iceland photography guide and tips

Iceland is undoubtedly one of the top destinations in the world for photographers, particularly for landscape photographers. It is a land of dramatic landscapes, where fire and ice collide to create breathtaking scenes that captivate the imagination. From towering glaciers to cascading waterfalls, glacier lagoons, ice caves, black sand beaches, impressive mountains to rugged volcanic terrain, every corner of this Nordic island nation offers unparalleled opportunities for photographers. While the landscapes on their own are amazing, Iceland is also one of the best places in the world to see the northern lights. In this ultimate photography guide to Iceland, we'll explore the best locations, tips, photography techniques, weather and lighting conditions to help you capture the raw beauty and otherworldly charm of this remarkable destination.

Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon in Iceland | Tomer Razabi

iceland photography guide - seasons and weather

The first thing you need to know about the weather in Iceland is that although it has "classic" winter, spring, summer and fall seasons, the weather in Iceland is very far from being stable and classic throughout the year. Weather conditions in Iceland can change rapidly all the time. You may start the day with sunny clear skies and find yourself in the middle of a storm half an hour later. It is pretty to common to hear the phrase "If you don't like the weather in Iceland, wait 5 minutes". Understanding and preparing for this will help you travel and adjust your plans.

Summer

Summer in Iceland starts around June and ends towards the end of August. It is characterized by relatively comfortable temperatures, but also clouds and rain. The average temperatures during summer usually range between 10 to 20 degrees Celsius. Summer in Iceland is  also characterized by rains that can arrive at any time during the day. There can be completely sunny days and also irregularly rainy days. It is highly recommended to check local weather websites like vedur.is and be updated during the days of your trip. Summer is definitely the most popular and high season in Iceland for traveling, hiking trips, bike trips, mountain climbing and more. The majority of tourism volume in Iceland is in summer. This means that many famous location will be crowded with people, most hotels are fully booked and prices are very high. For photography enthusiasts, this is the a good season to photograph Iceland while it is green and beautiful lupin blossoms appear. When it comes to photographing sunsets and sunrises, keep in mind that at the height of summer there is almost 24 hours of daylight. The sun is close to the horizon only late at night, around 11:30pm to 3:00am. This also means there is zero to very low chance (depending on the month) to see northern lights due to the lack of darkness.

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Autumn

Autumn in Iceland starts around September and lasts until November. At the beginning of the season, the temperatures are still relatively comfortable, but gradually decrease as the months progress. In this period, temperatures usually range between 5 to 15 degrees Celsius. The Autumn season is also characterized with chance of rain and clouds, but it is still a relatively comfortable season for traveling (especially in September-October). When the temperatures start to drop, the vegetation takes on autumn colors. Starting from September, the volume of tourism decreases comparing to the summer. It get's less and less crowded and the prices also get lower. It is also a time of great balance between the length of day time to travel and darkness to see northern lights.

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הזוהר הצפוני באיסלנד - תומר רצאבי

Winter

Is the low season of tourism in Iceland. It starts around November/December and lasts until March/April. In the winter season, snow gradually covers the landscape and cold temperatures take over. Winter in Iceland is cold, but usually not freezing cold as most people might think. In the south coast and areas close to the ocean, the temperatures are more moderate due to the warmth brought by the gulf stream and general effect of the ocean. Average temperatures are usually around zero. Cold days can be between -15 to -5 degrees celsius, warmer days can be a few degrees around zero. Internal areas in the island can be colder. Most of the precipitation during winter is snow, but you may encounter rain in warmer days. It also important to note that during winter snow blizzards and hard winds can occur. If it isn't too extreme, you can still travel, but sometimes it is a real hazard and you might need to wait for the bad weather to subside. Besides checking the weather, you can also check road conditions at road.is which is the official road administration. Due to the less favorable weather conditions in winter, tourism is at its lowest and prices as well. On the other hand, if you're not too sensitive to the mild coolness, you'll enjoy the magic snow and winter cover over the landscapes, less crowded locations, low prices, soft and low light for photography and a very good chance to see the northern lights! It is also the only season in which you can visit and photograph natural ice caves.

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Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon in Iceland | Tomer Razabi

Spring

is a relatively short season. It starts around April and lasts until May/June. It is a time when the daylight becomes longer and the snow begins to melt in most ares. The temperatures start to get higher, ranging from a few degrees above zero to 10 degrees towards the begining of summer.

photography considerations

Besides the weather itself, there are several important photography considerations when it comes to choosing the time during the year. Among the key consideration I'll elaborate next are lighting conditions (light, darkness, sun angle), how the scenery looks, crowdedness in famous locations and the chance to photograph the northern lights.

