When you think of landscape photography what comes to mind? For me, it's always been Iceland. Even as travel gets more accessible and countries rollout vacation packages, Iceland still seems to have kept some of its mystery. Sure you can go to Skógafoss and capture the tiny person in a yellow raincoat (or course I shot this exact composition), but there are still so many untouched areas left to see with little investment.
This past May I had the amazing opportunity to spend 10 days in this fantastic country and throughout this blog post I’ll share my favorites, some things I’d do differently and my plans to return.
It's pretty incredible to think in just 6 1/2 hours from Seattle you can be in a completely foreign land that resembles nothing you’ve seen before. Upon arriving in Reykjavík it was immediately apparent we were in for an eye opening adventure. After spending the night in the city and getting our bearings we headed west to Arnarstapi, a small fishing village on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula which is home to the mighty Snæfellsjökull Volcano.
Once we got settled in our hotel we decided to grab some lunch, but something immediately felt off. Was it the fact the sun had only set for a few hours? Was it the long drive from Reykjavík or some residual jet lag? No, it was the fact we were eating pizza outside in the sun wearing sunglasses and t-shirts which would become a comfortable, yet unfortunate theme for the trip. When you think of Iceland you don’t think outrageous sunshine and wandering about in summer attire, but that's what we were facing here and it just felt strange. Over the coming days we learned to embrace the forecast, make sure to apply lots of sunscreen and just roll with it, because when life gives you lemons.
As a regular tourist these were ideal days with much to see, but as a photographer, the crown jewel of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula has to be Kirkjufell and the perfectly framed Kirkjufellsfoss. However, with 20 hours of daylight and beaming sunshine the wait for ‘moody' conditions can be a bit grueling. As the midnight sun began to approach I ventured out and was thoroughly enjoying the fact I had 2 hours of golden hour and 2 hours of sunset conditions. This was just insane to me, almost like a dream that for the next 4 to 6 hours I’d have the most ideal light a photographer could ask for. This makes for a very relaxing experience which is not normal, as we’re usually scrambling to reach locations, get set up for that moment that can last 30 minutes at best. Nevertheless, I found myself still rushing, so I had to make it top of mind to take my time, no need to drive like a maniac and scramble to locations because that light wasn’t going anywhere.
Upon arriving at Kirkjufellsfoss (even at 10pm) the tripods were a plenty and the parking limited. Anytime I see this it immediately gets my creativity going and I start looking for something different, so in a funny way the crowds are almost a welcome sight which forces me to think outside the box.
After 3 days of basking on the beaches of the Snæfellsnes (wish I was joking) and hanging out with herds of sheep it was time to head south to Vík, the rainiest place in Iceland. During the month of May it apparently rains at some point during the day, everyday and as we got closer that became apparent. The clouds started to roll in, the rain started to trickle and I naturally got a bit giddy, but as we went over the next few hills it seemed mother nature had other plans. We rolled into Vík without a cloud in the sky, so the sunglasses went back on and the sunscreen started flowing.
To lift the mood or lack thereof we hit the local brewery Smiðjan Brugghús. Things got better real quick, but not because of alcohol, but because the food was phenomenal as is most of the cuisine in Iceland. Nothing quite like a massive locally sourced burger to lift your spirits! After getting settled in town it was time to head out to Skógafoss, Dyrhólaey, Reynisfjara and other incredible locations in the area. Again, we were in no rush as we knew we had the next 4-6 hours of awesome conditions and because it was so late in the day, zero crowds. I can’t stress enough the months of April and May in Iceland. Sure you give up the northern lights and it's highly likely you won’t see snow, but the days are long and the crowds light.
After 3 days in Vík spent riding horses, eating everything on the menu at Smiðjan Brugghús we headed even further east to the amazing village of Höfn. The eastern landscape of Iceland is just breathtaking (which is saying a lot since the entire country is surreal), but it just seemed to get more intense as we drove. The stretch of road from Vík to Höfn was unlike anything I’ve seen and we must have pulled over a dozen times just to take it all in.
Between the villages you’ll find Jökulsárlón aka Glacier Lagoon, Diamond Beach which is just across the highway and Lómagnúpur a nearly 700 ft cliff just off Highway 1. The most surprising location of the trip had to be Jökulsárlón - I mean where can you see icebergs the size of houses floating and breaking apart before being washed out to sea?
This is also where the versatility of the SLIK PRO CF-734 came in handy. Catching the movement of the water surround the ice in the lagoon and beach made for incredible images. We ended up spending the entire sunset there until around midnight which was alright with me because we had the place all to ourselves. Although tough to leave we carried on to Höfn and were greeted with grey skies and the possibility of finally feeling like we were in Iceland.
After a few hours of sleep and with perfect moody conditions we headed out early to Vestrahorn, which was my most anticipated location of the trip. A nearly 1,500 ft mountain Vestrahorn towers over the Atlantic Ocean and almost seemingly rolls right into the black sand beaches of the Stokksnes Peninsula. Stepping out of the car to 45 mph winds, 2ºc temperatures and sideways rain, I couldn’t help but smile. I finally made it, paradise!
Biggest takeaway from the trip for me, the food is amazing, the people incredibly nice and southeastern Iceland is just on another level. Sure Kirkjufellsfoss and the Snæfellsnes is not to be missed, but a return trip would have me take an immediate right when turning onto the Ring Road. The barren landscape and more intense weather feels the most like what I thought Iceland to be. Although the winter will be intense, I’d love to come back when the northern lights are brightest and the ground is covered in snow. Spring/summer was fantastic and a great entry level trip to the country, but my next go around will be much colder.
Author - Ryan Ditch, Slik Ambassador