Photographing Iceland - A Dream Come True

A lone iceberg, having broken off the Breiòamerkurjökull Glacier, skims across the surface of the water on Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon on it's way to the sea off the southern coast of Iceland.

Iceland is a hotspot for enthusiastic photographers. I’ve been fortunate to have travelled to some very unique and exotic locations around our world and Iceland remains one of my very favourites.

The scale and majesty of Antarctica and Greenland is hard to describe. The problem is that they are incredibly remote and expensive to travel to and, once there, your movements are severely restricted.

Likewise, China and India are amazing with vibrant cultures and dramatic scenery, but they are hard countries to travel in and it can be a real struggle to experience the landscape in relative peace when surrounded by hundreds, in not thousands, of local tourists.

Iceland - An Easy And Exciting Road

Iceland is different. It might seem like a long way away, yet it's only a few hours flight from London or Paris.

Route 1 is the national highway that takes travellers all the way around the country. There are a variety of points by which you can access the remote highlands region from Route 1, though it’s advisable you do so in a 4WD vehicle.

Traffic throughout Iceland is light, with the majority of the population living in and around the capital, Reykjavik.

Other than about half a dozen reasonable sized towns the rest of the population live in little hamlets or on farms.

Family and Icebergs, Iceland

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For a modern nation Icelanders seem to live a very authentic life. And I find that notion to be very attractive.

Icelanders are very friendly and English is spoken widely, particularly by the younger generations.

Not only that, there’s no need for tourists to worry about malaria tablets or vaccinations.

Iceland is pure and the perfect place to slow down and experience pristine nature.

Of course you could say the same about Central Australia. I love it and once owned a house in Alice Springs. But the flies, snakes and extreme heat are really not for me.

What To Photograph In Iceland

Of course what’s most exciting about Iceland is the incredible scenery. It’s sublime and there’s so much to see.

It’s said that there are one thousand waterfalls in Iceland.

Being a relatively new country, geologically speaking, there’s all manner of geothermal activity, including geysers, hot springs and mud pools to photograph.

With a dramatic coast; large colonies of birdlife, including the Atlantic puffin; and an epic and ever changing landscape the opportunities for photography seem endless.

A surreal scene showing some local folk enjoying the sunshine, in front of a beached ship, on a beautiful summer's day in northern Iceland.

Iceland - It’s Unique In so Many Ways

While Denmark ruled the country for many years Iceland was originally settled by Norwegians.

While predominantly a Christian country, it is said that around half the population believe in the existance of trolls and elves. And you’ll understand why when you get there.

Naturally occurring images (e.g., faces) can be seen on the sides of mountains and hillsides throughout the country. They’re not signposted. There’s no need.

You see and you believe or, at the very least, you understand why folks in days gone by would have believed.

Mythology is deeply routed in this country and it’s evident in the landscape, music and cultural identity of contemporary Icelanders.

Icelanders have the purest blood stream in the world.

While it does happen, it’s rare for an Icelander to marry an outsider. There’s nothing xenophobic about this as the situation exists, both historically and in our contemporary world, due to geographic isolation.

While many young Icelanders travel and study abroad these days, a visit to their country will provide some understanding as to why they would wish to return home when it comes time to start a family.

Icelandic horses are also famous for the purity of their blood line.

You’ll be amazed at the myriad of photo opportunities that come your way as you journey around Iceland.

With so much to see and beautiful, soft light under which to photograph it’s a gorgeous country to explore by road.

I’ve caught myself laughing out loud, at my own good fortune, more than once photographing in Iceland.

The Best Time Of Year To Visit Iceland

Most folks will find the summer months (i.e., June to August) the best time to visit Iceland. The weather’s mild, though under a clear blue sky it can seem pleasantly warm for Aussies at that time of year.

The long summer days provide the opportunity to travel and explore, in greater depth, more locations in a given day.

When you travel that far you’ll want to maximize your time and be out and about making photos as much as possible.

Words fail to adequately describe the quiet beauty of this gem of the north. Have no doubt that a properly resourced and well organized tour of Iceland is an opportunity of a lifetime.

I often fall to sleep thinking of Iceland.

A spectacular sunset, after sinking just below the horizon, produces an amazing afterglow as it illuminates low lying clouds and a small lake on a farm in southern Iceland.

What To Wear And What To Pack For Iceland In Summer

The coastal regions of the country are lovely and green, which means they attract rain. Temperatures can vary from day to day and early mornings and evenings can get chilly, particularly in the Highlands region.

