Top 10 best photo locations in Iceland – and how to capture them

Top 10 best photo locations in Iceland – and how to capture them

There is hardly a destination that is as versatile and exciting for photographers as Iceland. If you also want to take pictures on Iceland, you’ll find the best places for unforgettable travel photos here. For most spots I have practical photo tips for you that will help you plan your photo trip to Iceland even better.

Selijandsfoss, South Iceland

The Seljalandsfoss is one of the most famous waterfalls of Iceland. There is a path behind the waterfall that leads to unfamiliar perspectives. Instead of the waterfall in front of its cliff, you can photograph the waterfall with the landscape in front or a sun just above the horizon.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall, part of the river Seljalandsá, has its origins underneath the glacier Eyjafjallajökull. The volcano beneath this ice cap was the one that erupted in 2010 and caused havoc at airports across Europe. The cascade of the falls is relatively narrow but falls from a tall cliff that once marked the country’s coastline, the sea is now located across a stretch of lowlands and is visible from the site.

How to get there

Seljalandsfoss can be reached directly from the ring road (Route 1) and can be easily seen from a distance. Coming from Reykjavík, the waterfall is located a few minutes after the turn-off to the ferry landing place to Vestmannaeyjar.

How to get better pictures

Seljalandsfoss is one of the most scenic and well known waterfalls in Iceland. It is 60 meters/200 feet high, it is possible to walk behind the falling water.

It is recommended to have a rain cover for the camera with you. If you want to have veiled water threads, a long exposure is necessary and therefore a tripod is recommended.

Immediately before each photo you should clean the front glass of your camera of water drops. When the aperture is open, drops may not be clearly visible, but will appear in the photos as soon as the aperture is slightly closed or you activate the aperture preview of your camera.

If you have Vestmannaeyjar on the map, you can easily head for the waterfall in the evening at sunset before the last ferry or in the morning on your way back shortly after sunrise. You can also pitch your tent at the nearby campsite and wait for the best light. This is especially recommended in summer, when you don’t want lots of tourists in your picture.

Photographers should particularly note that on sunny days it may produce a single or even a double rainbow, due to the interplay between the spray and the sunlight.

Gljúfrafoss, South Iceland

Only 5 minutes walking distance away from the popular Seljalandsfoss, this cave-opened, often overlooked waterfall is a must for every travel photographer. Through a riverbed you get into a crevice. There you find the hidden Gljúfrafoss. 

Gljúfrafoss is a beautiful waterfall in south Iceland a small ways west of Skógar (where the famous Skógafoss waterfall is located). It is right next to Seljalandsfoss (another waterfall). The waterfall has cut back into the cliff face creating an awesome canyon back to the waterfall itself. You have to hop from rock to rock to get to it. There is a lot of wind and mist getting blasted through the canyon part.

Tourists rarely come here, most of the time you have the waterfall to yourself and can calmly search for the best perspective.

How to get there

From Seljalandsfoss you follow the road for about 500m and land directly at Gljúfrafoss. Alternatively, you can follow the footpath from Seljalandsfoss to the left over the bridge and after about 5 minutes you will reach this unique waterfall.

How to get better pictures

From the bottom of the waterfall you can easily enter the interior of the cave with a little caution. The camera should be sufficiently protected against the drizzle of the waterfall.

The upper side of the waterfall can also be reached via a small climbing path.

Perlan, Reykjavik

The Perlan hot water tank is one of the most striking buildings in Reykjavík, standing on a hill with its four cylinders and round dome. On the fourth floor of Perlan, a large observation deck lies on the top of the hot water tanks and encircles the entire dome to give an amazing 360° view of Reykjavík and the surrounding area.

Perlan is an iconic glass dome building on the highest hill of Reykjavík.

How to get there

The building can be reached on foot in half an hour from the city centre. There is a large parking lot directly in front of the building. Alternatively take the bus line 18.

How to get better pictures

The reflective surface of the windows can be easily integrated into photos. But keep in mind: A polarization filter can lead to unsightly patterns on the window surface, because these are coated.

Harpa Concert and Conference Hall, Reykjavik

Harpa is one of Reykjavik’s greatest and distinguished landmarks. It is a cultural and social centre in the heart of the city.

The Harpa Concert and Conference Hall was designed by the Danish architects Henning Larsen Architects in collaboration with Iceland’s most famous artist Ólafur Elíasson. The structure of the building consists of a steel frame containing numerous geometrically shaped glass panels in different colours. According to Architectural Digest Magazine, Harpa is one of the top 10 best-designed buildings in the world, winning the Mies van der Rohe Award for Best Public Space in 2013, the Arkitekturmassan Awards in 2012 and the World Architecture Award in 2010. The interior of the building can best be seen during the day, while the exterior façade unfolds its full beauty only at night, when it lights up in colourful waves and astonishes every visitor.

