Iceland is an incredible place and it has definitely become a top destination for photographers and it's no surprise when you see the incredible landscapes and ever changing light. When I first visited Iceland in the winter of 2007 there were very few tourists and at most locations, we were the only people. On my last trip I found even in winter you can expect Iceland to be full of tourists especially around the Golden Circle, and while the Golden Circle is definitely worth seeing you might have to be creative to get shots void of other tourists. Reykjavik itself has some iconic places to photograph but for the more unique photo opportunities it is best to explore further afield such as the North & East of the island and the Snæfellsnes Peninsula to the West of Reykjavik. There will be fewer tourists although it can still get busy.
Hallgrimskirkia Church | Reykjavik
The iconic Hallgrimskirkia Church in the centre of Reykjavik is definitely worth visiting day or night. There might be a bit too much light pollution to see the Northern Lights above it unless they are particularly strong, but day or night, the building changes with the ever changing light. Designed to resemble the rocks and landscape of Iceland it is one of the most popular tourist attractions.
Gulfoss Waterfall | Golden Circle
One of the stops on the popular golden circle route is the impressive Gulfoss Waterfall. This epic waterfall has a lot of view points and I think it looks best in Winter with the snow and ice. When I first visited this place in 2007 it was just a car park. Now it has a large visitor centre and it's a bit more challenging to photograph it without capturing other tourists as well.
Thingveillir National Park | Golden Circle
Thingvellir National Park is a unique rift valley where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet, making it prone to tectonic activity. The volcanic landscape is particularly impressive in the low winter sun and while the main viewing area gets quite busy there are some walking routes to explore as well.
Ice Caves | Jokulsarlon Glacier
Ice caves are incredible places to visit. The compacted ice in endless shades of blue is covered in patterns for water erosion. This particular ice cave was under the Jokulsarlon Glacier but there are others around the island. Sadly the first glacier I climbed back in 2007 has almost disappeared now due to climate change.
The Black Church | Snaefellsnes Peninsula
The black church of Budir on the Snaefellsnes Peninsuala is iconic among photographers. Stood out in the middle of the landscape with the incredible views over the snow covered mountains. This remote location may still have a few tourists but no where near the numbers that visit the golden circle route.
Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon | Southern Iceland
The Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is one popular with tourists all year round. The lagoon itself is filled with hundreds of Icebergs which break away from the glacier and is also home to numerous Seals. After drifting out to sea, a lot of the icebergs get washed ashore along the nearby volcanic beaches. I'd recommend an extended stay here if you can.
Seljalandsfoss | Southern Iceland
Seljalandsfoss Waterfall is another popular destination in Southern Iceland. My favourite picture of this area doesn't even include the waterfall. This photo was taken just next to Seljalandsfoss with the evening sun lighting up the landscape and a rainbow from a passing snow shower. The waterfall itself is a great place to visit and you can even walk behind it if it's not to icy. This is another location that can get a bit congested with tourists.
Hellnar | Snaefellsnes Peninsula
Hellnar is a small settlement on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula but it has some of the most impressive landscape I've seen in Iceland and does not get as many tourists. Down on the sea front you can see the volcanic rocks with the snow capped mountains in the distance. Iceland in winter is normally quite windy but the Snaefellsnes Peninsula is particularly bad so expect some wind chill.
Aurora Borealis | Away From The Towns
Undoubtedly the reason most people visit Iceland but I wouldn’t make this your only goal as you could come away disappointed. As with anything in nature there is no guarantee and even if the lights are in full effect it might still be cloudy where you are. There is a lot to see and do in Iceland so it is best to just go and enjoy the experience and if you get the lights as well then that is the icing on the cake! There is a good chance of seeing them from late September to late March but December and January are usually best. Try and stay somewhere away from the towns with the landscape on your doorstep and I would recommend a week there as this should give you at least one or two clear nights.
Travel Tips | Equipment To Take
Firstly take a good tripod! I try to travelled light with just my Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 and Nikon 70-200mm f2.8. I would highly recommend taking some filters, even if you don't have a Lee Filters Big Stopper for the waterfalls, a polariser or ND filter will give you a few extra seconds of exposure for those beautiful waterfall shots. If you have a wide angle lens like the Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 that's great for the Ice Caves and Northern Lights. If you’re going out on the whale watching trips or you’re there in summer to see the birds and other wildlife then I would also recommend a 200mm or 300mm and TC. If you are going in winter don’t forget to take extra Batteries!