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The island of Iceland, the second largest European island after Great Britain, lies on the Mid-Atlantic Rift—a major seam between the European and North American tectonic plates. These two plates are splitting apart at remarkable geologic speed, making Iceland one of Earth’s most geologically restless areas. Iceland is a veritable cauldron of geothermal activity, with active volcanoes, steam vents and bubbling hot springs. Currently Iceland is one of the “hottest” nature photography destinations on Earth.
On this autumn sojourn around Iceland we photograph some of the best-known and most iconic landscapes along the island’s famous Ring Road. These spectacular locations have long enticed photographers from all over the world. Yet, in late September and early October, the tourist throngs have diminished, making life very pleasant for adventurous landscape photographers. With clear skies, northern lights—aurora borealis—provide good chances for a night sky lightshow at this time of year.
Our route takes us along swift rivers and by some of the island’s 10,000 thunderous waterfalls that flow across the torturous volcanic landscape. The sparse vegetation should now sport rich autumn color, softening the harsh edges of the volcanic terrain. Polychrome rhyolite hillsides, striking basalt columns, imposing glaciers, a spectacular rugged coastline—including the awe-inspiring Jökulsárlón iceberg lagoon—and an ever-changing light on the land generate seemingly endless possibilities for creating powerful graphic imagery.
At Hraunfossar (“lava falls”) a series of underground streamlets emerge along a 3,000-foot-long sweep of bright green moss-clad rock to cascade gracefully into turquoise waters below. We skirt the northern fjords and photograph a dramatic wave-carved sea arch, among other intriguing features.
Along the northern edge of the Highlands near Lake Mývatn we photograph some of the most diverse landscapes in Iceland. Here, the waters of massive Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe, thunder out of the north side of Vatnajökull glacier across a broken gray-black lava field and roar—ashen-gray with churning glacial flour—150 feet down into the canyon below. In contrast, nearby Selfoss is graceful and elegant—its water surging over horseshoe shaped bedrock. Steam from fuming volcanic vents dances in the air amidst a backdrop of tall mountains and a charred broad horizon.
This region continues to be used for the filming of some of HBO’s popular fantasy drama Game of Thronesand is featured in several of its storylines—and even more so now that “winter is here!” The Mývatn area was also used as a training ground for American astronauts in preparation for the lunar missions of NASA’s Apollo Program.
The finale of our photo tour finds us in the Vatnajökull region with its newly-created national park. Here, we find a magical land of ice with glacial iceberg lagoons, an ice-bejeweled black sand beach and pounding surf. This is followed by the dramatic waterfalls of the Eyjafallajökull region and the troll-like seastacks at Vik.
Join us for this easy journey around the land of ice and fire. Participants should come away with a trove of inspirational photographs. Roaming Iceland’s Ring Road is a trip that is accessible to persons in good health, has easy walking access to most locations with the possibility of several longer hikes and a few scrambles down steep rocky slopes for those wishing even more dramatic angles of the iconic glaciers and waterfalls in the north country.
Depart from home.
Day 2 (Sep 29)
Most US flights to Iceland arrive at the Keflavík Airport in the early morning and those from Europe land in early afternoon. Transfer to Reykjavik. We meet for dinner. (D)
Heading north across the island we photograph at several locations along the north coast road to Vatnsnes Peninsula. En route, we “shoot” Hvitserkur, a wave-sculpted volcanic monolith rising 50 feet from the pounding waters of the Atlantic like a photogenic stone monster. Local legend tells of a giant troll turned to stone by the sun when it failed to retreat to its lair before dawn. During spring and summer, black-legged kittiwakes and northern fulmars nest on its sheer walls—their guano painting white-washed patterns over the dark stone. (BLD)
We travel east to Lake Mývatn. From our comfortable hotel base at Lake Mývatn we have three full days to explore one of Iceland’s most diverse natural areas. Waterfalls—from the raw wild power of massive Dettifoss, the elegant surging arc of Goðafoss, to the frothing white waters of Aldeyjarfoss plunging amidst photogenic columns of contrasting black basalt—offer opportunities to create a variety of images during the constantly changing light.
We photograph the geothermal areas of immense Hverfjall Crater and the live steam vents dotting black lava field at Leirhnjúkur. An excursion to Askja, a still-active caldera volcano with deep crater lakes set amid an unforgettable landscape of nearly 5,000-foot-high mountains, is a highlight. We also visit the Hljodaklettar rock formations in Vesturdalur and the colorful birch woodlands in Asbyrgi, located within the massive Vatnajökull National Park. (BLD)
Following the Ring Road we travel east and then south to the East Fjords. The area is remote, even by Icelandic standards, we photograph immense craggy mountainsides, dramatic valleys and the tiny working fishing villages that nestle among them. (BLD)
Continuing west towards the Vatnajökull glacier, we find a magical world of ice with Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon and its nearby black sand iceberg beach as one of our main photography locations. We also photograph smaller lagoons, such as Fjallsárlón and Heinabergslón. The moraine vegetation of low-growing birch and willow turns red and gold, adding a colorful foreground to the impressive mountains and glaciers. During our time in the Vatnajökull National Park region we also visit the Stokksnes Peninsula with its impressive Vestrahorn mountain range. (BLD)
The southern Ring Road takes us west towards Reykjavik—but not before we have more shooting opportunities around Vik. Here, images of two more spectacular waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss and Gullfoss, plus iconic black sand beaches, the Reynisdrangar sea stack “trolls,” and a wonderfully photogenic little church perched prominently above the tiny town will consume many pixels. (BLD)
Day 12 (Oct 9)
On our way from Vik to the Keflavik Airport we stop for seascape photography at the Reykjanes Peninsula. Most US-bound flights depart in the afternoon. (B)
Mike Byrne has worked as an independent photographer and filmmaker for over 20 years. Raised among Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, he counts hiking, skiing and photographing the famous landscapes and wildlife of the Banff–Canmore–Lake Louise area among his longtime passions. These days, when not creating images of wildlife and nature, Mike is busy photographing a variety of sports events. He shot for the International Olympic Committee at the 2010 Vancouver and 2012 London Olympic Games. The official photographer for several sports teams and for a series of international triathlons, Mike’s work has taken him through much of Europe, Africa, South America, 47 of the United States and all 10 Canadian provinces. Mike lives in Victoria, British Columbia.