How to get there

The building is located directly in the harbour area of Reykjavík. The best way to combine a visit to the opera with a walk through the city centre is to park your car at the edge of the city centre, where parking fees are low.

How to get better pictures

With large architectures you have to watch out for falling lines if you don’t want to use them. Try not only to take pictures of the entire building but also of individual details. A visit to the opera from the inside is also worthwhile. Silhouettes can be photographed in front of the honeycomb windows.

Sun Voyager, Reykjavik

The Sun Voyager is a striking steel sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason, made to resemble a Viking ship but is in fact a dream boat and an ode to the sun.

If you have a passion for photography, the Sun Voyager is something you don’t want to miss. It is a common misconception that the outdoor sculpture resembles a viking ship. However, this was not the intention of artist Jón Gunnar Árnason. The steel sculpture is actually a dream boat that holds the promise of undiscovered territory, an ode to the sun, emitting a dream of hope, progress and freedom. Its skeletal structure and reflective surface make it a wonderful playground for photographers.

How to get there

The sculpture is best reached on foot from downtown Reykjavík. It can be reached on foot in 5 minutes from the Harpa Concert and Conference Hall.

How to get better pictures

The shiny structure wonderfully reflects the play of light of the morning or evening sky. These are the best times for a visit. In the morning there are usually less people on the road and you have your rest.

Everyone and his child photographs the sculpture from the sidewalk. Try to get a special point of view through a creative cut or other perspectives.

An advantage of visiting in the winter months is that you might be lucky enough to see the northern lights at the same time. If you’re an early bird then watching the sun rise behind the mountains and the sculpture is beautiful and guarantees outstanding photos.

The church of Hallgrímur

Hallgrímskirkja or the church of Hallgrímur is an evangelical parish church on the hill Skólavörðustígur in the centre of Reykjavík. It is the highest building in Reykjavík and one of Iceland’s most famous landmarks. It is 74.5 metres high. From Hallgrímskirkja you have a wonderful view of the capital as far as the mountains. The elevator is for a fee and the only possibility to climb the tower.

The Church of Hallgrimur, also known as Hallgrimskirkja, is a Lutheran church located at Reykjavik, Iceland. It sits high on top of a hill located within the center of the city. It is also considered as one of Reykjavik s most striking landmarks and the country s largest church.

How to get there

Parking is available around the church. After visiting the church, you can also take a stroll through the pub and shopping centre.

How to get better pictures

The tower is a great place to get a bird’s eye view of Reykjavík. Tripods are allowed on the tower (at least it was no problem for me in winter). At sunrise or sunset a tripod is recommended.

Integrating the windows of the church into your picture adds a frame and context to the scene. Try it out!

Wrecked US Navy aircraft

The wrecked DC airplane is a famous site located in South Iceland, its rusting shell laying on haunting black sands. The wreckage is a particularly beloved spot by local and visiting photographers alike thanks to its sparse and wild surrounding landscape and its incredible visual contrast to the aircraft’s gnarled metal.

If you have seen a lot of photos from Iceland there is a good chance you have seen photos of the Solheimasandur plane wreckage. The famous silver plane, that is becoming one of Iceland’s most sought-after attractions, sits at a remote location on the South Coast surrounded by nothing but pitch black volcanic sand. The Solheimasandur plane lies quite far in the downstream about 1-hour walk from the actual parking lot.

In recent years the wreckage of a US NAVY aircraft, type: Douglas C-117, has become more and more popular. This makes the wreck more and more accessible, but also more and more devastated. Graffities are spread all over the aircraft. The formerly hardly recognizable sandy runway is now not to be missed and under good conditions carefully even with small cars passable. Even at night you will often not be the only one on site and you should discuss with other photographers who wants to take which picture when.

Important note: Since 14.03.2016 the area where the aircraft is located is closed by the owner due to massive vandalism. This shows how disrespectful many tourists are towards nature (driving off-road, leaving garbage behind…). I would therefore like to take this opportunity and ask you to show respect everywhere. Leave nothing but footprints. Take out what you took in.

How to get there

A gate leads from the ring road (Route 1) to the beach. There is a marked path which you should not leave with your car. After a few metres, turn left at the traffic junction. In addition, the path is now easily recognisable due to the number of visitors.

How to get better pictures

The wreck has been photographed millions of times from all possible perspectives. Try to give your photo a charm of its own by adding yourself, the sunset, northern lights or some kind of light painting.

Kirkjufell, Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Kirkjufell is undoubtedly the most photographed mountain in Iceland by both professional and amateur photographers. Its remote location and the way it seems to rise out of the ocean make this landmark an exquisite photo motif and the paths around it are very accessible. Kirkjufell has been listed as one of the ten most beautiful mountains in the world and when you arrive there you will know why.

How to get there

Located directly on the northern main road of the Snaefellsness-Peninsula, the mountain cannot be overlooked. Coming from the inland, there is a parking lot directly at the waterfall of the same name on the left side.

