Iceland is an incredible destination for all travellers, but for photographers, it’s the holy grail. It’s almost guaranteed that you can point your lens anywhere and you’ll end up with a great photo. That being said, if you do your research and follow these essential tips for where to take the best photos in Iceland, you’ll end up with incredible photos that you will cherish for a lifetime.
Travel to: Iceland
Do your research before you go
Iceland is like nowhere else you’ll ever visit. This volcanic island in the middle of nowhere produces some of the most extreme weather this side of Europe. The more research you do before you go, the better prepared you’ll be for each location, giving you the advantage over other photographers. Elements such as potential angles, time of day and equipment choice will all benefit from this planning.
Iceland has so much to photograph and it can be all too easy to get sucked into shooting the same locations as other photographers. It’s important to put your own style into each location and make sure you come home with unique photographs that represent your trip (and your own personal style).
Best time to visit Iceland
Before you start thinking about what photographs you want to capture, it’s important to consider when to go (as this will heavily influence the outcome of your photos). Iceland offers a totally different photographic experience all year round. Travel in the winter and you’ll experience the incredible northern lights, and if you travel in summer and you’ll experience the midnight sun phenomena which provides endless hours of golden light. Once you’ve decided when you’d like to go, it’s time to start planning out the spots to visit.
See Also: Visiting Iceland in Summer Vs Winter
Where to take the best photos in Iceland
If you’re wondering where to take the best photos in Iceland, these are the places you need to add to your list. Hint: bookmark this article before you head overseas!
It goes without saying that all of Iceland’s waterfalls are breathtaking, however, one of the best to photograph (and visit) was Dettifoss, otherwise known as Iceland’s most powerful waterfall.
Top tip: There are two vantage points to witness the extreme amount of water flowing. Try approaching it from the far side rather than the more popular entrance. Fewer people access the waterfall from this side and it gives a more open view of the landscape.
Another incredible spot was Skaftarhreppur, an incredibly large valley that is one of the most underrated photographic spots in Iceland.
Top tip: Once you’ve reached the valley, there is a path right to the top which gives the best overall view. It is worth the hike, however, try shooting it from the middle viewing point. By photographing from this lower vantage point it is possible to use the people up the top to show scale. This is important, otherwise, there is no measuring point to represent the sheer size of Skaftarhreppur.
Iceland’s notorious Black Church, located on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is a truly spectacular destination. Built on a bed of solidified lava, Búðakirkja is a photographers dream. The Black Church stands out from its landscape, offering an incredible juxtaposition from any angle.
Top tip: Make sure you visit during the golden hours of the morning in summer or use the church as an interesting foreground under the northern lights (if you’re lucky). Use interesting light and composition to set your photo apart from other photographers work. Also, work with the texture of the volcanic rock or maybe even frame it within the mountains in the background to tell a larger story.
The town of Höfn is a small coastal village in Iceland’s west. Höfn is perfect for those wanting to add some smaller towns to their photographic itinerary. The busy docks are alive with boats and fisherman frequently departing and arriving. This offers great opportunities for photographers looking to snap the action or maybe grab a quick portrait. Höfn also has a diner by the name of Hafnarbuðin. It’s a small American diner against the docks but they serve brilliant and simple meals for cheap (by Icelandic standards). Bonus points for the lovely staff. Well worth the stop if you’re in the area.
Top tip: Not photography related, but you need to try anything lobster-related while you’re here as the area is well known for it and it’s delicious.
Grettislaug is one of the most northern hot springs you can visit. It is a terrific spot frequented by locals in the area and rewards those who venture down the long road to get there. The drive itself gives incredible views of the Skagfjordur and also a great opportunity to get up close to photograph the ever so photogenic Icelandic Horses.
Once you reach the end of the road you have the opportunity to photograph some non-commercial turf houses, unlike the ones found in Akureyri. These ones are set between the ocean and a towering mountain. This is a very traditional spring and a great chance to experience authentic Icelandic culture.
Top tip: Grettislaug is located just outside the arctic circle and amenities are scarce. This is part of the charm of Grettislaug but make sure you are prepared, it’s a cold dash between the change rooms and the pool!
Akureyrarkirkja is a visual representation of religion in Iceland and its position is important to be noted. Whether you are a religious person or not, it is hard to go past Akureyrarkirkja as a photographic gem. The bold lines in the architecture provide stunning visuals, whether you’re a seasoned professional or a newbie, it is a great place to try your hand at architectural photography. Take a walk around and find your favourite angle. You could even use other buildings to help frame the image or to show scale.
Top tip: Try to photograph Akureyrarkirkja either very early in the morning or late in the dusk when the light is very soft. This will help ensure you minimise the crowd in your photo and will help soften shadows formed by harsh light, this is typically something all architectural photographers do. As an added incentive to get out of bed early, interesting skies during dawn or dusk will help aid your interesting composition.
