Iceland, a country known as the land of fire and ice. In this article, I will go through my experience and walk you through a few tips how I capture the different elements of Iceland. My brief backstory how I started photography all started a few years back when I was hiking a lot in the mountains and taking photos with my phone. I always loved to take pictures here and there like most people but it was never that serious. But as time went by the passion grew more and more. My big motivation for buying my first DSLR camera was to be able to shoot the northern lights, it was always the dream. After that I soaked in all the information I could find online how to take beautiful pictures and process them.
I have always loved shooting people in big landscapes. It personally gives me a great feeling or prehaps some emotion to the images, you take people there with you. I loved it so much I dedicated a whole section on my homepage called “Human Nature” which is a dedicated series created with my partner and love Simona. If there was one tip I could give shooting people in landscape is to have a good backlight (even snow or waterfall) this makes the silhouette really stands out in the photo instead getting lost or even just look like a distraction. On the other hand, if there is no light to play with you will go for a close-up portrait.
Here we are in Kirkjufell. This place is probably the most shot place in Iceland and for a reason. It looks great all seasons summer or winter time. I wish I could take full credit for this picture as I believe this angle has never been capture there like this in Kirkjufell. I wasn’t really planning on taking any pictures there as I was walking there with Simona, she pointed me at this small crack and if it was possible to shoot through it. As result, it was my most viewed picture of all time. Now in this situation we have a really close and strong foreground (5 cm) and most people will go for a large F number as high as 22 to get everything in focus. I always try to avoid going that high as you will get diffraction affecting the sharpness at least with my Canon6D 16-35mm f4. So here is how I took this shot. Somehow I got myself into that little hole and set the F number to 11, I found out after many tests that this gives me the best sharpness. I take one picture with focus on the ice cubes, another focus on the mountain and one at Simona. This is a 2 shot panorama so I did in total 6 focus points and blend it in Photoshop.
As a landscape photographer in Iceland you sometimes find yourself in places where you need to hike up hills or mountains to get to the spots you want to take pictures. It’s extremely important to me to be able to travel light but still be able to carry all the necessary things with me on my travels. My usual equipment I take with me in my bag is 2 lenses, camera+lens, laptop and my tripod. This is where my Manfrotto NX bag comes in really handy. It has great protection for the equipment and – believe me – I need it over here, it just feels right. If you are thinking about hiking in Iceland my advice would be: travel in groups, travel light and watch the weather forecast closely as Iceland is famous for fast and unforgiving weather changes.
The Icelandic horse or “our friends” as we call them here in Iceland are probably our most liked animals here and for a reason. In recent years they have been a big part of tourist attraction. If you stop by one there is a good chance they will come running to you to say hi and ask you for a some food. In return they will pose for you all day long as top models. Be sure to stop by if you see one .
When travelling in Iceland you will visit many waterfalls. There are so many waterfalls here that we don’t even know how many there are, there is no real number of them as far as I know. You can shoot them any way you want really, it’s all personal how you do it, with long exposure for the silky look, or short exposure for the powerful mood. I have a strong advice which should not be taking lightly and is often forgotten. More than often we want to go close to take pictures and almost everytime you will get spray from the water flowing in every direction at you. This will make your lens and camera wet and in some cases almost impossible to take pictures. There is no magic solution here but here is what I do. Take at least 3 dry cloths (you will need them all), have your camera covered in a plastic bag while you are not shooting. Sometimes like in this shot I put focus on “infinity” so the camera doesn’t spend the extra 1 – 3 second to focus. That way you will at least minimize the drops going on your lens. A small tip but it works for me.
The aurora lights are as I stated before is the biggest reason why I bought my first DSLR. I’ve often been asked what settings I’m using, lens and so on. I could probably talk about this subject for days. I will take you through my general approach when it comes to capturing the lights in Iceland. First you want to make sure you have a tripod and are very well dressed with a headlight. In the night it can get really cold and being comfortable is the key. You want to have a wide angle lens, for example 16mm-35mm on a full frame or 11m-16mm on a crop sensor. Usually, when I go out I get early before the lights start to find a nice foreground. Because you really want to be ready when the action starts. Now in this picture you see what I call “Soft aurora” those lights are usually really slow and weak lights when you see them with your naked eye. Those aurorae usually look dreamy and soft in a long exposure. When filming “Soft lights” I usually go for fairly low ISO 640 – 3200 ISO (depends how dark it is), with 20-30sec exposure. Those lights are the easiest aurora to capture well. This shot was taken with 640 ISO, 30 sec exposure.
Fast strong lights! Now when the lights starts go just wild like you see here the game changes alot. After being in auto mode all night with your 20-30sec exposure and fast strong lights start to show up you really have to pay attention what is happening. In this case, the lights just came like fire in the sky and if I would use for example 1600 ISO and 30 sec exposure it would just look really muddy and bad. Those lights you want to shoot with a lot shorter exposure so they look firm and vibrant in your photos. In this picture my settings were 6400 ISO and 3.2 seconds. This can differ a lot what settings to use and there is no magic number here. If you ever find yourself in this beautiful situation just play around with the ISO and exposure and find out what works the best. Most importantly don’t forget to enjoy this wonder of nature.
Thank you for taking time to read my article, I hope you liked it and save travels!