Michael Ryno Photography

Photography Tour of Iceland

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Photography Tour of Iceland
Kirkjufell Mountain

Kirkjufell Mountain

In early June, I went to Iceland for 11 days, which included a three day photography workshop with Dan Ballard Photography. During the remainder of the trip, I drove to various locations throughout Iceland, camping at a several nice campgrounds. This trip had been scheduled several months in advance during an evening at home when my wife, Lori, suggested that I go out for the workshop. I want to thank her for encouraging me to go, as it turned out to be a wonderful experience. I want to say that it was the trip of a lifetime, but in this case I definitely want to return and show Lori the spectacular scenery that Iceland has to offer.

After an eight hour flight that went straight from Denver to Keflavik Airport, just outside of Reykjavik. From there, I rented a 4 wheel drive Volvo and headed north to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, which was approximately two hours away. I found a nice campground in Grundarfjordur and set up the tent that I had brought from home. Despite the lack of sleep over the past 20 hours, I went over to the popular Kirkjufell Mountain to get a few photos while the sun was setting. Note that in Iceland, Sunset at that time of year is about 11:30 PM, with sunrise at about 2:00 AM and it never gets fully dark. I was lucky to have some clouds during the night, which made for a nice setting at Kirkjufell.

The falls at Kirkjufell

The falls at Kirkjufell

I wasn’t about to let the first sunrise opportunity go to waste. Rather than sleep, I decided to drive across to the south shore of Snaefellsnes Peninsula and take a look at a few of the locations that I had researched from that area.

A colorful landscape scene along the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

A colorful landscape scene along the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Church at Arnarstapi

Church at Arnarstapi

Hellnar Coastal View

Hellnar Coastal View

At 4:00 AM, I arrived back at the campground and prepared to sleep, despite the fat that the light was already bright. After a good morning rest that lasted until about 9:00 AM (I am not sure that I had ever slept in that late before), I started to make my way south in the direction of where the workshop was to be held in a couple of days. Along the way, I made a quick loop around “The Golden Circle”, stopping at Geysir and Gulfoss during the late evening.

The main attraction at Geysir

The main attraction at Geysir

Rushing water at Gullfoss

Rushing water at Gullfoss

Sunset at Gullfoss

Sunset at Gullfoss

There was no sense in getting rest, as sunset was only a couple of hours away, which was enough time to make the drive down to the popular Seljalandsfoss. The nice thing about arriving there so early was that I had the view to myself and one other person. It was looking like the clouds were going to block the light, so I prepared myself for the fact that I was going to come away with a dull image. Fortunately, things changed and I came away with an image that would soon be selected as Photo of the Week by @StormHour (https://www.stormhour.com).

Sunrise at Seljalandsfoss

Sunrise at Seljalandsfoss

Yellow flowers at Seljalandsfoss

Yellow flowers at Seljalandsfoss

Fortunately there was a nice campground located about 3 minutes away that actually had a distant view of Seljalandsfoss and also was right beside another waterfall, Gljufurarfoss. Again, I slept from 4:00 until about 8:30.

About 25 yards from my tent was Gljufurarfoss

About 25 yards from my tent was Gljufurarfoss

From there, it was on towards Vik where I would be attending the photography workshop. Along the way, I made a couple of brief stops at Skogafoss and Kvernufoss waterfalls.

A couple enjoying their exciting day at Skogafoss

A couple enjoying their exciting day at Skogafoss

The view from behind Kvernufoss

The view from behind Kvernufoss

I arrived in Vik during late afternoon and set up a tent at the local campground. The photography workshop was scheduled to begin the following day, so I still had time to explore the region of Vik on my own.

A midnight photo of a church in Vik with sea stacks in the background

A midnight photo of a church in Vik with sea stacks in the background

A night photo of an Icelandic horse

A night photo of an Icelandic horse

The following afternoon, I met up with Dan Ballard and the rest of the workshop group at the Solheimahjaleiga Guesthouse, which was just outside of Vik. During the brief introductions, I could tell right away that we had a great workshop leader and a fun group of participants. This was my first photography workshop and I quickly picked up on the fact that one of the benefits is the interaction with other photographers who came from other locations around the world. I hope to be able to keep in contact with them in the future.

