceland falls under Denmark Embassy. I applied for visa on 20th September, got call from the embassy on 25th and Visa was delivered to my address on 29th.
Documents required to apply for Visa:
Transport booking (Car rent)
NOC letter from office
2 photographs measuring exactly 3.5 cms x 4.5 cms
Color xerox of all pages (including blank pages) of passport
Salary slip of 4 months
Bank statement of 6 months, signed and stamped by bank
ITR return of 3 years
Leave permission from office (NOC would work here)
Cover letter requesting Embassy for Schengen Visa, depicting your reason for travel
What to carry?
Good quality thermals
Waterproof and windproof jacket
Down jacket or vest
Long sleeve shirts
Outdoor/hiking pants (waterproof recommended or quick dry)
Good quality wool gloves and hat
Hiking boots, better if they are waterproof.(No sports shoes)
Dryfit T-shirt: another piece for layering
Woolen socks and cap
Swimsuit : There are many hot springs and if time permits, you may go to Blue lagoon or secret lagoon
A reusable water bottle, no need to buy water in Iceland, just fill it up from any stream or tap
Medicines : Bring in your necessary medicine like crocin, or any other cold medication
Food (Noodles, Soup, Ready to eat vegetables)
Wide angle lens (preferably f2.8) for waterfalls and northern lights
Zoom lens (70-200mm) for close landscape/portrait shots
Sturdy tripod to withstand strong wind
Remote cable for camera
ND filters (10 stop and 6 stop)
Extra batteries (at least 3)
Memory cards (128 GB)
Card reader and External Hard Drive
Dress in layers to insulate you better (4-5 layers)
Rain protection for camera is must. A lot of mist flies around waterfalls.
Pack wisely and light, with all your essentials, don’t take more than one suitcase/bagpack and one Camera bag
Food: Reykjavik is 8th most expensive city in the world. Food in Iceland is costly and it would be good to carry some food. Many Bonus outlets are there in Iceland where you can purchase things that can be cooked easily.
Get shoes with good grip for hiking
Time lapse and night shots eat a lot of battery
Before going out, check Vedur for aurora forecast and cloud movement
Iceland is one of the most beautiful places I have visited. More than anything, I would like to go there again. Because going there won’t make you a spendthrift junkie for sure. If you ever get a chance to go there, don’t miss it. After all, who doesn’t like Narnia or Game of Thrones or pristine landscapes. Reasons are endless. 🙂
My photography work
I was short on gear in this trip. I felt the void of a full frame camera to reduce noise and a 10 stop filter to cut more light. Gear I carried:
Camera: Nikon D5300
Lens: Tokina 11-16 f2.8,Nikkor 35mm f1.8, Nikkor 50 mm f1.8
If you liked my photography work, please follow my social media profiles. There are many more pictures which couldn’t fit here. As much as I wanted to put all of them, I also didn’t want to explode the post. Each of those pictures has a story of its own.
Thanks to the acquaintances who served as the best travel buddies and who later became friends to cherish for years to come. I learned many things both from photographer’s perspective and as a human being. Not in any order: Nakul Sharma, Abhinav Pratap Singh, Hymakar Valluri, Saurbh Chugh, Sharadh Srivastava, Divisha Srivstav, Hiran Mayee, Florence Chemarin, Heena, Zurich Shah, Eric Follows
Special thanks to Nakul and Abhinav for making the trip memorable. It was worth each minute. His next Iceland trip is here.
It was a long tiring day. The worst thing about being single is that you can’t share experiences of the day with anyone but pillows. The reader opened a chapter from his favorite book and started reading quietly.
The night was at its peak. Grave silence was blended in the air. The moon was waiting impatiently for Mary near the lake.
“May I ask you something if you don’t mind”, the moon asked the girl. Curiosity was killing him since quite long.
“How do you know that you’ve found the one?”
This was a great question indeed. The reader of the book was longing for the answer since the moment he met his first crush in his early adolescence. He stopped for a moment, took a deep breathe and continued reading.
“I know that you guys don’t like the same music. You have different taste-buds. Your morning habits don’t rhyme with his. While I often see him lost in capturing my reflection in night, you seem to enjoy the silence.
How were you so sure that Peter was the one?”, the moon said with no halt as if he had practiced this many times.
After a pregnant pause, Mary spoke,
“Everything in life has got a purpose and a meaning. Sometimes, It’s important to see things the way they are.
I have learned that some poems don’t rhyme, yet they communicate the fullness of expression. Some trees don’t bear fruits, yet they give shade. Some days are not sunny, yet they are beautiful.
Look at yourself. Even after flaws and imperfections, you are so magnificent and beautiful that famous artists have been carving you in the best of their work since ages.
The starking contrast in our vision and different ways to perceive the same thing made us true companions. We might be different. But together, we are highly potent mixture.”
The reader had finished the chapter. In fact, he liked that part so much that he could never finish the book. “I must have read the story of moon and the girl a hundred times”, he whispered to himself.