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
Yes, Iceland has ice—six ancient glaciers, remnants of a massive icecap that once blanketed the island. Most are hard to reach without an experienced guide, a monster 4x4 vehicle, or a helicopter. But the largest, Vatnajökull, is a shortish hike from Skaftafell National Park in the southeast. Downwind of the latest major volcanic belch—Eyjafjallajökull in 2010—much of this Pleistocene-era ice looks dark and sooty.
At Jökulsárlón, one of Vatnajökull’s outlet glaciers pares itself down by calving into a lagoon full of icebergs. These beautiful, polished blue gems slowly get sucked out to sea with the outgoing tide. No matter how many visits you make here, it’s never the same scene twice. A telephoto lens is best for creating intimate portraits of each unique piece of ice. Work with shutter speeds of at least 1/60 sec for critically sharp images of these floating mountains.
Once in the Atlantic, many of the icebergs wash up on the nearby volcanic black-sand beach and scatter about like sparkling diamonds. Here, compelling wide-angle landscapes of ice, sand, sea, and sky become possible. Try to time the rhythm of the waves and position one or more beached bergs near the bottom of the image frame to anchor an expansive composition.
Know the origin of the word geyser? The Great Geysir in the Haukadalur Valley of southwest Iceland, a powerful spout capable of thrusting boiling water and steam 200 feet in the air. Although the Great Geysir has gone mostly dormant lately, the valley is still home to at least 30 other geysers, mud pots, and fumaroles.
The valley’s new reigning champion is Strokkur, an impressive geyser that erupts on a reliable schedule, about every 5 to 10 minutes. Its water and steam can reach as high as 100 feet when it goes off. Photography is best on sunny days when there is enough contrast between the steamy water and dark blue sky. Another option is to capture an eruption either late or early in the day with strong backlighting for a more dramatic effect.
Other reminders of Iceland’s distant and not-so-distant volcanic past are nearly everywhere on the island, from the barren lava fields that meet the horizon to the stunning black sand beaches along the southern coast. But the volcanoes themselves pose few photo opportunities, as most are buried under one of the major glaciers or ice caps. If you are lucky (or unlucky) enough to be present during a major eruption, you may not see much more than steam and a heavy ash fall. The rapidly melting glacial ice causes floods that can wipe out sections of road and bridges, and the ash cloud can cancel flights for a week or more.