As always my tips pages mainly target photographers. But in general where photographers tend to shoot, nature might offer some of its most spectacular views. Therefore it is not wrong to read my Iceland tips also as a non-photographer. The places are sorted in order of traveling the ring road (no 1) counterclockwise. Some places are classics, others less known. As far as possible I added GPS data to better find the best photo spots in Iceland.
For more general Iceland tips check out https://arvedgintenreiter.com/iceland-travel-tips. If you plan to hire an offroad capable car, going to the highlands, please make sure to read my less entertaining but potentially life-saving tips about offorad driving for photographers.
Photo Equipment for Iceland trip:
As you will read everywhere wind and water proof clothing is a necessity in Iceland. That should ring a photographer’s alarm bells! Pack very good water sealing for your camera. Either you go with a standard camera rain coat (don’t opt for the cheapest), or as I do, just pack a couple of transparent plastic bags and a bunch of elastic bands (cut a smal opening into the bag for the lens and fix with the elastics). this method is not really convenient but cheap.
What else to pack? A tripod! Most probably you will shoot long exposures with the waterfalls. Especially in summer ND Filters (or even a Big Stopper) might be helpful to slpw down the shutter speed. For landscapes a ND Grad filter can be really helpful in getting the highlights of the sky down. Lenses I always recommend to pack a range from wide angle to telephoto lens. If you tend to do macro’s then of course bring one of those, too.
The light in Iceland is unique. White nights in summer (at best shoot in night time and sleep during the days). In contrast you get very short days in winter but with exceptional light every single minute. Light wise you cannot go wrong in Iceland. If the weather allows.
If you consider being guided in a private photography tour for not just shooting great images of Iceland but also improving your photography skills, check out my Private Photography Workshops in Iceland. Otherwise I’ll have a few tips for free for you now:
Best Photo Spots along Ring Road no 1 – Touring Counterclockwise:
Between Keflavik and Reykjavik
From the airport to Reykjavik for getting a first impression of the country you are going to travel now at Vogur leave the main highway and take road no 240 instead. It is more or less parallel to the main road and much slower to ride, but it offers a first Iceland feel without any effort. At the point of hitting the main road with a good 4×4 you can go straight on a couple of more kilometers to a lovely view point called Keilir. After just a few hundred meters you will have to make a decision at a road crossing. Go to the right (no sign directing you when I was there). Please don’t try this side step with a standard passenger car!! And expect a very rough ride through a huge lava field on a terribly bumpy track before the path starts to ascend into the hills.
GPS: N63° 56.791′ W22° 05.820′
On the photographic side the southern and southeastern part of Iceland is pure heaven. Beautiful subjects pop up left and right literally every few kilometers.
Let’s start circling Iceland counterclokwise with leaving Reykjavik behind. Ah, another quick little stop before we start shooting. Let’s say for a warm up soup or a quick coffee – or for cleaning the lenses. A couple of kilometers after leaving Reykjavik in the first kind of mountains your car has to climb, on the left hand side right at the highway you will discover a gas station and tiny coffee place called “Litla Kaffistofan” (at Hellisheidi, about 35km before reaching the town of Hveragerdi). the place is lovely made and would be a miss if just passing. Delicious soups, sweet, coffee place with a sports fanatic owner. No hamburgers but real homemade Icelandic food, rare to find these days. You’ll meet local and foreign travelers here as well as workers from around or passing through. As said a must stop!
GPS: N64° 03.457′ W21° 30.094′
Ok, from here we go directly where the beauty begins, right at Seljalandsfoss. On the main raod no. 1 at the crossing to the ferry setting over to the Westman islands you’ll see at least one waterfall to the left, Seljalandsfoss. You can step behind the waterfall, a nice experience and an interesting capture. Lens: wide angle or fisheye
Well, that’s the well known one, with loads of people around most probably. A couple of meters to the left when facing the waterfall there is a smaller one hidden away in a mini canyon. It is called Gljufrafoss. Make sure to step into the canyon for the full experience. But take care, the spray can easily destroy your camera. Only shoot with very good water protection! Very water proof clothing might help you to keep at least half dry yourself, too. Lens: Wide angle or telephoto lens for details of the water splashing.
GPS: N63° 37.327′ W19° 59.289′
Need a little break, want to take a bath in a hotpot? Between Sejalandsfoss and Skogafoss about 7km before reaching Skogafoss waterfall a sign poits you to Seljavellir and Raufarfell. Drive the track straight to the end and park your car, unless arriving in the middle of the night most probably you won’t be alone. Walking into the valley for about 20 minutes you will reach a pool in the middle of nowhere. Hottest place in the water is where you hit the pool when hiking up (you will see the hot water pipe). In the rocks you will also find a comfortable kind of “seat” with hot water coming down in your back? There are changing facilities with usually pretty muddy floor, but no toilets or showers.
GPS: N63° 34.013′ W19° 36.379′
Just a few meters further down main road no. 1 watch out on the left for some interesting houses literally been built into the rocks.
