Updated: Feb 21
Iceland might be the most picturesque place on the planet. With an entire host of active volcanoes, huge glaciers and giant waterfalls, you have to set eyes on the country’s many natural marves to believe they are real. For many, no travel experience is complete without capturing this surrounding beauty in order to have a small snapshot to look back at when the trip is over.
However, when it comes to Icelandic travel, taking successful pictures of phenomena like erupting volcanoes and the northern lights requires a little camera knowledge. But not to worry! This guide will help you to select the correct camera accessories for travel to Iceland. With these tips, you can make the most of the incredible photo opportunities this country offers.
Travel Photography in Iceland
The camera accessories for travel differ from those that you’ll be using at home. Travel photography has different considerations, such as the weight of your equipment (because you’ll be carrying it) and specialized accessories. It’s best to think about what type of photos you want to take in Iceland and research camera accessories to accommodate them.
Another big consideration is the time of year that you plan on visiting. Some areas of Iceland and their natural phenomena won’t be accessible or viewable at certain times of the year. To maximize your chances of clear skies and good weather, visit in summer. On the other hand, if you want to chase the famous northern lights and frozen waterfalls, you’ll have to pay a visit in winter
Best Camera Gear for an Iceland Adventure
A waterproof camera bag. You don’t want to be carrying your camera and equipment loosely in your hands, as it’s far more convenient to have a camera bag so that nothing gets lost or damaged. Also, because Iceland’s weather is famously unpredictable, better make it waterproof
Extra batteries. Tech companies are still working on the problem of batteries draining faster in the cold weather. But you can remain unworried by being prepared with extra batteries in case your power drains faster than you expect. A portable charger is best to boost your power on the go, just make sure it isn’t too bulky and obtrusive in your daypack.
Extra memory cards. Since a new sight waits around every corner in the Land of Fire and Ice, chances are you’ll fill up your photo memory card faster than you think. Not to mention taking videos uses up much more memory than normal image content, and as you’ll probably take lots of these, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
A tripod. This will be very handy for both stable shots and solo pictures if you happen to be traveling alone. After all, holding a heavy camera still for several minutes can tire the arms out, so tripods help preserve your picture-taking energy. Aim for a lightweight tripod, because you’ll be carrying it around.
A lens-cleaning cloth. With all the rain, snow, wind and waterfall spray that Iceland sees, your lenses are sure to need regular cleaning. Opt for a microfiber cloth as this won’t scratch the lens when you wipe it and preserve picture quality.
A wide-angle lens. This will be essential for capturing pictures of those big landscapes and stunning natural features that know no borders. If you’re hoping to photograph the northern lights, you’ll need this type of lens to really get the best shot.
Since viewing and capturing the northern lights are many people’s top priority when traveling around Iceland, let’s focus specifically on this photo opp a bit more.
The Best Camera Gear to Capture the Northern Lights
Even when you’re able to see the lights with your own eyes in nature, they won’t show up well with just any old camera setting. While a smartphone will generally do the job, the image won’t be quite as crisp as it would be if taken with a decent camera. Here are a few pointers to getting that great snap:
Use maximum exposure/slowest shutter speed. The northern lights only appear when it’s dark, so the camera needs to let in as much light as possible. Maximizing your exposure and slowing your shutter speed will give you better low-light capture. With this method, the final product may even show off the lights better than in real life.
Use a wide-angle lens with wide aperture. The wide aperture is to maximize the amount of light your camera lets in. Because the lights sometimes fill the whole sky, a wide-angle lens will allow you to capture a larger field of view, leaving no star unfeatured.
Use manual mode on your camera. Your smartphone will likely have pre-structured modes to select from, so select whatever is closest to “night mode”. For your camera, the manual mode allows you to adjust each of the settings for the best suitability.
While certain settings are generally recommended, it will all depend on how the lights are behaving leading up to the shot. If they are brighter or moving quicker, you may want to adjust your shutter speed or exposure.
A good rule of thumb is to practice with night shooting before coming to Iceland, so you’re more than prepared for the lights if and when they finally appear.
Where and When is Best to Take Pictures in Iceland?
As mentioned above, what you want to capture will determine the season you visit. The Northern lights are only visible from September to April, with the best chance of viewing from October to February. Much of the landscape will be snow or frost-covered, changing Iceland’s appearance completely.
Coming in winter, however, means an increased likelihood of weather playing an adverse role in your photo-taking ventures. Snowstorms and strong winds occur occasionally throughout the country, and in some cases make picture-taking impossible. Therefore, always have a plan B for trips, so you’re not completely reliant on the weather.
The great thing about summer in Iceland is that the long stretches of daylight give more opportunity for photographers, whether amatuer or professional, to capture that perfect shot.
You’re essentially only limited by your patience and energy levels, as you’ll have as much light as you want. While there are no northern lights during summer months, there is much more wildlife to see up close, including whales and puffins.
The south coast of the country is generally regarded as the most picturesque, as well as being easily accessible. The Ring Road, or Route 1, gives you easy passage to some of Iceland’s most beautiful features. This includes waterfalls, rock formations and glacial lagoons, most of which are only a short turn-off Route 1.
Some highlights you should absolutely get pictures of are Seljalandsfoss waterfall, Skógafoss waterfall, Reynisdrangar rock formation and Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. These are all along the country’s south coast and trips can normally be completed in a day’s time.
The famous Golden Circle route is also very picturesque, with a huge waterfall, active geyser and national park to explore. This is also considered a fabulous day trip, especially since it begins and ends in the capital, Reykjavík. If you want a great view of the Capital Region, hike up to the top of mount Esjan.
In order to reach some of these picture-worthy sites, you’ll need a rental vehicle. Book yours for an affordable price at Campervan Reykjavík.
General Photography Tips for Iceland
Don’t stop on the side of the road. It can be tempting to pull up on the side of Route 1 when you spot an incredible scene. However, since the road is only two lanes wide and has no hard shoulder, it’s best to wait for a rest stop.
Dress appropriately. Iceland’s winters are not extremely cold, but a combination of fairly low temperatures and wind can be very uncomfortable if ill-prepared. Bring thermals, insulated/windproof jackets and trousers that will keep you warm when standing still. Gloves that you can wear while clutching the camera will come in handy, too.
Keep safe. Don’t take unnecessary risks in order to get a picture. Much of Iceland is composed of sharp lava rock, some of which is loose and easy to slip on. With that being said, stay within fences and boundaries, as they’re there to protect you and Iceland’s landscape. Please don’t step on the green moss, either; it’s very delicate.
Once you’ve organized all your camera accessories for travel, the only thing left to do is get yourself here. After all, those jaw-dropping pictures aren’t going to take themselves! Just remember: while the ultimate goal might be to get the perfect shot, the journey to reach the sites is the real thrill. Even if you don’t manage to snap the photo of your dreams, you’ll still remember the moment because you lived it fully in the present.
In some cases, you’ll have to hike, get wet, or stand still for an extended period. This is all part of the adventure that awaits you in the Land of Fire and Ice, so embrace it. And for that adventure, you’ll need some affordable transport. Book yours now with Campervan Reykjavík, for the best prices and a diverse selection of reliable vehicles!