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

For those of you waiting patiently for the last in this 3-part series, here it is!  As some of you may know we have been a bit side-tracked with the birth of our baby girl, Charlotte, in the last 5 weeks – and I can’t say I’ve mastered the art of one-handed typing just yet!

This last post was going to be a summary of the key points of the previous two articles, but I think it may be more beneficial instead to run through an equipment list and some last minute tips.  You can find information on general logistics in Part One and some suggested itineraries in Part Two; these will open in a separate window.

What to Bring

Every photographer has different interests, but I will assume that since you are following this blog and have gotten this far in the series that you are primarily interested in nature landscape photography.  Most of the time the wide angle lens is my lens of choice, and its attached to the camera body about 90% of the time.  However, you will find that the vast landscapes in Iceland sometimes require a mid-zoom, or even a moderate telephoto lens to capture details that you will lose in a single wide angle composition.  Here’s a list of some of the key items that we brought along:

Telephoto perspectives condense planes which can emphasise the scale of natural features such as the glacier at Hvitavatn

Camera body:  Yes, a bit silly, of course you need one of these.  If your’s isn’t weather-sealed, you will need to take extra care in the damp environments of the waterfalls you’re going to shoot, and the salty black beaches you’ll be wandering along.

Wide angle lens:  Self-explanatory.

Mid-zoom/telephoto lens: Use the mid-zoom (e.g. 24-70mm) for taking multiple frames to stitch into a panorama, and the telephoto (70-200mm) to really hone in details in the distance.  Dylan sometimes even used a 2x extender attached to the telephoto to get SUPER close-ups.

A Farmstead at the base of Eyjafjallajokull taken with 70-200 with 2X extender

Polarisers:  These are pretty much permanently attached to our lenses.  Great for cutting out glare and increasing saturation and contrast, and one of the filters whose effect cannot yet be replicated by software.

Varying the degree of polarisation can dramatically change the quality of reflected light

Tripod:  Essential for long exposures and getting crisp, sharp images.  If you have a fancy one with legs that can be extended any which way and/or lowered to ground level, it will also allow for unique angles and compositions.  We use a tripod for about 95% of all our images.

A steady tripod is required for sharp long exposure images such as this exposure of Seljalandsfoss

Graduated Neutral Density filters:  A must for controlling exposures, especially for dawn and dusk shooting sessions.  We each have a set of 3 that roughly add up to 9-10 stops between them: my favourite is the Hi-Tech 4-stop soft, whereas Dylan likes to stack a 3-stop and 2-stop combo.

The exposure of skies can be made much more dramatic by use of GND filters

Neutral Density filter:  For those totally boring scenes in the middle of the day, but you won’t have time to return to – sometimes the ND filter can make a difference.  We have a 9-stop and a 10-stop ND to use with the appropriate lens.

Bruarfoss was already beautiful but a dense ND filter gave it an even more dream like quality

Raincover:  You MUST have one of these to shoot the waterfalls and geysirs.  After having to send our 5DMkII for repairs following our first trip to Iceland, we used a raincover any time we got within 50 metres of any water (okay, that’s an exaggeration, but I wanted you to realise how important this point is!).  Even if your camera body is weather-sealed (like the 7D is supposed to be) I still wouldn’t take the chance.

Keep your camera safe from the elements such as the spray from Dettifoss

And because these really added to our comfort:

Waterproof boots:  We lived in our’s.  It sure makes things a lot nicer when you don’t have to contend with wet socks and frozen toes.  Most of the time, anyway.

Waterproof outers:  If you can get your hands on the Goretex Extreme line of gear, you will not regret spending the money on it.  These are windproof as well and when worn over your two thermal layers and fleece, you’ll be nice and toasty at 1am shooting the most awesome aurora you’ve ever seen.

