European Travels: 48 Hours Photographing Iceland

I want to start off apologizing to my regular readers for no general post last month, I had my hands full finishing up the edits to bring you this!  Sadly I have not shot terribly much this month either but will have another full location post on the way as well as another Okinawan Adventures throwback hopefully so you can look forward to that.

 

Moving forward lets cover some basics of this trip and how I came to spend a weekend in one of the most beautiful countries I have visited so far first.  A good friend who I met on my trip to Taiwan contacted me at the beginning of August and stated that he would be traveling to Iceland at the end of the month for 5 or so days.  I was ecstatic, Iceland was near the top if not at the top of my must see while living in Europe list!  However, due to some tight manning constraints, I was only able to go up for a weekend during his time up.  

I quickly asked if it would be ok if that while I was in country we rent a 4x4 to free us up and lessen the costs of the trip by just sleeping rough in the jeep.  Carsten had no issues with it and even hooked us up with a discount on one due to working for an airline!  I also got ahold of another photographer friend from Okinawa who is stationed in the UK now to tell him about the opportunity and see if he would be up to split the jeep costs with us and go on the trip.  Cody was quick to say yes and so began my planning process.

I knew what I wanted to see and I knew everyone else would be happy to see even half of my list so as usual I just kinda took over the agenda and planning aspect.  I think you guys will really approve of the amount we managed to cover in honestly a little less than 48hours time in Iceland.

As soon as we hit the ground we were on the move.  Carsten had arrange the rental company to grab us at the airport and to meet us there so after a quick reunion / introduction we were off to grab a pretty decent Toyota Rav4.  I think we paid 300 Euro for the two days we had it so not terribly bad considering how expensive everything else was, and fuel turned out not to be much above costs in the UK even if that is still significantly higher than my American standards!  Once we got the car and loaded our gear I punched in the first location and we were off.

 

Blue Lagoon

 

Blue Lagoon was a must hit, it's one of the most talked about spots in Iceland and is right on the way to anything else due to its proximity to the airport.  Maybe a 20min drive at most!  I will side with the rumors stating that this is most likely caused by the factory nearby but that doesnt take away from how alien and cool the area is!  The milky teal water, the rigid and barren earth surrounding it.  Blue Lagoon is worth the stop, Plan ahead if you want to use the spa area as its pretty popular and full of tourists!  All these shots were taken in the surrounding no-charge area so don't be off-put that you have to pay to see some of it, there is still plenty to check out without paying the cover fee.
 

After walking around and snapping some shots for twenty to thirty minutes we decided to head off as the drive to the next spot, Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, would be a bit on the long side.  We did stop more than a few times however and did plenty of shooting out of the car along the way.  unfortunately, most of the shots did not turn out due to getting hit with some Icelandic weather along the way!  

A stop at some beach café will always come to mind when telling this story though.  Perched on one of the famous black sand beaches Iceland is talked about for the café really had the spirit of all the other stops.  Small, and to its self out in the middle of nowhere, but beautiful and full of friendly folks.  The co-owner was actually American, having met her spouse after moving to Australia to teach folks how to surf.  Talk about a turn of events with her now living in Iceland!  I suppose she does still live on the beach though and seemed very happy to be living the simple life.  I loved the roof of the café it was styled like the bottom of a boat and was really brought a lot of life into the building.

 

Seljalandsfoss

 
 
 

Seljalandsfoss is right off the road, you can literally see it from a mile or so off if your looking!  The Saddest part about these falls is they are popular and the buses will take you here so expect a crowd.  That being said the crowds are not massive and most folks respect that this is nature and seem to be doing a really good job of keeping things nice or the locals are doing a great job keeping things cleaned up!  Either way awesome job, nice to see things given some respect.  The falls are pretty impressive.  Rather large and as most waterfalls in Iceland very picturesque.  The main highlight of Seljalandsfoss is that you can walk in behind the falls and I highly recommend doing so.  Just be prepared to get a little wet!  From Seljalandsfoss we headed to number two on my list Skógafoss!  luckily now we were in the area around Vik so most of the following stops are not too much of a drive until we headed to Haifoss that night!  Something to think about if planning your own trip.

