Over five weeks, we’re featuring the story of Matthew Cicanese, a CochlearTM Baha® recipient, National Geographic Young Explorer and photographer, who went on an expedition in August 2016 to Iceland with the National Geographic Young Explorer program. Matthew shares the sounds and sights of his amazing experience with us. Read parts one and two of the blog; part three below:

“When most people think of Iceland, they think of sweeping landscapes, dazzling waterfalls and cultures with history as old as the Vikings. When I think of Iceland, I think of those things too; however, what excites me more are the hundreds of species that are always in sight just not in focus.

I like to think of cryptogams as the underdogs of ecosystems around the world. Cryptogams are a category of life forms that include lichens, mosses, slime molds, fungi, algae, bacteria and liverworts. While they may seem mundane at first, when viewed through a magnifying glass or hand lens a hidden miniature world of beauty is suddenly revealed. Intricate details show the complexity of life that is often times the size of the period at the end of this sentence. The deeper you look the more you see, and Iceland’s macro landscape had lots to offer.

When I was exploring Iceland’s ecosystems, I was looking for these miniature worlds of wonder and documenting them with my camera. In photography, about 99.9 percent of each photograph is the journey and experiences leading up to that singular moment. When the shutter opens for a fraction of a second, and the remaining 0.01 percent of the photo is produced.

Each photograph I take has a different journey as its backstory and all are rich with sensory experiences.

The crunch of gravel under my boots in a rhythmic pace.

The whispers of trees as their branches dance with the wind.

The buzzing of insects whirring by my head.

Each ecosystem has its own sound signature and they’re always beautifully unique.

One of the most interesting things about Iceland for me when it came to my experience in sound was how quiet the landscapes were in terms of human activity. There were no busy highways, no planes flying overhead constantly, just a dead calm quiet that allowed the sounds of each landscape to fill my head with a sense of pure and natural atmosphere.

Interestingly enough, as soon as I would begin to take macro pictures with my camera, it was almost as if those remaining natural sounds become muffled and drowned out by the intense focus it takes for me to compose and take a successful shot. Macro photography can be extremely difficult because the depth of field, or amount of something you can see that’s in focus, is so small that even my heartbeat throws off my focus sometimes.

I never use a tripod for my macro work except in rare situations because I think it drastically limits my ability to lay belly-down on the ground and bury my camera into the soil to get an angle that makes you feel like you’re standing right there with the subject.

These days I almost always use artificial light (a macro ring flash) unless the natural light is really nice at certain times. After photographing a scene, my other senses start to come back in, almost like when you’re waking up in the morning and it takes a minute for your senses to kick on. When I use my macro camera setup, or even simply look through a magnifying glass, I feel as if I’m transported to another dimension of time and space where the clock moves slower and miniscule creatures dwarf my sense of scale through the lens.”

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Renee Oehlerking
Renee Oehlerking is the Public Relations Manager at Cochlear Americas where she is responsible for the region’s public relations and consumer marketing social media. Renee enjoys uncovering, telling and showcasing the inspiring stories of hearing implant recipients. As a recent transplant to Denver, Colorado, Renee enjoys exploring all that the state has to offer outdoors.