Let’s keep with the theme of incredible Icelandic churches for a moment. Egilsstaðakirkja, located in Egilsstaðir is one of the most incredible buildings around. It rises above the small town and the lake looking at an incredible mountain range. Egilsstaðakirkja is something otherworldly and is a must-visit location in Iceland.
Top tip: Try to emphasise the scale of the building whilst showing it in its arid surroundings. This building is truly unique so photograph it however it best presents to you.
You need to visit Borgarfjörður. This is one for the wildlife photographers and bird lovers. Borgarfjörður is a fantastic spot to check out the very cheeky Atlantic Puffin! These birds and incredibly quick so bring your best autofocus game but the layout of the nesting area provides plenty of opportunities to get quite close to these creatures.
Top tip: Puffins can bite, so give them plenty of space and bring your longest lens! 300mm and above work the best from the Borgarfjörður nest. Try and frame the birds away from the horizon line and work with a clean background if possible.
9. Savitarfelagio Hornafjordur
One of the most beautiful destinations is Savitar Felagio Hornafjordur. A towering mountain overlooking one of Iceland’s black beaches. The monochromatic landscape and the presence of the mountain made for some incredible photographs.
Top tip: When we visited the light was very flat can help to create a gloomy mood within the shots, something which you might want to try to look for.
Essential camera gear to pack for Iceland
Iceland is notorious for its unpredictable weather so make sure you come prepared. Whilst it is not essential, consider packing a camera with a large sensor, lenses covering at least 24-105mm and weather sealing. Weather sealing is a very important factor to consider as it will dictate if you can go out in the worst weather and still get the shot.
In addition, make sure you travel with a sturdy travel tripod, extra batteries, UV, Circular Polarizer, Neutral Density filters and a weather resistant bag. I found myself working with a set of Neutral Density filters along with a polarizer filter to give my photos a unique look. Filters are a cheap way to change the outcome of your photos whilst still giving remarkable control over the final product and are an essential part of any photography kit. Each set of filters offers their own benefits. Circular Polarizer filters are designed to cut down on reflections on glass and water whilst also adding extra contrast which will give you the look of smooth seas or silky waterfalls.
Also, if a quality camera is out of the budget, consider renting equipment for the duration of your trip. Or, if you’re more of a Smartphone fan, make sure you read our guide on how to photograph the northern lights with a smartphone.
For my trip, I chose to bring with me a Canon 5D4, 16-35mm and 24-70mm but often wished for something longer, perhaps a 70-200mm or even a 100-400mm.
See Also: Best Cameras for Hiking and Trekking
Make the most of the light when shooting
The light offered in Iceland is second to none. Visit during winter and you’ll be rewarded with beautiful colour dancing across the skies. Visit in summer and you’ll experience a golden hour that lasts for hours both as the sun rises and as the sun sets. We were lucky to experience some incredible night during our first night and as a result, I took my favourite photograph of all time.
As we drove through the Snæfellsnes Peninsular in the east we were treated to the most incredible sunset where parcels of light pierced holes through the clouds, enveloping the town of Grundarfjörður in golden light.
See Also: Should I Visit Iceland?
Start a photography project in Iceland
Before travelling to Iceland, I wasn’t sure what sort of photographs I wanted to make. Being an architectural photographer, I immediately took to photographing houses along the Ring Road. I photographed over 200 houses, stopping along the way and exploring small towns to find some unique homes. As I travelled around, I noticed that isolated houses within a vast environment interested me the most, which I then turned into the small book that I printed locally.
Don’t be afraid to start a photography project in Iceland and watch it grow when you return home. Share it with a local gallery. Create a book. Print off the images and frame them for your family and friends or anything that sparks your creative imagination from your travels. Shooting a project is very meaningful and will help you come away with unique images.
Iceland travel tips
- Make Google Maps your best friend
Once you’ve prepared a list of the best sights and scenes of Iceland, start entering them on Google Maps. This will give you an indication of how you will plan the travel between each sight and give you access to this information offline. This one is a super tip as reception in Iceland can be sketchy and you don’t want to wander aimlessly until you find your location.
- Drive along the Ring Road
A trip around Iceland is not the easiest adventure, but it’s absolutely worth it. Preparation certainly is key. Make sure you’ve got loads of warm clothes, lots of food and water and a portable charger for your camera. Major towns in Iceland will have small supermarkets where you can stock up on all the basics but bare in mind due to the isolation of Iceland, fresh ingredients can be expensive and difficult to come by. Some have a full kitchen where you can order pizza and other dishes, whereas others are just for refuelling your car.
Iceland truly rewards those who are organised and those who are prepared to explore the country from coast to coast searching for incredible photographs.