10 tips when doing landscape photography in Iceland

Over the years I've been getting plenty of questions about photography in Iceland. In this blog article, I've tried to answer one of those questions: "What should I keep in mind when doing landscape photography in Iceland?".

I've decided to share my top 10 list of what I think is important and I keep in mind myself when I'm out capturing the Icelandic landscape. I hope you find it useful and keep an eye out for more of these articles in the future!

Me at work on Snæfellsnes - © Dirk Annemans

1. Bring a sturdy tripod

You might have heard this before but Iceland can be a very, very windy place. It’s vital to use a sturdy tripod when doing landscape photography so you’re sure your gear is secure and stable, even in the windiest of places. Even when using a sturdy tripod, be mindful of the conditions you’re in. This is especially important when you plan on doing long exposure shots – oh, and don’t forget your remote control.

Gýjarfoss, a waterfall, on the road to Kerlingarfjöll in the Highlands.

2. Make sure you and your camera are waterproof

Iceland is not only a windy place but rain is also not uncommon. Make sure you’re wearing water- and windproof clothing. Rain is not the only issue you might encounter. If you plan on taking a closer look at that waterfall, be prepared for spray coming from the waterfall. This is especially important when there’s sub-zero conditions in winter time. I’ve had it happen to me before that the spray from a waterfall I was photographing, froze on my camera body and lens.

A close-up of Sjávarfoss in Hvalfjörður, Iceland. It's a small waterfall but always worth a detour when you don't feel like driving through a tunnel

3. Don’t endanger yourself (or others)

Wherever you plan to take photos, always be mindful of your surroundings and the weather conditions you’re in. Use your common sense and don’t ignore warning signs. When it’s really windy, don’t venture to close to the edge of a cliff – a sudden gust really could sweep you away. If there’s one thing I have learned over the years: listen to locals – they know the area a lot better and have probably experienced the very different weather conditions out there. Don’t stop in the middle of the road to get that perfect shot but make sure you pull over the car on a parking spot or similar. Be aware of storm warnings and road closures by checking the Safe Travel Iceland websiteevery morning while travelling.

Always remember: no matter how much you want that particular shot, don’t risk your life for it. Photographs are so much better when you’re able to show them afterwards.

A beautiful blue ice cave underneath Breiðamerkurjökull, a glacier tongue of Vatnajökull.

4. Bring a wide-angle lens

This probably goes without saying but don’t forget your wide-angle lens. A wide-angle lens can be used to make the surroundings look more vast and impressive. I would say a 17-35mm lens on a full-frame body or a 10-20mm on a crop sensor body will get you a long way.

When you’re a bird or animal photographer, of course don’t forget your telephoto lens.

Nothing beats being away from the city lights in an almost deserted location to spend the night and witness this show - and that on my birthday!

5. Take (& use) your time…

Don’t be too optimistic and fill up your travel schedule with an impossible amount of locations. Quality of the time you spend, is more important than quantity of locations. Instead, take your time and stay a bit longer at fewer locations to make sure you capture the best possible conditions on that day. In Iceland, the light and weather conditions can change rapidly – which could make that shot you’re trying to take a lot more impressive. Don’t forget that in summer, there’s daylight for almost 24 hours – use that!

A late summer sunset in a swamp on Skagafjörður. I went in totally unprepared but the wet feet were worth the shots I was able to take. The sunset in late summer can be so fiery red that they don't look real.

6. …and do some research in advance

Researching your locations in advance allows you to save time when on the road so you get to photograph longer. Make sure you know how to get there, know what else there might be to see at that location and figure out when to be there. Look at what others have photographed there so you know in advance what the possibilities are. Ideally, you could also make up a list of certain shots and angles you would want to try out.

One helpful tool I always use when researching is called The Photographer’s Ephemeris. It’s basically a map that can show you where the sun/moon/milky way will be positioned on a certain day and at a certain time. It’s very helpful because you can plan when to be where according to the best possible conditions. Planning goes a long way if you do it thorough.

This was shot during a late December sunset along the south coast of the Reykjanes peninsula in Iceland. The colours during an Icelandic sunset in winter are just beyond amazing.

7. Keep your gear clean

Bring a cloth and other cleaning equipment to clean your lens and camera! In some places, there can be quite a lot of dust flying around when it’s windy or, after you experienced rain, there might be dirty spots on your lens. It’s a good idea to make it a habit to check your camera before stepping out of the car and clean it if needed. Nothing’s worse than taking that great capture, coming home and find out it’s ruined by dirt spots on the lens.

The cliffs at Látrabjarg in the West Fjords are a sight to behold. This is the western most point of Iceland and Europe.

8. Keep an eye on the weather conditions

Like the locals say: “If you don’t like the Icelandic weather, just wait 5 minutes.” While the weather might not change exactly every 5 minutes, there’s definitely truth in that sentence. The weather in Iceland can be very unpredictable. Make sure you’re aware of what kind of weather you might experience every day so you’re not caught in surprise. If the forecast for a certain area is bad, you might want to change your schedule to spend more time where the forecast is said to be better. The best place to check the weather forecast for Iceland is the Veðurstofa Íslands website– don’t look at your phone’s built-in weather app. It’s probably not as accurate.

Important note: the forecast is usually not accurate more than 2 days in the future. Check the forecast again every day!

When driving into Þórsmörk you will need to cross many rivers. Not every one is quite as spectacular as this one though. It makes me feel like a kid getting a new toy when I get to drive through these.

9. Move around and try different compositions

I’ve seen a lot of photographer’s in the field who stay put and keep taking the same shot in the same composition over and over again or even try to recreate someone else’s shot. Don’t be like that! Move around, explore different positions and try out different angles. If you planned your trip by looking at other people’s photographs, make sure you know what compositions have been done a million times and do something different.

This amazing waterfall is called Háifoss and is approxamitely 122 meters high. It's hidden away in a canyon in the highlands. Have you been up there?

10. Enjoy the moment as much as photographing the landscape

Don’t experience your trip in Iceland through your camera’s lens only. Make sure you take as much time being there as capturing the moment. Iceland is an amazing and beautiful country!

One of the favorite places for many photographers. The black beach near Jökulsárlón looks like an otherworldly place.

Any questions?

If you have any questions about photography in Iceland or you want to see me cover another topic about photography in Iceland, let me know in the comment section below!