Iceland Photography Tips
If you are heading or planning a Photography Trip to Iceland, here are some essential tips that will help you get the most out of your stay. Iceland is known for its stunning natural landscapes and unique lighting conditions, making it a paradise for photographers. If this is your first trip to Iceland, you’re in for a Treat. The hype about Iceland’s landscape is real.
The majestic Skogafoss
Also, as you may know, Iceland offers countless opportunities for capturing breathtaking images with its stunning waterfalls, black sand beaches, glaciers, the occasional erupting Volcano, and the seasonal Aurora Borealis. Again, if you also are a photographer, you’re in for another treat. It’s going to be a blast.
Now, without further ado, here are my top tips for a photography trip to Iceland.
Essential Iceland Photography Tips
Research, Plan and keep it flexible
Honestly, you could not plan much apart from driving the ring road and stopping at the main landmarks. You will come home with stunning photos. Iceland really is that full of beauty.
However, will you make the best of it by not planning anything? No, you will miss out on a lot. A LOT. So here’s the first Iceland photography tip: research and plan your photography itinerary. Scout the internet using maps, blogs, Reddit, and apps like Outdoractive or Komoot. Prepare your list of locations you want to shoot at.
However, keep it flexible. Weather and the elements are unpredictable in Iceland, so you may be forced to change your plans. You also may want to follow the good weather. You don’t want to be stuck in one location for two days because of a storm while other locations you wanted to visit have better weather. By the time you move there, the bad weather may have moved there too.
Also, you will find it will take longer than expected to go anywhere. If you are on a self-driving tour, you’ll either be tempted to stop everywhere, or you will spend more time than expected in any of the locations you’ll visit. So have a list of places you want to visit, have a plan and keep the schedule flexible.
This is a totally unplanned shot of the first day of the 2023 Fagradalsfjall Eruption. I kept my schedule flexible and I was able to reach the location within three hours of the start of the eruption.
Bring the Right Camera Gear for your Iceland photography trip
If you are going to shoot along the Ring Road, I will definitely recommend having a wide angle with you, 18mm or wider. If you can go to 14mm. You can get pretty close to many of the attractions on the Ringroad, like the many waterfalls. Also, bring a lens up to 70-100mm. This focal length will allow you to capture additional details of the landscape farther away from you.
If you are going into the Highlands of Iceland in places like Landmannalaugar or Thórsmörk then I would recommend bringing focal lengths up to 200mm. This is actually the lens I have the most fun with, when in the Highlands. The landscape in the highlands is so vast that a telephoto lens will open up endless possibilities for capturing the farther-away feature of a landscape. Here you can read more about using telephoto lenses for landscape.
Also, the same applies if you want to photograph wildlife, like Puffins and Arctic Foxes. Bring a telephoto reaching up to at least 200mm, more if possible.
The sub-glacial volcanic mountain Maelifell, shoot at 200mm
The Golden Hours, Sunrise and Sunset
The light in Iceland can be magical, especially during the golden hours, which are the first and last hours of daylight. The golden hours offer soft, warm light that creates beautiful shadows and highlights. If you are visiting in Summer, shoot late in the evening and early in the morning. Travel during the day when the sun is at its highest point in the sky and the harsh mid-day light is not so great for photography.
Also, if you are planning to shoot any particular location for sunrise or sunset, use a Sun position calculator to plan the shot ahead of time. I’d actually recommend doing this before you plan your itinerary. The sun’s position varies a lot in Iceland in different seasons
Sunrise at Gullfoss
No Sun, No Problem
There are going to be cloudy days during your stay. Some of these will happen at locations where you may have planned to photograph either sunset or sunrise. While this sucks, don’t let that get in the way of a good photo. Get creative, and try to get something moodier, the results may surprise you.
Hivitserkur in Norther Iceland. Long Exposure after a blazing sunrise that did not happen.
Bring a Tripod and a Neutral Density filter and Experiment with Long Exposures
Iceland’s waterfalls are some of the most photogenic in the world, and capturing them with long exposures can create stunning effects. Long exposures create a silky-smooth effect on water, but this had to be done right. You don’t want to completely blur any shape out of the water. Some texture will give the shot a sense of motion in the water, so I’d recommend keeping it shorter rather than longer.
However, how long your exposure should be s on how fast the water is moving; my recommendation would be to keep it between 1/20th of a second and 2 seconds. Play around with the settings and see what works best. I always do several attempts at different shutter speeds.
Also; the sky. It’s often cloudy In Iceland and very long exposure with a neutral density filter will allow you to blur the clouds and the sky, adding even more dynamism to your shot. This works best if the clouds are moving toward you or away from you, as they will create a better depth in your image. So always try to compose it like that, if the conditions allow it.
Try to keep some texture in the water, as it can help create a sense of motion.
Add the Human Element
Especially with waterfalls, it can be hard to provide a sense of scale without any reference point. A human figure can really help add that sense of scale. Don’t overdo it though. Personally, I think it can get boring pretty quickly if done too often.
Selfie at Skutafoss.