How to get better pictures

For photographers, it is particularly scenic when you capture the serenity of the water against the dramatic mountain in the background. It best experienced in the light of the midnight sun in midsummer, but also fascinating when caked in ice come midwinter.

Try other perspectives and directions as well. The waterfall and its immediate surroundings have more to offer more than just this one motif.

Even without the waterfall in front of it the Kirkjufell looks fantastic.

Bring a tripod if you are looking for the typical “veil look” of a long exposure. If the sun is strong, a gray filter (ND filter) is also necessary.

During the day the tourist buses stop at this location. It is recommended to be there early in the morning or evening. Otherwise you will have to think about techniques to get rid of the people in your photos. In winter the amount of tourists is smaller.

Fjadrargljufur, South-East Region of Iceland

Fjadrargljufur Canyon is is a magnificent and massive canyon, about 100 meters deep and about two kilometres long. It is a must see when visiting Iceland.

Fjadrargljufur is a 2 km (1.24 mi) long canyon in the South-East Region of Iceland. The canyon is about 100 meters deep and through it runs a small fresh water stream. It is known to be one of the most picturesque places in Iceland and has quickly become one of the most sought-after locations, especially after appearing Justin Bieber’s video – “I’ll Show You”. The fairytale-like Fjaðrárgljúfur has steep tuff walls on both sides which are believed to be about 2 million years old. The river Fjaðrá that runs like a snake in between the palagonite walls originates in the Geirlandshraun lava field and falls from a cliff into the Fjadrargljufur Canyon creating quite the scene. The river then joined the powerful Skaftá river.

How to get there

Fjadrargljufur is located in Skaftárhreppur county in the South Eastern part of Iceland. The turn to Fjadrargljufur is right off Ring Road 1 so about 20 minutes before reaching Kirkjubæjarklaustur (if you are driving the Ring Road counterclockwise). Look for a sign pointing to Road Nr. 206 called Holtsvegur. There you will drive for about 3 km (1.86 mi) before finding a parking lot.

From here the paths along the canyon to the best vantage points are well marked. In winter an off-road vehicle is advantageous or even necessary.

How to get better pictures

If you want to smooth the restlessness of the river in a photo with a long exposure, you need a tripod.

Take the path which takes you to the edge of the canyon where you can stand on a viewing platform and see the stunning vista over the whole area.

Diamond Beach, Jökulsarlon

Right next to the famous Jökulsarlon glacier lagoon you will find a black volcanic sand beach where the icebergs drift ashore from the lagoon creating a magical place. The blue, black, white and transparent icebergs lie on the beach and slowly melt away. One of the most extraordinary features of the beach is that it never looks the same. Even if you visit it several times in a day, the beach will always look different and the natural ice sculptures will also have changed, melted or washed up again. Many of the icebergs are over 1,000 years old and have already shrunk on their way through the vast lagoon and are now enjoying their last moments until they unite with the Atlantic.

Jökulsarion literally means “glacial river lagoon”. I’m sure you have heard about this beautiful natural wonder of Iceland. The lagoon is located on the south-east side of the country and can be seen from the main road number 1

Please pay attention: The waves can be stronger than it seems. Also the ice blocks are often not stable. It is strongly discouraged to climb one of these blocks for a great souvenir photo. The ice blocks are slippery and there is a danger of injury when slipping. Accidents happen here again and again.

How to get there

Diamond beach is about 327 km from Reykjavík. It is located just before the Hornafjordur Fjord just outside the Vatnajökull National Park, although it is no longer part of it. If you want to visit the place, we recommend an overnight stay in the area.

Diamond Beach is right on Road No. 1, so you can’t miss it. Just drive along the ring road and keep going, the beach is not to be missed.

How to get better pictures

Especially during sunrise or sunset the partly clear ice blocks offer a wonderful motive. With a long time exposure you can create a foggy and enchanted look. As always with long exposures, a tripod is recommended.

You should keep a good eye on the waves when taking your pictures. The water often comes faster than you think and you should not be behind or even on top of the ice block with your camera in a strong wave.

At sunset and sunrise, the icebergs glow in light red colours, they are white when the sun is shining and green when it rains.

From September to April the northern lights are reflected in the ice! Believe me, these photos are really worth freezing!

My very best hotel recommendation for Iceland (close to most attractions and the best choice if you want to see the northern lights)

I landed spontaneously at the Hotel Husafell and was completely satisfied. The whole house looks very bright, friendly and modern. Also the rooms leave nothing to be desired. Super location and many activities (also for children) in the area. Breakfast, lunch – and dinner are very tasty there, the price-performance ratio is excellent. You can even let yourself be rung out by a Northern Lights wake-up service at night, then you don’t have to lie awake all night. Below the hotel there is a small thermal bath with different warm water basins…ideal for cold winter days.

Markus Hermannsdorfer

Markus Hermannsdorfer is a professional travel photographer, working as a photographer for the hotel and tourism industry since 2013.

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