I recently spent a few terrific weeks in Iceland – concluding what has been a trio of Nordic-based travels this year after the Lofoten and Faroe Islands.
You don't need my words to convince you as to why Iceland appeals so much. What I will say is that it lives up to the hype and whether you visit for a long weekend or a month, it's a memorable place. And of course the photography opportunities are on another level.
To think that it is just a three hour plane journey away left me contemplating on more than one occasion why I left it quite so long to visit. So I'm going to jump straight in with some takeaway tips, thoughts and advice from my two weeks exploring the land of fire and ice.
Simplify your gear choices...
The vast majority of all my photographs were taken at a handful of focal lengths: 24mm, 35mm and 50mm, with an ultra-wide angle for some shots on top of waterfalls and at the beaches. The limited wildlife (we were outside of nesting season) meant my use of anything over 50mm was rare. There's an awful lot to photograph in Iceland: simplify your choices and don't sweat the millimetres.
...and be prepared to put it through its paces
Iceland will throw the elements at you. A fistful of them. All at once. Your lenses will get soaked at waterfalls. The wind will blow black sand into the camera. And the landscape is unforgiving if you drop anything. I'm not saying you'll return home with a bag full of irreparable gear, but be prepared for knocks and dings. If you wrap your camera up in cotton wool here you'll never dare take it out.
Venture away from the main sights
The list of iconic spots in Iceland is endless and they are famous for a reason: they are beautiful, impressive and surreal in equal measure. But ensure you make time to explore away from the main sights; you'll be amazed how easy it is to escape the crowds (especially in the south) and find some truly special spots you hadn't read about in advance. Those occasions were some of my favourite and most rewarding moments.
Hire a four wheel drive
It's one of the most debated subjects in online forums: do you need to pay the extra money for a 4WD? The answer is no, you don't have to. But once you're out there you'll seriously wish you had. There are so many places off the beaten track to tempt you and the camera – many of which are only accessible via F roads. So at least give yourself the luxury of having the choice of getting to them and hire a 4WD. It cost us more but I have no regrets.
Embrace the Nordic gloom
During our visit in September we experienced glorious sunshine, drizzling rain, sweeping mist, near gale-force winds and (just) dodged the first snowfalls in the north. Accept that you will encounter ‘bad’ weather and learn to embrace it. Iceland is a moody, dramatic place that is so often complemented by moody, dramatic weather. Use it to your advantage and treat it as an asset, not a hindrance.
Hope, but don’t plan, for the aurora
From speaking to the locals, by all accounts we were incredibly fortunate to see the northern lights on multiple occasions in September. Everywhere we read prior to the trip was that the light show doesn't tend to kick off until October. We got (very) lucky; some people don't. That's just the way it is. Think carefully about what time of year you visit – especially if it's your first visit – and try not to hinge your trip on seeing the aurora as you might come away disappointed.
Respect your surroundings
One small gripe, unfortunately. I'll go out on a limb here and say that Iceland is one of the worst places I have visited for people not taking heed of local advice / polite notices. Everywhere we went there were people climbing over ropes, flying drones where forbidden and walking through marked off conservation areas. Regrettably, a lot of the time it is photographers who are the culprits. I have faith that it remains the minority who ruin it for the rest but always be mindful to respect your surroundings (and fellow photographers).
Get creative with your depth of field
Whilst it is tempting to turn up at a location, set up the tripod and shoot at f/11, I found that always maximising the depth of field can rob these scenes of creativity and risked making my photographs all very uniform in style. Experiment shooting at f/4 or f2/.8 to really isolate a specific detail in the landscape and introduce blurred foregrounds; even better do this in conjunction by having something intentional in the bottom of the frame, like foliage. Applied carefully it can really immerse you into a scene, rather than making you feel like a casual observer.
Do you have any tips from Iceland you'd like to share? Just comment below!