My personal opinion is that the best to photograph landscapes in Iceland is towards the end of winter (February-March) or the beginning of autumn (Mid September to mid October). These periods of time have balanced day light and darkness, less crowdedness, best chance to see the northern lights and beautiful scenery.

Photographing Iceland in winter

In my opinion, the end of winter (late January to the middle of March) is by far the best time to photograph Iceland. In this period of time Iceland is a magical winter wonderland, covered in snow and dazzling sceneries only winter can provide. Most of the famous locations are decorated in a beautiful snow blanket, waterfalls are partially frozen, some of the glacier lagoons are frozen and can be walked on (carefully!) and you can also explore dazzling natural ice caves. Lighting conditions can be absolutely amazing as well. If you arrive towards the end of Januray to the middle of February you'll enjoy magical, soft light during the day. The sun usually rises around 10:00am and sets around 5:00pm. During this time it only rises several degrees above the horizon, which means you'll enjoy sunrise/sunset light almost all day long. This also means you'll have plenty of darkness to photograph northern lights! On top of all the above, winter is the time you'll encounter the least crowdedness in photography locations.

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Fjallsarlon glacier lagoon in Iceland | Tomer Razabi
Ice cave in Vatnajokull glacier in Iceland | Tomer Razabi
Diamond beach sunrise in Iceland | Tomer Razabi
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זוהר צפוני איסלנד - תומר רצאבי

Photographing Iceland in autumn

The second best season to photography landscapes in Iceland. Similarly to winter, you'll experience balanced day light to darkness hours. The scenery has beautiful fall colors once in gets colder. Most of the waterfalls are at their peak flow during this time. Temperatures are still relatively comfortable. Crowdedness get lower as you progress from September till the end of October. This is also one of the best time to photograph the northern lights.

צילום נוף זוהר צפוני מעל אגם מיוואטן באיסלנד - תומר רצאבי
צילום נוף מפל סליילנדפוס באיסלנד - צילום: תומר רצאבי
איסלנד - תומר רצאבי
הזוהר הצפוני באיסלנד - תומר רצאבי

Photographing Iceland in summer

Might be the worst time to photograph in terms of lighting conditions and chance for northern lights. In the height of summer there is 24 hours of daylight and the sun is high up in the sky during most of the day. Without cloud coverage, this usually creates strong and very harsh contrastic lighting. The chance to get low soft light is only late at night from around 11:00pm to 3:00am. 24 hours of daylight also means you have zero chance to photograph the northern lights. Due to the fact that summer is the high tourism season in Iceland, you'll probably encounter heavy crowdedness in many places, especially at famous photography locations. Summer does have a few advantages - the scenery is vibrant green and there's a good chance to photography whales and puffins.

Photographing Iceland in spring

Photography conditions during spring aren't very bad, but also not very favorable. The sun is already quite high in the sky during the day and darkness hours are low.

photographing the northern lights in iceland

The northern lights is a spectacular natural phenomenon to witness. It happens when electrically charged particles coming from the sun, penetrate earth's atmosphere and react with gases in the atmosphere. 

Iceland is one of the best places in the world to see and photograph the northern lights. There are several key conditions that need to happen in order to see it. you'll need to know them in order to have the best chance to succeed doing it. 

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Solar activity: the most basic things that needs to happen is good solar activity, or a solar storm emitted from the sun. that is what sends the charged particles from the sun to space, some of it arrives earth. Solar activity is generally unpredictable for the long term (except the solar cycle). There are predictions for a few days ahead which you can check at websites like vedur.is or mobile apps like Aurora Alerts. These apps and website also have much more data like predicted visibility according to locations, solar activity strength and more.

Darkness: without sufficient darkness, you won't be able to see the northern lights. Due to the significant difference in daylight and darkness in Iceland during the year, it means only several months will be good for it. Considering you'll need a decent amount of darkness hours, the recommended period is between the beginning of September to the beginning of April.

Clear Skies: the northern lights occur high up in the atmosphere (usually 100-300 km from the ground), Therefore cloud coverage will interfere seeing it. The sky don't have to be totally clear (although it is the best), but clear enough. A good forecast of cloud coverage in Iceland can be found at vedur.is.

