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
Puffins and Other Wildlife
At just 20 million years old, Iceland is a relative youngster in geologic age. Its lack of maturity, coupled with geographic isolation, has prevented a progeny of fauna from evolving on its own in such a short time—it needed outside help. An example is the reindeer, which were imported from Norway around 1850 and now live wild in large herds in eastern Iceland. Telephoto lenses of 400mm or longer are necessary, as these wild animals should not be approached too closely.
The outrageously colored Atlantic puffin is a living icon of Iceland and a favorite photographic subject of wildlife and bird shooters. Over a half of the world’s population of the species breeds here each summer along rocky, remote coastlines. The sea cliffs at Látrabjarg, Breidafjördur, Lundey, Dyrhólaey, and the Westmann Islands are some of the best locations to find puffin colonies for photography. Again, a long lens of 400mm or more will help capture tight frames of these striking birds. Puffin hunting is legal in many areas, so they do not tend to trust humans.
Other photogenic bird species found in Iceland include arctic terns, ptarmigans, whooper swans, white-tailed eagles, several plover species, razorbills, and oystercatchers. Most species are migratory, so summer is the best season to come get your avian photography fix.
A cross between the horses of Scandinavian Vikings and the Shetland, Highland, and Connemara ponies of Ireland, the horses of Iceland are a stately fixture of this rustic landscape. They are rather small (often mistaken for ponies), sturdy, friendly, and expressive, with full, thick manes and wide, muscular shoulders.
Although not technically wild, the horses do seem to possess the very essence of Iceland’s wild spirit. To photograph a band run across a windswept ridge, silhouetted against the stormy sea with their shaggy manes whipping in tow, is to capture this spirit perfectly. It’s not very difficult. Any short drive into the countryside will bring you in contact with dozens of these beautiful creatures.
The Aurora Borealis
Between the months of September and April, the night sky gets dark enough to see and photograph the hypnotic light show of the aurora borealis at its most intense. For best results, you want a dark, cloudless, moonless night far removed from the ambient light of any cities or towns. Two hours before and after midnight are prime time.
To photograph the aurora successfully, start with a wide-angle lens set at its largest aperture and manually focus it to infinity. Experiment with several 30-second exposures at different ISOs until the exposure is correct. Depending on the brightness and intensity of the aurora, an ISO of 1000 to 1600 (for f/2.8) and 2000 to 3200 (for f/4) should be just about right. The aurora slithers and slides across the sky but does so very slowly—30 seconds will allow for details to be held in the lights while still keeping the stars as static points of light.
Richard Bernabe is a professional nature and travel photographer from South Carolina. He has written many photo instruction books and leads workshops and tours all over the world.