Shooting Iceland's Landscapes - A Survival Guide for Landscape Photographers

Shooting Iceland’s Landscapes – A Survival Guide for Landscape Photographers

After many requests, I’m finally writing a guide for landscape photographers who are trying to make the best of their trip to Iceland. This guide is based on my experience and choices while visiting this wonderful country. I’ve decided to divide it in the chapters outlined below, each one being a separate blog article.


1- Introduction
2 – Gear
3- Flying to Iceland
4- Choosing a transportation
4.1- Speeding Tickets – Beware
5- Surviving off the grid
6- Accommodation
7- Searching for the light
8- Security
9- Famous Spots
10- Shooting the Northern Lights
11- Seasons and weather
12- Are these places real or is this photoshop?
13- 7 Myths about Iceland
14- 7 Truths about Iceland which are actually Myths
15- Where to eat
16 – General Survival tips


1. Introduction

It was June 2014, and I can still remember it as if it was yesterday… I was sitting at my computer, planning a photo trip to the Azores islands, when I suddenly thought of “Iceland”, as if the idea erupted right out of my unconscious. The famous land of fire and ice was a constant presence in so many online photo communities, feeding my dreams every time I saw images of its landscapes. Unfortunately I had always thought such a trip was totally outside my budget, until I suddenly found myself searching for plane ticket prices and car rental companies…

After some research, I found out that Iceland had suffered a great economic crisis, just like many other european countries (including mine), and tourism prices were considerably lower than I expected (although still expensive for portuguese budgets). I was instantly hooked, and couldn’t stop thinking about the possibility of finally visiting this place. To be able to make it I wouldn’t be able to afford for accommodation, and restaurants were incredible expensive, so it quickly became a question of deciding between a two week hotel-fancy-meal-everything-included trip to Azores or a one week sleep-in-the-car-sandwich-meals to Iceland. I guess you know which one I chose…

Vestrahorn Mountain sunrise in Iceland

Vestrahorn Mountain sunrise in Iceland

Since my first trip, I’ve visited this wonderful country twice, and will visit it once more this year. I don’t quite know how to explain this, but it feels as if a part of me belongs to this exquisite dreamlike place, compelling me to return over and over, as a way to once more feel the most intense nature connection I’ve ever felt in my life.

It’s quite incredible to think that one day I was sitting quietly at home and then, a few weeks later, those enlightened places which only existed inside the oniric landscapes of imagination materialized right in front of me. During both trips to Iceland something too profound and primitive happened on that infinite piece of land, inhabiting an excessively large room inside of me. Sometimes I wipe off its dust and open its windows to let the air flow, but when I glance at it I can only find memories and shadows, longing for a new encounter.

Northern Lights in Hveragerði, Iceland

Northern Lights in Hveragerði, Iceland

After shooting many incredible spots in Iceland, I can confirm that some kind of divine creature must have participated in sculpting this place. There is just too much unique beauty there, making it impossible to imagine it as a byproduct of chaos and randomness.

The landscapes in Iceland are not only majestic, but also extremely volatile. After being on so many unstable places, which would never look the same on a second visit, I found the king of pure buddhist impermanence: the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon and it’s endless floating delicate sculptures of ice, right in front of my eyes. There was an absolute, almost mystical silence in this place, interspersed with one of the most amazing natural sounds I ever heard: the frequent crackling of ice. absolutely three dimensional, coming from multiple spots. As senses were sharpened by the extreme cold in the area, the global sensory overload felt like absolute pleasure. Sometimes the omnipresent blue tones would give place to intense skies fiery red skies, making it all look even more surreal. This place is quite simply the most beautiful work of moving art I’ve ever seen in my short life.

Long exposure landscape photography in Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, in Iceland, shot during sunset by landscape photographer José Ramos from Portugal

Long exposure landscape photography in Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, in Iceland, shot during sunset by landscape photographer José Ramos from Portugal

Other experiences followed, similarly incredible and remarkable. Doing a longer exposure image right behind the Seljalandfoss waterfall impact zone was an almost mystical experience. Witnessing the thunderous sound of water crushing the earth, as it is converted into a serene landscape, reminded me about why I love this craft so much. Places like these teach me about patience and the sacred value of contemplation, while offering me the gift of ecstasy at the same time.

In a different location, Dettifoss, massive amounts of extremely turbulent waters suddenly met an endless abyss, with liquid chaos ensuing right after the fall. The Universe seems to have its strange ways of always creating order out of chaos, and witnessing such water apocalypse giving birth to a steady and serene undulating river, made me wonder if we, as humans, are right now steady streams or rather turbulent waters, headed to somewhere less chaotic.

Dettifoss waterfall, in Iceland, shot at sunrise

I could mention so many other places, ranging from the majestic mountains of Vestrahorn to the erupting geothermal lands of Hverir, but I should leave that to the chapter dedicated to photo spots.

As you have certainly understood by my words, I’m absolutely passionate about this place, and I’ve been building a portfolio of this incredible country for the last two years. Since I published my first Iceland photo, many people have asked me for all kinds of advices and tips about this place, so I have been planning on writing a series of articles with practical info that will answer many of these doubts. This is my way of giving back for all the incredible feedback I’ve been getting for the last two years, as well as trying to help other passionate souls in making the most out of their visit.

I would like to remind you that these articles reflect my personal opinion, and I’ll be glad to see you share your disagreement with some of these advices, as constructive debate creates solid knowledge. Hope this guide will be helpful for your trip!