Photographing Historic Buildings and Church in Iceland

This historic church in southern Iceland is depicted against a dramatic sky foretelling a coming storm.

Photographing In Iceland During The Summer

There I was in the middle of an Icelandic summer. Sitting just a little under the arctic circle summer in Iceland means long days with loads of time for extended photography sessions at sunset and sunrise.

There's plenty of time for travel, either along the nations Route One or, with an appropriate 4WD, up into the wilder and more remote Highlands.

This series of photos shows one of the stops I made on a long day of driving and adventure in the south of Iceland.

A graveyard, in lush fields, behind a church in rural Iceland.

It’s Okay To Start By 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 image.

It’s a photo that introduces viewers to the location and provides enough information for them to want to go in closer and explore the environment, and those who inhabit it, in more detail.

A series of well preserved, grass topped traditional farm buidlings in southern Iceland.

Then Try To Move Beyond the Obvious

Can you imagine being there? The photo at the top of this post was made after approaching the site directly from the carpark.

But it's only natural that I'd want to wander around and explore the site further. And the same is true for the viewer.

The story remains largely untold with a simple opening image. All the more reason to make the effort, with legs and with camera, and have some fun telling the story in a more comprehensive and, possibly, more meaningful 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 obvious photos as they help place you and the viewer of your work in a particular place and time.

However, 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:

Church on Hilltop, Vik, Iceland

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Play With Perspective To Make More Interesting Photos

  • 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 remoteness and isolation.

A sheep, keeping an eye out, rests in a shelter in rural Iceland.

Utilize Your Full Range Of Lens Focal Lengths

  • Use wide-angle focal lengths to emphasize space and depth.

  • Try a telephoto focal length to explore texture and to visually separate the subject from its surroundings.

Tell The Story Through Scale

By placing people or objects within much larger surroundings the relative power between the subject of your photo and their environment can be explored.

A dramatic mountain backdrop dwarfs a tiny hamlet, set amidst lush pastures, in rural Iceland.

Make Use Of The Direction of The Light

  • To reveal the color and identity (e.g., location) of the subject or scene 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 photos from simple documentation towards something far more evocative where message and meaning can be explored through symbolism and metaphor.

A distant sheep shelter in an extremely lush, well watered pasture in rural Iceland.

Color Or Black And White | What’s Most Appropriate?

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 an opinion.

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.

I think it’s good to have something to say through the photos you make. But I also think it’s important not to take yourself too seriously. By making it creative you’ll be keeping it fun.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru