8 Top Photographic Locations in Iceland

This article is about my 8 Top Photographic Locations in Iceland. One of my favourite photographic quotes is from the famous photographer Scott Kelby, who said:

‘To get beautiful photos you need to go to beautiful places’.

Scott Kelby

Iceland is one of those places that wherever you turn your head, you seem to spot something photogenic. In this article, I am going to cover 8 of my favourite photographic locations in Iceland, and are all places that I believe should be on every travel photographers bucket list.

#1 Reykjavík – Hallgrímskirkja

The first of my photographic locations in Iceland is Hallgrímskirkja church. Hallgrímskirkja is one of the most famous landscapes in Reykjavík. The church stands at 74.5 metres (244 ft) high; it is the largest church in Iceland and among the tallest structures in the country. The church is named after the Icelandic poet and clergyman Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614–1674), author of the Passion Hymns. Hallgrímskirkja was only consecrated as a church some 30 years ago. The church is open to the public and you can climb up the tower; from here you can enjoy panoramic views across the city.

If you are into photographic architecture Hallgrímskirkja is one of the most iconic buildings in the world. There are great photographs from various angles around the building, but make sure you have a suitable wide-angle lens in your kit bag. Otherwise, you won’t be able to get far enough away to get a good in-camera perspective.

Hallgrímskirkja
Hallgrímskirkja

As a major tourist attraction be prepared for lots of people milling around. If like me, you dislike people in your architecture shots, then carry a tripod and a few ND filters. That’s exactly what I did with the shot above. It was a Sunday morning with both tourists around, and people going to church for morning service. I used a Canon EF17-40 USM lens set at maximum 17mm, ISO 100mm and Aperture F22. Then with an ND10, and a bit of trial and error, I settled on an exposure time of 3 minutes. You can probably see from the photograph that there are ghost shadows of people in the shot. I kind of like these, as it brings a sense of movement to the composition.

Other places of photographic interest in Reykjavik

Sólfar (Sun Voyager)

If you are spending a day in Reykjavík, then be sure to wander around the city, as there are plenty of other places of photographic interest. Notable places to visit are the Sólfar (Sun Voyager – Pictured Left), located on Sæbraut beside the water, and is a steel sculpture and signifies a dreamboat. It is set on the waterside with mountains in the background.

image credit: istockphoto.com

Harpa Building

The Harpa building (pictured left) is a concert and congress centre in the harbour area of Reykjavik. With geometric glass panels of different colours, it looks spectacular both during the day and at night. You also have the opportunity to explore the building from inside. Finally, if you are into street photography, then head over to the Laugavegur region of the city, and is full of shops, cafes, and bars.

image credit: pixbay.com

#2 Gullfoss Waterfall

Gullfoss (Golden Falls) is the second of my top photographic locations in Iceland. Gullfoss is a waterfall located in the canyon of Hvítá river in the southwest of Iceland. It was formed through glacier water flow through a crack in a dried lava fissure. Over time this has carved a massive canyon (pictured below). 

Gullfoss Waterfall
Gullfoss Waterfall

Located just 1.5 hours drive from Reykjavík, it is a major tourist spot. From a photographic perspective this, of course, means that unless you camp nearby over-night to avoid the crowds, you are going to have to deal with lots of people visible through your view-finder. I shot this photo with my Canon EF17-40mm lens at 17mm focal length, 100 ISO, f22, and a 19-second exposure. You can still, of course, see people in the shot, but any greater exposure length resulted in the water looking like cotton wool.

#3 Grindavík – Reykjanes Peninsula

Grindavik mountains at Sunset
Grindavik mountains at Sunset

Grindavík is a fishing town on the Reykjanes peninsula of Iceland. It is one of the few cities with a harbour on this coast. Most of the inhabitants work in the fishing industry. The Blue Lagoon, Grindavík’s premier attraction, is located 3 miles (4.8 km) from the town centre. Indeed when most people visit the Reykjanes Peninsula, they tend to go to the Blue Lagoon, and/or the Airport. From a photographic perspective though, this region has more to offer than just a spa.

Reykjanes peninsula

Pictured above, the Grindavik mountains at sunset are a stunning location with mountains framed by inhospitable volcanic rock. Its also worth a visit to the coastline of the Reykjanes peninsula, which has a barren almost alien feel about it (pictured left). Also, as a bonus, you are unlikely to bump into any people, so your photography will be uninterrupted.

Of course for non-photographic reasons, whilst in the area, do visit the Blue Lagoon. For a truly unique and world-class experience, stay at the hotel, which has its own private area of the lagoon.

#4 Þingvellir

Þingvellir pronounced Thingvellir in English is a national park in the Southwest of Iceland 40km from Reykjavík. Þingvellir is a site of historical, cultural, and geological significance, and is another major tourist destination. The park lies in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.

Aside from photography, you get to look at, walk between, and touch a tectonic plate. If you keep this in your mind when you wander around this place, it certainly puts Þingvellir in a whole new perspective. As with all the major attractions, chances are, there will be lots of people milling about. However, if you wander away from the main entry points, you can get off the beaten track a little. For my photographs of the are, I focussed with black and white, as I love the contrast it gives to the foreground.

Þingvellir (Thingvellir)
Þingvellir (Thingvellir)

#5 Skógafoss

Skógafoss is a waterfall situated on the Skógá River in the south of Iceland at the cliffs of the former coastline. Skógafoss is definitely in my list of top waterfalls. The car park sits near the base of the falls, and you can really get up close for some fantastic shots from this vantage point. I was lucky to get there before the inevitable masses arrived and got the shot below. I must admit the suns glare at the top distracted from my shot, but beggars can’t be choosers, as literally 5 minutes later there were hundreds of people everywhere. Shot with my Canon EF24-105mm USM at 100 ISO at f22 and a 23-second exposure.

Skógafoss Waterfall - Skógá River.
Skógafoss Waterfall – Skógá River.

You can also walk up a viewing platform to the top of the Skógafoss waterfall, the views are less than spectacular though, but the walk is certainly good exercise.

#6 Strokkur

Strokkur (the churn) is currently the most energetic spouting spring in Iceland. It spouts every few minutes, sometimes to a height of 40 m, but generally between 10-20 m. Strokkur is located to the east of a little mountain called Laugafell.

To get a good shot you are going to either stay in the local area or travel so you are there for either sunrise or sunset. If you don’t, then there are likely to be hundreds of people. I didn’t heed my advice, and therefore the lovely image below is not my own. Strokkur, therefore, remains on my photographic bucket list.

Strokkur Hot Spring
Strokkur Hot Spring [image credit: istockphoto.com]

#7 Mount Kirkjufell & Kirkjufellfoss Waterfall

Kirkjufell is an extremely picturesque area and a perfect spot for photography. It sits on the North Coast of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in the west of Iceland. Kirkjufell is 463 meters [1519 feet] above sea level. Kirkjufell is the most photographed mountain in Iceland, and was used in Game of Thrones under the name of “Arrow Head Mountain”. The whole area is a photographers dream, but the most iconic shot is of the Kirkjufellfoss waterfall with the Mount Kirkjufell in the background.

Mount Kirkjufell
Mount Kirkjufell image credit [istockphoto.com]

#8 Reynisfjara – Black Sand Beach

Reynisfjara – Black Sand Beach is the last of my photographic locations in Iceland. Voted by National Geographic as one of the 21 top beaches in the world [Source: National Geographic], the Reynisfjara black sand beach is a truly unique place. Reynisfjara sits on the South Coast of Iceland.

Black sand is not something that you will find in many places in the world, and from a photographic perspective creates a fantastic contrast between the crashing waves from the ocean. Not only this, but the area is also known by some people as cliffs beach and for good reason. All along the coastline, you will see huge jagged basalt stacks, lava formations, impressive cliffs, and caves. Or put simply a photographers dream, especially during the golden hour.

 Reynisfjara - Black Sand Beach
Black Sand Beach [image credit: Lara Coultham]

Conclusions

This is obviously only a shortlist of beautiful locations in Iceland, please feel free to leave a comment if you have your own favourite photographic spots.

I hope this article was useful to you. If you enjoyed some of the images, you can find several of my Fine Art Prints in the Iceland series of my portfolio site Taste of Iceland

If you enjoyed this article, why not check out our other Learn Photography guides.

Here are some other Travel articles that may be of interest to you:

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The Featured Image for this article was used under the License for National Land Survey of Iceland free data – here


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