Hanging up the outers at the end of a day's hike

Last Reminders

  • Allow yourself enough time to explore your chosen locations.  There’s nothing worse than having to hurry along and wondering if you’d have got the shot if only you had more time.
  • Try to scout possible locations if you really find that you have more than enough time on your hands.  Try different angles with your setup.  Maybe your first location or composition isn’t the best one.
  • Don’t forget to book your accommodation in advance if you’re thinking of hiking the Laugavegur Trail at the Ferðafélag Íslands website (
  • If you run into trouble with your camera gear, head to Beco in Reyjavik – this store stocks just about everything (the website is in Icelandic, so here’s a link to their Facebook page with their address).
  • Make sure you check road accessibility:
  • Check the aurora forecast here:

The Absolute Last Word…

Accept that you will return to Iceland.  Maybe not for another year or even another 10 years, but you will.  It’s inevitable.

Maybe we’ll see you there.  🙂


See you in Iceland! Perhaps in the cotton fields of Landmannalaugar?

Posted on October 1, 2011, in How we..., Iceland, Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. Fabulous photographs; truly inspiring.

    As a fulltime traveler and fledgling photographer I struggle with how much gear to get and carry along. I guess I’m a traveler first and foremost, but I really want to take the best shots I can. Lugging a lot of camera gear gets in the way of the first part while aiding the second. I see a lot of benefit to having a tripod, a wide angle lens, and increasingly a graduated neutral density filter handy, but I sure don’t like the idea of carrying them.

    How do you balance your ideal list of gear against the practical inconvenience of having all that gear on a trip?

    • It’s a tough call ! For us, since our preferred means of travelling is to self drive the countries we visit, most of the time, it’s only the initial lugging of gear that’s troublesome. The rest of the time, we can dump excess in the car. On hikes, we’ve just become more accustomed to carrying more – up to 10kg more which means alot of extra conditioning beforehand !


  2. Amazing photos, you are very talented, I also love the banner
    And now kind of want to go live there

  3. Iceland is such an amazing place and great for photos – looks like you really enjoyed it!

  4. Wow I love your stuff. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Some stunning images, especially those that have water as a central theme

  6. Hi there, Beautiful images and great content and information,my compliments!

  7. Stunning images and beautiful Landscapes. Stunning color and density control, well done.

  8. Thanks for this great list of tips, and beautiful, inspiring images. I am preparing for a trip to Iceland in next month with a bunch of fellow photographers. I have never done a photography trip like this, so the suggestions you provided are very helpful! Cheers!

  9. Hi, we’re going to visit Iceland soon. I loved your pictures and am inspired by them. I just bought a new wide angle lens, and I’m debating which filters to get for it. I noticed that you used circular polarizers a lot? I’m surprised by that, having read that with wide angle lenses a circular polarizer will lead to non-uniform skies and such. You disagree then?

    • Tom, clear skies and shooting 90 degrees to the light source will lead to trouble. In that case I would take an image with the polariser effect on for the foreground and then off for the sky. With the waterfalls in abundance in Iceland, the polariser would be essential to reduce glare.

  10. I am heading to Iceland in October and am very much a beginner with my DSLR. I have a 35/1.8 prime lens and a 70-300mm telephoto and was considering getting a wide-angle. Do you think the 35mm prime will work for the majority of my needs or should I get a wide-angle just in case?

    Also, I’ve never had the opportunity to photograph moving water before. Any general suggestion for shutter speed needed to get the soft look of the waterfalls? Also, is there an f-stop that you found yourself using for dreary rainy days with no sun?

  11. Hi! love the photos, and a nice succinct article.
    You mention the importance of raincover – what exactly do you use for the camera? what is essential to cover? I will be travelling there with my partner in the next year, so have time to get essentials!

    • Sorry for the late reply. We use a Kata 702 rain cover which covers body and lens. It’s not 100% necessary but a safe way to ensure that you don’t come across unecessary technical hurdles during your travels.

  12. I’m now not positive the place you are getting your information, but good topic.
    I needs to spend some time learning more or figuring out more.
    Thanks for excellent info I was searching for this information for my mission.

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