10 Reasons to Visit Iceland in Winter

January 6th, 2016

Mike and I just returned from 9 days in Iceland. I’ve always wanted to go, but I hesitated to travel there in winter due to the weather. We’re having our first kid in April, and we figured my second trimester would be the best time to take this trip before the baby comes. I would be willing to travel there with a baby, but it wouldn’t be as easy to focus on photography. I’m not sure why I hesitated! December was a great time to travel to Iceland, and I’ve compiled a list of reasons why;

  1. The amazing light. Iceland doesn’t get many hours of daylight in the winter, but when it’s out, it’s great light. From sunrise to sunset (10:40ish – 3:30ish during our trip), and the hour before and after, the light is amazing. There is no harsh light at noon. Just remember, the sun does not come out every day.

  2. Because the daylight hours are limited, you can use your travels to sleep in and go to bed on time! No waking up early and going to bed late. You can sleep till 8AM easily and go to to bed whenever you’re tired. It actually makes for a relatively relaxed trip. Landscape photography doesn’t usually allow for this.
  3. Not photography related but I wanted to include here – The Food! The food is amazing, especially the fish, lamb and langostine. It doesn’t help if you’re on a budget, but it’s worth splurging on. It is expensive, but the quality is that good. Related to the last point, you can also eat breakfast and dinner at normal times of the day.
  4. The scenery is so unique, but yet close together.  For example, in one short winter day, you can capture two amazing waterfalls and a unique beach. The following day you can capture pictures of glaciers and glacier lagoons. One relatively short trip can allow you to capture a good amount of portfolio shots.
  5. The drastic changing weather constantly changes scenes. As with any travel for landscape photography, the longer you plan your trip, the more chance you have of taking the photograph you were envisioning. The weather usually gets in the way. In Iceland it does get in the way but sometimes if you wait an hour, it will change. If you wait a day, you might get the shot that you wanted.  These two shots were taken a few hundred meters away from each other, but with much different weather.Blog 1
  6. The unique beauty of the landscape. There are beautiful mountains and coastlines in other parts of the world, easily accessible. However, there are not many places you can easily access an ice cave, or watch icebergs travel to the sea from a glacier lagoon.
  7. Due to things already mentioned, a relatively new landscape photographer can capture great images.  I think two of the most important elements in landscape photography are amazing locations and amazing light. Include that with some technical skill and creativity, great shots can happen. My husband whose only photography knowledge comes from dealing with me all the time took some beautiful photographs.
  8. Many of the iconic sites are easily accessible. Both the the Seljalandsfoss  and Skogafoss waterfalls are literally right next to their parking lots. The best shots on Vik beach are taken within a ten minute walk of parking. Same with the Jökulsárlón, the Glacier Lagoon.
    I’ve become accustomed to (and don’t usually mind) walking for miles to get to a spot. In Iceland when the weather can be harsh and the light is limited, having the sites easily accessible is a plus.
  9. The Northern Lights! If you dare… If you’re intent on seeing and capturing the Northern Lights, you might screw up point number 2. You’ll have to decide if it’s worth it. We spent the middle of the night on three occasions trying to scout out and find the lights. The first night when we were staying near Höfn we saw them out our window, but as soon as we put clothes and gear on they clouds took them away. We wasted over an hour driving around with hopes the clouds would break. Our last chance was Christmas night and we spent from 12AM-4AM chasing the clouds and the lights, and finally found them. I’m not sure it was worth it, but, well, we saw the northern lights. You might be more lucky then we were.
  10. Photographing in Iceland can be a quick learning experience. For me, I quickly learned the limits of my equipment. I learned a tripod can freeze. I also learned that when it’s cold enough out, water splash on your lens can instantly freeze. I’ve decided the annoyances of having to screw on and off filters is worth upgrading to a more flexible set. I became grateful for my expensive Gitzo tripod comparing it to Mike’s $50 Amazon tripod, however even the expensive tripod can’t overcome 50 mph wind. I’ve also decided one of my next lens purchases is going to be the Canon 16-35mm, because I kept really wanting that focal length when I shooting.

Aaaand one more, just because….

  1. The weather is really not that bad. It can get cold, but I don’t think it’s worse then a ski vacation. The wind can get strong, and you’ll have to deal with some snow and rain, but if you bring the right gear there is no reason to be intimidated by the weather. You will be comfortable anytime indoors, as we noticed building insulation is the best I’ve ever experienced anywhere.
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