During my circumnavigation of the country I wore either a t-shirt or a short sleeve shirt, under a light or medium weight fleece, on most days.

For early morning or late evening explorations I had a down jacket and, when working close to waterfalls or near windy cliffs, I donned a gore-tex rain coat.

I always travel with a pair of thermal underwear, just in case.

Solid walking shoes or boots are an essential piece of kit for the keen landscape photographer.

By keeping your hands, head and feet warm there’s much less need for bulky clothing, so it’s important to ensure you have a good set of gloves and a beanie in your camera bag at all times.

You may end up photographing a sunset, and the resulting afterglow, in a relatively windy location.

This might mean standing in the one spot, with your camera mounted on a tripod, for an extended period of time.

Those gloves and beanie could be the difference between you fully enjoying the experience or leaving early and, potentially, missing the majesty of the afterglow.

A beautiful glow at sunset illuminated the sky and water with a myriad of color at Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon in Iceland.

Camera Essentials For The Best Photos In Iceland

I must have had almost 30 cameras over the years. During 2015 I converted to a Sony a7Rii mirrorless camera system, mainly due to the versatility this system offers for travel.

The latest model, the Sony a7Riii looks even better.

This solid and beautifully designed camera is relatively small and lightweight for a full frame camera, which I feel is a definite advantage when it comes to landscape photography.

A small camera kit makes a great deal of sense when travelling. It’s easier to carry in and out of the car or bus throughout the day and it’s a great solution given the relatively tight carry-on luggage requirements associated with international flights.

For my August 2016 Iceland Photography Tour I took along my Sony a7Rii camera and the following three lenses.

  • Sony/Zeiss 16-35mm f/4 super wide angle zoom

  • Sony/Zeiss 24-70 f/4 general purpose lens

  • Sony/Zeiss 70-200mm f/4 lens for distant landscape scenes and for avian photography

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

I Love Really Right Stuff Tripods

I’m fortunate to have two Really Right Stuff carbon fiber tripods. I took the larger of the two tripods, the TVC 34L, and a medium sized (i.e., 30L) Peak Design Everyday Backpack with me.

Peak Design has recently added a Travel Backpack line of bags which combine camera bag and ordinary backpack into one bag. It’s an interesting product line and worth taking a look at for its innovative design and range of uses.

My favourite tripod head, which I’ve also used in Iceland, is the Really Right Stuff BH-55. The precision engineering and quality of this head reminds me of my favorite Leica lenses from days gone by.

BH-55 LR
Really Right Stuff

I also took along a small, lightweight and collapsable camera bag which I sometimes employ for photo walks around town or quick photos, made by the side of the road, where a tripod is not required.

These days I’m all for taking as little gear on the road as possible. It makes for a more physically active approach to photography and, with less gear to carry, it’s easier to explore different angles and approaches to making photos.

From my point of view, less gear means more fun.

The spectacular Gullfoss waterfall in southern Iceland photographed, through the spray, during the afterglow that followed a beautiful sunset.

My Favourite Filters For Photography

I’m an advocate for filters and it’s my practice to attach a B+W UV filter to each lens I own for protection against dust, moisture and fingerprints; and to help counter the adverse effects of UV haze.

I don’t often use a polarizing filter though I have, on occasions, found them to be an essential piece of kit for landscape photography on a sunny day.

Polarizing filters can darken an already blue sky and add a three dimensional quality to clouds in both color and black and white photography.

I have a series of visually opaque Formatt-Hitech Neutral Density filters for producing ethereal landscape images that feature moving water and/or clouds.

I used them extensively on my last trip to the South Island of New Zealand and can’t wait to put them to work on my next trip to Iceland.

I currently have 10, 13 and 16 stop ND filters and will, most likely, add a 6 stop ND to the mix before too long.

Magnificent 'God Rays' illuminate the landscape in the Highlands region of Central Iceland.

Making Photos Means Living In The Light

The word photography comes to us from Ancient Greek and translates as follows:

  • light writing,

  • light drawing or

  • light painting 

I’ve never experienced the transient, transforming and transcendental nature of light as intimately as I have when photographing Iceland.
— Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru

Iceland has had such a profound impact on me. I doubt that I’ve ever felt such an affinity for a landscape, nor felt so in touch with the elements as during my time in that country.

Perhaps the most incredible thing about Iceland is the sense of freedom one feels exploring the landscape.

I’m not sure that I’ve ever felt so safe, happy or alive as I did during my time in Iceland.

If you’d like to see more of my photos from Iceland feel free to take a look at my Iceland Photography Collection.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru