Iceland is a photographers playground. In the decade I've been leading tours there, and working on building my own portfolio of images, I can still say with certainty that I always find new things to photograph, and new ways to see old familiar locations. I LOVE being in Iceland and showing it to new sets of eyes. I had seven new photographers ready to go on a 11-day adventure with me in and around this wonderful country.
Our first day begins with a mid-afternoon orientation before we set off for an evening of photography. The goals for the first night is to ease everyone into the workshop by not overdoing it. Many people have just arrived from a long travel, and keeping them out too late could keep them playing catch up with rest the entire trip.
Our first stop is TIngvillir National Park. This park is the first national park in Iceland, and a spot where the Europe and North American tectonic plates are separating, creating some interesting visuals. On our way the sky was amazing, and I noticed a brightly colored house in the middle of this great expanse, and we stopped to grab some shots of it. A bright Yellow house with a Green roof certainly stood out among the great clouds and clearing storm. Everyone seemed pretty familiar with their gear, and it wasn't long before they were setting out to find their own compositions.
Our next stop was in the National Park itself. Oxarfoss is in the middle of a great basalt canyon. This canyon was one of the sites of the first parliament type meetings with icelanders. Representatives from different clans would come here to discuss policies, make trade, and discuss other things that benefited the country. The clouds still looked great, but a lower snow load in winter, brought the water levels of the falls down, and we opted to shoot only for a minute, before heading off to Gulfoss, one of the largest waterfalls in Iceland.
Gulfoss, is roaring ANY time of year, but a smaller snow load will make the water a pretty shade of green-blue, opposed to the brownish color larger water flow will cause with the increased silt levels. The sky here was absolutely STUNNING. Easily the best sky and color I've seen at this location in my over 30 visits. The group had fun running up and down the waterfall trail as the color shifted from the front to the back of the falls. As is customary with the summer skies, the light lasted a while, giving everyone ample time to find multiple compositions, and take numerous shots.
Our last stop of the night was Geysir...and the semi-reliable Strokkur Geyser. If you've been to Yellowstone, then you've seen bigger and more impressive geysers, but this was the first that got the name geyser, and that makes it somewhat important...and we drive RIGHT by it, so why not stop.
We waited for a few blasts of the geyser, worked on faster shutter speeds, and then made our way back to the hotel so we could get a good night' sleep and be ready for a full second day.
We set off for the coastal town of vik...and everything was going awesome, until we noticed the screw in my tire. Tire issues are fairly common in Iceland, so it wasn't the end of the world...but it was a something that needed to be fixed to avoid it affecting our shooting schedule. I dropped the group off at the hotel, and luckily found somewhere to fix it...two hours later the van was fixed, and we were ready to head out, not missing a beat.
Our first stop was Seljalandsfoss. This is one of the big icons of the south...a huge waterfall that you can walk behind, and shoot looking towards the setting sun. On our way I saw some nice light hitting the misty walls, and we stopped to grab some shots of the textures, and golden light hitting one of the numerous roadside waterfalls in this area. By the time we got to Seljalandsfoss we had a rainbow, and a ton of cool clouds. Again, we couldn't have asked for better light. The group moved around behind the falls and to the side. I encouraged some folks to try black and white, as we had some great tonal value in the sky, and light hitting the falls.
The next stop was a roadside visit to some little turf houses. Which ever farmer originally built these probably wasn't thinking ahead to what Instagram would be, because this little area sees MULTIPLE vehicles stopping at all hours to photograph them. It was late, so I don't think we were affecting anyone's sleep schedule as we took our shots. The next location was Skogafoss….another of the southern giants.
This big curtain fall has been in movies, and if you pay any attention to Instagram, you've seen shots from here. We made the right choice by heading to Seljalandsfoss first, as the light here wasn't as good...but the falls still warrant a shot or two or thirty.
My main goal for the second part of the evening was the beach Reynisfjara where we could see amazing basalt columns, black sand, and some impressive sea stacks. I know from experience the tide tends to be out in the morning hours, so I try to come during low tide so the group can walk out and see the sea stacks from up close and personal...it's where the best shots are found. I encouraged the group to shoot with varying shutter speeds, and use some of the rocks as leading lines into the sea stacks... It was a crazy good time heading out here to shoot. A passing storm provided even more moody drama in our skies...another classic night of photography
Everyone gets a little paranoid about missing the tide shift, so after 30-40 minutes on the pocket beach, we set off for the car, and back to get a full night sleep.