Northern lights photography technique

Photographing the northern lights is very similar to night or astrophotography. It requires exposure settings like high ISO, fast aperture and slow shutter (long exposure). According to the brightness and intensity of the northern lights you'll witness, the exposure settings will usually vary around ISO 800 to 6400, aperture of F/1.8 to F/4 and shutter speed of 5 to 30 seconds. Considering you might want to add an interesting foreground to the photos (Iceland is well abundant in those), you'll also have to consider the depth of field (due to the use of fast aperture). You're welcome to read my in depth guide about how to photograph the northern lights

recommended photography gear

Iceland is probably most well known for landscape photography, but there are also nice wildlife photography opportunities. Generally speaking, you can bring any gear that fits your style, even macro or portrait lenses. I'll elaborate next mostly about landscape photography gear and wildlife photography gear.

  • Camera: a good mirrorless or DSLR camera is obviously needed. For day light landscape photography even simple crop sensor cameras are good. If you're planning to photograph the northern lights, or wildlife - a full frame sensor camera will give you a great advantage with superior ISO capabilities.
זוהר צפוני איסלנד - תומר רצאבי
סוס איסלנדי על רקע הרים מושלגים באיסלנד | תומר רצאבי
  • Wide angle lens: is a classic landscape fit and will be very useful in Iceland. Wether you'll be photographing waterfalls, ice caves, glacier lagoons or other landscapes - a wide angle lens will give great benefits. Popular range of wide angle lenses can be 14-24mm, 16-35mm and similar lenses alike. It is also highly recommended that your lens will have a fast aperture such as F/2.8 or faster for night and northern lights photography. Check out my recommended lense for landscape photography article.
Diamond beach sunrise in Iceland | Tomer Razabi
זוהר צפוני איסלנד - תומר רצאבי
  • Telephoto lens: is a great add that can be useful both for landscape and wildlife photography. For landscapes a range of 70-200mm or 70-300mm will be great. For wildlife photography you'll probably have better results with ranges of 100-400mm or 150-600mm. While most people usually consider wide angle lenses, using Tele lenses for landscape photography can create absolutely stunning images.
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איסלנד - תומר רצאבי
  • Tripod: is very useful in many situations, starting from long exposures, low light, time lapse photography, panoramic photography, night photography, northern lights photography and more. I usually carry quite a lot of gear so I prefer a relatively light weight, but sturdy and reliable tripod. If you want a more in depth information about tripod, please read my tripod guide.
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צילום נוף מפל סליילנדפוס באיסלנד - צילום: תומר רצאבי
  • Filters: can also be useful. The main filters which have common use in Iceland and landscape photography are Neutral density filters and polarizer. Solid ND filters are mostly used from creating long exposures effects, Gradient ND filters to balance background to foreground exposure and polarizer to control light reflections. You're welcome to read my full article about landscape photography filters.
  • Drone: is an absolute pleasure to have for both stills and video aerial photography. You'll find endless opportunities for aerial photography in Iceland, from braided rivers, through glacier views, to panoramic angles of mountains.
Aerial drone landscape photo of a glacial river in Iceland - Tomer Razabi
  • Backpack: is an essential piece of gear wherever you go. Every photographer has it's own needs and considerations for a photography backpack and it might be the same for Iceland. I will mention that due to the unpredictable and sometimes extreme weather conditions in Iceland, a weather resistant backpack will help. If you're also planning to include some hiking, it is recommended to have a backpack that is suitable for it.
Tomer Razabi photographing in Iceland
Photography gear for Iceland | Tomer Razabi

best photography locations in iceland

Iceland is a landscape photographer's dream! it is packed with diverse and unique landscapes almost everywhere. From impressive mountains, huge glaciers, black sand volcanic beaches, though dozens of waterfalls, glacier lagoons to ice caves and cliffs above the ocean - Iceland has it all. You are most likely to see the best highlights if you have at least a week to travel. If you have more than a week, you'll be able to see more.

Jokulsarlon Glacier lagoon

The most famous glacier lagoon in Iceland and one of the most iconic photography locations. It is located in the south coast. The lagoon usually has many icebergs floating in it's water, coming from the huge Breidamerjokull glacier feeding it. There is an organized parking and you can walk, view and photograph it from different angles, including the shore of the lagoon. The lagoon is right next and drains into the ocean. During high tide salt water enter the lagoon from the ocean, keeping it from totally freezing even during winter. 

