The Land of Fire and Ice has quite a few picturesque Aces up its sleeve. This is the reason that Iceland photography and the popularity of Iceland photography tours are on the rise.
Before embarking on your adventure, it's important to gain a better understanding of photography in Iceland. This includes knowing when and how to capture the best photos, as well as identifying the must-visit photographic hotspots to include in your itinerary. We discuss all this and more in our article, so read on if you want the lowdown on all things photography in Iceland.
Why is Iceland a Great Place for Photography?
The Land of Fire and Ice offers photographers the unique opportunity of photographing incredibly diverse topography. Iceland, being a small island, offers photographers a wealth of diverse landscapes to capture, including mountains, glaciers, black sand beaches, waterfalls, volcanoes, and ice caves.
This unique and varied topography makes Iceland a favorite among landscape photographers. Whether you're an amateur looking to practice your craft or a professional seeking award-winning shots, Iceland provides the ideal setting. Additionally, you can combine your holiday with your photography hobby. You can do so by booking specialized guided photo tours available on the island.
And whilst some come in the form of day outings, many are offered as full-fledged multi-day holiday packages. Choosing between a self-drive photography excursion or joining a guided photo tour in Iceland depends on your preferences and needs. Consider factors such as the locations you want to visit, your budget, time flexibility. And, of course, your desire for additional knowledge or mentorship.
When is the Best Time to Take Photos in Iceland?
When the best time to take photos is will depend on a number of factors:
What You Want to Capture
Do you have something specific in mind? Maybe you want to capture the waterfalls with long icicle tentacles hanging over the cliffs. However, this can only be captured during the wintertime. Perhaps you want photos of the Iceland Puffins in action, but for this, you will need to plan a trip during their breeding season here. That's between May to August.
Or you want to capture the magic and energy of a vibrant Midnight Sun party (which, of course, will only be possible at the height of summer). Therefore, you will need to do proper research into the specific things you have on your photographic Iceland bucket list. Otherwise, you might be left thoroughly disappointed.
The Photographic Effects You're After
If you want to capture the glistening pieces of ice of Diamond Beach that's the very reason for its name, you'll have to go when there is sunlight, and preferably during dawn or dusk. If you wish to capture a more ominous and mysterious Budakirkja you'll need to wait for an overcast and gloomy day. And, depending on the season, the time to take the best Iceland photos will heavily depend on the available daylight hours. These can dwindle to just 4 hours a day during mid-winter.
Whether it's Peak Season
Summertime is our peak season here on the island, and along with a peak season comes a peak season crowd. Crowds can be quite disruptive, especially when you're on holiday and trying to take photos. Imagine waiting for the perfect moment that Stokkur geyser erupts only to have someone saunter out in front of you - it might be the very cause of a future true-crime podcast.
Helpful Tips for Your Photography Trip to Iceland
If this is your first photography trip to the island, you might find the following tips and tricks quite handy:
Make Sure You’ve Got the Right Gear
As we’ve already touched on, Iceland offers very diverse topography, and this means that various regions or attractions require different camera equipment and accessories when traveling in Iceland. Things such as a variety of lenses, a tripod, extra memory cards, and a camera that shoots RAW are just a few examples of the things you need to consider before your arrival here on the island.
Make Sure You’re Warm and Waterproof
There is nothing worse than trying to get the perfect shot whilst drenched or shivering. Add on camera damage and it’s a full-blown nightmare. That’s why it’s absolutely crucial that you always dress in warm layers. This way you can always take things off or put things on depending on the situation.
Also, ensure that you have waterproof clothes such as pants, jackets, and a raincoat when visiting places such as the glaciers or the waterfalls. You’ll be surprised how many end up looking like soaked cats once the mist and spray is done with them. Additionally, make sure that your camera and gear are protected by waterproof casings/bags.
Move Out of the Comfort Zone
Taking the road less traveled can be quite rewarding. Not only will it enable you to explore places on the island that few get to see, but it will also make for unique shots. So, whilst you can still add all the mainstream photographic hotspots such as the Blue Lagoon to your trip itinerary, don’t forget to include the hidden gems such as Kvika Footbath. If you’re not sure where these hidden gems are, a local will be more than happy to give you some inside info.
Grab Photos Whilst Driving, but Don’t Stop
The Icelandic landscape is majestic, and there will be a million things and views that you will want to photograph in between stops. There’s just one catch; in Iceland, it’s illegal to stop next to the road unless it’s in a designated parking spot. So, whilst we highly recommend that you capture as much as possible of your trip (whilst in the passenger seat, of course), please do not stop to take that snap unless you want to end up with a fine that might require you to remortgage your house.
