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Iceland: My First Time Traveling

Iceland, the land of fire and ice, a seemingly untouched wilderness with spectacular views wherever you look.

A photographers paradise and holiday destination for many, this wonderfull place is filled with rivers, waterfalls, mountains, volcanoes, lava fields and so much more.

In September I had the chance to visit Iceland for the first time along with five friends and fellow photographers for an unbelievable week long adventure.

 

As a photographer, I’ve never travelled outside of the UK before, so I’ve never had to worry about the gear I’d be taking away with me. The weekend before we left, I decided to have a good go at re-organising my bag to lighten the load. Thankfully, I have the Manfrotto Pro Light Bumblebee 230-PL backpack that has lots of space for all of my gear and the very lightweight, yet very sturdy 190 Go! carbon fibre tripod with the XPRO Ball Head.

We split the trip into two halves due to bad weather and needing a bit of a break, but this is just a brief recap of the trip as there were two many locations and far too many pictures taken to go through the entire trip.

 

We started off with a visit to the mighty Skógafoss, a large waterfall on the South coast. The conditions weren’t great, but they could have been a lot worse and amount of other people there was less than we expected to see. I got a couple of shots here, one of the fall in all its glory and one of my friend Dave at the bottom of the fall. Be prepared to get a bit wet here.

Vík í Mýrdal was our next destination to shoot. The stunning Reynisfjara Beach with it’s black sand, rough waters, and amazing Reynisdrangar sea stacks and although this is a truly beautiful place it can also be quite dangerous as it has ‘sneaker waves’ that can catch you off guard and pull you off the beach. It is highly recommended that you stay clear of the waves.

 

The Bumblebee backpack had a close call here when an unexpected wave washed right up the beach, past me and having left the bag on the sand for a couple of minutes it got absolutely soaked. Thankfully the water didn’t get through the outer material and everything stayed dry. I’m so glad I hadn’t left the bag open.

The Western Region was next and a few locations during the day included Kirkjufell, Snæfellsjökull and an derelict house in Arnarstapi.

 

The conditions and the light were changing a lot throughout the day, one minute it was sunny, the next it was pouring down with rain. I didn’t think I was coming home with a decent shot of Kirkjufell, but the weather got better just before I gave up and allowed me to get a couple of  images I was happy with. One lesson I learned here is definitely don’t be afraid to use your gear in terrible conditions. If I had put my camera away every time the weather turn bad, I wouldn’t have come home with a single shot. I did get the iconic shot of the Kirkjufell with the waterfalls in the foreground, but I really liked the shot I got of just the mountain with a lenticular cloud sat above the peak.

While driving through the lava fields of Staðarsveit in the Western region the very elegant black church of Búðir appeared and apart from the nearby hotel, it seems to be the only thing for miles. The church holds wedding ceremonies almost every day and we arrived just as a couple were leaving the church. Once they had gone off to have some photos taken in the lava field, I found a composition and got the image I wanted.

We visited too many locations to mention on this outing, but one of my favourites was snæfelljökull, the stratovolcano that features in Jules Verne’s novel, Journey to the Centre of the Earth. We shot it from a distance earlier in the day and in our way back to Arnarstapi in the evening, we took an F road over the mountain and got to view the peak from the top.

Tuesday night was pretty much a dream come true while in Arnarstapi. We had been alerted of the possibility of auroras and we were in one of the only part of Iceland to have clear skies that night. We went back to the derelict house that we stopped at earlier in the day and after waiting patiently we were given an amazing display that none of us will ever forget.

After an amazing night under the auroras and incoming bad weather, we took the wednesday off and had a bit of a break.

 

Some of my favourite images were captured on the last couple of days of the trip. We drove over to the South-East and Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Beach were on our list of locations to shoot and we would have two chances to shoot here as we were staying in Höfn for the night and hitting it again on the way back. This place was absolutely mesmerizing and my only regret from this location was that I didn’t fly the drone over the lagoon, however, I did put together a little bit of footage from the Diamond Beach.

After checking in at the hostel we’d be staying in for the night, we drove down the road to Stokksnes to the shoot the Vestrahorn. This amazing mountain range was probably the one location that had to be done while out there and I’m so happy that we also had two chances here as the evening shoot wasn’t great. The cloud had rolled in and the peaks of the mountains weren’t visible, so we got up early the following day to much better conditions and an amazing sunrise. The light was fantastic and the colour in the sky against the black sand beach with clusters of green grass was completely different from the night before. Please be aware that if you are planning to visit Stokksnes, there is a fee to get on that must be paid at the cafe. The landowner is a friendly chap, but doesn’t like people trying to cross for free.

One of the last locations we visited was the wreck of the US Navy Douglas Super DC-3 plane that crashed on Sólheimasandur beach on the South coast in 1973. This site is about a 45 minute walk from the car park by the road, so be prepared for the walk and the changing weather conditions, we walked through wind, rain and hail during our walks there and back. It was very busy when we got there, but the crowd thinned out a bit and made it easier to get a decent shot and some drone images. I snapped a rather moody image of the wreck that feels very dramatic and got a shot of myself on top of the plane. Patience is definitely the key to shooting here as people have no problem just standing in front of you while you’re trying to shoot an image, so just wait until they move and hope for the best.

Both the Bumblebee backpack and the 190 Go tripod served me well while in Iceland.

The bag allowed me to carry all of the gear I needed and kept it safe and dry. It’s great design including the load lifters meant it hardly felt like I was carrying anything.

The compact and lightweight design of the tripod meant that I had a stable support for my camera in every situation. It never let me down and I only needed to clean sand from the twist locks once, due to the amount of time it spent in the sand and sea.

This trip was a mindblowing experience that I got to share with some amazing people and the best thing about it was the fact that I’ll have to go back again (and again) as you just can’t see everything in one trip. I hope to visit the Northern areas on my next visit, but I’d also like to revisit some of the locations from this trip. If you are planning a trip to Iceland for the first time, definitely research where you’re going and also look for places to eat before you go out there. It can be quite expensive in Iceland, but we found somewhere local to eat not far from our apartment before we left and this saved us both time and money while we were there.

 

Lee GaleOther articles by author

Lee Gale is a Photographer from Hull, East Yorkshire, UK with a keen interest in Long Exposure, Landscape, Urban Exploration and Light Painting Photography. Lee has always been a lover of the great outdoors and photography has gone hand in hand with that passion over the last few years. Lee has recently taken part in some local photography exhibitions and one of his goals is to put on a solo exhibition of his own work and hopes to one day produce a book of his work.

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