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Jokulsarlon during autumn

Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon in Iceland | Tomer Razabi

Jokulsarlon during winter

Diamond ice beach

Another epic and famous photography location in Iceland. Located in the south coast, right in front of Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon. The glaciers from the lagoon drain into the ocean. Some of them are pounded back to the black sand beach by waves, creating a unique spectacle of diamond like glaciers in different shapes, textures and size. This is viewable during all year long. The amount and location of the icebergs on the beach depend on the amount of glaciers that drained in the recent period of time and water currents.

Diamond beach sunrise in Iceland | Tomer Razabi
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Fjallsarlon glacier lagoon

A bit less know than Jokulsarlon, but already famillar to many, Fjallsarlon glacier lagoon is becoming more and more popular in recent years. It is located not far to the west from Jokulsarlon. Unlike Jokulsarlon, Fjallsarlon lagoon isn't close to the ocean so it's water are completely fresh. During winter it can be frozen enough to walk on and get close to beautiful frozen glaciers in it (don't try it if you're not sure it is safe or with a guide). During other seasons you'll see icebergs floating in it, coming from the Fjallsjökull glacier feeding it.

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Fjallsarlon glacier lagoon in Iceland | Tomer Razabi

Skogafoss waterfall

An impressive 60 meters waterfall located at the south coast. Skogafoss has a high drop and impressive water flow. It is just a short walk from the near by parking. The spray from the waterfall regularly creates "rainbows", depending on the light.

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מפל סקוגפוס Skogafoss באיסלנד | תומר רצאבי

Seljalandsfoss waterfall

Located around 20 minutes to the west from Skogafoss waterfall. Seljalandsfoss is a rather delicate waterfall, but very beautiful. depending on the season and conservation status, you may be able to walk behind it. 

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Vestrahorn mountain and stokksnes beach

Stokksnes is a beautiful black sand volcanic beach decorated with small black hills, areas of shallow pools and a beach where ocean waves enter slowly and create reflections. At the background of the beach lies the famous Vestrahorn mountain with its beautiful jagged peaks. During winter some of the shallow areas of the beach where water enter, may get frozen and create amazing textures.

Stokksnes volcanic beach and Vestrahorn mountain in Iceland | Tomer Razabi
Iceland stokksnes beach and Vestrahorn mountain | Tomer Razabi photography
זוהר צפוני באיסלנד מעל הר וסטרהורן בחוף סטוקסנס - תומר רצאבי

Kirjufell mountain and waterfalls

Might be the most famous and photographed location in Iceland. With its distinctive triangle shape, Kirjufell is amazing to photograph from various angles. Some of the best spots to photograph it from are the nearby waterfalls, small lagoon after the falls and also the nearby beach. During winter, the waterfalls next to it can become completely frozen.

צילום נוף מפל סליילנדפוס באיסלנד - צילום: תומר רצאבי
איסלנד - תומר רצאבי
זוהר צפוני איסלנד - תומר רצאבי
צילום נוף - הר קירקיופל באיסלנד | תומר רצאבי

Svinafell glacier and lagoon

Svinafell  is one of the places where you'll be able to see the full scale of a mountainous outlet glacier from a very short distance. There is a parking place and a short walk to a viewpoint at nearby hills. From there you'll also be able to descend to the shores of the lagoon.

Dyrhaolaey cliffs

Located at the south coast, not far from the town of Vik. The upper parking has a great view of bridge shaped cliff entering the ocean. The lower parking also has a beautiful spot looking east towards a black sand beach with a huge rock.

Dyrhaolaey cliffs in Iceland | Tomer Razabi

Gulfoss waterfall

A powerful waterfall located in the golden circle area, close to Geysir and about an hour drive from Rekjavik. Gulfoss has several small steps and then drops from a higher step to a canyon. Due to the strong flow, it creates a lot of spray which can often creat rainbows nearby. 

Reynisfjara black sand volcanic beach

One of the most famous black sand beaches in Iceland. Towards the east part of ther beach you'll see large rock towers inside the ocean, also viewable from the beach of the nearby town Vik. Reynisfjara is also known to be one of the most dangerous beaches in Iceland. The waves coming to the it's shores are highly unpredictable, strong and fast. Many people lost their lives there, after been hit by a wave and swept into to the ocean. There are warning instructions and danger signals at the beach entrance for your safety. 

Vik black sand volcanic beach

A beautiful black sand beach right in front of the town Vik, also overlooking to the rock towers in the ocean. The waves here are usually less violent than at Reynisfjara beach, but you still need to be careful. The end of the beach to the west is a high cliff in which sea birds rest and nest.

