Iceland’s topography of volcanic lava fields, mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, and black-sand beaches makes it a photographer’s dream and nightmare all in one. It is so incredible to the point where there is too much to photograph, and if you are not disciplined you will stop every five minutes to take a picture.
I recently spent six nights exploring and photographing Iceland with my photography workshop partner, Vincent Croos. We had a very basic plan that allowed for a lot of flexibility. We took a lot of images, met a lot of interesting people, and had an amazing time in the land of the midnight sun.
Should you be considering a photography trip to Iceland during the summer, here are my tips for a successful trip.
All photos by the author.
1. Have a rough plan.
Itineraries are not for everybody, myself included. However, having a basic idea of places you want to see and photograph will help your journey unfold. Six nights is long enough to complete the 1332km Icelandic ring road, however that would also mean more driving and less photographing. I knew from the start, I wanted to get from Reykjavik as far South East as the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. This would allow for long stops in places of interest, allow hikes, and generally not feel rushed, and should the weather not be favourable, allow us to stop again in the return leg of the journey.
2. Make a basic image list.
Even with a very basic itinerary, having a rough idea of the kind of images you want to make will help your journey. For example I had laid out some of the following:
- Specific waterfalls
- Landmarks within a city
- Wild animals such as Icelandic horses
- Black-sand beaches and the glacier lagoon
3. Travel in a camper van
As a travel photographer, I like to be free to explore at my leisure. A camper van allows the freedom to drive and explore whatever photographic opportunities presented themselves, at whatever time of day, rather than keeping to the check-in/out times of hostels or hotels. We could also stop and sleep pretty much wherever we wanted too.
During your trip, it is nice to book a hostel or hotel every now and again to freshen up, meet people, and take advantage of free wifi, parking, and breakfast.
4. Travel with a like-minded individual.
Initially, I was going on this trip alone. I was planning on setting up points whereby I could keep in contact with people to let them know that I was ok. However, travelling a country with limited cell phone service, it worked out great that Vincent was able to join me.
Vincent and I host photography workshops in the Toronto area and so we knew that our portfolio would benefit from this trip. It helped to share the costs, the driving, have different music and different image ideas. It also meant that after the trip, there would be pictures of me, which is something I rarely have.
5. Take warm clothes and wet weather gear.
Make sure you pack long johns, base layers, waterproofs, and a hat. We were there in June, the height of summer. This meant 24 hours of sunshine and yet it still gets cold, especially at nighttime. Also, wind is not conveyed in images, and it does get very windy. When renting a vehicle, they stress that you have to open doors carefully because the wind has damaged a lot of rental cars through catching open doors. It does rain a lot, so make sure you take wet weather gear for you and your camera equipment. This will also come in handy when exploring all the beautiful waterfalls. You and your equipment will get wet, but being prepared helps and it’s worth it.
6. Shop duty-free.
Iceland is notoriously expensive, especially in the main city of Reykjavík. A little duty free experience before arrival can make the purchase of alcohol a little more tolerable. Averaging around $10 for a small beer, can find your money disappearing fast. For our trip, Vincent found a special Explorers Edition of Johnny Walker. It was perfect to warm us up after a long day of exploring.
7. Take lots of memory cards, batteries, and a rocket blower.
Memory is cheap these days so carry plenty of cards, and external hard disks for back ups. Go for whatever size and speed you can afford. Back them up to your computer at the end of the day and file the card. Use a fresh card each day to help you keep everything in order. Keep spare batteries in your jacket to warm them and for easy access. Make sure your camera / equipment are water sealed and can stand up to the elements. When shooting outside (most of my time) I always keep my rocket blower in my pocket. A rocket blower can blow water debris off your lens instead of breathing on it and fogging up your lens.
8. Go to the Blue Lagoon to take a load off.
Iceland has countless epic sceneries and photographic opportunities, but take a moment to relax. Remember, this is your vacation time, and so you should take a moment to relax and do nothing. I really enjoyed every moment of Iceland’s number one tourist destination. It is a beautiful spot and the water is glorious. We spent three hours floating, drinking, and mingling with people. It really was the most relaxing part of the trip. Surprisingly, cameras are welcome and encouraged (except in the changing rooms, of course) so Vincent and I took our GoPros and left the big cameras at home that day.
9. Utilize social media.
Instagram is my favourite tool in social media. I prefer the simplicity of just photographs. Looking at the different hashtags showed me different places and enabled me to pick and choose photographic spots on my way.
The hashtags we use cross all platforms of social media, and I used three specific hashtags so that people could follow the journey:
- #paulies365 — I am currently in the middle of posting one picture a day and this is the hashtag that I use
- #explorewithpaul — I post this after every image as I want people to explore through my images
- #vincentandpaulexplore — When Vincent and myself are on a trip or hosting a workshop, we post with this hashtag.
There were a variety of Iceland-specific hashtags we saw and utilized on our adventure such as @icelandair #mystopover to highlight the social media project by Iceland Air that is running right now.
10. Fly with Iceland Air.
I really enjoyed my time with Iceland Air. On my first leg of the journey, I sat in my window seat and the lights went out. They then have an Aurora Borealis light show in the ceiling for the duration of the journey. It was very soothing. There is a charge for food and alcohol, but they do allow TWO checked bags, so it allows you to take both regular and warm clothes (I line my bags with tripods). Iceland Air is currently offering up to seven nights stopover free of charge and I would highly recommend using them (no, I was not compensated from them for writing this).
This article originally appeared on Paul K. Porter Photography and is republished here with permission.
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