Iceland is a haven for snapping perfect photographs, which is why many professional photographers head that way on their travels. Before I arrived in Iceland, I was scouring every inch of the web for tips on how to take the best photographs whilst exploring.

However, I couldn’t seem to find just one blog taking you through the main attractions to be found in Iceland and how to get the most from your camera. So I thought I’d take all the knowledge I gathered and share it here for you in just one simple post – I hope it’s useful!

Top Tips For Photographing Epic Waterfalls

We know that waterfalls are a big attraction in Iceland. Just in the few days I was there, I saw plenty. From the star of the Golden Circle – Gullfoss; to the slightly smaller beauties of Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss; to teeny, tiny little ones not found on any map.

Many professional photographers suggest that pictures of waterfalls should show the water flow as silky and continuous. For this kind of effect, sadly the shutter priority setting on a camera just won’t cut it.

If you also want to mimic that effect, then here’s how you can:

  • Mode: Manual
  • Aperture: Should be a higher aperture such as f/16
  • Shutter Speed: Suggested advice is 2 seconds
  • ISO: Should be the lowest ISO you can set
  • Accessories: Use a tripod and consider investing in a cable release to minimise blur

Start with these settings and then start tweaking until your camera gets it just right as not all cameras are ‘one size fits all’. Once you do get it right, the results should be fantastic!

Personally, I prefer it when waterfalls have a bit of movement within the photograph, so I used the above settings as a starting point and just made a few tweaks until I got the effect I wanted. This is how a few of mine turned out:

Top Tips For Photographing Dramatic Landscapes

Iceland has incredible and dramatic scenery. When we arrived in mid-March, thick snow still layered the landscape, lakes were frozen solid and mountains dominated the skyline.

Trying to capture the pure essence of the Icelandic landscape in a photo can be tricky, but here are the best camera settings you can use to bring a piece of Iceland home with you:

  • Mode: Manual
  • Aperture: Start at the lower end of the scale such as f/8.0 and increase the number based on how much of the foreground and background you want to keep sharp, but try not to go above f/16
  • Shutter Speed: Depends on the scenery and is not vastly important here. Just remember that a low shutter speed will freeze movement and a high shutter speed will blur movement
  • ISO: Should be the lowest ISO you can set to get quality images
  • Focus: Should be a manual focus so that you decide what details in the landscape you want to pick out
  • Accessories: A tripod will be a big help with manual focus and gaining quality images, however, is not completely necessary for general landscape photography (in my humble opinion)

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Top Tips For Photographing Up Close

This isn’t necessarily just for Iceland but is useful to know in the realm of general photography. Sometimes you want to be able to focus on an object up close and slightly blur the background. This is known as macro photography and really helps to get a good effect!

In the past, this type of photography would have been primarily used for snapping insects and bugs. However, you could use it for a whole variety of things such as capturing beautiful natural flowers and even snapping that mint tea you drank in Morocco.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Mode: Manual
  • Aperture: Consider starting at f/2.8 or f/4 to gain blur in the background
  • Shutter Speed: Faster shutter speeds are best here to minimise blur in the foreground
  • ISO: Again, the lowest ISO will offer quality in your image
  • Focus: Should be a manual focus so that you can focus on the foreground object yourself
  • Accessories: A tripod and a good zoom will give you the best effect you’re after here. Consider investing in a cable release to minimise shake and blur

The images below were of course not taken in Iceland (hover over to see where they were shot). I just wanted to include them so that you can see the kinds of effects you can get with macro photography.

Top Tips For Photographing The Magical Northern Lights

This was what you came for isn’t it? I’ve well and truly saved the best advice until last.

With the Northern Lights, they are much fainter in real life and often a camera is the best way to capture their vivid colours and dancing movements.

It may be that you go hunting for the northern lights in Iceland and sadly miss them or find that they are hidden behind clouds. But if you are lucky enough to see them, then this is how you maximise your efforts for perfect photographs:

  • Mode: Manual (do you see a pattern here)?
  • Aperture: Start with the smallest number such as f/2.8
  • Shutter Speed: Opt for a slower shutter speed to help maximise light. Start with 30 seconds, but if that’s not quite right then opt for between 15-25 seconds
  • ISO: An ISO between 400 – 1000 should be bright enough, but increase it slightly if not
  • Accessories: You’ll definitely need a tripod and cable release. The tiniest movement and even pressing the button to take your shot when using slow shutter speeds will result in a blurry mess

Whilst we were in Iceland, we did see the Northern Lights on our first night there (from the hot tub), although they were quite faint. All other nights were cloudy, so sadly no photographing the Northern Lights for us. The stock photo below is just to give you an idea of what kind of shots you can get when putting the above tips to good use.

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An Author’s Note:

This is all of the advice I could find to ensure quality, perfect pictures whilst travelling through Iceland. I am a beginner at photography myself and honing my skill with every trip, so I’ve tried to keep this post simple to match that idea. I just wanted to tell you what settings are optimal for each feature in Iceland and that’s it.

What I will also say is that most of these exact settings will only be found on a DSLR camera. But if you can’t quite afford that cost, then a bridge camera will still get you some great shots. You may just find that they’re not quite as perfect as you would hope them to be.

And as one final note, the best advice I can give you is to use this guide as a base and get out playing with your camera – you will quickly figure out what works best for you and the effects you want to achieve. If you’re happy with the picture, then who really cares how you got it!

What do you think of these tips? Are there any that you would like to add? Where was the best place you’ve visited for photography? Let me know in the comments…

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