Location: South & South West Iceland

The location articles are part trip reports and notebooks with my experiences as a traveling photographer. In these articles I share my travel experiences, ideas and challenges with notes on what can be done better and hopefully be of use to other travelers and photographers.

There were 3 of us traveling to Iceland, a friend, my girlfriend and me. A tip from my friend who had been to Iceland earlier, was renting a 4×4 drive to get around easier. We studied the web and asked around for cheap “rent-a-wreck” like cars and in the end we discovered SadCars.is, which has normal 2 wheel drives and 4×4 at half the price of your normal rental company. Their cars are used (10 years) and we ended up with a Suzuki Grand Vitara which served us well during the trip.

The Blue Lagoon

While waiting for my friend traveling with Iceland Express (and before giving up the wait), I stayed half a day in the Blue Lagoon which is just as lovely as it looks. In fact it was better than I expected. I only wish I had some sort of waterproof or underwater housing for my camera so I could do some serious photographing. Ideally for those awesome shots, one can visit when air is cool in order to get pictures of  the water evaporating. I mainly captured wide angle pictures of the area, but if I was to do it again, I’d make sure I “zoom in” closer and compose my shots better with the main ingredients; the black lava rock formations, the blue water and a model.  Another tip is to pick up tourist brochures and look for the “two for one” advertisement, which will make your visit a bit less expensive unless you are on your own.

The Golden Circle

The following day we started with the Golden Circle tour, starting with Thingvellir. Thingvellir is a national park and where the old parliament is situated as well as being where the continental plates between Eurasia and America are most visible. With the weather shifting from sun to rain every 10th minute and the landscape being unknown to us, we decided not to spend too much time here. I recon if any world class photos are to be taken here or around Þingvallavatn (lake), you’d need to scout the area for good spots, have a lot of time as well as having a bit of luck with the weather.

Geysir is if i remember right, less than one hour from Thingvellir and holding only one rapidly erupting geyser, called Strokkur. Strokkur however, erupts every 5 to 10 minutes and not with the same force every time, so a bit of patience is needed when you’re waiting for the “big one”. The weather can change in just minutes from rain to sun and I recommend either waiting for better conditions or coming here when the weather is clear and the sun is right. The geyser when it is overcast, does not give you the contrast needed to show how spectacular these things are.

Gullfoss is another tricky spot due to the sheer size of the waterfall. I had a hard time finding a decent spot and ended lining up at “the photographer parking lot” with everyone else. There are a few viewpoints with a good overview of the waterfall (near the restaurant) worth trying out by following the path on the same plateau as the main road and restaurant. I walked here without the camera, but decided to do my shooting below and was too lazy and wet to get back up again.

Landmannalaugar

Once you leave the main roads, you’re met with alien like lava landscapes building up to mountains of different colors and shapes. This is where the 4×4 comes in handy. The later during the season you get here, the worse the roads get. As we were here in July, the roads were extremely bumpy and uncomfortable, but this somehow added to the excitement. Another must is to fill the tank up at the nearest station so that you can get back to civilization again. On road 26 which we followed from Flúðir, the last gas station was at a motel 40km before reaching Landmannalaugar.

The camp site is located at the end of the road and is great for campers bringing their own tents and 4×4 campers, but it is not very comfortable for those without. The hut has a kitchen and super sized bunk beds, with showers and toilets in a different building right next to the hut. Our room had about 32 guests sleeping and snoring in Dolby surround. I’m usually not that picky, but I would not sleep here again unless I came back from a long hike and was totally exhausted. The big bonus besides spectacular scenery, is the geothermal pool which would be worth the trip on its own. The camp is mostly used by hikers that we could see heading into the wilderness of Fjallabak nature reserve the next morning and is highly recommended to explore with a camera.

The following morning we headed south along F208 with Svinafell (one of many outlet glaciers of Vatnajökull) as end destination. The road was again, very bumpy and seemed to go on forever, especially because of the numerous rivers we had to cross. The landscape here, was again very alien with black mountains covered in neon green moss and river deltas. When reaching the coast, we left our luggage behind at a hired cabin in Ferðaþjónustan Svinafell camping and headed to Jökulsárlón.