 

Skógafoss

 

Walking up to Skógafoss is awe-inspiring.  You see this waterfall everywhere, its fame alone is enough to make you stop and appreciate that somehow you have come to be standing in front of this beautiful piece of Earth in life.  It really does just force a moment of self reflection on you.  The falls themselves are incredible and actually rather hard to photograph due to folks rushing up to take selfies or just bask in the spray.  What really surprised me though was that there is a path leading up to the top and beyond.  The view from the top is almost as beautiful with is mountainous backdrop and well worth the stop.  This is another must see if you plan to visit Iceland, no trip would be complete without it.  If you can or at least are the type there is a wonderful campsite nearby just at the base full of some wonderful traveler types.

 
 

Solheimasandur Plane Wreck (DC-3)

 

Another popular sight but unpopular stop in Iceland is the US Navy DC-3 crash.  I got so much hate for having us stop here!  I think it was mostly because of the unplanned 4km walk out to the site (you used to be able to drive most the way up to it).  It was the last stop of day one and I will admit is not on my must hit list or even something I recommend unless your specifically interested in stuff like this but to me it was still worth it in general.  I got some cool shots of a genuinely historic place and who knows how long it will be left there!  The surrounding landscape was really wild as well, very flat open almost moonlike except for the awesome mountains way off in the distance!

 

After the DC-3 we had to make a choice,  Where did we want to wake up?  Did we want to start to circle back and sleep at Haifoss so that we could shoot it when we woke up and move to continue north to Kirkjufell for day two hitting whatever is on the way as we go?  We ended up going on this option but the other option was we continue on to Jökulsárlón waking up to the glaciers and spending the rest of day two backtracking to Gullfoss hitting sights like Fjaðrárgljúfur, Svartifoss  and Dverghamrar along the way.  I can't say I regret the option we took but I do really regret not having the time to do both!  I cant wait to make a return trip and spend a week so that I can see everything I want.  As you will see below there are worse places in the world than Haifoss to wake up.  It turned out to be an excellent start to the day.

 

Haifoss

 
 

Nothing like sleeping in a car and waking up to raindrops on the windshield when you were hoping to shoot sunrise over Haifoss.  The feeling of dread washed right over me, quickly however healed by the knowledge that I had an excuse to go back to sleep and wait out the rain.  When I woke up next it was around 830am, the jeep was significantly colder than when we shut our eyes during the night and the windshield had fogged totally over but I didn't hear any rain.  I grabbed my camera and put on some extra layers and opened the door of the jeep stepping out into some fierce wind.

As soon as I stepped out this was the view..  I was in shock.  The night before when we drove up it was pitch black so we had no real idea of what to expect.  I quickly woke the guys up and said you gotta check this out, its insane.  The area was so lush and green.  There were two massive falls roaring only acouple hundred meters from us.  I quickly grabbed the rest of my kit and got to work shooting!

 
 

Looking back I think this spot was my favorite, and funny enough it was a spot I just stumbled upon, most folks do not visit due to needing a 4x4 to get up to the area.  Sometimes places really surprise you I suppose.  I do regret not having the time to take the long trail down to the bottom of the falls and into the gorge, I am sure the views from the bottom of these falls with the huge walls of the gorge would be breathtaking..  I will return to Haifoss on my next trip for sure.

 

After warming up from shooting Haifoss we got headed on our way, next stop, the mighty Gullfoss.  On the way we decided some gloves would be a must and opted for the Icelandic wool variant at a gas station when fueling up for the first time.  Really impressed with the gloves honestly, they are super warm.  If you need a souvenir my recommendation goes to something out of Icelandic wool.  I got a scarf and some gloves.  Cody got a watch cap, gloves, socks, and even a poncho for his woman back home.  Carsten also opted for a pair of gloves if I remember correctly.

 

Gullfoss

 
 

The spray from Gullfoss travels far and wide.  From the moment you park at the falls its covering you and everything around you.  easily one of the hardest falls to photograph on the trip due to the massive amount of mist it throws off Gullfoss was a real treat and a real challenge.  I would say it makes the must see list for sure, I think its Iceland's second most powerful set of falls actually.  I love that you can walk right down onto the rock in the center of the falls as well.

 

Geysir park

 
 

Shortly after Gullfoss you can hit the Geysir park.  Maybe a twenty minute drive from Gullfoss it is worth a stop.  When we headed over we had no idea that the large geysir goes off almost every ten minutes so when we were walking up and it went off we all thought we might have missed it!  However, when the crowd stuck around and we started asking it became pretty clear we would have another chance to capture something like below.  The hill at the back of the park is really worth a climb as well.  It offers some amazing views of the park and surrounding area!  All around I would not say it is a must hit as some places in the highlands would be a much better treat but if your already at Gullfoss you should take the half an hour and stop.

