Iceland, the very name causes a shiver as you conger up a view of this harsh and rugged country. Located midway between Scotland and Greenland between the North Atlantic and the Sea of Greenland, this island nation is a relic of Nordic exploration and conquest.
We were fortunate to visit Iceland in September 2014 for a 2 1/2 week photo shoot. Seeing an entire country the size of Kentucky (or half the size of Wyoming) in a short time requires significant advanced planning. After reading the tour guides, searching the web, and speaking with two friends who each visited more than once, we decided to rent a small RV so we could haul gear and stay at a location to shoot in the evening, night, and early morning allowing us to travel between sites during the mid-day. It was a perfect choice.
Because of our short time table and the fact that an active volcano threatened to close a large portion of the island, we chose to limit our travel to the south coast, the western peninsula, and the north coast skipping the east and northeast coasts and the remote north western peninsula. It took only a few minutes of driving to realize that this rural, volcanic land gave visitors opportunities to visit small villages with tiny churches, majestic coast lines, towering waterfalls, mountains, and huge glaciers all in a couple of hundred miles of driving.
Wild rivers and streams with spectacular waterfalls are literally everywhere in Iceland, not just the dozens of named falls that are popular tourist attractions but hundreds of unnamed falls that are equally magnificent. Nearly every farm in the sparsely populated agricultural areas is at the base of its own waterfall. When planning a photographic visit one needs to think of camera and wide angle lenses but also a good tripod, neutral density filters, and cable shutter release for dreamy, long-exposure shots.
Iceland is not a place with abundant wildlife so a long telephoto lens is not necessary. However, at certain times of the year sea birds are common so an avid avian photographer might want to bring the long glass. The beautiful Icelandic ponies and the hilarious, overly hirsute sheep may be other reasons to bring a moderate telephoto lens.
In addition to the rugged landscape and many waterfalls, I wanted to capture the harsh glaciers and a unique freshwater lagoon of icebergs calving from the Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður glacier. Yes, Icelandic is a difficult language (!) but nearly everyone speaks perfect English.
The last item on my shooting list was almost too much to hope for, the Northern lights. As luck would have it, cold, rainy, windy weather prevailed almost the entire trip but by totally dumb luck and no planning or forethought, we found ourselves camped at the iceberg lagoon on the night of a full moon and relatively clear skies. I hoped to capture the bergs by moonlight. After some early test shots I went to bed for a few hours and awoke at midnight. I put on about 5 layers to survive the wind and frigid temperatures and stumbled out of the RV with a full pack of gear for night photography. I shot the full moon over the landscape and the lagoon and then set out to capture the bergs in the cold blue water. After about 20 minutes of shooting my eyes had finally adjusted to the light and I notices strange clouds in the northern sky. The clouds were actually a phenomenal aurora borealis.
Our trip was complete - great hiking, mountains, glaciers, rivers, waterfalls, and the northern lights.
Plan your trip, Icelandic Airlines has direct flights from Denver and the east coast at very reasonable cost. The people are friendly, the scenery beautiful, and the variety of photographic opportunities is amazing.
For many more images in color and monochrome, please check out the Iceland gallery on this site.