Iceland goes down in my book as one of my favorite countries to photograph. The landscapes are so out of this world, that even astronauts come here to practice for moon excursions. The terrain resembles a mix of the Big Island of Hawaii mixed with Death Valley, plus snow (lots of it). It is a geological treasure trove of volcanoes, black sand beaches, geysers, glaciers, waterfalls, and more. Check out the photography from this trip here.
We had four days and three nights to visit this country, which is hardly enough time to enjoy the splendor of this island. However, Iceland Air makes is easy to visit, even if it is just for a stopover. Also, the sights and excursions change with the seasons, so it is worth a trip to visit during different times of the year. The winter time is quite spectacular, especially for once-in-a-lifetime activities like glacier trekking and northern lights sightings. Here are our suggestions on the best sights to photograph in Iceland in the winter time:
Check out the behind the scenes video:
All videos shot with iPhone 6 | Editing: iMovie
If you have just one day in Iceland and want to get a good overview of the natural wonders, visit the Golden Circle. This is the prerequisite tour of Iceland and can be done via Reykjavik Excursions or rental car. We opted for the rental car option because we missed our tour, but it worked out because we could stop off where we wanted and spend more time at the sights. The roads are easy to navigate in Iceland, so long as it's not snowing profusely.
The Golden Circle is a volcanic and arctic nature area in Iceland about a two hour's drive from Reykjavik. We saw natural wonders like the Strokkur geyser and Gullfoss waterfall. The volcanic landscapes of the UNESCO-listed Thingvellir National Park make you feel like you stepped into the Game of Thrones (which was filmed in Iceland). This area sits on two tectonic plates and visitors can view the continental drift.
From Reykjavik we took the road east towards the volcano Eyjafjallajökull - where you may have heard of because it erupted in 2010 causing major disruption in air travel. There we turned inland in the direction of Þórsmörk and headed all the way up to Gígjökull, an outlet glacier that falls down from the Eyjafjallajökull crater. Continuing east we reach Sólheimajökull glacier where we went for a Blue Ice Glacier Walk. On the glacier, we discovered all kinds of ice formations and the different colors of the glacier ice.
Skógafoss and Seljlandsfoss
On the way back we visited the impressive waterfalls Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss where we ventured behind the cascading water!
Not to be missed is Vik - an expansive black sand beach that stretches to the horizon. The black sand is from the volcanic ash. Getting to Vik requires an off-roading vehicle so be sure to book with Reykjavik Excursions.
On your way to the Golden Circle, you will pass by many Icelandic horse ranches. These horses are unique to the island, and resemble more of a pony-sized horse with long hair. Many of the ranches offer horseback riding excursions and performances, but we opted for a quick do-it-yourself photo shoot with the horses.
Winter time is prime time for viewing the aurora borealis. Check the forecast before your excursion to see which day during your trip will be best for viewing. You can book a boat tour via Special Tours which departs from Reykjavik harbor and sails away from the city lights in search for the northern lights.
The northern lights require cold weather, dark skies, and clear conditions for the best viewing. The boat provides overalls to wear in the cold nighttime weather so you can watch the lights from the top deck. The boat departed promptly at 9:45, and there was still a bit of light in the sky. Once the sky got darker, a faint glow of green started to appear and stretched across the sky like a rainbow. It was truly one of the greatest wonders I have ever seen.
Photographing the northern lights is tricky and takes practice. I recommend trying out your settings on the night sky before heading out to the northern lights. Not only are you photographing the night but the subject is in motion, and sometimes only lasts at its brightest for a few minutes. Set your DSLR to manual and keep the ISO as low as possible and aperture as wide as possible (ie. f/2.8). Turn off the flash. Focus on something still, such as a mountain in the horizon. There were moments when the northern lights appeared so bright that I could photograph them from my iPhone. During editing, I bumped up the exposure to bring out the lights.
For those who want a more relaxing Icelandic vacation, the Blue Lagoon is the top destination. Be sure to book in advance, as this destination fills up quickly. If you wait until the week of your trip, chances are it will already be sold out. The lagoon is a 15 minute ride from the airport, and you can book transfers directly from the airport and stash your bags (at a high cost) while you dip in the lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is man made from a nearby geothermal power plant which supplies the warm water and the silica in the water turns it blue.
The Blue Lagoon was one of the most organized and cleanest facilities I have even seen. At check in, they provide you with an electronic wristband that controls everything from all your spa purchases to your locker room access. Before entering the pool, all visitors must shower in the locker rooms (which are really stylish and nice). They provide shampoo and shower gel. Then, you make your way through the locker room to the pool on the other side.
The water can be accessed either indoors or outdoors. It is jacuzzi-warm and about shoulder high. There are areas where you can get the algae and silica masks, as well as drinks that range from indulgent such as prosecco to healthy such as green juice or skyr smoothies. For those who want to photograph, there are nearby walking paths that wind around the blue waters. You can also bring your GoPro or iPhone (with waterproof case) in the water with you to take photos.
Downtown Reykjavik is a whole 'nother sight to see... more to come, stay tuned.
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