Photography in Iceland
Often referred to as 'the Land of Fire and Ice', Iceland is a geological anomaly. It sits atop the fault line that created the Atlantic Ocean, and both benefits and suffers from some of the most impressive volcanic activity anywhere in the world.
The 'otherwordly' look of much of Iceland's terrain would be a sufficient draw for many photographers. The island's high latitude also generates additional interest, with harsh winters, long summer days with incredible 'night' skies and, for the patient or lucky, the aurora borealis Northern Lights.. No wonder that the land is steeped with tales of magic and mystery - and is home to that great literay body of work, the Sagas.
We can only describe the photographic opportunities in Iceland in general terms - there are just too many - so we do this in two stages. First, we look at the many landscape opportunities around the island, and then by considering each of the other styles of photography that visitors are likely to want to explore.
Landscapes are the bread and butter for photographers visiting Iceland. Many of the prime locations are covered below but there will always be others to be discovered, or that will appear only to the lucky few, blessed by unusual weather and/or light. Good luck!
West Iceland (Vesturland)
The prime location in this sector, and arguably of the whole island, is Kirkjufellsfoss, a waterfall under Kirkjufell ('church mountain') a distinctive steeple of a peak. This lies near Grundarfjörður on the north coast of the Snæfellsnes peninsula, an area rich in landscape opportunities. Within a radius of just 40km are notable venues including:
- the interesting lava field at Berserkjahraun;
- a magnificent church at Búðir;
- the incredible volcanic rock formations near Anarstapi;
- twin pinnacles further round at Lóndrangar; and
- the lighthouse on the rugged Svörtuloft headland.
Further inland, the area around Bifrost also has a number of good options, including the lonely Baula mountain and the series of waterfalls beyond Reykholt.
Those with much time on their hands might consider adding a visit to the Westfjords though this is not advisable in winter when roads could be impassable. To avoid the long drive, in one direction at least, it is worth considering the ferry from Stykkishólmur to Brjanslaekur via Flatey Island. The westernmost point of Iceland at Látrabjarg is noted as a sea-bird colony and is home to millions of puffins, northern gannets, guillemots and razorbills.
Remaining sectors to follow soon.
For another guide to Iceland's ring road, read Gary Waidson's adventures in Iceland. The pages are scattered with information, humour and inspirational shots.
Iceland may not be rich in streets but it does have thriving communities and anyone stretching the definition of this genre will be able to find opportunities to record ways of life that are very different (so bordering on the documentary/narrative style). For instance:
- fishing communities such as that on Vestmannaeyjar
- whaling in Hvalfjörður (Whale Fjord)
- Icelandic pony racing at Akureyri
The opportunities for bird photography are considerable, especially for anyone with the time to get to the remote Westfjords.
The short Iceland summers are rich in wildflower blooms and anyone willing to put in a little legwork should be able to find interesting opportunities for either landscapes with wildflower foregrounds, or macro photography.
In a land with so few people it is not surprising that there is little in the way of substantial architecture, especially outside of Reykjavik. Those up for the challenge may enjoy searching out the churches and ancient turf houses that are so characteristic of the land, or to visit the remote headlands where bright lighthouses are an anomaly against the cliffs and frequently dramatic skies.
Preparing to go
General travel advice for photographers
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