4 Things To Know About Iceland

Yesterday, I have returned from the brief trip to Iceland. Although I am allowed to complain about the weather this time, it is undoubtedly fascinating to travel back there now and again. Because I live in the highly urbanised landscape that is vivid in colours and wide in variety of designs, just being there is the ultimate experience that reminds me how Earth looked like it its very beginnings. This feeling always inspires a creative piece in my photography no matter the weather.

I have been going to Iceland regularly since 2009. No doubt the island remains the amazing landscape photography destination. This time round, however, I am coming back with mixed feelings. The combination of the time of the year (November), the very short term stay (4 days), whereabouts (southern part) and the weather (far too much of heavy rain) has not been working too well.

If you are a landscape photographer or just an accidental traveller, there are many things to consider before going there. I would think of these 4 mainly.

1. Beware of crowd

Even in November, the southern iconic places were terribly crowded. I remember my first trip in July 2009 when it was uneasy to meet a car on the ring road outside of Reykjaness peninsula. Since then, the destination noticeably has grown in popularity. Just between 2010 and 2012, the number of visitors to Iceland grew by 37%. It now became clear to me that the hype is nowhere near to end. It is beneficial for the country, especially after the financial crisis that hit it hard. And they know it: we have seen lots of new roads, restaurants, hotels, touristic attractions and offers compared to couple of years ago. So if you want to enjoy the essence of Iceland, which is vastness, simplicity and quiteness, and avoid people stepping into your frames too often, you will need to go to less known places. The good news is that there is a huge amount of them. Mostly in the north I would say, but do not limit yourself.

Crowd on Iceland. This gentleman could not care less I was making a long exposure on Velvia. So I used him to add a scale for you to see the size of these beautiful icebergs on the beach near Jokulsarlon.

2. Time of the year

Iceland is beautiful all year round. Each season has its considerations depending on your goal. The most people come in the summer, but the good news is they usually don't take the advantage of long days. So if you shoot overnight with the best light you can get and then sleep and travel during the day, you will very likely be alone in most of the places. On July 1, for example, the sun in Akureyri (north) sets at 0:33am and rises at 1:55am. Also, the roads inland are freely open that expands your photographic options significantly. On the other hand, Iceland looks completely different in the winter, covered with the snow. The transport is more difficult and less reliable. But you can see the northern lights and much less tourists. I would not underrate the spring and autumn months, as these can add a different feel to your photos. Even in November, when the weather is hard to predict and it is likely you will get drenched more than not.

Fjallsarlon in November, under heavy rain. Date: 15.11.2014, Camera: Hasselblad H1, Lens: 80mm, Digital Back: Phase One IQ150, ISO: 100, Speed: 1m21s, Aperture: f/11, Filters: Lee Big Stopper

3. Never plan

This is a tough one I know. The weather in Iceland is changing so fast that if you want to get maximum for your photography, the best approach is just to react to the actual conditions and to travel where fits you most. Some places, especially near large glaciers and sea, have their own micro climate that is better from logistics planning perspective. For example, couple of times we have experienced a very different weather in Jokulsarlon (heavy rain this weekend) than the one near Skaftafell (heavy sky with texture and holes). The distance between the two places is less that 50 kilometres. So if you are advanturous and flexible enough, you should build your itinerary very short-term, day or two in advance, based on weather conditions rather than geographically. It can also be a lot of fun.

Gigjukvisl, pretty anonymous place in the south. Photographed just 3 hours after the above image. Date: 15/11/2014, Camera: Hasselblad H1, Lens: 80mm, Digital Back: Phase One IQ150, ISO: 100, Speed: 5s, Aperture: f/22, Filters: Lee ND Graduated 0.6

4. Artistic soul of Icelanders

Perhaps not directly connected to photography, but the art (especially music) influenced the way I feel the country hence how I shoot it. I'm used to listed to local tunes when I'm on the road. Many times you can feel a clear connection between what you see out there and what you listen to. During my first travel to Iceland, I was amazed by the amount of music and movies on offer aboard Icelandair. You could have felt the pride, too. Ever since I spend all my time in the plane searching for new bands and singers that I would like. There is plenty of them out there and the very most are truly amazing. When you think about it from the statistical point of view, the number of musicians per capita must be highest in the world. I don't have an evidence for it, but imagine there is only 300+k inhabitants in Iceland. I think it has something to do with long dark winter nights when there is not much to do but play an instrument and play it sadly. On top, there is a strong tradition of musical art in Iceland arising from its epic sagas and ancient poetry. By the way, similar story with the books as for the statistics. So, to conclude I believe it is beneficial to know a bit of culture and art and contemporary music if you travel Iceland. Here is the freshest addition to my library:

The above 4 things is what I learnt about photographing Iceland during my 5 trips. The most of all, I learnt to enjoy this unique piece of landscape in any time and in any weather. Each moment has its very own magic.