Shoot RAW, or RAW and JPEG
If you are already shooting RAW, you can skip this part. If you are not or you are getting started with photography, hear me out. You may not have a use for RAW files right now, but you may later in your photography journey. You’ll thank your past self if you decide to also shoot RAW, in addition to JPEGs
RAW files contain way more data than JPEGs. This will allow you more latitude to process your photos to your taste. This could give your images a new life a few years from now. I only shoot raw and I am sure I did. Several of the photos on this blog are more than 10 years old and today I can process or reprocess them again. So do the JPEGs if they are enough for you right now. But if your camera allows it, do RAW and JPEGs. It’s not every day you get to go to Iceland and you can’t exactly go back anytime to retake a shot.
The Kálfshamarsvík Lighthouse, a shot from 2016 I recently reprocessed.
Keep Your Eyes Open
Iceland’s landscapes and weather conditions are constantly changing, you never know what you’ll find around the corner. This is not bad as it may sound, actually, it’s pretty good if you ask me. different lighting and conditions, such as dramatic clouds, fog or some light seeking through the clouds, are all conditions that can make a shot interesting. Not only that but with fast-changing weather conditions you may end up taking very different shots from the same location. Also, be ready for the unexpected, whatever that may be :)!
An unexpected herd of horses running in the highlands.
Don’t wait for the rain to stop
Iceland is a rainy and windy country. Sure, you do not want to be out in a storm or gale-force winds. Still, don’t be put off by some light rain or passing showers. Go out with the right gear, a waterproof camera bag or a proper rain cover. Check the weather forecast on Vedur to plan any hike accordingly.
Also, don’t forget rainbows appear after rainfall or when rain is around!
A photo of Raudibotn I took in between rain showers on a hike in the highlands.
The Landscape is so vast in Iceland that sometimes Panoramas are the way to go. Focus on the whole scene rather than the elements within it. Panoramas can be powerful images engaging the viewer, as they are more likely to provide an immersive viewing experience. it’s also easier to create a unique image from a panorama compared to the single frame everyone is shooting.
Panoramic Image at Joluksarlon
Photographing the Northern Lights in Iceland
I am pretty sure photographing the Aurora Borealis in Iceland is on the bucket list of every landscape photographer. If it isn’t in yours, it should probably be. The northern lights are a magic, awe-inspiring phenomenon. Even more so above the stunning landscape of Iceland. I’d personally recommend mid/late September, but the lights will be visible up until March/April. Still, in September there is a good balance between day and night, no snow (or not much) around yet, plus the autumn colors. For some additional tips, you may also want to check my post on How to photograph the northern lights.
Aurora Borealis in Iceland
Drone with Caution
Iceland is a beautiful country for drone and aerial photography. Still, this has to be practised with caution and in full respect of local regulations. Yes, drones will allow you to capture a different perspective, opening up new opportunities for landscape photography. However, it is forbidden to fly at many of the most visited locations, and rightfully so. Can you imagine Skogafoss with swarms of 10/20 drones flying around the waterfall at any given time and the accidents that may occur? Yeah, don’t be one of those guys. There are plenty of locations where it is possible to fly a drone in respect of local regulations and without a crowd around you. So if you have a drone, bring it to Iceland, and fly responsibly. You may also be interested in reading my post on Flying drones in Iceland to dig deeper into the topic.
Eystrahorn, shot with a DJI Mavic Air 2
Don’t skip the landmarks!
As obvious as it may sound, I think this tip has its place in any list of photography tips for Iceland. Why? You’ll read plenty of posts from armchair photographers about photos from the same location being boring or overdone.
Honestly, who cares? It’s your shot, and it’s going to be unique to you. It’s your time and it will be your creation. Don’t listen to the “armchair” or “keyboard” photography crowd advising you not to shoot the same boring photos of a landmark. It’s complete nonsense. First of all, they are all very beautiful locations. Second of all, it’s your time, your trip, and your memories. Go for it.
Who on earth would skip Kirkjufellsfossfor example?
Conclusion – Iceland Photography Tips
So these were my best Iceland Photography tips. If you have never been to Iceland, you’ll discover it’s a real photographer’s paradise. You may also want to check out my tips on what to pack for a hiking trip to Iceland. If you’ve been to Iceland already, you already know that :). Regardless, I hope these tips will help you capture images you will cherish for a lifetime. If you have any more tips to share, feel free to drop them in the comments below!
- Luminar Neo AI Photo Editing Software
- Check out more Hikes and Locations in Iceland here.
- What to pack for a hiking holiday in Iceland
- If you are planning your trip and are looking for a recommendation on Car or Camper Van Rentals, I can definitely recommend two companies here:
- Cars: Blue Car Rental, which is the largest Car rental company in Iceland, and for good reasons. Free Cancellation, Unlimited mileage, 24-hour breakdown assistance, SCDW, CDW, TP, and GP insurance are included in the price. Blue Car Rental is also located within walking distance of the Keflavik Airport, so you can be on your way to explore Iceland right away. I’ve always been happy with my rentals there, which is why I’m happy to recommend their services here on my blog.
- Camper Vans: CampEasy. With CampEasy, you can rent 2WD or 4×4 campers alike. With a raised Chassis, larger tires, and extra insurance with reduced liability for river crossing, their 4X4 campers are the best choice for your trip into the Highlands. Their Website also provides extensive information about roads you can take and instructions on river crossings. Perfect choice for a hiking holiday in the highlands!