by Gary / 0 comments - Orginally published:16th April 2019

The challenges you may face

And tips on how to overcome them

I'll be the first to admit I'm not a professional photographer, but I have a professional camera - All the gear, and no idea - I hope not, but read on to find out more.

This post is based on two trips to Iceland, but mainly focuses on our 2018 road trip around the country following Route One and a bit more.

It was a stunning trip of changeable conditions but I captured some great shots, but then there was also some disappointments too.

I'll share with you my successes, failures and as much knowledge as I can.

If you've any questions, then don't forget to leave a comment.

The Pin image for our post - 'Our guide to Photography & Iceland'
Why not Pin it for later?
The beautiful Seydisfjordur in the east of Iceland
Homes and the mountains behind reflected in a lake in Seydisfjordur, Iceland
ISO: 800 - Aperture: f/6.3 - Shutter: 1/5000s - Focal Length: 35mm
I will touch on photographing the Northern lights, but I wrote a whole post on the subject, which will contain more detail.
But without any further ado, let's get this party started.

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Preparing for Iceland

The kit bag
As I said, I have a pretty nice, high-end Canon camera. An EOS 1Dx MkII to be precise and my fifth EOS camera, and my fourth digital. Over the years I have collected a range of lenses from Canon's L series.
The dramatic south-east coast of Iceland near Djúpivogur
A snow-dusted mountain black mountain capped by brooding clouds on a misty morning just outside Höfn, in the southeast of Iceland.
ISO: 800 - Aperture: f/22 - Shutter: 1/160s - Focal Length: 24mm

Is it essential to have high end gear - No, Iceland is beautiful and you'll be able to capture some amazing footage during your Icelandic road trip with your cell/mobile - I'm not camera snob. You may understand after reading this post why I have gone the DSLR route, but the world is an every changing technological landscape so I aim to keep advice generic, and help you decide what's best for you.

So in simple terms a camera that can shoot from wide angle (24mm) through to a telephoto (300-400mm).

Some form of protection from rain/mist/spray - you're gonna be photographing waterfalls - that goes without saying.

You can find rain sleeves online to protect your kit.

Iceland is incredible, and you're going to be snapping away - have you got plenty of memory cards? You're going to need them.

You may also consider an external Hard Drive to back your images up. LaCie has just the ticket in a rugged package, and at 5TB is probably enough for your needs.

A tripod would be a good shout too, something lightweight, yet sturdy.

Again, this will depend on the camera it's supporting, but for my kit, I have a Manfrotto, and I swear by it.

As always I invest in the long term, so my tripod has travelled with me around the world.  

You can also take the camera bean bag route as a form of support. It's not something I use, but I know it works in a limited set of scenarios.
Öndverðarnes lighthouse
The orange Öndverðarnes lighthouse atop the jet black volcanic rock of Iceland's north west peninsula
ISO: 800 - Aperture: f/10 - Shutter: 1/640s - Focal Length: 50mm

My top photographic tip

The RAW truth
So, before you head off on your Icelandic trip I have one question; if you're able to shoot in Camera Raw? And if you are, do you?
All points from Saxhólar Crater
A circular stainless steel map indicating the points of interest in view in the north west icelandic landscape on top of the Saxhólar Crater.
ISO: 800 - Aperture: f/4.0 - Shutter: 1/4000s - Focal Length: 35mm
I have written a post on the benefits, and I think from your photography in Iceland you're gonna want to get the best from your shots so why not check out 'Shooting Raw' - Of course any questions please ask.


Shooting raw creates larger files sizes - make sure you have plenty of storage available for your trip.

Your Icelandic trip itinerary

So where are you headed?

I know the vast majority of folks when visiting Iceland head for the Golden Circle, and in 2007 that was our choice. It's an easy three day mini break to Reykjavik and you can visit the following without too much difficulty;

Some of the tours may squeeze in more for you, but time at a location might be curtailed. It's really your choice.

Gullfoss with Ice and Snow
The stunning Gullfoss waterfall captured in mid-March with ice still remaining around the edges. A must-see on Iceland's Golden Circle.
ISO: 200 - Aperture: f/11 - Shutter: 1/160s - Focal Length: 35mm

A few good ideas for your Icelandic trip

Here are a few things we picked up ahead of our trip to make things a little smoother for us.  Simple stuff that may be helpful on your travels.  All from Amazon.
A good old paper map
A USB car charger
A USB rechargable tourch
A USB power bank
A water bottle

    Exploring Iceland

    If you're heading further afield.

    The Golden Circle is a great introduction to Iceland, but can be busy at peak times, so prepare to be patient. Self-drive was our choice, and Etta, our little SsangYong Korando hired from SIXT through Rental Cars, at Keflavík International Airport, was our companion for our Icelandic Ring Road adventure. The benefit of a Self-Drive tour is it's done at your pace.

