Photoessay: Iceland from Above

Iceland has to offer the most abstract landscapes in Europe, short of some areas in the Italian Dolomites. The country has every photographic cliche and wonders you could want; mountains, waterfalls, river beds, glaciers, and lava fields. It’s a place of rugged beauty and extreme weather conditions, blessed with an amazing quality of light.

In August, golden light lasts for 4-5 hours* so that there is no rush. But it also means that you have to stay up late and get out early in the morning. At least photography doesn’t clash with dinner and breakfast.

There is direct sun but your prefer a cloud to create soft light? Just wait a few minutes. Dark clouds and rain add mystery to the landscape, while shortly after, they let some rays peak through to create a rainbow. There is good light almost anytime during the day.  Iceland is indeed a paradise for photographers.

River bed of the Tungnaa, Iceland.

My advice is to carry your gear in a Pelicase and take a microfiber cloth to keep your camera and lenses dry. Also bring the most stable tripod that you own; the wind is gusty.

Iceland is often said to have friendly people, though all of the employees in tourist related businesses we met were youngsters from Eastern and Southern European countries; very friendly indeed.

The increasing number of tourists (fourfold since 2010, when the eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull put Iceland in the headlines because of mayor disruptions to air travel), and the recent rise in the Icelandic Krona, have made Iceland one of the most expensive countries to visit**. Another downside of Iceland’s popularity are steel grated stairs and paths installed in places where you could roam freely only a few years back. They have been installed to prevent people from destroying the ground and dying for their selfies on the rims of waterfalls.

The ring road near Bakki, Iceland.

We rented a Dacia Duster, a mid-sized 4×4, which is a must if you go inland. But next time I would rent a cheaper sedan for circumnavigating the island on the paved ring road, head back to Reykjavik and exchange the car against a genuine Land Cruiser for taking for example the F208 into Landmannalaugar and the surrounding areas. For these places it is also advantageous to bring a sleeping bag and tent, as accommodation is very sparse.

But the best way to explore the abstract landscapes is from the air, though a number of flights will pay for one of these. Creating an image of light, texture, and form, rather than a commonly recognizable landscape is usually not an easy task. But in a plane over Iceland it’s just in front of your lens.

We used Atlantsflug off Bakki Airport in Skaftafell, which is a great location as it can bring you on top of some of the best landscapes, including the Landmannalaugar area, within an hour return. Atlantsflug offer open-window flights that are great for avoiding ugly reflections and other sources of image degradation. It is of course not possible to hold the lens out by the window, so mounting the lens hood is counter productive.

All images were shot with the Nikon D810 and the 70-200 f/2.8 E FL, with VR on, exposure set to manual, f/8 at 1/1000 of a second, auto ISO (typically 400-800). Enjoy. SR


Laufafell, Iceland.


Landmannalaugar, Iceland.


Lodmondur, Iceland.


Myrdalsjokull, Iceland.


F208 near Landmannalaugar, Iceland.


River bed of the Tungnaa, Iceland.

**Check out the solar-path diagrams: Reykjavik, August 15: Sun elevation angle of 20 deg. at 18:00, sunset 21:29, and civil twilight until 22:30. Compare this to the tropics, e.g., Bangkok, Thailand, almost the year round, 20 deg. at 16:15, sunset at 17:49, civil twilight until 18:15. 

*A fish dish 45 $, a meat dish 55 $, a beer 11 $, a desert 15 $, independent of quality and location (tax and service included). Tap water, completely “tasteless” and thus even better than Evian, for free. You will end up on an involuntary Atkins Diet.

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