Swimming in Jökulsárlón

The glacier lake right below the southernmost point of Vatnajökul is one of Iceland’s main tourist attractions and for a good reason. It is easily accessible from the main road and the lake is huge and full of floating icebergs and the occasional seal swimming in between them. My travel companions were overheated from all the driving and decided to go for a swim in the icy cold water, resulting in some memorable shots. The place is very impressive and have multiple viewpoints with fail proof chances for great photography. Personally I’d like to explore this area more and from different spots at different hours, including walking closer to the glacier backdrops and taking pictures of icebergs stranded on the black beach opposite the main road.  I should also mention that boat trips with amphibians are organized.

Skaftafell

Svartifoss in Skaftafell National Park is another attraction I wanted to photograph. It’s not the most powerful or beautiful, but is unique because of the dark hexagonal lava columns that surrounds it. We drove the car up past the camping site and followed directions to Bölti guesthouse. The parking is located only 10 minute walk from the waterfall and saved us both time and energy since we were not planning to explore the area any further. The waterfall has many different viewpoints worth exploring. The surrounding Skaftafell area appeared alpine with glacier covered mountains and would make an interesting trek or hike by itself. A short drive from the main road to either the Svinafellsjökull or Skaftafellsjökull glaciers could be well worth the detour as they’re steep, massive and easily accessible if you want to get up close. Don’t count on the glaciers around Eyafjalla, unless you want to shoot glaciers covered by ash.

Vík í Mýrdal

Pictures from the black beach in Vík and off shore basalt sea stacks called Reynisdrangar situated right below the Reynisfjall mountain have always fascinated me, but it proved more difficult than expected. As one of the main goals of my trip, this was where I was most disappointed in the resulting images. The sea stacks were hard to reach due to the tide, only reachable at the time by climbing huge rocks situated by the shore of the cliff and would require more time scouting and understanding of the area or alternatively a tele lens from a safe location free of wind. This is also a great scene to shoot with a long exposure and at either sunrise or sunset. A walk to the top of Reynisfjall takes about one hour and if equipped with a tele, could give some interesting shots of the sea stacks and the surrounding area. On the other side of Reynisfjall the sea stacks are more accessible and this was where I got my best shots, tho I’m not really happy with any of them. The road stops by the shore just meters away and from this location one can also see Dyrhólaey which I never got around to explore. Ideally I would like to spend one or more days trying to capture the beauty of the area. One can study the area closer by using ja.is aerial map.

From here on we headed back to Reykjavik only stopping for a short photo session and swim in the beautiful Seljalandsfoss.  A stop at Skógafoss was planned, but was not visible due to the dusty conditions around Eyjafjallajökull.

I booked a flight with Icelandair half a year in advance at a very reasonable price and arrived on time. That was however not the case with my friend who was supposed to land 30 minutes after me. His Iceland Express flight does a roller coaster ride and picks up and leaves off people along a route from London to Oslo and Keflavik. The flight was full in London, so the Oslo pickup was canceled and he had to wait over half a day for the next pickup, which this time did a landing in London, before heading to Iceland. He eventually arrived the next morning around 3 pm totally exhausted. This isn’t the only story with this airline, other people we spoke to had experienced major delays and very bad service, so be advised.

We were extremely lucky with the weather that cleared up completely on the third day of our trip and it got quite hot, without becoming sticky. However it did get quite chilly at night, so besides the obvious waterproof clothing, it’s recommended to bring or buy warm clothing and be prepared for any kind of weather. The rumors of sulfur smell was only experienced at Keflavik and later when passing Eyafjallajökull. Instead, I found it fresh and typical Nordic. Another thing that I found very pleasing was the lack of annoying insects. There are no mosquitoes in Iceland and no other insects that will bite or sting you, making the trip even more pleasing.  Photography wise, some sights and locations will require scouting or second visits for better conditions, viewpoints and angles, but also for further exploration. Iceland is great for landscape photographers with its unique nature and a week was just not enough. Next time and as a note to myself I will:  Spend more time (A month would be ideal). Dedicate more time shooting each location. Travel all around the ring road and explore the inland areas as well as Vestmannaeyjar and west Iceland. Bring more lenses, extra batteries and have some sort of mobile home or tent.

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