Iceland – with its accessible volcanic countryside, blue glaciers, black sand beaches, and monumental waterfalls – held a spot on my Wanderlist for years. During a recent visit, the adventure photographer in me couldn’t get enough of the island’s otherworldly terrain – even while shooting in its challenging winter season, when snowsqualls graze the landscape in between sun spurts and freezing rains, and hot springs act as nature’s spas to thaw frozen fingers post photo session.
But don’t let the winter elements deter you from exploring this photographer’s paradise. Though good weather is often seen as the key to a successful shot, Iceland’s colder, darker, moodier months provide some of its best (and most dramatic) photo opportunities. With a little patience, the right camera settings, and your new Icelandic wool sweater, you’ll create an impressive slideshow-worthy gallery no family member could turn down. Here are five essential tips to keep in your backpack the next time conditions are “less than perfect.”
1) Bring on the clouds.
Overcast skies eliminate harsh shadows and blown-out white spots while opening up the playing field for long exposure shots – a trick that’s nearly impossible to achieve in harsh light.
Tech Support: Bring your f-stop down to f/11 and set your shutter speed below 1/20 for a buttery stream or waterfall shot.
2) Discover nature’s bounce card.
Snow clouds create soft light and snow cover reflects that light onto your subject, illuminating shadows (and causing sunburns if you’re not careful). It’s the ideal portrait setup, so hop out of your car, prop open your tripod, and set your self-timer because you’re about to get your most-liked Facebook profile photo to date.
3) Think small.
Iceland is full of larger-than-life scenery, but don’t let that overpower the little details. I’m not saying to forego the iconic Diamond Beach photograph – capture it, but then dive deeper: Shoot the white snowflakes against the beach’s black sand, focus in on melting bergs, frame patterns in the waves. A detail shot can add variety to your album and let your style shine.
4) Golden hour is every hour – use it to your advantage.
Iceland’s winter sun levitates just above the horizon, giving off a photographer’s sought-after warm golden hour glow that goes well beyond the timeframe its name denotes. An all-day golden “hour” means no early mornings or extended waits to catch perfect light, and hundreds of #nofilter photos for the taking. Bonus: Shoot astrophotography past sunset for a chance to capture the northern lights. Unfortunately, they eluded me during my short 72-hour stopover, but if there’s a time to see them at their best, it’s winter.
Tech Support: Astrophotography requires a tripod, a low f-stop (between f/2.8 and f/5.6 is ideal), an ISO of at least 800, and a slow shutter speed (at a minimum of 15 seconds).
5) Elevate your photos with the power of perspective.
Iceland’s dramatic scenery is grandiose in person, but without a point of reference, some photos might lose the “wow” factor they deserve. Add a person, horse, fence, or a house to your foreground to give your photos some scale.
Tech Support: If your zoom lens has a focal length of 60mm or longer, stand back and home in on your subject to blow up your background for a more eye-catching shot.
Get Out There: Virtuoso’s on-site tour connection The Travel Designer offers an immersive South Coast, Golden Circle, and northern lights-chasing photo-centric trip that takes you to most of the stops pictured above. Chat with a Virtuoso travel advisor to start planning.