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Rough Guide

A Rough Guide to Icelandic Photography Locations

with Bragi Ingibergsson and Trevor Cole

Iceland is a dream destination for any landscape photographer. Two photographers share their guide to getting the most out of your Iceland pictures

'Moods of the Vestrahorn' by Trevor Cole, Nikon D800, 14-24mm, 1/50sec at f/13, ISO 400

Iceland presents unique landscapes for any photographer. It is close to the Arctic Circle, its volcanic origins are apparent all over the country and the majority of places are sparsely populated, meaning you're unlikely to run into many people. Landscape photographer Trevor Cole and Iceland resident Bragi Ingibergsson are two Photocrowd photographers who have created stunning images of the country.

'Iceland is a landscape of contradictions,' says Bragi. 'It's rough and raw yet also full of fine details. It's possible to find geothermal heat and ice in the same spot. You can go from high mountains right down to green and beautiful valleys with a view over the blue sea in the fjords. And you can also see magnificent glaciers, beautiful waterfalls and spouting geysers. The weather conditions are often unpredictable so you can witness various conditions of light in the same area on the same day.'

1. Make an itinerary of areas to visit

If you're staying closer to Reykjavik, as many first-time visitors do, the attractions are largely found around the 'Golden Circle', a popular tourist route. Here you'll see Þingvellir National Park, the Gullfoss waterfall and the geothermal area in Haukadalur where you'll find two famous geysers: Geysir and Strokkur.

Some other recommendations when visiting Iceland include:

– the rugged peaks of the Vestrahorn

– the black sand beaches near Stokksnes

– the glacial lagoon and ice-strewn beaches at Jökulsárlón

– the waterfalls of Svartifoss, Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss.

'The Day's Last Rays' by Bragi Ingibergsson

'The coastal landforms in the vicinity of Vik are worth considering,' says Trevor. 'These include the Reynisdrangar sea stacks and the sea arches at Dyrholaey. If you visit the black beach at Sólheimasandur you'll find the famous wreckage of the United States Navy plane which in 1973 ran out of fuel and crashed on the beach.'

'Landed and Left Alone' by Trevor Cole, Nikon D800, 14-24mm, 1/200sec at f/13, ISO 250

The navy plane can sometimes be easy to miss so it's worth visiting this website for details on how exactly to find it.

Bragi recommends you visit the Snæfellsnes peninsula in western Iceland, a place he has visited many times. He also suggests the Westfjords, a landscape that offers incredible vistas of verdant green.

2. Explore Iceland's hidden gems

If you're looking for something a little less familiar, Trevor recommends Aldeyjarfoss, an off-the-beaten-path waterfall in North Iceland. The waterfall is accessible on a two-hour detour from Godafoss and offers alien-looking landscapes with strangely-shaped basalt columns.

'Another great location is the stack at Hvítserkur, a 15-metre-high sea stack just off-shore on the eastern side of Vatnsnes,' says Trevor. 'If waterfalls appeal, there are also the turquoise falls at Bruarfoss and Hraunfossar. If you travel in summer, a visit to the Askja crater in a remote part of the central highlands is more than worthwhile.'

'Waterfall of the Gods' by Trevor Cole, 14-24mm, 10secs at f/22, ISO 31

3. Decide which season is right for you

It's worth visiting Iceland in autumn in order to experience the extraordinary colours of the landscapes, though peak tourist time for Iceland is the summer season. In these months, visitors will experience warmer weather and witness the midnight sun, where the country is bathed in sunlight for up to 24 hours a day. The peak of this event begins around 21 June and can be seen from every area of Iceland. It also means you can visit locations very early or very late and avoid crowds around popular spots.

Trevor says the winter season is certainly worth considering as the clear blue skies are unsurpassed. It's also the season in which to see the Northern Lights. However, be aware that heavy snowfall can impede travel and roads may become inaccessible.

'Fall' by Bagi Ingibergsson

4. Capture the country's unique light

One thing that keeps photographers going back to Iceland time and again is the light. Both Bragi and Trevor say that the strong light of the sun casts the otherwise cold environment in warm tones. Additionally, the low angle of the sun offers strong raking light that we here in the UK generally only see a few times a year. This natural illumination gives the strange and fantastical features of the Icelandic landscape an almost cinematic quality.

