Iceland is one of those places where wherever you turn your head, you seem to spot something photogenic. In this article, I am going to cover 8 of my favorite photographic locations in Iceland, and are all places that I believe should be on every travel photographer’s bucket list.
#1 Reykjavík – Hallgrímskirkja
The first of my photographic locations in Iceland is Hallgrímskirkja church. Hallgrímskirkja is one of the most famous landscapes in Reykjavík. The church stands 74.5 meters (244 ft) high; it is the largest church in Iceland and among the tallest structures in the country. The church is named after the Icelandic poet and clergyman Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614–1674), author of the Passion Hymns. Hallgrímskirkja was only consecrated as a church some 30 years ago. The church is open to the public and you can climb up the tower; from here you can enjoy panoramic views across the city.
If you are into photographic architecture Hallgrímskirkja is one of the most iconic buildings in the world. There are great photographs from various angles around the building, but make sure you have a suitable wide-angle lens in your kit bag. Otherwise, you won’t be able to get far enough away to get a good in-camera perspective.
As a major tourist attraction be prepared for lots of people milling around. If like me, you dislike people in your architecture shots, then carry a tripod and a few ND filters. That’s exactly what I did with the shot above. It was a Sunday morning with both tourists around, and people going to church for morning service. I used a Canon EF17-40 USM lens set at a maximum of 17mm, ISO 100mm, and Aperture F22. Then with an ND10, and a bit of trial and error, I settled on an exposure time of 3 minutes. You can probably see from the photograph that there are ghost shadows of people in the shot. I kind of like these, as it brings a sense of movement to the composition.
Other places of photographic interest in Reykjavik
If you are spending a day in Reykjavík, then be sure to wander around the city, as there are plenty of other places of photographic interest. Notable places to visit are the Sólfar (Sun Voyager – Pictured right), located on Sæbraut beside the water, and is a steel sculpture and signifies a dreamboat. It is set on the waterside with mountains in the background.
The Harpa building (pictured right) is a concert and congress center in the harbor area of Reykjavik. With geometric glass panels of different colors, it looks spectacular both during the day and at night. You also have the opportunity to explore the building from the inside. Finally, if you are into street photography, then head over to the Laugavegur region of the city, which is full of shops, cafes, and bars.
#2 Gullfoss Waterfall
Gullfoss (Golden Falls) is the second of my top photographic locations in Iceland. Gullfoss is a waterfall located in the canyon of the Hvítá River in the southwest of Iceland. It was formed through glacier water flow through a crack in a dried lava fissure. Over time this has carved a massive canyon (pictured below).
Located just a 1.5 hours drive from Reykjavík, it is a major tourist spot. From a photographic perspective this, of course, means that unless you camp nearby overnight to avoid the crowds, you are going to have to deal with lots of people visible through your view-finder. I shot this photo with my Canon EF17-40mm lens at 17mm focal length, 100 ISO, f22, and a 19-second exposure. You can still, of course, see people in the shot, but any greater exposure length resulted in the water looking like cotton wool.
#3 Grindavík – Reykjanes Peninsula
Grindavík is a fishing town on the Reykjanes peninsula of Iceland. It is one of the few cities with a harbor on this coast. Most of the inhabitants work in the fishing industry. The Blue Lagoon, Grindavík’s premier attraction, is located 3 miles (4.8 km) from the town center. Indeed when most people visit the Reykjanes Peninsula, they tend to go to the Blue Lagoon, and/or the Airport. From a photographic perspective though, this region has more to offer than just a spa.
Pictured above, the Grindavik mountains at sunset are a stunning location with mountains framed by inhospitable volcanic rock. It’s also worth a visit to the coastline of the Reykjanes peninsula, which has a barren almost alien feel about it (pictured left). Also, as a bonus, you are unlikely to bump into any people, so your photography will be uninterrupted.
Of course for non-photographic reasons, whilst in the area, do visit the Blue Lagoon. For a truly unique and world-class experience, stay at the hotel, which has its own private area of the lagoon.
Þingvellir pronounced Thingvellir in English is a national park in the Southwest of Iceland 40km from Reykjavík. Þingvellir is a site of historical, cultural, and geological significance, and is another major tourist destination. The park lies in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.
Aside from photography, you get to look at, walk between, and touch a tectonic plate. If you keep this in your mind when you wander around this place, it certainly puts Þingvellir in a whole new perspective. As with all the major attractions, chances are, there will be lots of people milling about. However, if you wander away from the main entry points, you can get off the beaten track a little. For my photographs of the area, I focussed on black and white, as I love the contrast it gives to the foreground.
Skógafoss is a waterfall situated on the Skógá River in the south of Iceland at the cliffs of the former coastline. Skógafoss is definitely on my list of top waterfalls. The car park sits near the base of the falls, and you can really get up close for some fantastic shots from this vantage point. I was lucky to get there before the inevitable masses arrived and got the shot below. I must admit the sun’s glare at the top distracted me from my shot, but beggars can’t be choosers, as literally 5 minutes later there were hundreds of people everywhere. Shot with my Canon EF24-105mm USM at 100 ISO at f22 and a 23-second exposure.
You can also walk up a viewing platform to the top of the Skógafoss waterfall, the views are less than spectacular though, but the walk is certainly good exercise.
Strokkur (the churn) is currently the most energetic spouting spring in Iceland. It spouts every few minutes, sometimes to a height of 40 m, but generally between 10-20 m. Strokkur is located to the east of a little mountain called Laugafell.
To get a good shot you are going to either stay in the local area or travel so you are there for either sunrise or sunset. If you don’t, then there are likely to be hundreds of people. I didn’t heed my advice, and therefore the lovely image below is not my own. Strokkur, therefore, remains on my photographic bucket list.
#7 Mount Kirkjufell & Kirkjufellfoss Waterfall
Kirkjufell is an extremely picturesque area and a perfect spot for photography. It sits on the North Coast of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in the west of Iceland. Kirkjufell is 463 meters [1519 feet] above sea level. Kirkjufell is the most photographed mountain in Iceland, and was used in Game of Thrones under the name of “Arrow Head Mountain”. The whole area is a photographer’s dream, but the most iconic shot is of the Kirkjufellfoss waterfall with Mount Kirkjufell in the background.
#8 Reynisfjara – Black Sand Beach
Reynisfjara – Black Sand Beach is the last of my photographic locations in Iceland. Voted by National Geographic as one of the 21 top beaches in the world [Source: National Geographic], the Reynisfjara black sand beach is a truly unique place. Reynisfjara sits on the South Coast of Iceland.
Black sand is not something that you will find in many places in the world, and from a photographic perspective creates a fantastic contrast between the crashing waves from the ocean. Not only this, but the area is also known by some people as cliffs beach and for good reason. All along the coastline, you will see huge jagged basalt stacks, lava formations, impressive cliffs, and caves. Or put simply a photographer’s dream, especially during the golden hour.