By Stephanie Yt
Winter in the magnificent ‘Land of Fire and Ice’ is something to behold, with its raw, surreal landscapes making it a natural go-to for photographers and travellers alike. I visited this beautiful destination again recently and decided to take my FUJIFILM X-A7 and XC15-45mmF3.5-5.6 OIS PZ lens along for the ride. The harsh and changeable Icelandic conditions meant I needed a camera that was compact, durable, able to react quickly and came with a versatile zoom lens (the kit lens worked a treat). Iceland has so much to offer and to see, so I thought I would share my favourite places to visit to capture some of the most beautiful sides to the country for anyone looking to plan their own short trip.
Travelling in the springtime means extra hours of daylight. By April, you will have around 13 hours of daylight, which is about eight hours more than if you travelled in January. More hours of daylight means less time driving in icy conditions in the dark, and more daylight shooting hours, while still being able to experience the last remnants of the snowy landscapes Iceland is famed for. In general, we found that arriving earlier to popular destinations was quieter.
9am: A lot of the key landscapes are quite far away from each other, so make sure to plan your itinerary accordingly and be prepared to drive – a lot. Some destinations, such as Höfn black sand beach, are up to six hours away from the airport, so my best tip would be to make your way there on the first day and slowly drive back along the south coast. Get the bulk of the driving done first so you can relax and have plenty of time to explore. Although I must say that we spotted some of the best vistas when driving, so it wasn’t such a chore! I experimented with some zoomed-in crops and played around with the focus for some interesting road trip-style shots.
11am: Clocked some Icelandic horses on the side of a quiet road near Höfn beach – it is off the main road, which makes it a lot safer to pull over and pop out. Don’t attempt this on the main ring road. The horses are everywhere, so you can be assured there will be another opportunity for you to meet them. They are extremely gentle and usually approach you. We were lucky to capture them in front of an amazing backdrop as well, which was fantastic.
1pm: Höfn beach was the furthest point we drove to on the south coast. This black sand beach is popular among photographers, because the shallow, calm waves make for some pretty perfect reflective landscape photographs. As it is quite far away, the beach is less busy. We had the entire beach to ourselves, which was truly amazing. You have to pay entry as it is privately owned, but it is definitely worth it and means you can pop into the Viking Cafe for a toilet stop and a marshmallow-topped hot chocolate to warm up before exploring the beach.
4pm: Diamond Beach (Breiðamerkursandur) is another must-visit. A black sand beach filled with glittering chunks of ice, the beach is true to its name and one of the most unique sites to visit. Wrap up warm as it gets very chilly and windy. If you manage to get the sunshine, try shooting backlit, as the ice lights up in a gorgeous array of colours.
6pm: Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon is right next to Diamond Beach and is one of the most visited places in Iceland. We were lucky enough to visit just around sunset, so the skies were painted pink and purple. Absolutely beautiful.
9am: We arrived at Svínafellsjökull and were pleasantly surprised to once again be the only ones there. Turns out, a slightly earlier start was completely worth it as the tourist hordes arrived around 10am. It is the only glacier where you can get this close via car and a minimal walk. Make sure you have a 4×4 as the side road there is filled with rocks and pebbles. It’s only an eight-minute walk from where you leave your car to get this view.
11am: On to Vík to explore some more remarkable views and black sandy beaches. Dyrhólaeywas our favourite viewpoint of the pristine black sand beach and, again, the walk from the car park was only a short ten minutes. From here, we took a much-needed pit stop at a local gastropub in Vík named Smiðjan Brugghús, which brews its own craft beer in-house and serves up some amazing burgers, beers, ribs and wings. There are also vegan options. Well-priced and a great place with big windows providing natural light for foodie shots.
2pm: Next, the famous Reynisfjara beach with its magnificent basalt columns. This beach is probably the busiest place we visited (and you’ll see why!) so allow time and patience if you want a photograph without others. This is also one of the most dangerous beaches in Iceland so please don’t go into the surf – it is known for its creeper waves and have taken the lives of many unsuspecting travellers.
4pm: If you’re keen to get even closer with the native wildlife, you can book yourself into an Iceland horse riding tour on a black sand beach. We went with Vík Horse Adventures and it was an amazing experience that was worth every penny. Make sure you try the unique gait called tölt – it is smoother than a trot and unique to the Icelandic horse. I strapped on my X-A7 and managed to get some cool shots while riding.
10.30am: We arrived for our Sólheimajökull glacier hiking tour. The conditions seemed extremely windy and grey, but turns out, once you’re near the glacier, all that wind gets blocked and fades away. Taking the 10.30am tour meant we were pretty much the only ones on the glacier as the day trippers didn’t arrive until around 1pm. I had my X-A7 around my neck and tucked into my coat – worth it, as it was here that I took some of my favourite photographs in Iceland.
2pm: Now for the perfect end to our Icelandic journey; a dip in the famous Blue Lagoon. We also booked an evening at the Silica Hotel, which was worth it as it included entry into the private Silica Lagoon along with a deluxe entry into the main Blue Lagoon included in the room price. The Silica Lagoon is far less busy and the perfect place to experience the lagoon with fewer people.