The Photographer’s Guide to Visiting IcelandJuly 2, 2017
As Iceland’s official website explains, “Iceland is not a destination, it’s an adventure set in stunning scenery,” making it the perfect destination for any thrill-seeking photographer.
If you’ve had your sights set on traveling to this country of extreme contrasts, then you’re in for a treat. Today we’re going to provide you with the ultimate photographer’s guide to visiting Iceland.
Let’s get started – or as they say in Icelandic, við skulum byrja!
Why will photographers love Iceland?
For those of you who may not be so familiar with this destination, there are many reasons why it’s perfect for photographers to visit.
Firstly, you’d struggle to find a country which offers a landscape as diverse and awe-inspiring as Iceland. After all, where else can you find bright green rolling hillsides, active volcanoes, powerful rivers, black sand beaches and some of the largest glaciers left in Europe?
That’s right, it’s not all about the frozen water. In fact, despite being called Iceland, ice only covers approximately 10% of the land.
Imagine the stunning landscape shots and awe-inspiring travel photography you can capture in a place boasting all of this and more? Every day you’d have a new type of setting to admire and your motivation to shoot will be unstoppable.
What specific attractions is it most famous for?
The Northern Lights
The Northern Lights are arguably the most famous Icelandic attraction. To see this natural phenomenon, travelers must visit the region in the winter months (with September and March being the two most preferred).
Also known as Aurora Borealis, and Norðurljós in Icelandic, this light display is caused by electrically charged particles that then give the thin air a fluorescent appearance. The colored lights occur at an altitude of 100-250 km and they can be seen with the human eye on a crisp and clear night.
This is a must-see attraction if you happen to be visiting Iceland in the winter – even more so if you’re a photographer. Just imagine snapping away as the lights dance among the sky, changing colors over the incredible Icelandic landscape.
Reykjavik is the largest city in Iceland and it’s where a massive two-thirds of the population reside. In summer, the destination famously enjoys 24 hours of sun, making this the ‘city that never sleeps’!
Here you’ll find out-of-this world architecture, as well as a popular arts district, educational museums, and an exciting night life. The city also hosts a number of fun festivals throughout the year, so be sure to keep an eye out for these special dates.
Photographers will love visiting this city because of the bustling yet beautiful atmosphere. Overlooking the idyllic Icelandic landscape, the city is a place to kick-back and enjoy fine dining (perfect for food photographers) and other delights. Walking around this place would truly be a travel photographer’s dream.
It just wouldn’t be a visit to Iceland if you missed out on visiting some glaciers, would it? Whether you’re looking to visit ice caps, outlet glaciers, mountain glaciers, ice streams or more, the destination certainly has you covered. In fact, Iceland has a whopping 269 named glaciers!
If you research famous glaciers in the region, Vatnajokull is a term you’ll notice the most. This is because it’s Iceland’s largest ice cap, with a total area of 8,300 sq. km – that’s 3 times the size of Rhode Island, for example!
In order to explore these stunning formations, visitors will have to book a glacier tour. These tours can range in duration from a few hours to a full day, so there’s plenty of options to choose from. You can ski, hike, ice climb, snowmobile, or take a super jeep tour on the glacier.
Photographers should certainly add this to their bucket list for one main reason: due to global warming, Iceland’s glaciers have been rapidly losing volume for years. Scientists believe Iceland’s glaciers may disappear within the next 100 to 150 years if these current trends continue.
Then, of course, there’s the fact that these glaciers are not just awe-inspiring due to their sheer size – they’re also visually incredible too. The ice seems as though it has a million different colors and it really is quite the spectacle to behold.
The Blue Lagoon
This geothermal spa is fed by water which originates near a lava flow as deep as 6,000 feet. If sitting in a hot natural spa for as long as you want sounds like your idea of paradise, you’re not alone. Hundreds of thousands of tourists flock to ‘the world’s largest jacuzzi’ each year!
The lagoon is also famous for the silica mud it contains, a natural property which has many healing properties for common disorders such as psoriasis. Bathers enjoy applying the mud to their face like a face mask, before peeling it off and enjoying its health benefits.
Photographers will love the hazy, almost mysterious, atmosphere of the Blue Lagoon. It gives your photos a dreamy and mystical quality, while the rocky surroundings make it an even more unique experience.
While the landscapes are undoubtedly photogenic in Iceland, so too are some of its unique wildlife.
