Iceland – Northern Lights and Glaciers

In February 2015, I went on a wonderful trip to Iceland on Wild Photography Holiday’s Northern Lights, Glaciers and Ice workshop.

15th February: Arrival in Reykjavík

I took the 1230 Icelandic Air flight from Gatwick to Reykjavik and was at the Plaza hotel in the centre by about 5pm. We were due to meet the tour leads and other members of the group at 730pm. The tour leads were Paul Harris and Jan Davies and my fellow photographers were Noel, Lynn and Sam, Gurinder, Farzaner, Susanha, Ashley and Tania.

L to R: Noel, me, Sam, Ashley, Farzana, Gurinder, Susanha, Lynn, Tania. Jan at the front.

L to R: Noel, me, Sam, Ashley, Farzana, Gurinder, Susanha, Lynn, Tania. Jan at the front.

 Photographs from the trip are on my Flickr account here:

16th February: Locations on Iceland’s south coast

On the Monday morning we set off in two vans with Paul driving one and Jan (with me, Ashley Lynn and Sam) in the other.

The Toyota van driven by Jan.

The Toyota van driven by Jan.

As we traveled along the south coast of Iceland our locations en route included the classic waterfalls of Seljalandsfoss

First stop: view of Seljalandsfoss

First stop: view of Seljalandsfoss

and Skógafoss. At Skógafoss I took varying lengths of exposures to capture the “milky” look. One taken with a 6 stop ND filter needed processing as a B/W to remove the blue tinge.



Skogafoss with rainbow

Skogafoss with rainbow

En route we stopped to photograph Icelandic horses.

Icelandic Horses

Icelandic Horses

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During the afternoon we arrived in Vík famed for its black beaches, sea stacks and basalt columnar architecture including Reynishellir a superb basalt cave which when we arrived was cutoff by high tides and stormy seas. A couple of the group got soaked by a big wave and lost a tripod and ruined a camera! Beware (see later!).

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We stayed the night at the Hotel Katla in Vik which has some nice outdoor hot pools for relaxation though it was too windy and cold to take advantage of them! We briefly saw the Norther Lights that evening but the wind was far too strong to erect tripods and use cameras.
17th February: To Skaftafell National Park

On Day 2 we traveled along Iceland’s south coast passing through vast lava fields and glaciated mountains to the Skaftafell National Park.

Paul and the others racing ahead along the snowy road.

Paul and the others racing ahead along the snowy road.

We made several stops on the way, firstly at some frozen streams capturing reflections and the gloomy skies:

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and then at a wonderful cascading stream with opportunities for long exposure shots:

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Lastly we had a long stop at an abandoned farm. The idea here was we were to take some shots and choose three to represent a “theme” of our choice.

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The team leaving the abandoned farm.

After that stop we headed off to the glacier at  Svínafellsjökull.

Svinafellsjokull Glacier

Here we have remarkable close up perspectives of bluish green ice, the milky brown lagoon; a surreal icy landscape including Iceland’s highest mountain, Hvannadalshnjúkur. However on the day we arrived the skies were gloomy and snowfall recent so we didn’t quite get the bluey ice we anticipated.

En route to our hotel (the Hali) we visited the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon for some initial photography.

First shots of the Ice lagoon.

First shots of the Ice lagoon.

18th-21st February: Locations in South East Iceland

Our base, the Hali, was very well situated for many locations; just a ten minute drive to the glacier lagoon and the black sand ice beach. Both locations were excellent for sunrises and aurora had the weather been better; we could be there in a very short time. The hotel’s menu was dominated Arctic Char but had some great lamb and the chocolate pudding was wonderful.

  • Jokulsarlon Ice Beach

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  • Jökulsárlón Lagoon: we photographed here on several occasions in all different light.

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19th February

  • We started the day on the Ice beach taking photographs in different light. However, after about an hour I was engulfed by a large wave which came upto my waist so had to return to the hotel for a change of footwear and clothes!

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  • Jolkulsarlon Ice Lagoon. It was here I discovered that the wave on the beach had affected more than my clothing! My Canon 70D started playing up. It would appear some sea water entered the casing and  damaged the electronics and would not work on any ISO other than 100 nor would the LCD panel work. Fortunately I had my old 40D with me and further photographs are taken with that.

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  • After lunch we visited Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon, a remote less visited location.

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  • We then headed to Skokksnes near Hofn – the furthest east we reached for the sunset.

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Some of the others got great shots of reflections in water. Someone who must have been at the same location at a different time that week took a similar shot of the mountain Vestrahorn but on a long exposure, capturing waves. This was published in National Geographical! When we were there the waves were not coming in and the sunset light was very short (a few minutes) leaving little time to experiment with long exposures and ND filters.

20th February – Ice Beach and Svínafellsjökull.

We  started with another visit to the Ice Beach but with better sunrise light.

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We then visited  Svínafellsjökull.

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Me in the distance photographed by Ashley

Me in the distance photographed by Ashley

In the afternoon we returned to the hotel to work on our photographs, well into the evening and to “show and tell” our best work. Whilst this was going on, un-beknown to us the Northern Lights made an appearance (at last). We only realised when returning to our rooms at 1230 in the morning and  had  to hurriedly gather our cameras and tripods and find a convenient spot to photograph the spectacular. The results were ok, but nothing spectacular. We were also unable to head off to better locations, both darker and allow experimentation with better backgrounds.

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21st February: Return to Reykjavik

On the morning on the last full day we visited the “Crystal Cave” natural ice caves beneath the Vatnajökull Glacier, Europe’s largest ice cap. This was way off road and were taken in a large off roader.

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During our drive back to Reykjavik we had the opportunity to work the locations that we missed on the way out east due to poor weather, light or simply lack of time.


Final stop at Svínafellsjökull

Lava fields:

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Vik Beach from the Eastern side:

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Our final stop was at Seljalandsfoss:

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We arrived back in the city after 830pm and went out together for a final celebratory meal.

The whole week was wonderful. We visited and photographed some spectacular scenery. Whilst the Northern lights experience was disappointing due to the heavy cloud cover over most of tthat part of Iceland for much of the week, the ice and glaciers provided an unparalleled experience. I would strongly recommend it.

The map below shows the route and locations we visited.


5 thoughts on “Iceland – Northern Lights and Glaciers

  1. Hi James. Finally got around to reading your illustrated account! I might print myself off a copy as a reminder of all we saw and did together if that’s OK with you. Fantastic.

    Tania x


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