The next two nights we are staying close to the Glacier Lagoon, Jokulsarlon. We spend two nights here for good reason, it's easily one of the more impressive places in the country. We make a couple pit stops on our way for photos, one at Dyrhólaey, where we saw an impressive sea arch, shot some images of a lighthouse, and looked for puffins...which were all at sea eating. The next stop was the canyon called Fjaðrárgljúfur...this little canyon has all kinds of mossy goodness and a couple waterfalls at the end...metal platforms have been built to allow people to safely view this area.
Our first night at the glacier lagoon was amazing. We had a tremendous amount of golden light and color at sunset. Our group was determined, and spent about 5 hours here exploring the lagoon with its many different shapes of ice floating around, and the ice beach ...which had changed.
Normally the beach is littered with ice chunks that had washed out of the lagoon, down a river, and then get thrown onto the beach by the tide. This year the tide had created a small island of sand at the mouth of the river, which disrupted a lot of the ice from coming to the beach...and instead put it on the new island...and this island also disrupted the waves, making the ice that did make it to the beach harder to get access to with good water movement for nice images. What this change in the flow of the river DID do was make a perfect place for seals. At least 30 seals decided to make this new island their home, and frolicked and played in the area...which was not only fun to photograph, but to watch as well.
In addition, a lot of people had fun shooting close ups of the iceberg on the beach, as well as close ups of the iceberg that had gotten lodged in the river, and waited for time and water to wear them down to a small enough size to finally be sent to sea. There were so many nice and varied shots from this first night here...and we still had another night!
Night two, after a nice dinner in the town of Hofn, we set off to the black sand dunes and rugged mountains of the eastern fjords in an area called, Stokksness. There's a lot to see here, and the light was really nice. The sand dunes had been pretty well trampled, and without a big windstorm to remedy that the group had a little trouble finding any clean lines to work with...but there were still great reflections in some nearby pools, a field or two of lupines, and some nice wave action along the sea to help give you all the interesting foregrounds needed for some nice images. Once we were finished with this area it was time for a repeat visit to the glacier lagoon to see if there were more ice chunks on the beach. There were not. It looked vastly similar to the previous evening, so after everyone shot some more close ups of iceberg in the river, we set off back for a night of rest, before our long drive to the north the following day.
One of the places I really wanted to see in Iceland was Stuðlagil canyon, I've driven by the road to get there numerous times...but this group was the first I finally took there. They were so impressed by the quick viewpoint, that they all wanted to make the 6 miles RT hike to get into the canyon and see it close up. Of course, I let them...and we set off for a great little adventure. This canyon has some great walls of basalt that climb 75-100 feet out of the river and create a one of a kind narrow passage...filled with the bluest water ever. It's become one of the ‘must see' places in the country, which will mean that eventually someone will ruin it for the rest of us...but for now we are able to really see it, explore it, and for the most part we almost had it all to ourselves. Most of the tourists don't want to hike, so we were lucky to really see this canyon.
The problem with extra exploring is that it makes us arrive at our destination much later. We missed dinner in most everywhere we could've gotten it, so we all ended up at Domino's for a little late night pizza fix. I'll say this, it was the best Dominos' I've ever eaten ...from our pizza we departed immediately for sunset at Godafoss. This is a classic shot, a smaller horseshoe shaped falls with a beautiful turquoise water. We had some amazing clouds and color here too...everyone got some amazing shots form at waters edge, and above the falls too. By this point in the journey, most people are technically getting their shots, so it's only a little composition or filter suggestions from my end. The one thing I find I really try to tell people a lot is, “KEEP MOVING” people can get tunnel vision here quite easily, and if they don't move around, they can miss some of the other compositions possible.
The second night we set off for ALdeyjarfoss, one of my favorites. Another great waterfall in another nice basalt canyon. We get it, Iceland, you got basalt... This waterfall was bluer than I've ever seen it...the water level was a little lower than normal, so the color in the falls REALLY stood out..and for the first hour we had some great clouds and nice color. We also had far more people there than I've ever seen. There were 5 drones in the sky at one time...a little ridiculous, and some people there making a campfire (which isn't legal) We didn't let them ruin our fun though, and everyone happily scampered up and down the area looking for compositions and different shots.
