Iceland: Fire & Ice

Iceland is the land of, mountains, glaciers, reflections, waterfalls and rainbows. Its landscape is unlike that of any other country in which I work. I’ve often said that photographing in Iceland is like photographing our planet soon after its formation millions of years ago.

With its steep mountains and large glaciers, Iceland has an abundance of dramatic waterfalls. One of my favorites is Skogafoss. If I get there at the right time—usually around 4:00 p.m.—I typically can capture a double rainbow at the foot of the falls.

I generally lead two photo tours a year to this amazing country for Strabo International Tours. The first trip is at end of January and the second takes place in the beginning of May. Most people assume that January in Iceland would be much too cold for photography. Surprisingly, the winters are more moderate than one would expect given its northern latitude. That’s due to the warming effect of the Atlantic Gulf Stream that flows along Iceland’s south coast. When I’ve photographed there in January, the average temperature has been around 34°F. Although the days are short, the winter is a perfect time to find swiftly changing cloud formations and great lighting situations. I’ve seen the light change from thick fog to the sun streaming through the mist in a matter of minutes. The most exciting part of the winter shoot is a chance to capture the Aurora Borealis. There are never any guarantees that the northern lights will appear, but so far I have been lucky. On the tours, my job is to get people to the best locations at the best times. It’s not always easy to predict the weather conditions. One thing for sure, it’s not unusual to have all four seasons in the same day!

Iceland is famous for its dramatic black lava formations as well as its black sand beaches that stretch for miles. Above is a photograph I made of a lava formation called Hvitserkur Rock. On the cliff right above the formation there is a viewing platform that offers wonderful photographic opportunities. For ground level photography, a 15-minute walk down the path to the beach is all that is needed. At one time, Hvitserkur Rock was a tremendous mountain of lava. Over the centuries the wind and ocean have whittled it down to a four-legged, three-story high natural lava sculpture. Only nature could create such splendor.

Other lava formations are found at the beach at Vik. Vik, in Icelandic means bay. I always take my photo tour groups here to photograph the rock formations, the beach, the nesting birds in the cliffs, and the small church on the hillside.

The black sand beach at Vik is one of the most beautiful in all of Iceland. Arriving at low tide is not always possible, but whenever I am there, I always find great subject matter with which I can compose a photograph.

Vik is also the home of a company that produces some of the best outdoor clothing, called Icewear. Not that I’m much of a shopper, but getting just the right jacket for warmth and flexibility is important for ease of working with a camera.

I work with two cameras on most trips.  One is a Canon 5D Mark II camera converted to IR (Infrared) a Mark III that I use for color or black and white. I generally keep a 17-40 mm Canon lens on the infrared camera, and use a 24-105 mm lens on the other camera. I also work with a 70-300 mm lens. I made the image of the church on the hill, from the beach, with the 70-300 mm lens.

With its amazing diversity, Iceland is an amazing destination for anyone interested in landscape photography at any time of year.