Iceland has become a must see destination in the past few years, due in part to a bank collapse that brought their currency down to a reasonable conversion rate. In addition, what makes Iceland so special is the landscape.
Here, you can find black sand beaches, the largest fields of lupine you’ve ever seen, glaciers, roaring waterfalls, and other-worldly geothermal activity. Iceland is a country with a population of only 350,000 people, most of which live in Reykjavik, the capital, so this means the rest of the country is void of people, and all landscape.
Photographers have made Iceland the new hotspot for good reason; there’s no shortage of things to point the camera at! A group of 10 eager photographers and one reluctant tripod made the journey to Iceland, to join Scott and me for a whirlwind 10 night photo adventure....
Our group met in Reykjavik at Hotel Baron, where we went over the agenda, got to know one another, and prepared everyone for what was before them. Once orientation was in the books, it was time to set off for downtown, for some locally caught fish, and fries. Dinner was awesome and the time and food both contributed to allowing our group to gel. We found out where everyone was from, where they worked, what brought them to Iceland, and what they were most excited to see.
We like to start our trips off with a bang, so after dinner, we loaded up into the vehicles and set off for our first night of shooting, where our main goal was the route commonly referred to as, the Golden Circle. Our first stop was Oxararfoss, a small waterfall (by Icelandic standards), but it’s very pretty, and a great way to start the trip.
After walking through a large volcanic rift to the waterfall, Scott and I helped everyone adjust their settings and find the best vantage points to shoot the 25-foot high beauty. Located in Tingvillir National Park, this is one of the oldest parks in Iceland, and sits on the rift where the North American and European tectonic plates are separating. The rift we walked down to get to the falls is a prime example of the forces at work, ripping things apart.
The waterfall was awesome. And so was our next stop, set up on a vantage point looking out over the whole valley...rays of sunlight beamed through the clouds creating very cool beams for our cameras to capture. Scott helped a few folks learn how to take a panoramic image of the mountains and those incredible beams of light.
The final stop for the night was Gullfoss. This powerful tiered waterfall is one of the best in the southern regions...and as our luck would have it, there was a brilliant sunset there waiting for us! We quickly moved the group to the lower vantage points where we could best capture the colors of the sky. Light in Iceland can be fleeting, so we wanted to make the most of all the color we could find. While there are no periods of darkness during the summer, the storms can, and do, blow in rapidly (as we would find out later in our journey). For now, day one was a success...everyone arrived safely, and got in some great shooting on their first night!
We moved on to the coastal town of Vik, where we met up with a vicious storm that ended up following us for the next few days. Since high winds and rain were on the forecast, Scott and I had to find the best possible spots to shoot that would allow us to function without getting destroyed by weather.
Luckily for us, we were able to get to Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss without the rain finding us. In these locations, we were able to find some nice textures to the clouds, and really work the scene to get the best images.
At Skogafoss, we were able to climb up the side of the falls to a very nice perch that allowed for a great view of the whole waterfall from a unique angle.
At Seljalandsfoss, we were able to walk around BEHIND the waterfall, and due to the high winds, the mist was blowing away from us, and the shooting was as nice as it has ever been! At such a great location in those circumstances, with the colors a bit muted from the darker light, we really focused on having the class think in monochrome. Everyone had a blast and got some really nice shots on a day that had looked to be quite gloomy.
We arrived back in Vik in time to catch back up with the storm, and it lulled us all to dreamland....
DAYS 3 and 4
The next morning, we moved east to the town of Hofn (actually, just outside of it). On our way, we took the opportunity to get out of the weather and visit Fjadrargljufar Canyon. This isn't a lengthy canyon, but it is vibrant with green moss and blue water...and the high vantage points make shooting the whole canyon really beautiful. There’s even a sketchy, steep drop-off you can linger near...it’s good times!
The weather again looked to be awful over the next couple days, so we wanted to make the best of any gaps we found. The hike was rain-free, and everyone got some great shots of the canyon.
Our next stop was Near Skaftafell National Park. The glacier was out to play, and we stopped to make some photos of the tallest mountains in the country, with the beautiful fields of lupine in our foregrounds. The wind had died down considerably, so the shooting was great...and everyone enjoyed hiking among those beautiful purple fields.
Once we got to our hotel, the weather locked in and gave us a good fight. We made two attempts at trying to get to the Glacier Lagoon, Jokulsarlon, but other than a few lone icebergs and a cluster near the parking area, the wind had pushed all the ice back into the recesses.
There’s something about ice that makes a photo great, even in stormy weather. Scott and I were there to help adjust compositions, remind folks about their ISOs and shutter speeds...and it seemed to be paying off from what we saw. Everyone made the most of what they could get, though...and we did see a few nice images on the screens from members of the group.
The second day we did some group photo processing in the hotel. These sessions are fun because everyone can see what the others are doing, learn some new tricks and tips with processing, and also, it gives Scott and me a chance to see how great the images are that the class is capturing.
The final morning, we took a hearty group who were willing to rise at 4am to the lagoon again, as there was a small weather gap, and we wanted to give them a chance to get some ice on the black sand beach. The small group who came with us were rewarded with a few nice chunks of ice, and of course, the rushing waves around them. We were glad that at least a few were able to witness this awesome occurrence!
DAYS 5, 6, and 7
According to schedule, we began our move north...and luckily, the weather finally broke. We made a stop at the eastern point of the country, at a place called, Stokknes. We were able to drive out to great black sand dunes and see the entirety of the Vesterhorn mountain cluster. The low tide made for great textures in the sand, and left a stunning reflection. We encouraged the class to explore, use their filters, and really utilize this batch of great weather!
