Winter Photography in Iceland

Sunset in Breiðamerkurjökull 0.5sec, f/13, ISO 100
Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II, Lee GND and ND filters, Heliopan CPL.

No matter where you live, the allure of travel to a locale quite different from your own is hard to resist for any  landscape photographer. And chances are, there are few places anywhere in the world as different from where you're sitting right now than Iceland. Put simply, it's a photographer's dream destination. The landscape is incredible, with pitch-black volcanic terrain, immense glaciers and towering volcanoes. And to top it off, airfare can be very reasonable and in-land travel is easy to arrange. With all this going for it, Iceland has long been on my list of places to photograph. And not long ago, I had the opportunity to explore this incredible terrain and create some memorable images.

In this four page article I'll share with you my experience of shooting with fellow photographers in Iceland, introduce you to some remarkable areas of the country to photograph and provide some behind the scenes info for two of my favorite images from the trip.

Planning ahead: season and location

The northern lights (Aurora Borealis) over Jökulsárlón lagoon 30sec, f/2.8, ISO3200
Canon 5D Mark II, Samyang 14mm F2.8 IF ED MC Aspherical.
The green columns shining above the snowy landscape is a spectacle seen only when it's cold.

As with any destination, the first question my colleagues and I had to consider was which season to travel. Iceland in winter offers a completely different photographic experience than in the summer. The green, lush scenery of the warmer months is replaced by a white, cold ice-desert. Temperatures drop to a bone-chilling sub-zero degrees Fahrenheit, winds howl and conditions are tough. But for us, this was all part of the adventure and a small price to pay for the most unique shooting experience we could imagine.

That's because no other season allows you to walk on frozen lagoons right up to a huge glacier. Only during the winter season of late September through March is it safe to venture into ice caves. It's never dark enough to witness the northern lights in the summer. And from autumn through spring sunrises and sunsets are relatively short, and the light is relatively harsh during the rest of the day. It's also certainly worth mentioning that winter airfare to Iceland can be as much as 50% lower than other times of the year! Given all of this, we knew that we were headed into an icy escapade.

Dormant volcano of Öræfajökull 10sec, f/16, ISO100
Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II, Lee GND and ND filters, Heliopan CPL. 

The next big task was deciding which region of Iceland to visit. With only a two-week itinerary planned, we would need to concentrate on a specific area of the country to maximize the time spent shooting, versus traveling. After much research, which included consulting Icelandic photographers and friends who had visited the country, as well as looking at hundreds of published images, we concluded that southern Iceland was our best bet.

In the South you'll find glaciers, lagoons, waterfalls and beaches - all readily accessible by car. Crucially though, since Iceland is located so far north, the winter sun both rises and sets to the south, providing some very unique photographic opportunities. As a bonus, the sun maintains a low angle throughout the day, providing soft side-lighting that is great for landscape photography.

Click here to continue reading our Winter in Iceland article...

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by dpreview.com or any affiliated companies.

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Comments

Total comments: 82
12
Cy Cheze
By Cy Cheze (Sep 19, 2012)

Some great shots.

Tempting, but ... surely the Canadians can claim similar marvels--right a their own front curbs. And curling too! Eh?

Iceland offers 4-5 hours of daylight in December, and the sun's arc barely reaches a few degrees above the horizon. The good news is that you get cheap air fare and hotel, perhaps with complementary vodka, and don't have to rise early, since it is dark until 10AM. The other side of the coin is that you have little time to see things or go anywhere, and a return drive in the dark is hazardous unless you stick to the better roads. If there is any wind, time lapse shots of auroras may be hard to obtain. Plus, there is the problem of vapor formation on lenses of cameras brought in and out of the cold. Fingers get too numb (either from cold or too much juice) to control dials, operate a phone, or even keep ahold of the bottle, as you hole up for that long last night in the remote uncharted ice cave.

Comment edited 32 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Erez Marom
By Erez Marom (Sep 23, 2012)

Well, I'd say the lack of curling options is more of an advantage, isn't it? ;)
Seriously speaking, the light-hours thing is a HUGE misconception. In Iceland you actually have MORE shooting time than other countries, since the whole daylight time (including 1.5 hours of twilight, 1.5 hours of sunrise, 4-5 hours of daylight, 1.5 hours of sunset and 1.5 additional hours of twilight) offers perfect shooting light. This is so much more compared to any other place I've ever visited, since you mostly have max half hour of sunrise and half hour of sunset to shoot. The limiting factor for me wa always the cold and the hunger, never the light hours!
Not having to rise early is definitely a huge plus for the lazy!
I've actually never faced vapor on the lens, even after moving from the super-warm hotel to the freezing outside. Numb fingers is another story...

0 upvotes
andreaThode
By andreaThode (Sep 19, 2012)

Great article, great pictures. And finally some clever use of the HDR technique, which is often way overprocessed, imo.

2 upvotes
Antoeknee
By Antoeknee (Sep 19, 2012)

Have trip planned to Iceland in March 2013 which was originally planned as just site seeing and to see Aurora Borealis (hopefully).

Having recently just got back into photography its now a photo trip as well so this is a well timed and informative article.

Some really good images, just hope I can come back with something somewhere near as good.

1 upvote
Kwang M Yi
By Kwang M Yi (Sep 19, 2012)

I got myself into a photography to capture something like lagoon image, starting with Nikon FM, F2AS....
just fabulous!

1 upvote
Jan2009
By Jan2009 (Sep 19, 2012)

I'm just on the first page but I already want to say "Thank you for sharing this" It is indeed a photographers dream to be in such a landscape! I will read on and bug you with questions later :) Love the images already

1 upvote
Lanski
By Lanski (Sep 19, 2012)

I did a very similar route myself one summer. I love Iceland, and I very much enjoyed this article.

1 upvote
photofan1986
By photofan1986 (Sep 19, 2012)

Just breathtaking! Thanks for sharing!

2 upvotes
Reilly Diefenbach
By Reilly Diefenbach (Sep 19, 2012)

Beautiful shots!

2 upvotes
Hugo808
By Hugo808 (Sep 19, 2012)

Brrrrr..... but lovely.

1 upvote
Total comments: 82
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