Here you’ll find verdant green mountains rising to meet the sea, thousands of elegant waterfalls, exotic wildlife, geysers, and miles of unspoiled beaches—all photography-friendly year round
Mention Iceland to a casual observer and the response will probably be an exaggerated shiver and a speech on how cold and forbidding it must be. The reality, though, is very different.
A small European island in the northern Atlantic just south of the Arctic Circle, Iceland enjoys weather influenced by the warm surface water of the Gulf Stream, which moderates the climate. Summer is indeed cool and comfortable, yet winter is relatively mild, similar to, say, New York City.
Icelandic light is pure magic. The “golden hour” near sunrise and sunset stretches into several hours because of the extended path the sun takes adjacent to the horizon. Twilight lasts just as long, and in summer never really ends—it morphs into dawn, and the magic hours start over. The only problem you’ll face? Finding time to put the camera down and get some sleep.
The Icelandic word for waterfall is foss, and you will find a bounty of that suffix in unpronounceable words on signs all over the island. Iceland has more than 10,000 of them, enough to photograph one a day for almost 28 years. If you don’t have that much time, focus only on the highlights:
Near the northern town of Akureyri, Godafoss is the area’s favorite natural attraction. Icelandic for “Waterfall of the Gods,” it gained its moniker by being on the receiving end of pagan statues after Iceland made Christianity its official religion in the year 1000. The north bank of the river near the parking lot hosts several conspicuous rock outcroppings, the ideal perch for framing telephoto and mid-range compositions that emphasize the sheer power of the horseshoe-shaped falls. The south bank lets you climb down to water level and go wide. Experimenting with long exposures can show off its softer, elegant side—best when interesting clouds or sunset colors paint the sky.
Gullfoss, or Golden Falls, is Iceland’s most impressive in size, beauty, and power. On sunlit days, rising curtains of mist spawn 180-degree rainbows from horizon to horizon, creating a natural frame around the gigantic dual cataracts. Its relative proximity to Reykjavik and inclusion in the Golden Circle tourist route make this the island’s most visited falls.
Seljalandsfoss (on the opening spread), while not Iceland’s largest or most powerful, is one of its most elegant and graceful falls. You can walk behind the 200-foot cascade and view the expansive countryside through a wispy veil of falling water. It requires your widest-angle lens to capture in its entirety from top to bottom, especially when shooting from either side or from behind. If getting close is part of your photo strategy, cover yourself and your gear because you will get wet from the spray. The effort and mild drenching are well worth it.