Photographing Iceland – What You Need to Know (Part Two)

This article is the second in a 3-part series on photographing the amazing country of Iceland.  Part One provided information on the logistics of planning a trip to Iceland, whereas this one will concentrate on locations to visit (names of places are not written with nordic accents).

What to photograph

There are endless sources of inspiration in Iceland and to do it justice some locations really need to be visited twice – or more.  As landscape photographers, we concentrated primarily on… you guessed it… landscapes!  However, there are also opportunities to capture wildlife, birds, architectural/historical buildings and sculptures, Viking saga sites and the very docile Icelandic horses.  To try and keep it short, we will mainly list landscape locations.  We won’t describe each location in detail but have included a few images from the various regions to whet your appetite.

How long do you have?

During our 5-week trip last year we felt that we allocated enough time at each location to capture its essence.  However, even then, we did not explore the far eastern reaches of Iceland, and we could have easily spent more time in the Westfjords, southern Iceland and the interior highlands.

We assume you are planning a self-drive tour, hiring a 4WD, and have the appropriate equipment (camera, clothing and general supplies) to visit these locations.  We give recommendations only, and are not liable for any injury or damage sustained to your person or equipment if you decide to follow these suggestions!

Top Left: Gullfoss, Top Right: Bruarfoss, Bottom Left: Seljalandsfoss, Bottom Right: Skogafoss

5-7 days

As photographic holidays go, we consider this a fairly short amount of time.  Usually in this timeframe we may try to visit between 2-3 regions, spending somewhere around 2 days for each area.  All of the following are accessible at any time of year, with perhaps the only exception being Dynjandi.

Suggested Itinerary One (heading east of Reykjavik and along the south coast):

Reykjavik, Blue Lagoon (no need to enter the actual building), the waterfalls Bruarfoss, Gullfoss, Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss, Thingvellir National Park, Geysir, rock formation Dyrholaey, the black sand beaches of Vik and surrounds, the mountain Lomagnupur, Skaftafell National Park, the incredible glacier-fed lagoon Jokulsarlon.

Top: Dyrholaey, Middle: Vik, Bottom: Lomagnupur

Suggested Itinerary Two (heading north of Reykjavik and through the western regions):

Reykjavik, Snaefellsjokull National Park, the villages Arnastapi, Hellnar and Breidavik, black sand beaches at Djupalon, the waterfalls Hraunfossar and Barnafoss, the mountain Kirkjufell and its nearby waterfall Kirkjufellsfoss, possibly some of the Westfjords and the mighty waterfall Dynjandi (book a ferry to save driving time to get to the Westfjords).

Top: Svinafell Glacier, Mid: Jokulsarlon (coast), Bottom: Jokulsarlon (lagoon)

10-14 days

The few extra days open up a lot of options.  You could do both of the suggested itineraries as listed above, or if you’re only heading in one direction you could spend the extra days at a more leisurely pace as you head towards either the Westfjords or Jokulsarlon and then explore those destinations more thoroughly.  You will need to check accessibility for some of these locations.

Suggested Itinerary Three (southern coast and highlands):

Add to Itinerary One with a journey to the central highlands (roads permitting) and visit Landmannalaugar, Veidivotn, Hrauneyjar and Hveravellir.  Or, if you wanted to hike the Laugavegur Trail it would also be possible (summer months only) – allow between 4-6 days for the trek and then spend the remaining time in the southern region before taking in the Golden Triangle sights (Thingvellir, Gullfoss and Geysir) as you head back towards Reykjavik.

Top: Landmannalaugar, Mid: Alftavatn, Bottom: Thorsmork

Suggested Itinerary Four (Snaefellnes Peninsula, Westfjords and northern Iceland):

Combine Itinerary Two with a stopover at the rock formation Hvitserkur, visit the waterfalls Godafoss and Aldeyjarfoss, fine dine in Akureyri, and you might even squeeze in Dettifoss (roads allowing), Selfoss and the Myvatn area – if you get this far east it is possible to drive back to Reykjavik in one very long day, or alternatively you can catch a domestic flight from Akureyri.

Clockwise from top left: Dettifoss, Selfoss, Godafoss

Suggested Itinerary Five (Ring Road sights):

It is possible to circumvent the entire country along the Main Ring Road if you have upwards of 10 days, but this limits the number of opportunities you have at each location.  If going in a clockwise direction you can follow Itinerary Four but limit the time spent on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.  Near Myvatn, visit the geothermal areas of Hverir, Krafla and Viti (still classified as ‘active’ volcanic areas), then in the north-east hike to the waterfall Hengifoss, photograph a sunset near Kopasker, discover the friendly horses at Husey and explore the eastern towns of Egilsstadir and Seydisfjordur (which we didn’t get to do).  Come back along the south coast and visit locations listed in Itinerary One.

Top: Hverir, Mid: Krafla, Bottom: Hveravellir

3 weeks

This is quite a decent amount of time, and probably the minimum recommended to provide you with enough photographic opportunities if you really want to concentrate on several regions.  It may even allow for return visits at different times during your holiday to locations where you feel you may not have had adequate time previously.  The following itinerary can be used as a guide, but beware that it will still involve a considerable amount of driving.

Suggested Itinerary Six (approximate timeframes for each area, anti-clockwise around the Ring Road):

Days 1-2: Reykjavik and surrounds (e.g. Golden Triangle)

Days 3-5: Central interior highlands (Landmannalaugar, Veidivotn)

Days 6-9: South to south-eastern Iceland (Vík, Seljalandsfoss, Jokulsarlon)

Days 10-11: East to north-eastern Iceland (Egilsstadir, Seydisfjordur, Husey)

Days 12-14: North-eastern to north Iceland (Myvatn, Kopasker, Akureyri, Dettifoss, Godafoss)

Days 15-18: Westfjords

Days 19-21: Western Iceland (Snaefellnes peninsula, Hraunfossar) and return to Reykjavik

Clockwise from top left: Korpudalur, Dynjandi, Arnafjörður

Over 3 weeks

The country is your oyster!  With over 21 days at your disposal, why not take the time to visit the Westman Islands (Vestmanneyjar) in the south, or Grimsey in the north.  There is definitely enough time to hike the Laugavegur Trail, spend a whole weekend near Jokulsarlon, visit Dettifoss from both sides, chase auroras in the highlands, spend a whole day bird-watching, or take a whale-watching tour off the northern coast.  Your holiday can be taken at a leisurely pace, allowing you two nights or more at each place you pick for your accommodation – which can make it more relaxing and cut down on time you spend packing and unpacking supplies.

Top (L): Puffin, Top (R): Female Ptarmigan, Mid: Sheep, Bottom: Icelandic Horses

Remember to…

Check road accessibility.  This website is an excellent resource and should be readily available to you whilst you are in the country:  The itineraries include locations we visited in both our 2009 and 2010 trips – to have separated them by season would have made for too exhausting a post.  It should be noted that more than a few of the locations listed – especially the interior sights – were inaccessible to us in 2009 due to road closures.

Check the aurora forecast here: .  From late August it may be possible to catch the Aurora Borealis if the activity is high enough from around midnight.  Before then it is still not truly dark and the northern lights, while still around, may not be as visible, especially if there are populated areas nearby.

Keep a notebook to jot down the places you visit… because when you get back you may not remember how to correctly spell the names of the locations!  Of course, you can mark them on your roadmap, but we found we also stopped very often at random places as we were driving from one location to another and some were not always on the map.

I think that’s enough suggestions to get you started on your location planning.  Any questions, feel free to post in comments!



Posted on August 16, 2011, in How we..., Iceland, Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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