Photographers who like to capture animals with their camera will particularly be on the lookout for puffins, a sea bird with a gorgeously colorful beak. These are just one of the many bird species you can see in this region, with other popular varieties including Arctic Tern, Greater Scaup, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Common Eider, and the Common Ringed Plover.
Photographers might also be interested in photographing the Icelandic horses, along with other domestic animals such as the sheep and cows sprinkled among the flower-adorned fields.
You could even spot a wild fox with their gorgeous fur, or a group of reindeer. If the ocean is more your thing, then tourists also enjoy photographing whales or seals over the summer months.
Photography tours and workshops
There are also a number of companies in Iceland who offer tours and workshops, especially for photographers wanting to make the most of their Iceland visit.
While these can be a little costly, they are worth it for those wanting to pick up some additional photography advice and practical experience from the professionals. Plus, they offer a totally different perspective on some of Iceland’s most famous attractions (because the emphasis is on how you capture these sights through a lens).
These tours run from just 1.5 hours long, all the way up to 14 days for the more serious photographers. Some will have you doing fun things like sailing, while there’s also a wide range of helicopter tours to help you test out your aerial photography skills.
Places and spaces dedicated to photography
When visiting a new country as a photographer, it can also be helpful and inspiring to visit some of the establishments dedicated to photography.
One of these recommendations is the Reykjavík Museum of Photography, which is the only independent museum of photography in Iceland. They have a collection of over 5 million photographs across a wide range of themes. The also hold a number of wonderful exhibits that photographers of all genres will love viewing.
The Reykjavík Museum of Photography also holds The Icelandic Photography Festival, an annual event featuring exhibitions, portfolio reviews, talks and a photo-book display. In partnership with The Icelandic Contemporary Photography Association, the festival began in 2012 and has been running every year since.
Fótógrafí, located on Skólavörðustígur in downtown Reykjavik, is a small boutique that photographers will also love visiting. The place sells the personal photography of Ari Sigvaldason, as well as many other Icelandic photographers.
We know what you’re probably thinking by now: if I travel to Iceland, what photography equipment should I bring?
When it comes to capturing the amazing scenes that this destination has to offer, you really should bring your favorite landscape lenses. Bring what you feel most comfortable being able to lug around, but Icelandic photographers often recommend packing at least a telephoto lens and a wide-angle lens.
The telephoto lens is great for extreme close-ups or capturing things that are simply too far away. Alternatively, the wide-angle lens is perfect for photographing the Northern Lights.
Did you know that Iceland is one of the windiest inhabited places on Earth (just second to be exact)? That’s why you’ll definitely want to pack a tripod if you plan on getting some high-quality photos in this place. Keep in mind that the sturdier the model, the better, however you’ll also want something that’s easy to carry – especially when taking it on hikes.
Additionally, you’ll want to protect your prized lenses from the elements, so be sure to bring a filter, such as a circular polarizer. This will also come in handy when photographing some of Iceland’s most beautiful elements such as waterfalls, glaciers, beaches, and lakes.
We’re told that Big Stopper or Grad filters are also recommended as gear to bring, particularly because Iceland’s 24-hour sun in summer means that there is often an abundance of harsh light. Therefore, you’ll want to decrease your exposure time for the perfect photo.
You’ll also want to remember to bring the smaller (but necessary) items such as unscented lens cleaning tissues (to remove droplets of rain on your lens), spare batteries, additional memory card(s), or any chargers you require. Don’t forget your shutter release too if that’s something you enjoy using in your photography.
Protect yourself from the elements
If you’ve done any research on Iceland, one thing that probably stood out was the varying weather the region can experience in short time frames. For example, one hour it might be clear blue skies and sun, followed by strong winds, lashing rain, and then sun again. As a result, you really need to come prepared for all seasons!
As we mentioned previously, Iceland is super windy, so waterproof wind / snow jackets and pants are a must. Depending on the temperatures you’ll experience, you might also want to pack a beanie, scarf, or gloves to protect yourself from the cooler weather.
A hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen is also vital – especially with that 24-hour sun we were talking about! Don’t forget that you can still experience burns from the sun reflecting of ice and snow, so it’s best to always apply sunscreen when traveling in Iceland. Appropriate face coverings will also help to prevent windburn.
In terms of protecting your camera from the elements, you’ll want to bring a waterproof camera bag, along with plastic covers or rain sleeves to protect your lens. If you don’t have either of these, a plastic sandwich bag will also do the trick!
There you have it – our photographer’s guide to visiting Iceland! Are you planning on visiting the unique location any time soon? If so, we hope you’ve gained some valuable tips and information after reading this article.