    You're choices are to either follow Iceland's southern coastline of the country, or alternatively head north towards Arnarstapi.

    The coastline Just outside of Arnarstapi
    Waves crashing against the black pebbles of a beach in a small bay on the western shores of Iceland
    ISO: 800 - Aperture: f/11 - Shutter: 1/500s - Focal Length: 30mm
    I would guess 95% of folks take the southern option, and there's a good reason - there's so much to see & experience, and also home to some of your more significant challenges - Waterfalls
    Ice scattered on Diamond Beach, Iceland
    Lumps of crystal clear ice washed up on the jet black sand of Diamond Beach
    ISO: 800 - Aperture: f/4.0 - Shutter: 1/4000s - Focal Length: 35mm

    Discovering Iceland

    Don't go chasing waterfalls - Actually, do.
    Okay, naff '90's music reference, and with Iceland, you're going to be chasing waterfalls. There's plenty to choose from, and some of the higher falls such as Seljalandsfoss & Skógafoss present a challenge. That challenge is spray, and you're gonna want to keep your camera dry.
    Up close to Skógafoss and the spray
    Close up to the base of the Skógafoss waterfall in iceland on an icy day in March
    ISO: 200 - Aperture: f/8.0 - Shutter: 1/100s - Focal Length: 24mm

    So there's a couple of options, a cover, or shoot from a distance with a longer lens.

    Even with protection, you're going to get water across the lens so you'll need a cloth to keep it dry.

    If you've a lens cover, put it in place when you're not shooting.

    Too close to Skógafoss
    A shot of the Skógafoss waterfall in iceland from close range where the lens is covered in water droplets from the spray
    ISO: 800 - Aperture: f/4.0 -
    : 1/4000s - Focal Length: 35mm
    Again timing is everything, these Icelandic hot spots can get busy as mini buses ferry people in and out, sometimes patience can yield results, and sometime you'll want people in a shot to give the scale.

    A tripod can be used with a long exposure to create a beautiful flowing shot.

    I went for that approach at Faxi on the Golden Circle.

    With the camera mounted on a tripod, and an ND (Neutral Density) filter attached to the lens, I aimed to capture the flow of water - did it work?

    ND Filter

    A Neutral Density blocks a certain amount of light from hitting the sensor, thereby allowing a longer exposure. An exposure of a few seconds allows the water flows to be blurred.

    They come in varying degrees of strength, and it's also possible to get variable ones.

    The faxi waterfall
    The blurred white water flowing over the Faxi waterfall against a thawed bleak backdrop in Iceland
    ISO: 200 - Aperture: f/22 - Shutter: 2s - Focal Length: 24mm
    Depending on the time of year, and the weather condition, access may differ. In 2007 we could walk around the back of Seljalandsfoss, on this trip, it was solid ice, so access was prohibited.

    Challenges for Photographers in Iceland

    Dealing with the Wind

    Now come on, you're better than that! I'm talking about the climatic conditions, and boy can Iceland get windy. One driving tip we add is always to try to park into the wind. Okay, it may be a bit more challenging to open the door, but it'll save you an expensive bill when you return the car to the hire company.

    I have to be honest we faced some pretty stiff wind. Two of the worse places was at Gullfoss, so we had two problems to face, spray and strong wind. The other was Dyrhólaey, and it's beautiful view across the black beach.

    The black beaches of southern Iceland on a blustery day
    A view from on high of the black beach stretches into the distance where the mist meets the land. The beach is separated from the dark waters of the Atlantic Ocean by a line of white breaking water.
    ISO: 200 - Aperture: f/11 - Shutter: 1/125s - Focal Length: 24mm
    So it's a choice of handheld, or a decent tripod with the ability to hang something substantial, like your loaded camera bag, off the central support: my Manfrotto does - if you're looking to buy it's worth checking that feature.

    Planning your trip to Iceland

    So you're planning a trip to the Land of Fire and Ice? There is so much to see and do in Iceland that you'll wish you were staying longer. To ensure you make the most out of your visit, head over to the official website of Visit Iceland for a little help and guidance.

    Have fun!

    Photographing the Northern Lights

    If Lady Luck smiles on you
    When we planned our trip, we hoped we might get to see the Northern Lights, it's why we chose to go in mid-March, and we got lucky, but only on one night out of our 2-week adventure. I know other people who have gone for a 3-day mini break and seen it, and others who have been for longer and not seen them. You have to consider very much it the 'cherry on the cake' of your trip.
    The Northern Lights trailing across the sky at Reykjahlíð, Eastern Iceland
    Two streaks of pale green and purple light of the Northern lights over the landscape of Reykjahlíð in Eastern Iceland
    ISO: 200 - Aperture: f/4.5 - Shutter: 5s - Focal Length: 24mm
    Now I have written a whole post on 'Photographing the Northern Lights', which gives details on checking the environmental conditions and my experience.
    Swirling Northern Lights at Reykjahlíð, Eastern Iceland
    The swirling green colours of the Northern Lights over the mountains just outside Reykjahlíð in Eastern Iceland
    ISO: 200 - Aperture: f/4.0 - Shutter: 30s - Focal Length: 24mm
    However, in summary, it requires a tripod, a shutter release and a long exposure.

