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.”

 

Iceland mountain
Iceland’s overcast days are great for evenly-lit landscape shots. (Eva Seelye)

 

Icelandic horse
The Icelandic horse is an essential part of Iceland’s culture (and makes a great photo subject). (Eva Seelye)

 

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.

 

Iceland waterfall
This long exposure off Þjóðvegur 1 was shot with a 1/5 shutter speed. (Eva Seelye)

 

Iceland waterfall.
Skógafoss waterfall is a must-visit spot for photographers and movie buffs alike. (Eva Seelye)

 

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.

 

Iceland canyon
Snow reflects light back into the Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon, illuminating its shadows. (Eva Seelye)

 

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.

 

Diamond Beach in Iceland
Get up close and personal with Diamond Beach’s melting icebergs. (Eva Seelye)

 

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).

 

Iceland waterfall
Golden hour sets Seljalandsfoss waterfall aglow – walk behind the falls for the iconic shot. (Eva Seelye)

 

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.

 

Iceland hidden waterfall
Gljúfrabúi Waterfall is wet but worth it. Use a subject to show its sheer size. (Eva Seelye)

 

Iceland's South Coast
The tiny house on the right shows how massive this landscape truly is. (Eva Seelye)

 

Iceland church
Zooming in on your subject makes the background seem bigger than it is. (Eva Seelye)

 

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.

 

Iceland's South Coast road
Bonus tip: Use leading lines to draw your viewer into the image. (Eva Seelye)

 

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