The Ultimate Photographer’s Guide to Traveling Iceland
Craving adventure in the Northern Highlands? Here's your one-stop guide to traveling and photographing Iceland.
From tales of its vastness and raw volcanic beauty to its infinite waterfalls and roaming sheep and horses, Iceland is a destination that lures many visitors. To ensure you have the best experience possible, here are key pointers to consider: when to go, what to bring, and the must-see places.
1. Where To Go in Iceland?
When deciding where to go in Iceland, it's essential to consider the ever-changing weather and seasons. One moment you may find yourself in a sunny place, the next engulfed by a harsh storm. Temperatures fluctuate from winter to summer, and some locations can only be accessed for part of the year due to the snow.
Summer months provide more accessibility to the Highlands but are often busier and more expensive.
Winter proposes a different perspective, as you'll mostly be limited to main roads unless you're on a Super Jeep Tour (well worth it!).
From September onwards, you have a higher chance of witnessing the famous Northern Lights.
Driving the Ring Road is a must for first-time visitors to Iceland. The gorgeous landscapes and vistas along the nr. 1 Highway will be worth the hours spent in the car, but cramming it all into one week could turn it into a prolonged transportation session.
Our Iceland Tour lets you get away and experience stunning locations in the perfect amount of time.
2. What To Pack When Going to Iceland
Layering is crucial for any packing and clothing concerns.
Mix and match your layers for quick adjustments to the changing weather. Start with a warm wool base-layer, mid-layer, and outer shell for optimal protection and comfort. The base layer should be a cozy, fuzzy wool material to soak in your torso's additional warmth.
It's a must that your pants and jacket be waterproof — no one wants wet legs on their trip! Investing in waterproof boots with ankle support is also essential for any hikes you have planned. Gloves and a hat are also recommended, especially during cooler months; you want to take advantage of the Northern Lights due to shivering from the cold.
Here’s a quick packing list to get you started on the clothing:
For base layer shirts, merino wool is preferred.
Long base layer pants, merino wool is preferred.
Mid-layer insulating jacket/fleece/puffy jacket. Either synthetic or made of down.
Raincoat/waterproof jacket & pants.
Warm socks, no cotton.
Hiking boots (sneakers not recommended, waterproof is a must)
Towel & swimsuit for those hot springs.
Warm hats & gloves, waterproof gloves help.
3. What Photography Gear to Bring?
When traveling to Iceland, it is important to select a camera that can withstand harsh weather conditions and will provide great low-light capabilities. As we all know, modern mirrorless cameras have become increasingly popular due to their improved battery life and outstanding image quality. Without a doubt, the Sony Alpha 7 IV is the perfect choice for anyone seeking to capture those epic moments in Iceland. However, an equally impressive contender is the Fujifilm X-T4 which boasts a range of features despite it not having a full-frame sensor.
Camera Bodies & Lenses
For those looking to get the most out of their photography, it's best to have a combination of lenses. The key is to find the right mix for your needs. High-quality zoom lenses should be at the top of the list. A wide-angle zoom lens is ideal for capturing majestic landscapes and breathtaking astrophotography shots, such as the Northern Lights. Choosing a lens with a fast aperture will allow for more creative possibilities in low-light situations. It's also beneficial to have a 'walk around' lens that you can keep on your camera most of the time; a 24-70mm medium zoom is perfect. If you plan to capture the beauty of nature up close, opt for a lens that zooms further in. For example, a 70-200mm or 150-500mm lens works wonderfully. Lastly, a prime lens is essential for taking beautiful portraits and producing a nice bokeh effect. A 35mm lens on a full-frame camera or a 23mm lens on a cropped-frame camera makes a great allrounder.
FE 35mm F1.4 GM Lens
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XF 23mm F2 R WR Lens
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Venturing out into the wildlands of Iceland requires a pack that is robust, waterproof, and easily accessible. For this reason, you should consider a backpack with a tough, waterproof fabric outer shell and a back panel opening that allows you to get into the main compartment without having to take off your pack. This design feature also enables you to keep all your items neatly organized and prevents them from getting dirty or wet. The following backpacks are recommended for your Icelandic expedition:
- Strohl Mountain Light Camera Backpack 45L
- WANDRD FERNWEH 50L Backpacking Camera Backpack
Finding the perfect tripod can be a tricky endeavor. The sweet spot lies somewhere between weight and stability - the more stable, usually the heavier — but the Peak Design travel tripod is an ideal compromise. Compact enough to fit in your bag but still sufficiently sturdy; plus, with a change of ball head, it's even suitable for video production. If you'd like to add some interesting perspectives to your shots, a GorillaPod might be worth considering, too; remember that they're limited to a certain height.