The majestic waterfall Skogafoss is one of the main classic Iceland photos taken in the south, usually captured as long exposure. Once here don’t be satisfied with shooting from ground level. Take the effort of climbing the steps. Half the way up you will discover a little path to the left, where you will have a second good view on Skogafoss and an interesting stone face as well. Lenses: from wide angle to telephoto lens.
GPS: N63° 31.759′ W19° 30.795′
The hike into the countryside beyond the ladder on top of Skogarfoss by the way is really worth going a couple of kilometers. though it is beautiful and easy looking be prepared with very good outdoor clothing, a hiking map, some food, and a GPS. The weather can change from sun to fog and snow within minutes up here – even in summer!
The campground at Skogarfoss is one of the most beautiful in the south by the way. Facilities are … let’s kindly say challenging as often in Iceland. But camping right next to a huge waterfall is truly spectacular.
Solheimajökul between Skogarfoss and Vik is a great capture of a glacier with interesting black and white structures, since on its way downwards it collects lots of lava stone. You won’t be able to walk up to the glacier, therefore a telephoto lens shot.
Recently the place of a US plane wreck in Iceland became more and more popular. Taking a small path to the right off the main road will take you to the crashed plane. The sign of 4×4 only is no joke, the track is a bit rough. Please stick to the marked path when driving, otherwise the owner of that place will forbid access soon. Best time to go is eiter in cludy conditions or in summer time during the night, when natural light is smooth. Normal lens to wide angle.
GPS: N63° 27.571′ W19° 21.877′
The most southern point of Iceland and a great place for taking pictures of birds, not to say “shooting birds”. With a bit of luck you’ll also see puffins here. Dyrholaey has two spots to offer. One is at the end of the main road ending up at a beach. (GPS:N63° 24.320′ W19° 08.713′) another is when you take a turn to the right, presently still a gravel road going steep uphill to the lighthouse. Here you’ll find birds and also a good view on the famous hole in the stone.
Main subjects around Vik are the black beaches and the sea stacks. For shooting the stacks you have two options to go: Reynisfjara beach (GPS: N63° 24.250′ W19° 02.659′) and the black beach of Vik itself (N63° 24.838′ W19° 01.116′), to get two different angles on the famous sea stacks. The take at Reynisfjara beach I’d recommend to do in the evening since the basalt columns in the foreground will be in then, too. Shooting from Vik’s beach is both good just different morning or evening. Lenses: normal to tele lens.
The campground in Vik was awful each time I went there. Either accommodate yourself at Skogarfoss camping or head on a few kilometers more beyond Vik, taking a turn to the left to road no. 214. About 20km into the valley at the end of the road you will end up in Pakgil canyon. It’s a slightly challenging ride for non 4×4 cars but easily doable with a bit of patience. Perfect location for a campsite, hiking, and shooting!
GPS: N63° 31.800′ W18° 53.333′
From Vik to Höfn:
Again a classic in Iceland photography. The mossy lava stones you will find between Vik and the messy name Kirkjubaejarklaustur.
GPS: N63° 44.833′ W18° 09.570’When shooting against the sun try HDR (though I am not a fan of that technique at all). Lens from wide angle to normal. Macro for moss and flower details.
Photographed form the right angle Lomagnupur Mountain is an impressive capture. To me the monolith is a good example of the powerful nature in iceland. The mountain is just along road no. 1 to the north, so you might pass there anyway.
GPS: N63° 57.383′ W17° 29.050′
When crossing Skeidara River (a very long quirky looking bridge) have an eye on the water flow and the reflections of the sun. Given the right time and the right amount of water it can be a beautiful capture. You just have to be lucky.
GPS: N63° 58.502′ W17° 00.743′
Less famous than the next stop but as breathtaking is the Fjalsarlon glacier lagoon. As said, it is not the famous one but with less people around (though getting more popular and developed recently). If you walk to the end of the glacier be extremely careful!! You might sink in at some places, in the best case loosing a boot, in the worst the rest of you will follow quickly.
GPS: N64° 00.845′ W16° 22.316′
After having been to the Fjalsarlon glacier lagoon the neighboring more famous one, the Jökulsarlon glacier lagoon, might not be as interesting anymore. If you intend to shoot professional photos of the Jökulsarlon glacier lagoon for sale, you will need a permission of the owner since it is private ground. My take on it is simple, go to the public ground lagoon described earlier and you won’t miss anything…
But don’t skip this spot totally since on the opposite side of the road down at the beach at the Jökulsarlon lagoon you will have little icebergs (beautiful chunks of ice) be swept to the black sand with each flood where they slowly start ot melt. In dusk the ice sometimes starts to sparkle like diamonds, a fascinating moment!
