If you found this blog searching for Iceland photography, then great! This set of blogs is about my experiences over two summers exploring the amazing island-country of Iceland. First, though, let me introduce myself. My name is Rob and I’m a full-time photographer in the US. I reside in the Texas Hill Country with my wife and kids (we are definitely not the ultra-conservative type that may come to mind when someone mentions Texas). On the contrary, one idea my wife and I feel strongly about is allowing our girls to experience cultures outside the US – to see others’ way of life. And when the opportunity to photography Iceland presented itself, we said yes.
So here I go… some of my favorite places along the wild south coast in no particular order.
– This amazing canyon isn’t in the guidebooks – at least the ones I looked at. I discovered this location when researching the south coast after my first trip to Iceland in 2021. Internet info with specific route-finding details is out there if you want to visit this site – and I spent a fair amount of time poking around on Googlemaps, as well. With my family in tow, I had planned three different days to visit this area and make the hike in and up. This redundancy of visits was to give me better odds for nice skies and not low-hanging clouds that usually shroud the distant peaks and glacier. I just wanted one nice day!
So, when driving the Ring Road east from Vik to the Vestrahorn, the weather was holding up and I made the turn onto a dirt road just a short ways from Glacier Bay, bumped along the path for a while, found the small parking lot and made the relatively easy 2-mile trek up the sometimes narrow trail. My wife and daughters were with me, and while a bit freaked about the precipitous drops – sometimes on both sides of the trail – they persevered after a bribe of dessert to be paid later that evening. A little more than a mile into the hike the iconic view of this fairy-tale valley came into focus. Below us, a small river flowed through lush, green canyon walls and gulls soared far below. The beauty could have just as easily been a scene in Jurassic Park with pterodactyls gliding by or even a ride at Disney World zipping through the canyon. The sky was blue and white – perfect for daytime photography.
After a brief stop, we carried on to the end of the path where the waterfall, Mulafoss, plunges into the canyon. To the left, another section of the canyon twisted into the towering rock walls of this hidden gorge.
In this stunning location, I shot with three lenses (and always a tripod) – a 11-24, 16-35, and a 24-105. I also took along a drone – legal at the time of shooting.
I don’t know if I’ve seen such an amazing canyon anywhere in my travels – neither abroad nor in the US.
– Seljalandsfoss is probably the most visited waterfall in South Iceland by tour bus standards, and there is a reason for it. Just off the Ring Road, this powerful flow of water plunges 197’ (~ 60 meters). On a summer afternoon, a rainbow can be seen in the spray that drifts out from the falling water. And what makes this waterfall even more special is that a person can walk a loop around and behind it. Oh, you’ll be soaked on your exit from behind the falls, so wear waterproof clothes and shoes, but it is a great experience. I found that in late evening from ~ 10pm-12pm (2200-2400), the crowds disappeared and I had the trail to myself.
The Seljalandsfoss stop also has another surprise. Walk about 12 minutes east (left) from the waterfall and follow the trail that leads down to the entrance of a cave. A small stream flows out of this rock formation. If you dare to venture through the cave, you’ll come out at the base of another waterfall - Gljufrabui. I made it through the cave and back several times by mostly hopping on small rocks sticking out of the water, but looking up at Gljufrabui left me and my camera lens soaked. I took several photos of this waterfall, but only one was worth keeping thanks to the abundant mist and spray swirling at the base of the falls.
At this stop, I again used a tripod for every photo, along with three of my Canon lenses – a 11-24, 16-35, and a 24-105.
Vík í Mýrdal
– Vik, the last village on the Ring Road south before heading east along Iceland’s southern coast, is a quiet community with a pristine church atop the hill, long stretches of black sands beaches, Reynisfjara (known for its basalt columns and deadly sneaker waves), and the Soup Company – a tasty, warm, and pleasant surprise in a land of expensive food (www.thesoupcompanyiceland.com).
* Reyniskirkja, the little red-topped church atop the hill in Vik, was built in 1929. In the summer months, blue and purple lupine fill the fields both below and above the church grounds with colorful blooms, and far below the distant ebb and flow of the Atlantic Ocean can be heard as a distant murmur. I enjoyed exploring and photographing different angles of this church, using both the higher mountains and distant ocean as a backdrop.
* Reynisfjara – this popular black sands beach was filled with visitors during the day, as it is a popular stop for tour busses. After a daytime visit on a windy, cloudy, and misty afternoon, I returned around 11pm (2300) to fairer skies (still windy), and had the place to myself. Puffins flew high overhead and the sky glowed in pastel pinks and blues. But here, sneaker waves are known to rise up onto the beach with zero notice, so the locals offer much caution about treading too close to the waves.
* As much as I enjoy trying the local food, I don’t mention food much on trips as I focus on photography. On our first trip to and through Vik the previous year, we didn’t find much in the way of culinary satisfaction. However, on our second trip, we found two places that were pretty tasty – the Soup Company (featuring bottomless soup bowls and all the bread you can eat along with different paninis) and Smiðjan Brugghús (https://smidjanbrugghus.is/) for great burgers and beer.
For each of these locations, I used my main three lenses again (except for the food, where I used a spoon and my hands!)
The Yoda Cave - Only about 15 minutes east from Vik and a short drive down a dirt road, the Yoda Cave is slowly becoming more well-known. Formally known as Gígjagjá, this cave was used in the Star Wars movie, Rogue One, and,after you walk inside the cave and look back out, you’ll seen the unmistakable shape of the Jedi Master, Yoda. When shooting here, I had to blend multiple exposures together to have the lighting come out correctly.
Skaftafell – Located in Vatnajökull National Park, this wild area offers mountains, waterfalls, trails to walk and mountains to climb. One of my favorite places here is the popular hike to Svartifoss, a beautiful 66’ high waterfall flanked by dark lava basalt columns. The 2km hike up is easy and takes an hour. Two other waterfalls precede this destination – Magnusarfoss and Hundafoss. Both of these falls are worth a short detour, especially on a pretty day.
For these falls, I mostly used the 24-105 and the 16-35 lenses with, of course, a tripod.
Jökulsárlón Bay and Diamond Beach –
* What a pleasure to visit Jökulsárlón Bay (Glacier Bay) multiple times. One of the non-photography highlights was taking the family on a zodiac-boat tour (https://icelagoon.is/tours/) that allowed us to get up close to both glaciers, icebergs, and even seals. The food at the on-location food trailer was pretty good, too (maybe because we were so hungry). If you like lobster or hot dogs, this will satisfy!
* For photography, I returned to Diamond Beach about 11pm on a cool summer night. As ice breaks away from Breiðamerkurjökull glacier in Glacier Bay, it eventually drifts out to sea. However, many of these small icebergs are swept back onto the beach. The icebergs are stranded on the black sand, and in both afternoon and low light, they seem to glisten in the sun like diamonds.
Here, I used mostly a 24-105 lens so I could zoom in a bit when the waves were washing around the shimmering and shifting ice.
The South coast of Iceland is amazing, and I could spend months exploring. If you have any questions, please reach out to me. I’m happy to share my experiences of this area.