It has always been a dream to visit Iceland, long before i got into photography. The land of ice and fire has this draw that nowhere else in the world has, for me anyway. This desire to visit iceland was not helped by my obsession with the Aurora Borealis, commonly known as The Northern Lights. And i got to see them, just..
15th of January 2018 me, my girlfriend and another couple headed off from Dublin Airport to Reykjavik via Wow air. Side Note: i would fly with them again no problem. Planes were comfortable, very clean (cough ryanair) and staff were pleasant. When we landed in Iceland it was a quick process from being picked up by the rental car service, getting our dascia duster and heading into Reykjavik to find out apartment.
Our apartment was in central Reykjavik and just what we needed. Very clean, easy free parking outside and the host was superb. Now i wont bore you with all that sort of stuff, yes iceland is expensive, yes main course and drink could cost you over 30 euro but so what! If you are planning on coming to Iceland but afraid to spend some money then you might want to re-consider. Plus you can do it reasonably cheap. We had an apartment meaning we had cooking facilities and going to the local supermarket instead of eating out everynight saved us a lot of money!
Driving in Iceland:
In january, driving in iceland is generally not for the faint hearted. They drive on the right hand side of the road (as opposed to us on the left hand side here in ireland) and icy/snowy conditions are regular most days. However, most roads are well cleared and gritted as the country does not stop for the weather they carry on as normal. Our jeep had snow tyres and plenty of grip! Diesel is quite dear surprise surprise.
I think we travelled well over 2000km in the 5 days we were there. It wasn't as you would call it a very relaxing holiday! Well it was, it was exactly my kind of holiday but other people may not see getting up at 5:30am most mornings and hiking in wind and snow relaxing! But i am a photographer and as photographers know the best time to shoot is at sunrise and sunset. So we might of had a 2 or even 3 hour drive to a location for sunrise hence you have to leave early.
Oh yes, daylight hours in iceland in winter are short. The sun rose roughly around 10-10:30am and set at 3:30-4:00pm. So you had to make the most of them!
Things we did:
skogafoss waterfall: this was as stunning as it looks in the pictures and i could not resist the tempation to fly the drone here (even though it says drones are prohibited yes i know bold but my drone is only tiny anyways!). This is where i got that epic shot of the drone coming over the crest of the waterfall in my Iceland Video (cheeky plug i know)
We visited the black sand beach in Vik which was also pretty cool and mostly deserted which i loved. Skogafoss was quite crowded with tourists even though winter is actually off season in Iceland. Why do they call it the black sand beach? you guessed it, the sand is black! No marks for pointing out the obvious but it is very cool to see and the surrounding landscape is surreal.
we visited kirkjufell, possibly the most photographed mountain in Iceland! This is situated in a nice little town where we ate margarita pizza in a small corner cafe, why is it always the small tiny restaurants that do the best food? Anyways we were at kirkjufell for sunset. This was quite a drive from Reykjavik though so make sure you are not tired driving to and from there. Stopping to take in the landscape is a great way to get some fresh air and stretch the legs.
In Iceland literally everywhere you look its like a painting, in winter time anyway! The snowy mountains surround you and then you have these roads leading into them which create those beautiful leading lines us photographers often look for in our images
I wanted this to be sort of a quick guide also for anyone visiting Iceland so here’s a few of my tips:
1) rent an apartment. Much more versatile than a. Hotel and you can cook your own meals
2) rent a car! If possible I would highly recommend a car. Although a small country, many popular sights are a 2 hour drive from the capital so a car is essential and also during winter many of Iceland public transport shuts down as it’s off season (which I don’t get because in my opinion Iceland is far more beautiful in winter than summer)
3) Have a plan. You only have 5-6 hours of daylight. Trust me, you do not want to be spending two of those hours deciding where to go then spending another hour in the car. You leave when it’s dark outside and arrive at destination for sunrise. Have each day planned out with routes, travel times, what you want to see etc.
4) Don’t revolve the holiday around getting to the blue lagoon. Yes it’s cool and yes your in a thermal bath outside while it’s snowing down on top of you (if it’s winter) but it’s not everything it’s cracked up to be and don’t come thirsty because drinks at the bar are not cheap! Didn’t stop me sampling a beverage or two though :-)
5) if your traveling in winter have plenty of layers. The wind chill can be quite cold. Now I am not a cold person I quite like the cold but I will never forget our first morning in Gulfoss waterfall I thought my hands would fall off. I was hardly able to remove the camera from the tripod! Good sturdy walking shoes are helpful too with warm socks.
Want to see the Northern Lights?
Check the KP index. The KP is basically how they measure the aurora activity ranging from 1-9 with 1 being the lowest and 9 being a mad solar storm that rarely ever happens.
You also need a clear sky, which you Astro photographers reading this will know. When I saw the lights the KP index was a mere 1 yet they were still dancing across the clear sky. It was our last night in Iceland and every night previous the cloud has thickened and so with it vanished our chances of seeing the lights. I was beginning to get disheartened when I found this secluded spot near a lighthouse on our last day and I knew if that night the sky was clear we’d see them. Sure enough with us due to drop the car back at the rental for 4:30am , at 2:30am we were standing on the coast line staring up at the green lights flickering overheard and what a sight it was.
1) find a spot away from any city and light pollution
2) make sure the sky is clear
3) try find a nice composition also
4) wind open that aperture on your lens and watch the magic happen!! (Obviously there’s more to the technical side of shooting the northern lights than that but plenty of those articles online).
I thinks thats it. I know I have skipped loads and forgotten to add in stuff but I don’t like long pieces and if you have gotten this far even FairPlay and thanks for reading!
If you have any questions about Iceland drop me a message I’d be More than happy to help :-)