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Have you been dreaming of taking a trip to Iceland and capturing some of that beautiful scenery?
Whether you’re an amateur or a professional, Iceland is the perfect setting for a photographer. It’s a breathtaking, stunning land of rugged scenery, spectacular winter scenes, waterfalls, glaciers and more. But if you’re not sure how to get the most out of your trip and take the best photos, here are my top photography tips for Iceland.
Be prepared to miss out on sleep for the best shots!
You can sleep when you’re back at home – seeing the Aurora and taking amazing photos of it might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so be prepared to stay up late, get up really early or even skip going to bed at all.
You won’t regret the few hours of sleep you’ll miss but if you don’t, you might regret missing out on the experience of seeing the Aurora Borealis in all its majesty. You can always catch up with a nap later during the day!
Make sure you pack an ND filter
Throw your camera to the ground in Iceland and you’ll likely get a shot of a waterfall. If you’re looking to get a shot that stands out I can’t recommend picking up a ND (or Neutral Density) filter enough. This will help you take more professional looking photos. Using an ND filter acts like you’ve put dark sunglasses on your camera. The amount of light reaching your camera’s sensor is reduced which means that you can take photos with a slower shutter speed creating that silky smooth water effect.
Don’t forget your weather-proof gear – for you and your camera!
The weather in Iceland definitely keeps you on your toes, so you need to be prepared for everything. When it rains, my best advice is to keep your lens hood on – not only does it give your camera a bit more protection from the rain, but it will also prevent your lens suffering from any knocks, bumps or scratches.
It’s also really useful to carry a small cloth to wipe your lens when it’s raining so you can continue to shoot and get great images without them being spoiled by raindrops. Make sure you have good weather-proof gear too so that you can spend your time taking photos and not feeling wet, or cold.
For extra peace of mind consider buying a rain cover like this to give yourself maximum protection from the elements.
Use Panoramas for the best landscape shots
One of the best ways to capture outstanding landscape shots is to shoot panoramas. You’ll need to take several shots which you can stitch together later in Photoshop. When you’re taking panoramas you should always have your camera in a vertical orientation. Use full manual settings and then take several photos one after the other, shifting the frame horizontally each time. You need to use full manual to make sure that the settings don’t change in between shots.
Make sure you leave a maximum of 30% overlap between each photo to make the editing process easier later on in Photoshop. A little tip is to shoot your hand after the panorama shot series – that way (in Lightroom) you’ll know it’s the end of the panorama.
Experiment with Shutter Speeds – especially when capturing moving water
Iceland is a country of waterfalls and glaciers. Experiment with shutter speeds to see the different looks an image has. Using a slow shutter speed can create a completely different photo than if you were using a faster shutter speed.
When I arrive at a location I will generally walk around with my camera in hand and shoot images of my subject at a high shutter speed. If there is an element of the frame that is in motion (clouds, water, tourists) I will experiment with different shutter speeds to see the effect it has on the image.
Take your time and experiment, you’ll always learn something and will likely come away with better images.
Pack a Sturdy Tripod
Other than your camera, a sturdy tripod is the most important piece of equipment to take with you. A good tripod will keep your camera steady, especially in rugged windy conditions. We’ve spoken a lot about slow shutter speeds so far, the only way you can make this possible is with a good tripod. They’re especially useful for landscape photography, waterfall shots and shooting the Aurora.
A tripod is essential for a trip to Iceland. Tripods come in many shapes, weights and sizes. To be honest, they all do the same thing, hold your camera steady in different environments. Some better than others, if you don’t have one then you should absolutely pick one up, just look for the best value for money and make sure it can handle the weight of your camera.
The Manfrotto BeFree travel tripod is a great option for travel photographers since it’s the perfect balance between price, quality, size and weight. It comes in two versions; aluminium and carbon fibre (which is obviously lighter) but both are great travel tripods.
How to photograph the Aurora at its best
There’s no foolproof formula for capturing the Aurora due to the constantly changing nature of the Lights. Having said that, there are some things you’ll need to get right if you want to maximise your chances. Firstly, set the camera to full manual mode. Open your aperture up to the widest it can be (lowest f-number). Try setting your ISO between 800 and 3200 – play around and see what works best.
I’d recommend a shutter speed of between 6-15 seconds. You might need to try a few different combinations of ISO and shutter speed to get the best shot without being too underexposed, or the aurora being too streaky.
Pro tip: Put something in the foreground of the shot to make it a little more interesting. Shoot one shot to expose this, then take a second shot to expose the aurora in the sky and blend them together in Photoshop.
To sum it up:
- Plan to stay up that bit later and get up early for the best photos
- Pack an ND filter
- Be prepared for all weather
- Try to capture a few panorama shots
- Have a go at experimenting with shutter speeds when photographing waterfalls
- Don’t forget your trusty sturdy tripod, the photographer’s best friend
- And most of all, enjoy soaking in all the beautiful, unforgettable scenery
So there you have my top Iceland photography tips. If you follow these simple and straightforward steps you’ll be sure to take home some snaps to frame – what better way to capture the magical beauty of Iceland and bring those amazing memories to life. I even managed to find a haunted house in Iceland.
You’ll be able to hone your photography skills by gaining experience taking photos of the stunning scenery with these photography tips for Iceland. If you’ve got any questions, you can get in touch in the social channels below. I’ll answer them as soon as possible.
Looking for nice but inexpensive places to stay in Iceland?
Hotels.com is the best place to go to book hotels, rooms and last-minute deals for your trip to Iceland. They are currently offering up to 40% off so you can cut down on some of the cost of travelling in what is otherwise quite an expensive country!
Since 2016 I’ve travelled full-time working as a travel photographer and writer remotely. I move around at my own pace (I hate fast-paced travel) and like to spend a few months getting to know each place I base myself in. Currently in the north of España 🇪🇸 and loving it.