Use a Higher ISO
There will be plenty of times that the weather won’t play along. And even though it might not be as cold (depending on the season), it can be very overcast and dreary. This brings with it lighting issues when you’re on an Iceland photography trip. In these instances, we recommend that you use a higher ISO which will give you bright, sharp images.
Even if You Don’t Generally Consider People as Subjects, You Might Need to Consider Using Them
We’re not saying that you suddenly need to switch over to portrait photography whilst in Iceland. Still, there are certain places where having a person in the shot makes sense. For example, having someone stand at the bottom of a gigantic waterfall such as Skogafoss or having someone stand next to some of the elf houses that can be found all across the island, will give people a better idea of how big or how small it really is.
Move Indoors When Taking Photos of the Northern Lights When It’s Really Windy
Iceland’s winds are legendary and have been known to blow at speeds that literally rip car doors straight off their hinges. Whilst these winds generally pose problems, it can be catastrophic when trying to take photos of the Northern Lights.
In fact, not even the most skilled photographers will be able to capture the lights without it being blurry. In these instances, we recommend that you “cheat” and take an outdoor shot from the inside. Whether it’s through the window of your accommodation or your car, this will allow you to take the perfect Northern Lights shot without interference from the wind.
With exciting attractions and majestic scenery such as in Iceland, it's easy to get lost in the photographic sauce and end up in hazardous positions. For example, you may be taking photos on Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach and never see the sneaker wave sneaking up on you.
Or you may be so dedicated to getting the perfect Puffin shot that you don't realize that you've ventured off the path and literally end up with your foot in one of their burrows (in this case, the poor Puffin and his family's safety is more of a concern than yours). Always stay alert and take note of your surroundings to avoid hazardous situations such as these.
Some of the Best Places to Photograph in Iceland
Below, you will find a few of the spots that are considered to be the best places to photograph in Iceland:
Budakirkja (the Black Church of Budir)
We already mentioned Budakirkja earlier in our article. This much-loved photography spot is situated in the south of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and consists of a pitch-black church sitting in the middle of a vast open lava field.
This is yet another site we already touched on that can be found just east of the capital city of Reykjavik which makes it a very convenient site to visit. Strokkur is the sister geyser to Geysir (the first geyser to be discovered) and is incredibly active. Trying to take the perfect picture at the exact time of an eruption will require skill as well as patience.
The Solheimasandur Plane Wreck
The Solheimasandur Plane Wreck is probably one of the few wrecks that are not actually caused by a serious crash. This wreck can be found near Vik and is what is left of a US plane that had to make an emergency landing on the black sand beach.
No one was seriously injured or killed in the incident and after the US decided it was more trouble than it was worth to retrieve the plane, it was simply left on the beach to succumb to time. Well, their loss is our gain because this dramatic-looking wreck makes for pretty impressive photos.
Seljalandsfoss Waterfall on the south coast of Iceland is also known as “the waterfall you can walk behind”. Not only can you take pretty amazing pics of this 60 meters tall waterfall, but you can actually walk behind its veil of falling water and take pictures of the breathtaking panoramic landscape views from behind its “curtain”. This is also why it’s a recommended spot for Iceland landscape photography.
Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
The Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is an incredibly magical place located in the southern part of Vatnajökull National Park. The lagoon is filled with gigantic floating icebergs that are continuously breaking off from the Breidamerkurjökull Glacier.
As if this alone doesn’t make for impressive photos, you’ll also find lazy seals lying on sheets of ice drifting around in the lagoon. Whilst all of this can be viewed at a distance from shore, there is an opportunity to get even closer to the action if you book a spot on one of the boat tours. This is one of the sites that put Iceland photography on the map.
The Sun Voyager
This is yet another site that’s very convenient to reach. The Sun Voyager sculpture can be found on the Reykjavik waterfront. It is pretty popular amongst photographers due to the way shadows and light play on the structure. By using the installation as a focal point with the ocean and mountains as a backdrop, it also makes for some interesting Iceland landscape photos.
The Icelandic Horses
Okay, so these are more subjects than places, but they definitely make for some beautiful photos and can be found all over the island. Iceland boasts its own breed of horse, aptly named the Icelandic Horse. This breed is incredibly unique.
The horses look more like ponies than full-grown horses, and during the winter season, they sport a thick, fluffy coat. They are also renowned for their friendly nature and the fact that they can perform an extra gait called the tölt. If you want a beautiful wildlife photo with a bit of a twist, see if you can capture a beer tölt in action.
