I love Iceland. If I could live anywhere in the world, I would probably pick Iceland. Winters can be brutal, but every other aspect of the country appeals to me, and when I’m there I feel like I’m home. One of my favorite things to do is show people around this country and help them appreciate the wonders it provides for photography. I was extra excited for this year’s group because, with COVID and the post-COVID slowdown in travel, I was beginning to think I might not ever be back. But luckily we had a group ready to go, and we set off for a summer-solstice adventure in the land of fire and ice.
I met my group in Reykjavik, where we had a brief orientation and set off for a wonderful Italian dinner up the road. COVID had done a number on many of the restaurants and locations in the country, so in some ways, it was a whole new experience for me to find places to eat.
Many folks were tired from long days of travel, so we purposely kept day 1 activities to a minimum. We started out at Gullfoss, which is one of the largest waterfalls in Iceland. This is a great intro to the power of the landscape in the country as well. This massive fall plunges into a deep gorge, and the mist alone can be seen from miles away. The weather was on the drizzly side, which is typical of Iceland, so photographing this beast was a little challenging. The water came from the sky on the far away angles, and from the bottom when we got closer to the falls in the form of mist. What a great way to start! The next stop we made was Geysir…does the name sound familiar? It’s where the word geyser comes from. If you’ve been to Yellowstone, this geyser isn’t nearly as impressive, but it is a fun little stop and gives everyone a chance to practice their quick trigger fingers trying to capture the infamous “blue bubble” that happens right before the explosion. The final stop on the tour was one I hadn’t brought a group to in years, due to the difficulty getting to the spot.
Bruarfoss is one of the most iconic, and beautiful waterfalls in the world. The color blue is so nice, there’s not a really good word to describe it. It’s beautiful with a vivid sunset, for sure, but it’s really great with an overcast sky…which really pops that blue. Thankfully we avoided the rain and were able to hike the newly finished trail to the lot. The new trail has made what was a 2 hours round trip hike into a 5-minute stroll. It was fun being some of the first people to really get to experience this trail. Also, we go out to photograph at night, when it’s still light with the midnight sun, but the masses of tourists are mostly asleep in their hotels. We had this place all to ourselves.
By this point, everyone was looking exhausted and it was time to head back for a much-needed rest.
The next day we set off for the town of Vik, and after a wonderful lunch at the local brewery, we made our way down to the water to shoot the famous sea stack a little before checking into our hotel. The weather in Iceland is something I’m checking ALL the time. I use multiple sources and I’m always trying to figure out where the best chance for epic light is, and when epic light doesn’t seem possible. I just try to find someplace we won’t get rained on.
The weather in the Vik area looked grim on our night there, so I opted to drive us a couple of hours east to head to Jokulsarlon, the glacier lagoon, and iceberg “diamond” beach. The weather maps looked promising for clearing skies, but weather maps aren't always super accurate, so we didn’t get the amazing color we’d hoped for, but we did have an amazing dinner, and nobody got rained on. Like Bruarfoss, the lagoon and beach can be photographed and look stunning even in an overcast sky. While on the beach we worked on longer exposures to get some movement in the water, surrounding the ice chunks. Some people think that this beach is constantly covered in ice, but it is a tidal area, so it is entirely possible to come here and have no ice on the beach. Thankfully the lagoon always has ice in it, and there are plenty of different ways to compose shots there. Despite the long drive, it was a productive evening of photography.
The next morning, because we had not really spent much time looking at the attractions in Vik, we went to Reynisfjara, the black sand beach with the best views of the sea stack. The tide was as low as I’ve ever seen it, so it was safe to round the bend and get up close and personal with the sea stacks. This is by far the best view of these massive rocks. Legend is that a troll was dragging boats to shore when the sun rose, and turned it all to stone. From there we visited the famous red-roofed church and got some shots of that with the lovely lupine field that surrounds it. Even though I always try to be out in the evening photographing, it is kind of nice to go out in the day at least once, so everyone can see WHY we go out at night, because of the hordes of people everywhere.
The next two nights we were on the southeastern tip of the country. Typically for these nights, the goals are to photograph the glacier lagoon, and diamond beach, as well as Vesturhorn, and Eysterhorn. But the weather was looking very grim for the “horns' ' and we’d already photographed the lagoon and beach. So while I planned on one more trip to the glacier lagoon, we needed to try to find something else to photograph. So I took them to Skutafoss. I’ve driven groups past this little gem numerous times but never stopped. However, tonight the overcast conditions and weather provided a great opportunity for us to visit it. It’s really a great waterfall with numerous compositional possibilities and great places to utilize creative foreground. After this, the weather turned nasty, and it was time to retreat back to our hotel. The next evening we moved to a nicer hotel closer to the lagoon and made a return visit, but again the weather proved difficult, and I think everyone was happy with the images they’d made the previous visit. We did manage to stop and photograph some of the Icelandic horses though, which is always fun. These are the rock stars of horses, with their beautiful mains, and sunny dispositions. If anything they can be too nice, and often just run to the fence looking for a treat. Even though the weather was proving a little challenging, we made productive use of every day and got some photos that were really great!