We made one more stop on our way north, at a lovely little waterfall on the Oxi pass. This pass is filled with tons of waterfalls; it would take a week to stop and properly photograph them all. But we got some great shots of at least one of them.
Our home for the next three days was Skjaldarvik Guesthouse. This lovely little slice of heaven is a working horse farm, so everyone was able to get their Icelandic horse shots in beautiful locations at the hotel...no driving needed! There was a cute new foal there, who, not surprisingly, occupied the cameras during our down time.
The first night at the farm, we drove out to Aldeyjarfoss, a powerful inland waterfall that flows over the best bunch of basalt you’ll ever find. I love this waterfall because we usually get great weather there, and because there are so many angles and vantage points to shoot it from. Scott and I enjoyed showing the class some of our favorite angles, and helped them make the most of the pinks and other great colors that were showing up in the sky.
We spent the next day exploring the nearby town of Akureyri. After having lunch there, we set off back to the hotel for some more processing time. During processing, it was great to see that a lot of folks were already starting to get some great horse shots.
Our next night, we set off for Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe. You don’t really understand what that means until you’re RIGHT on the edge of it...like we were with our group. THERE the meaning is clear.
The sky had lost most of the clouds, but there was a nice glow to the air, and everyone was making some great images. We were hopeful we’d be able to catch up with some of the clouds, and rainbows we’d seen on our drive in.
While we were at Dettifoss, the fogs of hell had rolled in, and left the entire return drive shrouded in a sea of white. That fog was so thick that nobody was even interested in getting out to try...though we did make a stop at a little red boat on Lake Myvatn...that was more “funny” than something that yielded great images...but we always try!
Our third night, after a great dinner in the whaling town of Husavik, we hit up Godafoss, and it’s pretty turquoise waters. The fog was still in the area, but it had raised up a little, making the photography possible.
We also hit up Namaskard, the geothermal area near Lake Myvatn. We lucked out and found a great break in the fog where we were able to photograph the geothermal wonders of this area in great sunset light, and with good clouds, as well! We wandered the mud pots and steam vents for a good hour and a half, making the most of this wonderful light...and by the time we were done, the fog was almost gone!
We were able to make another stop on the banks of Lake Myvatn, where we had beautiful reflections and great skies. We hoped that Godafoss would be witnessing some of the same light we had on the lake, but it was not to be... the fog was still there, struggling to leave. However, we went home plenty happy with the images we had made during that night.
Up in the morning, and it was back off to the west. Unfortunately, a large accident derailed our driving times, and sent us on a four hour detour around the coast...which, with the nice weather, was quite lovely...we all saw things we’d not seen before...and the class got to witness the crazy Icelandic tunnel system and how well organized it is.
We also made a stop at the Dinosaur Rock, Hvitserkur. The light there was stormy, but so cool! That oddly shaped seastack was a lot of fun for our group. Given the forecast for Grundarfjordur (our town for the next nights) was looking bleak, we opted to stop whenever we could get something good to shoot.
We finally reached our next stop at nearly midnight...it was late, the rains had found us again, but we still set off and showed the group Kirkjufell mountain, and the Kirkjufellfoss waterfall...which would be our subject the following day.
We again did some post-processing work in the hotel, and also visited the fishing town of Stykkisholmur, where we had lunch. The class explored the harbour area looking for interesting little details to shoot, and, we got a tour of a local ceramic artist's studio...that was great!
That night we made the most of shooting, and started with the mountain Kirkfell and the nearby waterfall. The sun was trying to get loose from the wall of clouds, but the approaching storm was really making it tough, but there was still some great texture in the sky (which makes black and white images so dramatic).
Our next stop was Londragnar, on a cliff overlooking a great set of coastal shapes and stacks -- really nice images. There was even a little sun peaking through to give the sky a nice pink hue.
We went from sea stack, to a sea arch at the town of Arnarstapi, where we were able to walk out and face the full attack of the arctic terns. Those territorial birds want no part of folks in their nesting areas... it’s always fun for Scott and me to watch the show there.
After Arnarstapi, the rain came in quite heavy, so we were not able to do much more shooting that night, so, we opted to hit the tiny black church at Budir on our drive out in the morning.
On our last night out, we started with a great dinner at the Icelandic Tapas house, where folks are able to try out all of the Icelandic dishes, both odd and traditional. After such a long journey, it’s always nice to relax with our group at a nice dinner.
The real treat though, is after dinner...the BLUE LAGOON! This geothermally heated lagoon in the heart of the lava fields is one of the most iconic parts of the country...and something everyone should see. We all checked in to the lagoon, and then spent two hours laughing and really relaxing. Some folks had a drink or two, others a Krap (slushie), we all painted our faces with the grey silica masks...and just generally let loose... including taking a fun group shot. It was a great reward after a long, amazing adventure.
Of course, after we soaked in the pool, we went out to photograph it as well! The blue water and lava make for really interesting compositions. Scott and I were really pleased with the work the class had created on this night, and throughout the trip. We saw a lot of really nice images...which is always a great thing to come home with!
We braved long drives, fog, wind, rain, and just about everything Iceland was known for. We drove the whole country (and then some), and all made it out alive...and everyone got some tremendous new photographs to showcase when they get home.
Scott and I really enjoyed all of you!
Until our next adventure,
Brian, Scott, and the rest of the Aperture Academy team!
If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.