GPS: N64° 02.578′ W16° 10.934′
Between Höfn and Myvatn Lake:
Near the town of Höfn, which for Icelandic means already is a city, the Vethur (or Vesthur) mountains are worth a quick side step. From the city center it’s a short ride of 10 minutes about. The mountain range with either reflections in the water or a scenic sand beach in foreground can be captured all year round, but at best they still have some snow on the top. Best lens: wide angle.
GPS: N64° 15.171′ W14° 59.456′
Along Laekjavik coast a sea stack starts to attract photographers. It’s more for the long exposure photographers among you, smoothing out the water.
GPS: N64° 28.592′ W14° 29.540′
At one point of your trip you will see a sign directing you to Egilsstadir either left or straight on. If you have opted for a 4×4 rental car the shortcut on road 939 to the left is much more scenic and interesting to drive than following the ring road. Also it is 60km shorter. Sometimes the road gets prepared, then even a standard passenger car can take the ride. But I wouldn’t bet on it.
Egilsstadir itself is a place to refill food and all necessities. If driving through make sure to step by at “Bokakaffi Hlödum” for the best lamb soup I’ve ever eaten in Iceland. Also their cakes are really outstanding. The coffee place is located on the left side immediately after crossing the large bridge over Lagarfljot. Actually it is not even Egilsstadir anymore but already the “town” Fellabaer.
GPS: N65° 16.885′ W14° 25.484′
Back to the photo classics: Dettifoss and Selfoss in the north of Iceland. The special tip is not the waterfalls, which are mentioned in every guide book. But for photographers it is important to choose the right side of the waterfall. Don’t take the main road but better approach this photo spot via road 864. Here you can step pretty close to the water, actually much closer than it could be considered as safe. Please make sure to not risk too much, the stones at the edge tend to break down from time to time! Selfoss is just a little hike further up the stream. Lens: from wide angle to tele lens
GPS of best parking: N65° 49.156′ W16° 22.734′
Around Myvatn Lake:
Hverir is a geothermal field in the Myvatn area. Steam clouds and colorful ponds bubbling, photographer’s paradise. You will just have to stand the terrible smell. Lens: from wide anlge lens to telephoto
GPS: N65° 38.494′ W16° 48.428′
For light painters and cave photographers Gryotagia cave in Myvatn area offers a great opportunity for beautiful captures. Initially it was a hot pot for taking a bath but geothermal activity has changed and now the water is 46 degree hot, bathing forbidden. Again, please stick to those rules even though others might not. Otherwise the owners might not provide access anymore. Lens: wide angle
GPS: N65° 37.586′ W16° 52.949′
Dimmuborgir in the east of Myvatn lake is not a no 1 location for photography but the strange rocks can offer interesting photos of creature kind of structures. It’s a fun walk for sure looking for interesting shapes. Normal to telephoto lens
GPS: N65° 35.511′ W16° 54.792′
If you are looking for something more strange I’d have to offer a photo of a shower. Nothing special? Right…unless the shower is located in the middle of nowhere just in nature.
(GPS: approx. N65° 40.250′ W16° 47.139′)
Between Akureyri and Reykjavik:
A must side step from road no 1 for photographers is Hvitserkur, a unique sea stack in the north which looks like a wading animal. The photo is an interesting capture with any tide. For the best angle you’ll have to take a very steep (and risky) decline to the beach. If going there make sure your way back will not be cut off by the tidal change of the water level! At best let somebody know you are out there, just in case. Or stay safe and shoot from the view point platform.
GPS: N65° 36.218′ W20° 38.383′
For adding another night between Akrueyri and Reykjavik a wonderful campground and guesthouse can be found in Saeberg at Hrutafjördur. Not only it is clean and welcoming, also they have a natural outdoor hotpot included – with fjord view.
GPS: N65° 15.534′ W21° 06.351′
In case of planning a side step to the Snaefellsness peninsula, in the regional capital Stykkisholmur for the budget traveler the hot dog stand quite at the entrance of town creates very unique and tasty hot dogs. If you are into quality food I can highly recommend Plassid restaurant in town. Don’t go with the hamburgers, please!
Hotdog GPS: N65° 04.408′ W22° 43.914′
Plassid GPS: N65° 04.594′ W22° 43.548′
Last but not least another coffee stop on ring road before heading back to Reykjavik: Blomasetrid Kaffi Kyrrð in Borgarnes. The coffee place actually is located in the flower shop. In the back you’ll discover two cosy rooms with sofas and books inviting you to relax a few minutes. On top they serve really good Italian coffee!
GPS: N64° 32.223′ W21° 55.536′
Or maybe you think of taking the shortcut down from the north, skipping the part-wise boring western part of road no 1, instead taking road no 35 called Kjölur route. It’s the civilized way of traveling the highlands, with beautiful landscapes if the weather allows. But a 4×4 will be needed nonetheless. Half way down is a great hut at Hveravellir (GPS: N64° 51.951′ W19° 33.293′) with a hot pot (still for free?). Keep in mind, there is no gas station anymore in the highlands, other than you will read in some sources. Make sure to have enough fuel for the whole 200km about crossing the highlands.