Iceland typically has worse weather in the south than anywhere else. If you look at a map, there is no land between Iceland and Antarctica, which means any storm brewing on the Atlantic, headed north has nothing to stop it until it hits Iceland. We were headed to the north though, where the weather looked much more favorable. On our way, we stopped at a little waterfall. Folaldafoss is hard to miss, it’s one of the prettiest little falls on the route. It’s also got a nice little pullout for parking, so it makes sense to stop and stretch the legs here, and also make some images. It was still early to check into our hotel so we made a little run to the picturesque town of Seydisfjordur. If you have Instagram, you’ve seen the shot of their church with the little rainbow path leading up to it. This town is so quaint and cool. Because of schedules, this is another spot I haven’t brought a group to before, and it was a great stop for an amazing lunch, as well as a few photographs. The sun was out, and you could just see everyone’s mood improve.
The night's goal was to head to Borgafjordur Eystri, to photograph puffins. One of the highest concentrations of puffins on mainland Iceland is here, and the last time we brought a group here we had amazing images from close range. On this night there were more puffins, and the light was amazing. Within about an hour everyone had more than their share of puffin images and we were ready to head back. On the drive back the sunset was off the charts, so we stopped on a little dirt track to go photograph the mountains, and the seemingly endless lupine fields. Because the weather and sun were more prevalent in the north the fields of lupines here had grown larger than those in the south.
It’s quite a drive out there, so by the time we were back most people were ready for bed. Those who were still up for a shoot were able to walk to the lake behind our hotel and find some nice shots of the little barn on the lakeside.
The next morning it was off to Akureyri for two nights of waterfalls. On our way, we stopped at the canyon Studagil, again, if you have Instagram you’ve seen this place. The canyon with the tall basalt pillars, and bright blue water running through it. Thanks to Instagram many of these places that used to require inside knowledge, and miles of hiking, are now more easily available. It’s great for the ease of getting there, but it also brings in DROVES of tourists. I wish we could’ve visited this place in the evening, because we would’ve had it to ourselves, but the schedule was such that we had to stop during the day. But It was still amazing!
In Akureyri the first night we set off for Aldeyjarfoss, one of my favorite waterfalls in the country. I seem to always hit this one right and I think I’ve had a great sunset here 9-10 times. We were on the mark again this year, and we had some really amazing light. The flies were annoying, which is always something the north provides. Everyone toughened up and we got our shots in before the flies drove us away. On our way back we stopped at Godafoss, a wonderful little horseshoe falls that is in the top 5 of most photographed waterfalls in the country. The sunset had faded a little and we waited to see if we could pull some color over the falls, but the mist and the cloud cover had other ideas, and we set off back to the hotel, still very content with the images we’d collected.
The next night we went to Dettifoss and Selfoss, two wonderful waterfalls in the interior. Dettifoss is the second most powerful waterfall in Europe, but it’s way cooler than the first most powerful. Selfoss is a series of falls, dropping over the basalt ledge about 1.5 miles north of Dettifoss. Our Sunset streak was alive and well, and for the third straight night, we had some amazing color. In the 15 times, I’ve been to this waterfall, this was the best light of the bunch…it was awesome!
The next day was a long drive to the Snaefells peninsula. We stopped for lunch along the way and once we got out to the peninsula we stopped in Stykkisholmur to enjoy the sunshine and walk along the harbor. The hotel we had in Grundarfjordur was perfect. It was looking out at Kirkjufell Mountain (again, check IG…most popular mountain in Iceland) and was also right next door to arguably one of the better restaurants in the country. I’ll say this. This group was all food savvy so finding restaurants that catered to their palettes was a lot of fun, and I would say we had probably 90% really great food. There are a lot of different places on the Snaefells peninsula to photograph, and as we moved back in a southerly direction so did the unreliable weather. For the two days we were here the weather was decent during the day on the southern coast of the peninsula, but turned ugly in the evening. The weather around Kirkjufell and the waterfall in the area was always great in the evening and sunrise. We had two nights and a morning of some of the sweetest light I’ve seen there, but some of the nastiest weather I’ve seen was just 20 miles around the bend on the south coast. Welcome to Iceland! Thankfully the weather during the day with storm clouds and dappled light filtering through the clouds provided some awesome shots of the black church at Budir, the little white house at Arnarstapi, as well as the lupine fields and the little red-roofed church called Ingjaldscholskirkja. Again we had a couple of productive days of light and everyone got some more great images.
Time flew by and before we knew it we were on our way back to Reykjavik. We had one last night for a great dinner, a show and tell of favorite images, and one last outing to see Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss, two waterfalls we missed during our time in Vik, due to weather.
My favorite place to eat on the final night was Tapas in Iceland, it’s a great place to try a bunch of different local cuisines prepared in a variety of creative ways. We had so much fun at the restaurant eating, laughing, and recounting our trip.
The waterfalls were great, and while we didn’t get the light we’d hoped for, it was still fun for people to see these massive falls up close, and add them to their collection. This is also the time when 11 days of travel and crazy hours start to catch up with people, and they hit the wall, LOL. Everyone was amazing this trip in keeping a positive attitude, everyone got along, told great stories, and just made this trip one of the best I’ve done!
Until Next Time,
Brian and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team
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