Updated: Oct 7
Iceland is a mecca for photography enthusiasts. If any of your friends have traveled here then you’ll know this. In fact, you are likely to have seen a seemingly never-ending stream of beautiful pictures. Likely they just could not resist posting just one more superlative sunset on their Instagram feed. Be warned that it is likely to be the same for you. Even if you are not an avid photographer you can’t really help taking a decent snap (or ten) in Iceland.
Why is Iceland such a great place for photography?
There are several reasons behind this Iceland photography bonanza. Firstly Iceland is just very photogenic. It is well known for its wild landscapes and otherworldly views. Vistas of volcanoes, glaciers, lava fields, geysers, and waterfalls abound. There is in fact natural drama almost everywhere you look. Moody skies give way to golden sunlight hues washing across pristine mountain ranges and sheets of glittering ice. Whereas a photography trip to India is very much about portraiture. Iceland is all about landscape photography.
The Golden Hours of Iceland
If you are at all interested in photography then you will have heard of the term the ‘Golden Hour’. This is that time of day when the sun is low and it casts a slanted golden light across the scenery. The colors glow, the water reflections come to life and the whole vista is transformed by the quality of the light. Usually, if the sky is clear this Golden hour is just that. An hour or less of perfect conditions right at either end of the day as the sun rises or sets.
But in Iceland, this Golden Hour is extended. Sometimes for three or even four hours. When the Midnight Sun shines in the summer months it never actually gets completely dark. The landscape can be bathed in this rosy sunset glow from midnight until 3 am. Likewise in winter, this magical light can be cast for a good four hours or so in the middle of the day. In mid-winter, the sun rises at about 9 am and stays low before setting again at 3-4 pm.
The seasons and the weather in Iceland
Another reason behind the many dramatic views is the decidedly fickle weather in Iceland. Notoriously changeable as it is, the sky and the light can change considerably from minute to minute. One moment there could be light clear skies and the next brooding storm clouds. This changes the character of a shot considerably. You’ll probably find yourself taking ‘just one more’ every time the light changes another fraction or two.
Yet another reason for the beauty of Iceland’s landscape photography is the seasons. This is indeed a land of extremes and the views are completely transformed by the seasons. Summer is lush and vibrant with fields of flowers blooming and rushing rivers and waterfalls. As the seasons shift snow and ice claim the land and the stark beauty of winter takes hold.
The Best places in Iceland for photography
This is actually a difficult question to answer. There are just so many amazing views. A good photographer can find an interesting angle on any scene but in Iceland, you are spoilt for choice. To break it down we will run through a couple of classic photography routes. These are easily manageable in a day or two. They are best undertaken in a rental camper so that you can embrace the freedom of the road.
By driving a camper van or motorhome along these routes you can really make the most of your time. You will be able to stop where you like, stay as long as you like, and move on when ready. It is great to have that flexibility. And by camping in Iceland you get to experience the Golden Hours in the midst of the countryside. Without further ado here are our top Iceland photography locations and routes.
The Golden Circle
The classic Golden Circle route can be easily explored in a day from Reykjavik. But if you are hiring a campervan then you can take a little more time over it and camp. The Golden Circle consists of a trio of natural wonders all three of which will yield great photo opportunities. These three sights are the Þingvellir National Park, the mighty Gullfoss Waterfall, and the Geysir Geothermal Area.
This trip can also be tied in with a visit to Iceland's Blue Lagoon hot spring. You can head out of Reykjavik to the southwest and then loop around to the Golden Circle. The billowing steam of the hot springs and the stark black volcanic rock will have you snapping away between soaks.
If you are spending the night at one of the campsites en route we recommend the one at Þingvellir. The national park is open 24 hours so you’ll be able to take a midnight walk into this ancient landscape. Remember that extended Golden Hour we mentioned? Well, this is the place to take advantage of it if you visit in summer. In winter this is also a good spot to catch the Northern Lights on clear nights.
The South Coast
Iceland's South Coast route is definitely best explored on a self-drive road trip. There is a wealth of sights to see and you will ideally spend three or four days exploring. It is possible to make a day trip of it from the capital but it would be a shame to rush through so much beauty. This route really does yield some of the most stunning photography locations in Iceland.
The first stop has to be the plunging Seljalandsfoss Waterfall. Here you can walk around behind the falls and take pictures looking out past the falling water. From there you should head along the Ring Road to the town of Vík í Mýrdal. This photogenic little town has some incredible views to enjoy.
One of the absolute highlights of a trip to Iceland is seeing the Reynisfjara
black sand beach. Tall basalt cliffs, imposing sea stacks, jet-black sands, and a wild North Atlantic Ocean complete the picture.
From there you can easily drive to the edge of the Vatnajökull National Park and visit the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. The lagoon links the glacier with the ocean and the water here is dotted with icebergs of all shapes and sizes. You can’t help but be mesmerized by the glowing blue of compacted ice swirled with black volcanic debris. The bergs are positively sculptural and you are guaranteed impressive shots. In summer you will be able to head out onto the lake by boat. In winter this isn’t possible but you get the added opportunity of ice caving under the Jökulsárlón Glacier.
Not far from the lagoon is another swathe of black sands known as Diamond Beach. Here you will find icy pieces washed up on the sands. From large chunks lapped by the waves to tiny pieces strewn like diamonds across the beach.
The Highlands & The Diamond Circle
If you visit Iceland in summer then you’ll be able to take a road trip over the highlands. You will need to hire a 4 x 4 camper or car to do so though. This remote and rugged landscape is almost otherworldly. It is about a three-hour drive up through the highlands but it will likely take longer as you stop to take in the views.
From there you could continue on to explore the Diamond Circle with its myriad photo opportunities. This is in fact a good area to change it up and engage in a little wildlife photography. Bird spotting around Lake Mývatn or heading out on a boat for a whale watching and puffin spotting tour.
The Snaefellsnes Peninsula
Last but not least the Snaefellsnes Peninsula offers up one of the most photographed scenes in all of Iceland. Kirkjufell Mountain with the Kirkjufellsfoss Waterfall in the foreground. This is a photography location to die for. Especially if you are lucky enough to capture the Northern Lights overhead too.
Photography Iceland tips
When it comes to the practicalities of photography in Iceland, you do need to come prepared, and with the best gear possible. Bring plenty of battery power and chargers so that you can swap batteries over and recharge each evening. Bring along a tripod for those long exposure shots of waterfalls or the Northern Lights. If you have a film camera definitely bring stacks of the film including a black and white roll or two.
When headed out in winter or even summer we recommend fingerless gloves. Warm layers, socks, and hats are important as nothing spoils outdoor shoots more than cold fingers and toes. It is also a good idea to bring snacks. Add to that a flask of hot tea or coffee from your camper van kitchen for extra staying power.
Drone photography Iceland
You can take a drone to Iceland but there are several rules that you will need to take into account. For the latest regulation on drone photography in Iceland visit this Drone Travel Guide.
Iceland Northern Lights photography
If you are traveling to Iceland in winter then photographing the Aurora Borealis will likely be high on your agenda. This is one of the most technically tricky photographs in Iceland to achieve. But with a little practice, practicality and luck you should be able to take a picture you’re happy with.
First off you will need a decent camera and tripod with the option to switch your camera to manual mode. Adjust your settings and set your shutter speed for between 15 and 30 seconds. Frame your shot, squeeze the button, hold your breath and wait for that satisfying click. Then just keep going until you get the desired shot. It is a lot of fun to play around with different exposure lengths. Don’t be afraid to experiment and enjoy the magic of a dark winter’s night on the edge of the Arctic Circle!