Vik black sand volcanic beach in Iceland | Tomer Razabi

Godafoss waterfall

One of the most famous waterfalls in the north part on Iceland. It is accessible from 2 viewpoints with parking nextn to each one. The west viewpoint is a short walk from the parking, mostly on ground and rocks, the eastern viewpoint has a paved way.

Godafoss waterfall in Iceland | Tomer Razabi

Arnarstapi cliffs

Located next to the small town Arnarstapi, there are several beautiful viewpoints and relatively short walking trail along the cliffs. There is a beautiful rock arch named "Gatklettur" there.

Gatklettur rock arch at Arnarstapi, Iceland | Tomer Razabi photography

Londrangar cliff

An impressive tower like cliff beside the ocean, easily accessible from the nearby parking.

Londrangar cliff, Iceland | Tomer Razabi photography

Geysir

The famous geothermal area, not far from Gulfoss waterfall. It has a nearby parking. There is a geysir that erupts regularly every few minutes, and also other geothermal hot pools there, some with beautiful colors.

Fjadrargljufur canyon

located at the south coast, Fjadrargljufur is an impressive canyon carved by several rivers and waterfalls flowing in it. There is a parking at the foot of the canyon, from there you can walk up alongside the canyon with several viewpoints.

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Selfoss and Detifoss waterfalls

Two powerful waterfalls located one after another at the north east part of Iceland. You can walk on either side of the canyon's upper banks and see both waterfalls. The road arriving from the west part of the canyon is paved and the walking trails from the parking are easier. The east road is a gravel road, and the trails there are a bit harder.

Hverir geothermal area

A famous geothermal area not far from lake myvatn. Next to the nearby parking you can see bubbling colorful hot mud and a few vapor vents.

Hverir geothermal area in Iceland | Tomer Razabi

Eystrahorn mountain

Located on the south east coast, Eystrahorn is somewhat the equivilent of Vestrahorn. It is an impressive shaped mountain lying next to the ocean. There is a beach overlooking at it and a strip of ocean water lagoon right next to it.

Þingvellir national park

The famous national park where you can walk between the border of the Euroasian and American tectonic plates.

Fossalar waterfall

A nice low height watefall located right next to road at the south coast.

Braided rivers

Probably one of the most fascinating and photographed subjects in Iceland. Braided rivers are mostly photographed from the air and with drone. You'll find most of the interesting areas of these rivers where they drain glacier melt water along the south coast.

Landscape Aerial photo of a glacial river in Iceland - Tomer Razabi

flights to iceland

Iceland's international airport is located at Keflavik at the south west, approximately 40 minutes from the capital Reykjavik. If your flight is scheduled to land late, you can find variety of hotels next to the airport, at Keflakvik area and also at Reykjavik. If you arrive during the day and even late afternoon, you will be able to start your tour in Iceland. Even if it is rather late afternoon, there are still locations like Gulfoss, Geysir and Þingvellir which 1.5-2 hours away from the airport.

hotels in iceland

There are quite many hotels in Iceland and due to the increase of tourism every year, more hotels are being built all the time. In terms of quality you'll find a range of hospitality levels, starting from very simple hotels, B&B, country style hotels and lodges, to luxurious hotels with spa. The great thing is that eve n the most simple hotels are very clean and comfortable. Some areas and especially next to famous locations have few hotels around (Iceland is know for preserving and efforts to make minimum human impact on nature). During the summer high season when tourism is at peak, most hotels are quite expensive and can be full even a year in advance, so it is better to make reservation well in advance. during lower seasons, prices get lower and it is less crowded, but it is still recommended to book at least a few months in advance.

commuting in icealnd

Driving around in Iceland is quite easy! The roads are in very good condition and even during winter, they are cleared pretty quickly after snow fall. You can navigate easily with google maps or other navigation apps. Most areas have good cellular connection for that. If you're planning to go off road, it is very recommended to have a good 4X4 vehicle. Simple 4X4 like Dacia duster or similar can go off road if the conditions are not too hard. If you're planning to do serious off road in land drives to Iceland's highlands and cross rivers, you'll need a better jeep like a Toyota land cruiser or similar. It also highly recommended to go solo or only one jeep, if you're not a very experienced driver and have backup options and satellite communication. Whatever you do, always make sure you have the official emergency number in Iceland - 112.


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