Historic Buildings and Church, Iceland

Historic Buildings and Church, Iceland

Summer in Iceland

There I was in the middle of an Icelandic summer. Sitting just a little under the arctic circle summer in this part of the world means long days with loads of time for extended photography sessions at sunset and sunrise. What's more there's plenty of time for travel, either along the nations Highway One or, with an appropriate 4WD, up into the wilder and more remote highlands.

Photographing the Obvious

The above photo was made at a historic church and traditional settlement bordering a working farm in the south of Iceland. Just to the right of the church I made what was probably my favorite image from the trip featuring a sheep shelter on lush pasture surrounded by a lovely winding creek. On the other side of the church was a tiny cemetery which I also photographed.

In a classic photo essay the above photo could be referred to as an opening shot. That is a photo that introduces viewers to the location and provides enough information for them to want to go in closer and explore the environment in more detail.

Moving Beyond the Obvious

Can you imagine being there. The above photo was made after approaching the site from the car.  It's only natural that as a photographer/tourist I'd want to wander around and explore the site further. Well, the same is true for the viewer. The story remains largely untold with a simple opening shot. All the more reason to make the effort, with legs and with camera, and have some fun telling the story in a more complete and, possibly, deeper way.

The point is that, whether on assignment or holiday, it's important to move beyond the obvious. That's not to say you don't make the photo, it helps place you and the viewer of your work in a particular place and time. But, once you've made that photo, continue to explore the environment in a way that produces visually dynamic images. Here's just a few ideas for how you might go about doing so:

From a technical or craft point of view you could try the following:


  • Explore a worm's eye point of view by getting down low to the ground and photographing upwards
  • Photographing from above can isolate the subject from its surroundings and allow you to explore notions of vulnerability

Lens Choice

  • Wide-angle to emphasize space and depth
  • Telephoto to explore texture and to separate the subject from it's surroundings

Light - Direction

  • To reveal as much information as possible photograph with the sun behind you 
  • To produce a more dramatic image photograph side on to the light and allow shadows to help shape your subject and enhance mood  
  • For iconic images consider photographing into the light to place your subject into silhouette. It's helpful if the dominant lines within your subject (e.g. dead tree in the landscape, pregnant mother) form a graphic shape. In this case the image becomes less about a gum tree or the particular mother depicted and more about notions of drought or motherhood.

These simply techniques can help elevate your image from simple documentation towards something far more powerful where message and meaning can be explored through symbolism and metaphor.

Sheep Shelter, Iceland

This photo is the one made just off to one side of the church. The strong shape of the landscape, enhanced by the line of the creek, and the textural quality of the grasses made it a strong candidate for rendering into black and white. It's become far more evocative than how it appeared in the original color version. Having taken on that timeless quality that we so often associate with black and white photos is perhaps its greatest strength.

Technique is about far more than sharpness and exposure. It helps determine the look and feel of your images and can help you better tell a story, explore a concept or express a view. And remember that your images are about far more than what's in front of the lens. They're also about what's behind the lens. Great photos tell the world as much about the photography/artist as they do about the scene or subject depicted.

Glenn Guy

Travel Photography Guru