With the winter just around the corner, some of you might already be starting planing ahead their winter trips. Why not Iceland this year?! For many years it has been a quiet place, only few travelers to test the winter conditions at the time. Now this island has become the new photographer’s paradise and is getting more and more popular. And this for a good reason : it is indeed undeniably a place like nowhere else in our world. Travelling in Iceland during the winter season is “slightly” different than during the summer time…
The length of the day, the weather conditions, the road access or even the number of tourists will be different! Doing photography in such a cold destination can be tricky and remind you quickly how hurtful a frozen nose can be. Iceland is not the coldest place on earth, temperatures stay at a reasonable level but the windchill is something you need to be prepared to deal with.
So first of all, and before preparing your camera gear, prepare some good and warm clothes. This will definitely make you a happy photographer. Use the « onion trick » to keep warm, the more layers you stack the less cold you feel. Having some good boots will allow you to walk into snow conditions and not loosing one of your toes ! Multiple gloves is also a good help when it comes to photography.
You need at least two different types, big and warm outside gloves and slim ones to be able to correctly use you camera gear. Also put some grip ( tennis racket grip i.e) on a section of your tripod. If not already done, you will thank me later for that when you try it!
Now that you are ready to face Iceland, let’s go around and get some fresh air! The Golden Circle, if you ever visited Iceland, is the most touristic and easy way to discover it Iceland. There is a tour around the Golden circle by the way. It is a trip you can do in one day if you are short in time.
It includes the national park of Pingvellir, Geysir and Strokkur and Gulfoss waterfalls. Pingvellir National park is a Unesco World heritage site where you can walk in the Mid-Atlantic ridge and see the oxararfoss ( « foss » is the litteral translation for waterfalls ) falling into the rift valley. For scuba diving enthousiasts, the Silfra lake located between the tectonical plates offers one of the best underwater visibility in the world. « Geysir » gave it’s name to all the Geysers in the world, unfortunatly the old Geysir has nowadays infrequent eruptions, whereas Strokkur ( about 50 meters south) erupt at every 5 to 10 minutes interval.
A great place for pictures , often overcrowded , but it is good to wait for sunset as many tourists are already gone by that time… is Gullfoss. A 105 ft (32m) high waterfall, with a triangle shape and a huge water power. Winter almost always restrict the access of the nearest pass to it, but you can easily see it from two other view points that will give you the best of it. Be sure not to arrive too late there for taking pictures as the sun will not create a wonderful rainbow anymore.
The South Coast is one part that can really be a very long story. This coast contains so many different photographic spots that it will require many days to contemplate the beauty of every corner… The road 1 from Reykjavik to Hofn is 295 miles (474 km) long. This sounds like a day trip to most of us, but remember Iceland’s winter road conditions can be really hard and dangerous. I remember my first travel to iceland and the local car rental guy telling me : « if you head up south, never open your door with the wind blowing behind you, the door will fly away and you’ll never see it again, more than that, insurance do not cover this » A nice and warm welcome reminding you how safe we can be in our regions sometimes.
When the wind blows in south Iceland and there is a storm, DO NOT think you are smarter than others and keep it safe. Government often close road 1 due to aweful weather conditions. That said the south region is a lovely and wonderful place that allows you to get some fantastic shots, directly coming from another planet. Your time for shooting is limited as night rules here, try to get the best out of it by knowing where you will shoot during sunrise and sunset. The light and weather conditions are changing within minutes, so will your program. On your way to Hofn, make a stop at seljalandfoss. A majestic waterfall that allows you to walk behind it.
Be carefull as everything might be frozen, shoes with spikes are often needed, and your gear will not appreciate to fall with you! Find your way to Svartifoss and enjoy the beauty of black basalt columns around the falls before heading up to skogarfoss where legends say the treasure can be found behind the water curtain. 😉 One of the most photogenic places in Iceland, easily reachable by car with the possibility to walk to the top of it. Soon Vik appears with its beautiful black beaches and cliffs.
This the southernmost village in Iceland, a good place to have a break, a lunch or a good night sleep. There are not so many hotel or BnB on this road , especially during winter, so enjoy the relative human activity, the church on top of the village and a nice walk along the beach. A great place for photography as well is Dyrhólaey. A place to be during summer for bird watching ( puffins) and a nice access to the beach and cliffs in the colder season. I have just spotted few landmarks between Reykjavik and Vik but you will discover so much more, driving through many different landscape and if I may, different planets !
Going east of Vik , the world known glacial lake (Glacier lagoon) and beaches of Jökulsárlón will make your day! On one side a huge lagoon with floating iceberg, seals and beautiful reflection on the water. On the other side a black sand beach and some smaller ice block on it. If you plan to go to the south, even in the summer, do not miss this place as it is a absolute natural wonder. Sunsets are wonderful and create contrast to your pictures in Jökulsárlón, but if you have the chance to stay at night, please discover the pure sky of Iceland, its milky way and if you get lucky the aurora borealis.