5 Tips For Photographing Iceland

I made my first of what I hope to be many visits to Iceland. My visit was primarily a family vacation, but of course I worked in some photography. Iceland is full of photo opportunities.

In this post, I won’t be listing out all the great places to visit and photography - there are simply too many! Instead I share a few themes I noticed emerge in my photography while I was in Iceland. More thoughts about these photo tips on YouTube today, too. Enjoy!

1. Use A Polarizer

Gluggafoss, Iceland

If you’re visiting Iceland, you’ll be visiting waterfalls. There are so many beautiful waterfalls you’ll lose track. At the base of many of the falls are picturesque rocks and stones partially or fully submerged beneath the water. A polarizer cuts the reflection and glare off the water and reveals what’s just beneath the water’s surface. It’ll also darken slower moving water, adding contrast and accentuate whitewash.

You’ll also want a polarizer for more than just waterfall photos. Read on!

2. Capture Photos At All Hours, Not Just Golden Hour

Valley In Snaefellsjokull National Park In Iceland

In the summer months, “golden hour” is more like “golden three hours”. The sun rises and sets more slowly at the higher latitude, and it’s a real treat - so long as the skies cooperate. Clouds are ever-changing in Iceland and can thwart an otherwise prime sunrise or sunset opportunity.

Don’t limit yourself to sunrise and sunset for great photos. Clouds make for interesting skies at all times of the day. Also, at midday, break out the polarizer again. When the sun is overhead, it’s at a 90 degree angle to the front of your lens. The polarizer will enrich colors especially in the blue patches of the sky.

3. Have A Rain Cover And Plenty Of Lens Cloths

Hiker At Skogafoss In Iceland

The weather in Iceland can and does change many times throughout the day. The country gets a lot of rain. Having a rain cover for your camera will let you capture more images. I use an Emergency Rain Cover from Think Tank Photo to protect my camera and lens from water in the field. A rain cover also comes in handy at the more powerful waterfalls in Iceland.

When I visited Skogafoss (pictured), my lens and filters were constantly covered in water droplets from all the spray and mist in the air. Taking a few photos was a repeated process of compose and set focus, shield the front element, wipe it down, quickly take a photo. I went through a lot of lens cloths on photo shoots that were close to waterfalls.

If you have a waterproof camera, bring that too. You can also use it at the Blue Lagoon - a great way to relax and wrap up a trip to Iceland! :-)

4. Use Exposure Compensation Or Manual Mode

Glacier Lagoon, Iceland

The light constantly changes in Iceland. Being comfortable adjusting exposure or shooting in manual mode will help you. I tend to use aperture priority mode most of the time, and use exposure compensation to override the camera’s metering when necessary. Manual mode works equally as well.

Also, snowy scenes tend to fool our camera’s metering systems and without manual intervention a scene can be underexposed. Increasing exposure by a full stop or more is common.

Bonus tip: If your camera has a histogram on the EVF/LCD, use it! The histogram is a great way to gage if you’re under or over exposing a scene.

5. Bring A Long Lens

Puffin on the cliffs above Kirkjufjara Beach, Iceland

I’m a wide angle lover. Give me a broad landscape and a strong foreground subject and I’m a happy guy. That being said, I was surprised how often I reached for my long lens in Iceland. There are many picture perfect houses with red roofs that dot the landscape. Reaching in with a long lens offered a more intimate landscape.

Also, there’s the wildlife. While there aren’t many creatures native to Iceland, there are a few. In the summer months, the puffins hang out in a few spots in the country. Sheep and rams are plentiful, and they are also a bit skittish. As you approach them, they tend to dash off. You won’t need the long lens to photography Icelandic horses. They’re much more curious and tend to walk over to a photographer if you’re patient enough.