8 Things I Learnt Photographing Iceland

Photography, like many skills (maybe all, I haven’t checked), requires a continued level of attention on the part of its owner.

Ebb And Flow

Over the last decade I’ve noticed a clear ebb and flow with regards to my photographic enthusiasm. The flows correlate, unsurprisingly, with episodes of travel. It is in these breaks from the normality of every day life where my visual senses seem to awaken, stimulated by the exciting and the never seen.

Because of the long pauses that tend to precede an extended period of traveling, I often need a warm up period. Not just to familiarise myself with the dials and buttons on my battered Canon. But to retune my visual perception. To get back into that mindset where light and form are noticed and analysed rather than simply seen and ignored.

Which brings me to the inspiration behind this posting. Iceland is not a place to warm up in. Neither literally, nor figuratively. It’s painfully unforgiving on the unprepared photographer. I was that photographer.

Skogarfoss, Iceland - A monochrome version of the Skogarfoss waterfall near Vik.
I was lucky to get this shot as the areas was swarming with tourists when we arrived.

Geysir, Iceland - One of the many geysers in the area.
The ever reliable ‘Little Geysir’ which erupts every few minutes.

Iceland The Land Of Fire And Ice

Iceland is perched just under the arctic circle. It’s a country so young that meteorological and geological behaviours have yet to stabilise. Scorching sun can give way to deafening snow storms in mere minutes. A pleasant evening breeze to gale force winds. The locals rarely set foot outside without checking road and weather conditions. Even the vernacular reflects the ever changeable conditions with locals never ‘agreeing’ to meet up, but simply to ‘attempt’ to do so. If the weather permits it of course!

Here are 9 lessons I took away from my time Photographing Iceland:

1. Bring A Sturdy Tripod

The wind is ridiculous here. I felt like a human kite on more than one occasion.

To not end up with camera shake in every exposure over a second, you will need a very sturdy tripod. It might be heavy and awkward to carry but it is absolutely worth it for the extra stability it provides. My travel tripod was not up to the task and it ruined a bunch of photos.

Mivatn, Iceland - Some of the mud pots in Mivatn.
The wind was so strong in Myvatn I could barely capture the steam coming out of the mudpots.

2. Lens Hood & Lens Cloth

The combination of waterfalls, rain and strong winds will often leave your lens covered in spray.

This can be negated with a good lens hood. I forgot mine and had to cobble together a DIY solution. Not ideal and my photography suffered.

Combined with an absorbent lens cloth and you should be able to take clear photos in most conditions.

An extra trick, to minimise the time your lens is exposed to the elements, is to get a sheet of A5 plastic and cover the lens as you compose your shot. Removing the sheet just before you release the shutter.

Gullfoss, Iceland - Brei stares down the canyon at Gullfoss waterfall.
Brei stares down at the jawdropping Gullfoss waterfall. The wind was thick with water spray.

3. Bring The Right Gloves

It’s lovely having warm gloves but if they are so clumsy you can’t use your camera they are pretty pointless. I used a thin pair of gloves within a thicker pair but there are many gloves designed for photographers that offer both dexterity and warmth.

Snaefellsnes, Iceland - Storm waves crash agains the Snaefellsnes coastline.
The rugged, and freezing cold, Snaefellsnes coastline just before a storm.

4. Use A Dry Bag

Your camera is going to get wet. And many cameras can withstand a decent amount of water. I know this because I dropped it in the sea twice.

But best play it safe and keep them in a dry bag when walking or invest in a waterproof cover.

Snaefellsnes, Iceland - Storm waves crash agains the Snaefellsnes coastline.
My dry bag saved me when a few big waves came crashing in while taking this shot.

5. Never Leave Anything Lying Around

Did I mention the wind? On several occasions I got distracted by a great vista and left my tripod or backpack on the floor only to find myself chasing down a hillside after it.

Vik, Iceland - A volcanic arch near Reynisdrangar.
I almost fell of a cliff trying to get this angle on the Reynisdrangar sea stacks near Vik.

6. ND Filter

I love my 10x ND filter. It lets me take long exposures in broad daylight. That means not having to wait for dusk (which was 11pm!).

Rekjavik, Iceland - Hallgrimskirkja Church.
Shot during the day the ND filter let me blur the clouds and make the shot more dramatic.

7. Scout Your Locations

This is true for any landscape photography but it bears repeating. Turn up early and go for a nice long walk around the location you are shooting. The last thing you want to do is jump out of the car and use all your precious sunset lighting for a mediocre shot and then find there was an amazing angle just 2 mins further down the track.

If you just rush from viewpoint to viewpoint you will get the same photos as every package tourist.

Vik, Iceland - A crashed DC plane on the black sands near Vik.
A part buried US army plane which crash landed onto the black sands near Vik.

8. Batteries Life Drops With The Mercury

I didn’t realise this. But batteries don’t work so well in sub zero temperatures. My iPhone lasted about 15 mins fully charged and my SLR seemed to also run out faster.

Always carry a spare battery and keep it in an inner pocket so it does not get too cold.

Skaftafell, Iceland - An abandoned farm.
An abandoned farmhouse near Jokulsarlon.

Jokulsarlon, Iceland - Washed up ice on the lagoon.
Washed up ice on the beach at Jokulsarlon.

Jokulsarlon, Iceland - Washed up ice on the lagoon.
Washed up ice on the beach at Jokulsarlon.

Kirkjufell, Iceland - The waterfall in front of Kirkjufell.
Early early morning in Kirkujufell.

Litlafoss, Iceland - Snow covered basalt columns on Litlafoss waterfall.
The spectacular granite columns at the Litlafoss waterfall.

Godafoss, Iceland - A view down towards Godafoss waterfall.
A view down towards Godafoss waterfall.

Fjadrargljufur, Iceland - Brei (in the distance) over the Fjadrargljufur canyon.
Brei (in the distance) over the Fjadrargljufur canyon.

Godafoss, Iceland - A view from below Godafoss waterfall.
A view from below Godafoss waterfall.

Skaftafell, Iceland - Glacial Lake Under a Stormy Sky
Glacial Lake Under a Stormy Sky.

Thanks, if you enjoyed the tips and photos in this article and they help you when photographing Iceland. Please share it with your friends using the buttons bellow.

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