 

The Road to Kirkjufell

 

After the Geysir park we had another long drive ahead of us. almost 3 hours actually.  Carsten was a huge champ and drove almost exclusively on the trip allowing us to snap photos out the windows along the way.  Luckily we were in Iceland so even the journey between major spots was incredible.  Horses and sheep littered our path to Kirkjufell.  Even more amazing was the weather on the trip up.  Not a single drop of rain and some really dramatic landscapes and lighting at times.. 

Just before stopping in the town of Grundarfjörður for some food we came across this incredible landscape.  It could have been a stop all on its own honestly.  We stopped the car and shot photos probably for close to ten or fifteen minutes, the way the light was playing across the road and the distant mountains was incredible.

 

Our next stop was a "pizzeria" in Grundarfjörður.  Carsten and Cody tried horse for the first time and we all had a beer before heading off to Kirkjufell.  Owner was really nice and the place was pretty quiet, Grundarfjörður is a really small but beautiful town, wouldn't mind going back someday.

 

Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellfoss

 

Kirkjufell or its nearby falls did not disappoint.  Well worth the drive up from the south especially when it was such a beautiful ride.  Before we even approached the mountain we were stopping to shoot some seascapes with the mountain, this actually lead to an amazing shot of a small cabin off the side of the road when I was returning to the car.  One of my favorite shots of the trip honestly.  The way the light ripped through the clouds and hit the cabin for just long enough to get the shot was incredible.

 
 

Once we got up to Kikjufellfoss the real fun began, when walking it it can be hard to picture in your head exactly how your going to get the falls in the shot but once your up on the falls and working the scene it becomes easier to put together.  Another awesome point about this location is that it is so far north a fair amount of tourists are not found and your left with just the more dedicated travelers or local photographers.  If you are traveling the ring road this is a must stop.  It was number one on my must see list and turned out to be second on the favorite locations for the trip list with Skógafoss coming in third just behind it and Haifoss being my top.

 

After Kikjufell we decided due to having some extra sunlight to drive around the peninsula and take the long way back to Reykjavík.  During that I decided to take the same approach I did in Scotland to avoid the glares on the window and stick half my body out the window and shoot as we drove down the road.  At least until Cody got worried and made me come back in after a few shots!

 

The Northern Lights

 

At some point during the drive the idea came up that with the skys looking clear we could skip a night out in Reykjavík and opt to stay up north until dark to shoot the milky way and then drive down to catch our flight out at 6am.  I had no issues with it so we found a beach parking space to rackout in until around midnight when it would be dark enough to shoot.  This turned out to be the best decision we would make the whole trip.  When we stepped out of the jeep you could see the Milky Way with your naked eye!  Even better shortly after waking up something absolutely astonishing happened.  The mountains in the distance began to light up and until the colors started to show we honestly thought they were distant city lights before giving the idea more thought and realizing there were not any cities this far north that would put off that much light.  For the next 30-45minutes we stood enjoying the most amazing show nature can put on, and even more wild this was in the summer time.  Everyone we had spoken to before the trip told us not to even consider planning for the northern lights as it would be nearly impossible yet here we were taking them in without any planning at all.  Sometimes lady luck shines her light it seems. 

 
 

Even better I was able to spice up one of the plane crash photos to make this kickass new wallpaper for myself!  Actually my fist time giving sky swaps a go but I think this turned out pretty fantastic!

 
 

Well that wraps up my time in Iceland.  I can't wait to go back and if this trip can be anything for my friends out there let it be a lesson not to let time or money constraints keep you from seeing the world and traveling to places far and wide.  That is not an excuse.  I did all of this for less than 400 US and without even two full days in the country.  Stop blaming everything and everyone else for your failure to push your dreams.  This applies outside of travel to many of you!  I realize I cut some costs by splitting things with friends and generally roughing it but sometimes that is what you have to do.  It wont always be easy or this amazing but at the end of the day you will always have the experience.  

 

To my fellow dream chasers and avid travelers keep it up and I hope to see you around soon!  Hopefully if you have not been to Iceland yet this can be some help to you or inspire you to put it on your list.  if you have been I am already building a hit-list for more week long return trip next year in the summer when the days are longer.  Send your recommendations or get ahold of me if you might wanna rough it in a jeep with me!