Iceland Is a Long Exposure Dream Locale

There are few other places in the world with such breathtaking landscapes. Places seemingly made for the patient long-exposure photographer.

Iceland is an island of epic landscapes, where volcanic upheaval meets the cold North Atlantic and Arctic seas.  In all of my travels, it always seems that the most inspiring and epic places take root in the most extreme and hostile environments.  

Iceland is no exception to this rule and the landscapes that have naturally occurred, at this precipice of ice and fire, have led to some amazing landscapes for photography. A trip to Iceland is a photographic dream come true. The northern lights, waterfalls, landscapes and people were all exceptionally humbling and beautiful.  

If like me, you are a photographer searching for new content, the abundance of otherworldly material is well worth the trip. And, if like me, you love to get up early, hike ridges, mountains and secluded beaches for that once in a lifetime chance at the perfect photo you will find it here.

Outside of the conventional photography dream, the waterfalls, beaches, rivers and skies of Iceland are especially well suited for long exposure photography. Among many of the keys to a great long exposure shot are good light, few people and wide open space, none of which Iceland lacks. With merely 350,000 people living on an island approximately the size of Ireland you can typically find yourself lost and alone very easily.  

Yet, over the last few years Iceland has begun more and more to find a substantial amount of its revenue generated from tourism dollars and the yearly tourist population has jumped to almost 2 million people per year.  In other words, if you are interested in long exposure photography, sitting at the side of Seljalandsfoss waterfall doing your math and taking a multiple minute exposure at sunrise or sunset, you need to be diligent about the time of year and/or time of day you plan to go.


The following are a few hints for taking stunning time-lapse photos in Iceland, no matter the time of year:

1. Get up early 

Getting up early and getting to your spot prior to the onslaught of tourists ensures you will capture the lonely landscapes in their purest form. In winter it's quiet most of the day but in spring, summer and fall you will struggle to find a moment of serenity at the more renowned waterfalls, beaches and river overlooks.  Most folks wont start arriving prior to 8am and the sunlight can be exceptional at sunrise.

2. Stay nearby 

There are many things that can go wrong in trying to get-up early or stay late at many of these locations so staying local to your desired photo spot is essential. For instance, I tried to stay late for a sunset shot of a Roman aqueduct in France once and the gates were locked on me during my shoot, I had to walk back to my hotel and leave my vehicle until the next day. The same is true of Iceland, the distances are far, the rules unwritten and the people few and far between. Find a local camping spot, hostel or rent a sleeper van to make it easier to access your shots when the light is right.

3. Camera protection (rain gear) 

Last time we were in Iceland it was about 55 degrees Fahrenheit most days and that was the high for mid-summer.  It rained at least once everyday and often my shots were in between quickly passing storms. It was not unusual to start an exposure only to have to stop it part of the way through due to the mist that had accumulated on my glass. Make sure to find a makeshift way to protect both your gear and your lenses as they will inevitably get wet and be prepared to take ten shots hoping one comes out without spots.

4. Waterfalls, Waterfalls, Waterfalls 

If you only drive to waterfalls while in Iceland you will not be disappointed. The potential for amazing high flowing waterfalls that are out of this world occur every 100km or so, the perfect venue for long exposure shots.  Planning your vacation to find and photograph those waterfalls will have you stumbling across beautiful glaciers, hot springs, beaches and empty mars like terrain.


For the adventuresome and content hungry landscape photographer, Iceland is unlike anything you've experience. Make sure to bring your best glass and find a spot early or late at any of the popular locales to find some of your most rewarding and inspiring photographs.

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Published: March 6, 2017

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Connor Charles

Portland

Commercial and editorial photographer based in the Pacific Northwest specializing in outdoor lifestyle, sports, travel and landscape photography from around the world.