On our way home we stopped again at Godafoss to shoot it from the other side, where there's a few nice compositions to be had. It was a relatively long night, and I think people were still a little worn out from the night before, so we opted for a little more sleep, before our last night of shooting.
Selfoss, and Dettifoss are two massive waterfalls in the north...and if you had to guess, they too are in basalt canyons. Having a group that liked to hike meant we could hike up to Slefoss, which is about ¾-1 mile away from Dettifoss...and consists of a bunch of little falls pouring over a basalt cliffside...it's quite pretty. The wind was blowing quite a but of mist here, so we all decided to not stay too long before moving to Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe!!!! The sky was full of textured clouds, and I really encouraged people to work on monochromatic approaches to shooting, IT looks so good in black and white! There's also a lot of little details here that often get overlooked due to the massive scale of the MOST POWERFUL WATERFALL IN EUROPE!!!
All was fun at the falls, and we moved on with enough time to catch some images of Hverir. Every year most people arrive here and think, “meh...this isn't the best place. Or it's not too interesting.” Then afterwards a lot of people think that some of their favorite shots were from here. There's so many textures and lines here and the clouds are typically moody as well...so with all the steam and cracked earth, the shots really look like they are from another world...which, when processed...means they look rad.This group seemed to like the stop a lot more after the fact than when we pulled in.
We stayed busy in the north...we lived on a horse ranch for 3 nights, and everyone found some time to get out in the pastures and really spend some time photographing their beautiful horses. It's easily one of the groups favorite hotels we stay in.
Off to the west, and two nights on Snaefellsnes peninsula. Our first night here looks like it will be the only night of decent light we might have as a storm is on the move towards our location and likely to make our second night less than amazing.
Our first stop of the shoot is the little black church at Budir. This little church is a lot different than the ones you normally see with the red or green roofs and white building. This area was being blasted by some amazing light as well...rays of light shining from the mountains, and illuminating the hillside behind the church ...it was very pretty. The main issue photographically in this spot was bracketing to work with the crazy light.
Our next stop was maybe the most famous place in Iceland for photos...Kirkjufell. The forecast looked like there might be a small band of light available in this one area, and sure enough it was the case...we had some nice color and clouds over the mountains, and in every other direction there was nothing but imposing grey skies. Even though the rest of the area was filled with grey...we stopped at as many places as we could fit in, in case the weather was horrible the next day.
We hit the cool shaped sea cliffs at Londragnar, and worked on some moody images with these black basalt cliffs, and deep blue sea. We shot the little red roofed house in arnarstapi (a coastal town near our hotel) It is surrounded by wonderful green and the faint gaps in the sky made for some nice ambient lighting.
We made the most of that day, and it's good that we did...the next day was raining, windy, and downright unforgiving. We tried to head out, but none of the locations were really that amazing for shooting...most of it was wet, and difficult. We did get a few shots of the little church and it's long driveway, lined with lupine. The rest of our evening was spent processing images. We do 2-3 processing sessions in the trip, and the weather had been so good that we never really had too much time to get after it...but this night a lot of folks came down, enjoyed a drink, and we looked at a lot of great images from an epic adventure...only one more night left!
We make our way back to Reykjavik, where we check into the hotel, and set off for a nice last dinner together at the Icelandic Tapas restaurant. This offers guests as many local cuisines as you can enjoy in a locally jazzed up cooking style. It's delicious, and quite a lot of food. What helps digest a big meal more than gong and soaking in a giant hot tub?
It's off to the blue lagoon, the most touristy place in the country. With its milky blue water and “healing” properties, it's visited by millions of people each year. I'm not sure how healing it is, or if people are just sauced up on the beers from the bar in the lagoon...but it's still a must see place, and a great way to end the trip that had us going for hours and hours each day.
This was an amazing adventure for sure! The light was with us almost all the time until the very end. The group handled all challenges and the crazy schedule with a great level of enthusiasm. I couldn't have asked for a better group!
Until our next adventure!
Brian 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.