Join Seán Duggan for an in-depth discussion in this video When to go, part of Landscape Photography: Iceland.
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- Once you've decided that you want to go to Iceland, the next question to consider is what time of year would be the best for the trip. The answer to this question will vary depending on what you want to see and the types of images that you want to make. Iceland is an incredibly beautiful country, and there's the possibility to make great photos all year round. As in many places, each season in Iceland has its own character. Along with these differences in character, there are pros and cons to each time of year. The most common time for tourist to visit is during the summer months.
This is when the temperatures are milder and the weather is often quite pleasant, although weather can and does change frequently in Iceland and summer is no guarantee of good weather. The days are at their longest in the summer months of June through August, and you can expect extended hours of daylight with plenty of great light for photography, including the sweet light of sunrise and sunset that lasts for hours. In the longest days of mid-June to mid-July, it never gets completely dark at night. The sun sets close to midnight, dipping just below the horizon for a few hours to rise again at about 3:30 a.m.
1:30 in the morning which is when this image was made in Reykjavik, can look like early evening in other parts of the world. In summer, you have access to the beautiful interior areas of Iceland that are known as The Highlands. These regions are accessible only by well-maintained dirt or gravel roads that are closed off to most vehicles from mid-October to late-June. The long summer days are perfect for exploring these wild and scenic areas. (birds chirping) The glacial lagoon at Jökulsárlón is one of the most popular spots in Iceland.
And, you can spend several days exploring that area of the southeast coast. Due to the warmer temperatures, the iceberg in the lake are also typically larger than they are in winter, when not as much ice is breaking off from the glacier. On the nearby coast, the ice that flows out from the lagoon is tossed about in the breaking surf and then washes ashore on the black sand beach forming a glittering field of ice sculptures that are a delight to photograph. Summertime also brings beautiful flowers to the landscape, and the possibilities for encounters with Icelandic horses and their young foals.
The primary downside of traveling to Iceland in the summer months is that it is the most popular time to visit so it's more crowded. The fall months of September, October and early November are a great time to visit. Temperatures are still pleasant, and there are fewer tourists at popular sites. The vegetation and the landscape takes on the golden hues of autumn, and this combined with a sun that is much closer to the horizon results in truly beautiful light. The first snows can often be seen gracing the nearby mountains in autumn, and as winter approaches, daytime and nighttime arrive at a nice balance point.
The return of real night skies also means that there's the possibility of seeing the aurora borealis, or the northern lights which is one of the main reasons that many photographers travel to Iceland in the first place. Winter is a fascinating season. And while it takes more preparation, it's a great time to explore a more challenging type of landscape photography. The beautiful landscapes there are transformed by the mantle of ice and snow that winter brings with it. Waterfalls, always a favorite subject in Iceland are draped with fantastic, icy sculptures and the snow creates its own white-on-white winterscapes that are a joy to photograph.
The Icelandic horses are sporting their long and shaggy winter coats that blow in the cold winds. True to their nature, they're just as friendly as always and roadside stops to visit them are a highlight of any day. Don't be dissuaded by the idea that conditions will be too cold or icy for your comfort. It does get cold in the winter, of course. But, on my winter trips there in February and early March, temperatures on the U.S. east coast were far colder than anything I experienced in Iceland. Having the right winter clothing is key to staying comfortable.
And, we'll take a look at this a bit later. Winter is the season with the least amount of tourism, so it's likely that you'll encounter fewer and smaller crowds than during the high season of summer, particularly at popular spots. And since the nights are much longer in winter, it's an excellent time to go hunting for the auroras. On a good night of aurora activity, they can really put on quite a show. Another cool thing about the winter season, both literally and figuratively, is the ability to get inside glacial ice caves which are definitely some of the most fantastical places that I've ever been, These ice caves are formed by meltwater carving channels under the glacier, and are typically accessible from mid-to-late November through mid-March.
Demand for an ice cave tour is generally quite high however and conditions can change due to weather. The darkest weeks of winter in December and January are not as ideal for photography, simply because there is so little daylight. If night photography and the northern lights are your primary objective then this time might be fine for you. But, I feel that having a good balance of daylight and darkness makes for a richer photographic experience, not to mention giving you more photographic opportunities. No matter what time of year, you decide on for your Iceland trip, you will experience a very beautiful country with a variety of stunning landscapes.
The high, northern latitude combined with frequently changing weather also means that there are many opportunities for making photos in great light and under cool skies.
- Planning when to go and what to bring
- Photographing Iceland's open roads
- Photographing water
- Photographing the Glacial Lagoon
- Photographing the landscape at night