The Ultimate Guide to Iceland Photography
Updated: Dec 11, 2019
Iceland is up there on many photography enthusiasts travel bucket lists. With its epic landscapes and incredible scenery, it is just such an amazing place to shoot. There are many factors that combine to make Iceland quite so photogenic. The unpredictable weather creates real drama. The golden light of a clear day in winter brings peachy sunset hues to cold skies. While snow and ice transform the landscape.
In this article, we will take you through some of the highlights of an Iceland photography trip. We will also cover tips on how to shoot some of its most famous sights and routes. Add to that a packing list, photography tips and advice on protecting your camera. Here’s our ultimate guide to Iceland photography.
What camera equipment to bring
The land of fire and ice yields up many photo opportunities. If you are serious about capturing them at their best then you will need to bring some gear. For technical shots you will need a decent camera with a manual setting option. For shooting the Northern Lights or for long exposures of Iceland's waterfalls a tripod is essential.
You should also bring a sturdy camera bag for all-weather conditions and a wide angle lens. Your camera should ideally be water resistant. Especially if you’d like to take pictures in and around the steamy hot springs in Iceland. In fact bringing a completely waterproof camera will offer some interesting options for hot spring photography.
If you’d like to do any decent Iceland wildlife photography then a zoom lens is another essential piece of kit. Whales, dolphins, seals and puffins will be the stars of the show for nature photographers.
When it comes to hardware be sure to pack plenty of battery power for your camera. Spare batteries and chargers are imperative. And you should store spare batteries somewhere warm so that they don’t run out of energy. Likewise plenty of memory space is important. You really don’t want to run out of capacity part way through your trip. You’ll find it tricky to buy a new memory card outside of the two main cities and they’ll be expensive. So bring a laptop and cables to download pictures or a couple of spare memory cards. If you are going old school then of course bring plenty of film. Black and white film can be fun too so bring some short rolls to play with.
What else to pack for a shoot
For long days outside in all weather conditions you will need to make sure that you are warm and comfortable. Bring sturdy shoes and warm socks as well as wind and waterproof trousers and jacket. Fingerless gloves are a good idea as are pocket warmers if you suffer from particularly cold hands. And don’t forget a rucksack for carrying equipment on long walks. And a thermos of something warming along with plenty of water and snacks are vital.
The seasons and the weather in Iceland
Besides the incredible landscapes one of the main factors behind Iceland’s beauty is its weather and the seasons. The weather in Iceland is notoriously changeable and this creates some seriously dramatic changes in the light. One minute the skies will be clear and bright and the next they will be dark and brooding. During the winter this is especially true. At this time of year snow and ice also transform the landscape.
But one of the biggest beauty factors is the so-called Golden Hour. Landscape photographers will be well acquainted with the ‘golden hour’. It is that time of day when the sun is either rising or setting. It happens on a clear day when the light of the sun is cast at a low angle. This golden light creates incredible conditions for photography.
In Iceland with the midnight sun in summer and short winter days this golden hour is extended. In summer the sky never gets completely dark so the land is lit up with the colours of sunset all night long. Then in winter when the sun stays low in the sky the same thing happens during the day. If you are blessed with clear skies in winter then your photo shoot will be a dream come true.
Now for a couple of weather related photography tips. As mentioned the sky and the light can really change the mood of a place and in turn a shot. So what can be very nice is to shoot the same subject in different conditions. You can capture some amazingly different moods if you visit a favourite spot on different days or times of day.
On a practical note the weather in Iceland can play havoc with your photography gear. Be sure to have a supply of lens cloths with you for humid conditions. And beware the dreaded fogging up from temperature changes. If you are going from the cold outdoors into a warm rental camper this is important. Wrap your camera in a scarf or seal it in an appropriate bag so that the temperature change isn’t so extreme.
Shooting the Northern Lights
If you are photographing Iceland in winter then you will certainly want to get that shot of the Northern Lights. For great photos capturing all the colours of the Aurora you will need a tripod. You will need to set your camera to manual mode and set your shutter speed for between 15-30 seconds. Frame your shot, squeeze the button and then hold your breath.
If you would like a person to appear in your shot of the Northern Lights then you should focus your camera on them. Have fun with it and experiment. After all in the digital age we have the luxury of snapping away to our heart’s content. If you shoot in raw then you’ll be able to play around with your pictures when you get home. Post processing your photos of Iceland can be a lot of fun too.
The best routes for a photography road trip in Iceland
There are so many incredible locations for photography in Iceland. So much so that we will be posting an article all about it. One of our favourite routes though has to be along Iceland’s South Coast. This is one of the best photography road trip routes in the country. There is such a wealth of diverse sights all within a relatively small geographical area. From black sand beaches, to glacier lagoons and powerful waterfalls, there are many incredible vistas.
One other great location for photography within very easy reach of Reykjavik is the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Just a two-hour drive from the capital the peninsular offers a great range of sights and scenes. It is often referred to as Iceland in miniature because of its diverse landscapes. Then of course there’s the Golden Circle right on the doorstep of the capital.