Photographing Iceland is an own challenge. Interesting nature at its best you will discover everywhere but the circumstances you most probably have to deal with are anything else than fun. Nonetheless Iceland is one of the most interesting places on the globe I have ever been to!
Just recently I returned from a trip to Iceland again, totally exhausted after two weeks by the weather experienced. The initial plan in short was renting a camper for getting around easily, a 4×4 should take me off the main routes for some nice photo spots. I ended up circling the main ring road – even just half of it since I had to turn around again after being half way up to the north already.
What had happened?
Snow storms unexpectedly moved in quickly from the north while I was on the road. The inside of the country anyway was more or less not accessible anymore by car due to dangerous road conditions, not even with a 4×4. In the east additionally roads were blocked due to an active volcano spreading lava like crazy and polluting the air with gas eruptions. And then a huge weather system with arctic cold crossed the island, no escape. Iceland really deserves its name!
Planning an Iceland Photo Trip (and any other)
When making plans for a photography trip to Iceland don’t keep your schedule tight. Believe me, whatever you have planned, circumstances will turn out different. I’ve seen cosy warm as well as freezing temperatures with hurricane-like storms changing all in a sudden. Rain, snow, sun … all of that you might experience within just hours. Nature in Iceland is rough and it might not show up as planned in your schedule or the forecast.
If taking shooting seriously plan to have plenty of time. Also I’d recommend going with an own rental car, at best 4×4 since the road conditions off the main ring road are much worse than you might be used to. When planning your route keep in mind that on the bumpy roads your speed will be very slow for hours. Having an option of sleeping in the car was perfect. Hotels might be far away from your favored shooting spot making you miss the early morning and late evening light.
The best tip for planning your photography trip to Iceland therefore is: don’t make plans. Well, not zero plans. But at lest keep them flexible. Scout a few nice places you definitely want to shoot. But be very open-minded for sudden changes in your planning. Iceland provides way more beauty than the “classic” captures you might aim for after researching the web. As a professional photographer don’t plan your Iceland trip far ahead but keep an eye on the forecasts and book your flight last minute. More expensive? Yes, but you will return with better captures.
This is a more general rule of my shooting anyway. I never plan my trips too much in detail far ahead. I have some rough ideas, some back-up spots to go and check whether they will suit as a subject for me. But mostly I watch out left and right for photo opportunities showing up. Those captures are the unique ones – not the 100.000th capture of a famous landmark. Go with the flow, take part in local life, speak to locals and travelers, and visit some of their favorite locations.
Camera Rain Cover
Back to Iceland. As noted above: Be prepared for ugly weather. Umbrellas? Forget it! The wind usually is too strong. Only a very good rain coat will do the job. For your camera better think of very good water protection. There are rain coats you can buy for your equipment, or in my case I opted for a cheap transparent 60 liter bag from the grocery which you can tweak yourself to be a rain cover. In Iceland rain will rarely drop from the top but rather from the side. From any side left and right, front and back, or even bottom up, all at the same time!
A good rain cover you will need anyway for shooting all the lovely waterfalls. Their spray is extremely strong and it can ruin your digital camera quickly if keeping it unprotected. Take care!
Before leaving for shooting in Iceland make sure to practice on waterfalls. Either read the theory how to shoot them or at best travel to a waterfall if having one close-by. Waterfalls are literally everywhere in Iceland. You will see some from the front, from the side, others from the top. One I found you can even step behind watching the water fall from the back.
Long exposures might be a technique to learn, as well as shooting with ND-filters. Owners of “big stoppers” will find Iceland to be a lovely place for making use of it.
For learning those techniques feel free to check my earlier blog post on how to shoot long exposures. Or just check out my photography workshops in Iceland where long exposure photography is a major topic.
Some Special Tips
- You will not resist going to the terribly touristy Blue Lagoon anyway, I guess. But then make sure to plan a side trip to Seltun, where geothermal activity makes water bubble out of the earth. The mud around is colored in wonderful reds, blues, and yellows. Looks like in a science fiction movie.
- Once on your way on the Reykjanes peninsula make sure to step by at the coffee house Bryggjan in Grindavik in the south. This lovely coffee house at the harbor is very difficult to find but it’s a real hidden gem. Taste the delicious lobster soup hand-made by the owner. If lucky he will also tell you many secrets about places to visit close-by.
- If heading to the Golden Circle you will pass Laugarvatn with a new geothermal bath. Instead of stepping into their (pricey) new pool made for tourists go for the local experience taking a bath in the thermal pools of towns around, like Borg for example. You’ll save a lot of money and on top you will get some real Iceland feel with locals around.
- Every single day in Iceland watch out for a pool or hot spring, relaxing in the hot water is not just healthy but also addictive. Temperatures, quality, atmosphere will vary with each experience. The charm of going with the locals will always be the same. Most even tiny towns will have a pool!
- In case you need to buy some warm, rain and wind proof clothes you can find a great outlet store from Icewear in the town of Vik with very reasonable pricing.
Sources for planning:
Weather forecast with lots of local weather stations: http://en.vedur.is
Road conditions including photos of the road: http://www.vegagerdin.is/english
I wish you happy travels!