'The Vestahorn' by Trevor Cole, Nikon D800, 14-24mm, 1/40sec at f/11, ISO 200

5. Use a fast lens to photograph the Aurora Borealis

'An aurora display is something to hope for but is never guaranteed,' says Trevor. 'I always use the Icelandic weather site which has an aurora forecast. The site also predicts cloud cover and therefore the possibility of a sighting.'

If you're shooting the Northern Lights, it is imperative to remember that what you see is not the same as what the camera sees. The camera picks up colours the eye cannot see or only sees a little of, so the display on your LCD screen will look a little different to what you see with your eyes.

As Trevor shoots with a fast lens - a Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 - he is able to keep his ISO relatively low and lessens the risk of noise in the image. It is also recommended that you shoot with a shutter of around 20secs. This means that any stars in your shot will remain as dots and not streak. Also set your lens to infinity to ensure maximum sharpness.

'Aurora Borealis' by Bragi Ingibergsson

6. Accurately expose for snowy conditions

One thing to learn is how to accurately expose for snow - you'll be surrounded by it. As your camera looks to expose everything as a middle grey, you'll need to take control.

Exposure Compensation

If you're shooting in either shutter or aperture priority, you can bump up your exposure by using the exposure compensation dial. Around +2 should be enough to make the whites truly white, and to be more certain you can always check the histogram for an image. If there's a lot of snow in your image then you'd expect to see a peak in the information towards the far right of the histogram.

Grey Card and Spot Metering

Another trick, though less popular these days, is spot metering off a grey card. Simply hold your grey card in front of the lens, making sure it fills up the frame, and then metre from that. This will determine the exposure from a specific spot rather than attempting to determine average brightness levels. Then you simply compose your shot and take your image.

Light Meter

Alternatively, you could consider investing in a light meter. Sekonic models are still the most popular brands and older models, such as the L-308S, can be found cheap on e-Bay.

'Sinuosity' by Trevor Horn, Nikon D750, 70-200mm, 1/1000sec at f/8, ISO 320

7. Keep your kit protected from the elements

The cold, windy and dusty conditions of Iceland can play havoc with your camera and lenses if they're not protected. Trevor uses an F-Stop camera backpack which has a waterproof cover. He also relies on the fact that the cameras he uses (Nikon D810 and D850) are well sealed from rain and dust. Bragi uses a Tamrac backpack, which he says is strong, comfortable and waterproof.

Keeping your camera in a bag will also solve the problem of your lenses fogging up as your bag should keep out warm moist air. This can be a problem when you're moving from the warmth of a vehicle into the cold air and back again.

Iceland's weather can be unpredictable so purchase a rain cover for your camera. This will keep the rain out and prevent water getting on your lens.

'Volcanic Eruption' by Bragi Ingibergsson

8. Invest in a sturdy tripod

The terrain of Iceland can be rough and uneven so invest in a decent tripod and, if budget allows, a ballhead such as the Arca Swiss. A carbon-fibre tripod will stand up to the heavy winds of Iceland and keep your camera in place if you're shooting long exposures. Carbon-fibre models are also light meaning it's easy to hike around with one in tow.

'Iconic Skogafoss' by Trevor Cole, Nikon D810, 24-70mm, 13secs at f/18, ISO 31

9. Wrap up warm to shield yourself from the cold

Both Bragi and Trevor point out that it's also very important to have some appropriate clothes for the season and weather conditions.

'I wear a North Face down jacket, stealth gear trousers and full merino wool thermals,' says Trevor. 'I have gloves, a woolly hat and also use Peacock hand warmers, which last all day. Anyone who suffers from the cold should invest in these. I also wear good hiking boots and take thermally insulated wellingtons to protect myself from wave action and that allow me access to shallow water in rivers.'

'Storm Over Mt. Kirkjufell' by Bragi Ingibregsson

10. Book a place on a photo tour

If you're not looking forward to going it alone in a country you're unfamiliar with, then book a place on a photo tour. One particularly good place to visit is Iceland Photo Tours, which offers a variety of services including midnight sun workshops, Aurora and ice cave workshops and autumn tours.

You should also consider:

'Himalayan Grandeur' by Trevor Cole

Bragi Ingibergsson
Trevor Cole

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