Svartifoss Waterfall can be found in Skaftafell in Vatnajökull National Park and has incredibly unique features. The falls stand 20 meters tall, but it’s the backdrop of hexagonal black basalt columns behind the volumes of water dropping that makes for beautiful and dramatic shots.
Svartifoss has been known to inspire people and you can find art and architecture all across the island that has been inspired by its characteristics, so maybe it will act as inspiration with your Iceland photography as well.
This church is also conveniently located in the capital city of Reykjavik. It is actually one of the architectural wonders on the island that has been inspired by Svartifoss Waterfall. Just like with Seljalandsfoss, Hallgrimskirkja offers the unique opportunity to not only take photos of the impressive structure itself but also gives you the option of going up in the tower to see and take photos of the 360-degree views.
The latter is why Hallgrimskirkja is also considered to be a must-visit spot when it comes to Iceland landscape photography.
Just like with the Icelandic Horses, these are more subjects not to be missed here on the island. Whales can always be found along the Icelandic coast, especially in Husavik which is known as the “whale capital of Iceland”. If you come during our whale season between April and September, you will also be able to spot some of the migratory whale species that call Iceland home during this time.
We have to include the whales on this list, especially if you enjoy taking action or wildlife shots. If you can book a spot on one of the whale boat tours here in Iceland, you can end up with pretty incredible photos, such as a Blue Whale (the biggest whale on the planet!) breaching.
Dynjandi Waterfall is located in one of the more remote regions of the islands called the Westfjords. Once again, this waterfall deserves to be on this list because of its unique aesthetic. This is one of our tiered waterfalls here on the island and definitely one of the most impressive. The frothing white water tumbling over layers of cliffs looks like a freshly iced wedding cake and makes for some pretty interesting pictures.
The Ice Caves
There are plenty of ice caves all across Iceland, but we highly recommend your first stop be the ice caves in Vatnajökull National Park in South East Iceland.
Just keep in mind that this is one of those times when you’ll need to get the timing right, since most ice caves in Iceland are closed during the warmer months due to safety concerns. The caves offer an otherworldly experience with their bright blue, yet somehow translucent, glossy walls that still have some pitch-black streaks in them as ash from past eruptions are frozen in time.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
This is another site near Vik that we’ve already mentioned. It is a great place to stop when you want to have a wide variety of subjects and topography to take advantage of - all in one location. Reynisfjara with its black sand beach stretching out for kilometers on end and its crashing waves is perfect for taking landscape photos in Iceland.
But when you take the fact that the interesting rock formation, Reynisdrangar, rises out of the sea just a short distance from shore, your landscape photos might consist of much more than just ocean and sand. The massive black basalt column cliffs aligning the shore also make for incredible photo opportunities. And if you’re interested in wildlife photography, you’ll be glad to know that the cliffs are also home to some very interesting birds.
We simply have to add Sky Lagoon to our list, not so much because it’s one of the hot springs here in Iceland, but because it’s another site that offers ample opportunity for Iceland landscape photography. The geothermal pools at Sky Lagoon are infinity pools and because of the hot spring’s altitude, it offers breathtaking views across the city and the ocean. Sky Lagoon can be found in the heart of Reykjavik, so it’s incredibly easy to visit.
The Latrabjarg Cliffs
This is yet another one of our wildlife photography entries. These cliffs are absolutely packed with all sorts of birds, and because of the abundance of food, the Arctic Fox is also spotted here quite frequently. But if you visit the island between May and August, the photo opportunities will have increased. That’s because the Latrabjarg Cliffs are one of the most famous places to go Puffin spotting.
The Iceland Puffins spend the majority of their year out at sea, but during the breeding season, they return to land to have their little Pufflings (yes, that’s really what they’re called). So, if you want to add a dash of super cuteness to your pics, we suggest you visit in July or August, when there will be plenty of little Pufflings waddling about.
What makes the Puffins such interesting subjects for photography is the fact that these penguin-like birds have brightly colored beaks. Their strange look has lovingly earned them the nickname of “the clowns of the sea”.
Iceland Photography; a Once in a Lifetime Experience
As you can see, the island offers photographic opportunities that are simply unheard of in the rest of the world, which truly makes Iceland photography a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We truly believe that the best way of exploring the island and taking advantage of all these photographic opportunities whilst having more control over your trip itinerary and time is by making a road trip out of it.
If you want to make your road trip even more budget-friendly and take care of your accommodation without necessarily committing to specific places, we highly recommend renting a campervan in Reykjavik. But whichever way you choose to take on your Iceland photography trip, you're bound to leave the island with incredible memories and the photographs to match.