Owning a DJI Mini 3 Pro has been an eye-opening experience. Its unbeatable portability allows me to take it to places impossible to reach with the Mavic 3 Pro. Although the Mavic 3 Pro boasts superior quality, the Mini 3 Pro doesn't disappoint in photography either. It amazes me with its performance - quite simply, I haven't looked back!
Strohl Mountain Light 45L Backpack
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Mini 3 Pro Drone
Are you a beginner eying your first drone? The DJI Mini 3 Pro is the most advanced under 250g tiny drone with simple controls yet full of powerful featuresBuy for $909.00
4. Drone Photography In Iceland
Experiencing the Icelandic landscape from above is a unique way to explore.
While drones are prohibited in more popular areas, like Skogafoss and Gullfoss, they are advised for the more remote locations, such as the Western Highlands. Remember to bring spare batteries no matter where you go — running out of charge in the middle of a flight over an extraordinary river pattern or glacier crevasse can be heartbreaking not only because you miss the shot, but it could crash in a strange place (although the adventure of retrieving them might be enjoyable!).
The DJI Mini Pro 3 is great for taking on hikes due to its lightweight design. However, it may be challenging to keep stable in strong winds. A more reliable option may be the Mavic 3 — though it is heavier, I have seen it function perfectly even in windy and rainy conditions.
5. Photography Tips in Iceland
Capturing the vastness of a natural landscape can be daunting, but there are ways to make your shot more interesting and engaging. Look for foreground elements that draw the viewer into the photo, adding depth to the scene. It's sometimes better to zoom in and focus on details – such as the rugged edges around mountain peaks or the individual water droplets of a waterfall – rather than zooming out and losing the sense of place. To create the desired look, use different shutter speeds: freeze the action quickly or capture a silky smooth effect with a slower shutter speed. You might also need to use an ND filter to darken the image.
Capturing the remarkable northern lights can be a difficult feat, but with a few simple setting adjustments, you can master it. Ensure that your aperture is set as low as possible for optimal results. Depending on the desired level of motion blur in your frame, adjust the shutter speed between 2-5 seconds; slower than this and everything will likely become a hazy green blur, while faster will provide more definition in the shapes. To match the available light, adjust your ISO accordingly and place the camera securely on a tripod or rock. Make sure to switch to manual focus since autofocus may struggle in these tricky lighting conditions.
High Contrasted Landscapes
Capturing the remarkable northern lights can be a difficult feat, but with a few simple setting adjustments, you can master it. Ensure that your aperture is set as low as possible for optimal results. Depending on the desired level of motion blur in your frame, adjust the shutter speed between 2-5 seconds; slower than this and everything will likely become a hazy green blur, while faster will provide more definition in the shapes. To match the available light, adjust your ISO accordingly and place the camera securely on a tripod or rock. Make sure to switch to manual focus since autofocus may struggle in these tricky lighting conditions. By following these steps, you are sure to be rewarded with stunning photos of the captivating northern lights
6. Location Highlights
Here are a few must-see spots on your Iceland trip to boost your enthusiasm.
Marvel at the stunning panoramas atop Valahnúkur in Thor Valley, renowned for its many birch trees and winding rivers.
Visiting this waterfall is a must-do! At the top of it, you will be able to appreciate its impressive height. To fully experience its grandeur, make sure to walk into the canyon to witness the powerful flow of water from the base.
The most famous area of the Highlands, and for a good reason. A perfect base for various hikes to witness the colorful mountains up close. However, only accessible during the (late) summer months, and a proper 4x4 is required.
Attain the knowledge and experience of a professional guide as you hike across an ever-shifting landscape of crevasses, ice towers, and glacial shapes covered in ash.
Although only a short distance from the renowned town of Vík, this location is well worth a visit. Here, you can admire the beauty of black sand beaches stretching out to the horizon and witness the awe-inspiring spectacle of a truly unique natural arch.
Come To Iceland With Me!
Please check out our Iceland photo tour if visiting and capturing Iceland has sparked your interest.
By traveling in small groups, there will be enough time for individual attention to focus on the things you want to personally learn and experience. Despite all the tremendous skills you'll acquire, the main goal of the journey will be to enjoy the breathtaking and unearthly natural wonders the many corners of Iceland have to offer.
If you have any questions about traveling to Iceland, contact me over Instagram @thechriskonig.