    Iceland's landscape can be dangerous

    Please be Safe
    Now, I'm gonna sound like an old fart, but please take your safety seriously. If there's a barrier it's there for a reason, I was incredibly frustrated by the tourist who stepped over the boundary at Arnarstapi to get the perfect Instagram selfie - Arrrgh.
    Gatklettur at Arnarstapi
    Waves crashing through a must-see sight in Western Iceland, Gatklettur, a naturally formed stone arch on the shoreline of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula
    ISO: 800 - Aperture: f/11 - Shutter: 1/1600s - Focal Length: 24mm
    As I mentioned earlier, the wind can be strong, and it can whip up pretty quickly too!  You're going to be walking along cliff faces, the edge of waterfalls and you're gonna want to get that road shot.
    Just outside Breiðdalsvík
    Iceland's route one crossing a spit of land, with water on both sides, towards ice-capped mountains
    ISO: 800 - Aperture: f/13 - Shutter: 1/500s - Focal Length: 24mm

    Make sure you are entirely aware of your surroundings. If there's ice & snow on the ground, take extra care, especially when taking your shots.

    We almost lost Janis twice, once at Grjótagjá cave, just outside Myvatn, where snow on the ground covered a fissure that was about 2 metres deep; another was the Goðafoss, where snow covered the water flowing across the fall - that drop significantly more than 2 metres.

    The tricky path around Goðafoss, Iceland
    At the edge of the Goðafos waterfall as the river flows over the edge to the drop below
    ISO: 200 - Aperture: f/11 - Shutter: 1/80s - Focal Length: 24mm

    If you're tempted to tour the Land of Fire and Ice and would love to discover the whole country, then take a look at this  DK Eyewitness book. This Top 10 Pocket Travel Guide is invaluable, I find them extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into searching for more.

    You can now grab the revised copy.

    The best views of Iceland

    Take to the air - flying your drone

    Iceland has some stunning landscape, and some of the views from the air will take your breath away.

    So should you take you drone - hell, yes! However, there are a few things you need to be aware of.

    We have created a number of YouTube videos of our trip. Why not take a look?

    Also, why not subscribe to our YouTube channel and get the latest clips as we post them?

    Most of the sites you visit in Iceland will be on private land, and as such they land owner can prohibit drone flights over their land. We saw numerous signs stating the drone flights were prohibited including at Skógafoss, Kirkjufellsfoss & Londrangar Cliffs, and that situation is likely to get worse.

    The next big issue is that darn wind again!

    Most consumer drones can handle wind speeds of up to 10 m/s, and believe me it can get a lot more blustery than that.

    Now you can buy a handheld Anemometer (or wind speed gauge to you and I), but I would suggest the wind varies massively with height and can gust significantly.

    My experience with DJI drones is they will report if there are issues and will attempt to manage the situation, but if in doubt don't fly, unless you fancy a stop off on the Faroe Islands to collect the broken pieces of your drone.

    Another issue I encountered, and I wasn't aware it was a problem, was low battery temperatures.

    With my DJI Phantom, it required the batteries to be above a certain temperature to fly.

    So on one occasion, I had to wait 5-10 minutes while the cells warmed up. It is covered in the user manual, but who reads that?

    One final word, whilst visiting the Iceland's seals basking off Illugastadhir a group of tourists where flying their drones over the seals. They were pleased with their efforts and believed the seals were enjoying the experience - now I must admit I'm not a Marine Biologist, and I wasn't sure if any of them were, but I wasn't as convinced the seals were enjoying it.
    Seals just laying around
    Three seals resting on the rocks and watching us in Northern Iceland
    ISO: 800 - Aperture: f/5.6 - Shutter: 1/640s - Focal Length: 400mm
    Later in the year, I read the following article on the BBC - 'Fears over protected wildlife disturbed by drones' So I'm just saying, be a responsible drone pilot - please.

    Picking your accommodation in Iceland

    When choosing where to stay in Iceland, we had a few basic requirements.
    Breakfast included or available nearby.
    Scooby snacks along the way can be expensive.
    Parking is a requirement, as this is a road trip after all.
    Nearby cafés/eateries, or onsite restaurant for the evening.
    Preferably a close-by fuel station; they can be few and far between en route.

    So that's it.

    So I'm going to wrap up by saying Iceland is a fabulous country, with the most fantastic landscape, and you're gonna want to be on your 'A' game photographically. I hope this post has some useful information, I've shared a little knowledge, or I've inspired you to plan your trip to this country. You won't regret it.

    * This post may contain links to affiliated sites where we earn a small commission at no additional charge to you.

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