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Iceland Photography Tips For Beginners

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Iceland is a haven for snapping perfect photographs, which is why many professional photographers head that way on their travels. Before we arrived in Iceland, we scoured every inch of the web for top tips on how to photograph Iceland.

However, at the time, we couldn’t seem to find just one blog sharing Iceland photography tips for each of the main attractions or landscapes you can find in Iceland and how to get the most from your camera.

So we thought we’d take all the knowledge we gathered and share it here for you in just one simple post – we hope it’s useful!

Iceland Photography Tips For Beginners

This is all of the advice we could find to ensure great pictures whilst travelling through Iceland. We are beginners at photography ourselves and honing our skills with every trip, so we’ve tried to keep this post simple to match that idea.

So while we won’t be diving into the technical parts of Iceland photography too much, we will be sharing tips on which settings on your camera you can use. But remember that these are only a guide to get you started.

Our best advice is to simply 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!

Best Camera For Iceland

If you’re looking for the best camera for Iceland then most will recommend a DSLR and a wide angle lens. However, if you’re a beginner then one of our top Iceland photography tips would be to consider a bridge camera.

Bridge cameras are perfect for beginners as you can try out different settings like you would on a full DSLR camera but without the need to change lenses.

We’re currently using this Sony Cybershot bridge camera, which is compact, has a 50x zoom and a 20.4mp lens. This is a really powerful combination and perfect for capturing beautiful photos of Iceland’s landscapes.

Check out more travel photography recommendations in our shop >>>

Just look at the quality of this photo we took from the viewing platform in Thingvellir National Park with our Sony Cybershot bridge camera. And this is despite the fact that we zoomed in to pick out details like the couple holding hands and the graves in the cemetery!

Iceland Photography Tips For Beginners

Editing Photos From Iceland

Another top tip when it comes to how to photograph Iceland: don’t forget to edit your photos! Although we don’t use Photoshop ourselves, all our photos receive small touch-ups afterwards in simple (free!) software like Google Photos, Snapseed or Fotor.

Things like straightening the horizon line, brightening up dark photos or warming up colours are all things you should consider in order to make your photos of Iceland really stand out.

Anyway… enough about equipment and software. Let’s dive into some more Iceland photography tips for beginners!

How To Photograph Iceland’s Epic Waterfalls

Waterfalls are a major attraction in Iceland. Just in the few days we were there, we saw lots of them. From the star of the Golden Circle: Gullfoss, to the beauties on the South Coast: Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss, to teeny tiny little ones not found on any map.

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

If you want to mimic this effect, then here’s how you can do it:

  • 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 shutter 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!

We actually prefer it when waterfalls have a bit of movement within photos so we used the above settings as a starting point and just made a few tweaks until we got the effect we wanted. Here’s how a few of ours turned out:

How To Photograph Iceland’s Dramatic Landscapes

Iceland has such incredible and dramatic scenery – especially within Thingvellir National Park. When we arrived in mid-March, thick snow still covered 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 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 get
  • 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, it’s not completely necessary for general landscape photography (in our humble opinion)

Here’s how a few of our Iceland photos turned out:

Iceland Golden Circle
Iceland Mountains

How To Photograph Iceland’s Elusive Northern Lights

One of our top things to tell you about the Northern Lights is that they’re sometimes fainter in real life versus the vivid colours and dancing movements you see in photos. It may also be that you miss them during your trip due to cloud cover – they can be very elusive!

During our trip to Iceland in March, we saw the Northern Lights once. This was on our first night and they were sadly only a ‘1’ on the visibility rating so were more like wispy green clouds than anything.

If we’d been lucky enough to see them with a higher visibility rating such as a ‘3’ or ‘4’ then here are the camera settings we would have started with:

  • Mode: Manual
  • 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 shutter release. The tiniest movement and even pressing the button to take your shot when using slow shutter speeds will result in a blurry mess

The stock photo below is to give you an idea of what you could get when using these settings:

Northern Lights Iceland Tour

Top Tips For Photographing Up Close

This tip isn’t 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 gives such a good effect!

In the past, this type of photography would have been primarily used for snapping insects and bugs. However, it’s really common to see this style of photography now for all kinds of things – from pretty little flowers to tea and cake in a cafe.

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 shutter release to minimise shake and blur. Although if you’ve got a steady hand then you might find this to be overkill.

Here’s what Skógafoss in Iceland looks like when trying out macro photography:

Skogafoss waterfall from above

And check out how we’ve used macro photography to focus on the bottle of water and blur Öxarárfoss in the background:

Fresh water taken from a waterfall in Iceland

We’ve included a few more examples of this style of photography in practice below. Although the following photos weren’t taken in Iceland (hover over to see where they were shot), we wanted to show you the wide range of uses and the effects you can get when using macro photography.

You can also get this effect using the ‘Portrait’ mode on most modern smartphones. Just click to focus on the object and the phone will do the hard work for you!

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

Want to check out our full range of photos from Iceland? Check out this special blog!

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Justine Jenkins

Justine is one half of the married couple behind the Wanderers of the World travel blog. She lives in Bristol, UK and has travelled extensively within Europe and beyond since 2013. After her trips, she shares detailed travel itineraries, helpful travel guides and inspiring blog posts about the places she's been to. When she's not travelling overseas, you'll find her joining her husband, Scott on various day trips, weekend getaways and walks within the UK, which she also writes about on Wanderers of the World. Aside from travelling and writing, she also loves reading, crafting and learning about nature.

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