Dan discussed several topics and then we had dinner and went out to photograph some local scenes that he had scouted.

The view from Solheimahjaleiga Guesthouse

The view from Solheimahjaleiga Guesthouse

A stream and mountains near Vik

A stream and mountains near Vik

Sunset over a stream near Vik

Sunset over a stream near Vik

After shooting the 11:30 pm sunset in the area near Vik, we drove out to a remote location that had incredible views of mountains and a very large glacier. We arrived an hour before the 2:00 am sunrise. As it was still light, we could see the potential for great photos in all directions once the sun hit the horizon.


A 1:00 am photo of a very remote location outside of Vik

A 1:00 am photo of a very remote location outside of Vik

Soft morning light

Soft morning light

A quick photo during the walk back to the car. Note that the white in the background is not clouds, but rather part of a very large glacier.

A quick photo during the walk back to the car. Note that the white in the background is not clouds, but rather part of a very large glacier.

We made it back to the guesthouse at about 4:00 am after being out all night. The next five hours of rest would be much needed. The following day we got together as a group and Dan provided great instruction on post processing techniques. We then met again for dinner and headed out for some late night sunrise photography.

Lupine are a very common flower in Iceland during the month of June

Lupine are a very common flower in Iceland during the month of June

A very late evening view

A very late evening view

A late evening photo at a field of lupine

A late evening photo at a field of lupine

The following day we drove down to Hofn, about three hours from Vik and along the southeastern coast of Iceland, where we would be staying at the Skyrhusid Guest House. I made a couple of stops along the way.

Lupine, Glaciers and Mountains

Lupine, Glaciers and Mountains

After we met and had a wonderful dinner at a wonderful restaurant, and then went out to photograph the night sunset. Once again, we were fortunate to have clouds and a beautiful sky.

Dan and a couple of workshop participants taking in the scenery

Dan and a couple of workshop participants taking in the scenery

Watching the sun set over the horizon

Watching the sun set over the horizon

We all went back to the guesthouse and slept for about 90 minutes and then headed out to catch sunrise at a location that Dan and Nicole had scouted the previous afternoon. What a beautiful setting at a lesser known lagoon outside of Hofn. Once again, we were treated with some amazing clouds that allowed just enough sunrise light to ignite the sky.

Amazing light early in the morning at a secluded lagoon

Amazing light early in the morning at a secluded lagoon

Glacial lagoon shortly after sunrise

Glacial lagoon shortly after sunrise

Initially I had the intention of going out on a Cessna to photograph the interior region of Iceland from the air. However; the morning shoot was so amazing and I decided to let the aerial photography wait for my next visit to Iceland. The workshop was fantastic, and I would encourage other photographers at all skill levels to register for a reputable workshop such as the ones that Dan Ballard provides. You won’t be disappointed.

Without a formal plan, other than the fact that I needed to catch a flight in five days, I drove off on my own to see what the rest of Iceland had to offer. My first stop was at nearby Jokulsarlon, which is a very popular glacial lagoon located just outside of Hofn. I enjoyed a beautiful sunset at Jokulsarlon, and then went across to the ocean side to photograph ice along the beach. The photo below was selected as a Daily Dozen by an editor of National Geographic’s Your Shot.

Sunset at the popular Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon

Sunset at the popular Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon

Ice along Breidamerkursandur black beach

Ice along Breidamerkursandur black beach

My next stop was at Vestrahorn Mountain. This was the first time during the trip that clouds were heavy and light was a bit of a challenge to work with. However, while going through my images later I decided to convert a couple to black and white, which worked will for the Vestrahorn shots.

A cloudy afternoon at Vestrahorn Mountain

A cloudy afternoon at Vestrahorn Mountain

A photo of an Icelandic horse near Hofn, with Vestrahorn Mountain in the background.

A photo of an Icelandic horse near Hofn, with Vestrahorn Mountain in the background.

Making my way up towards the norther region of Iceland, I stopped at Hverir Geothermal Park. I found this to be a great area to get several unique photographs. There is a great variety of large landscapes and intimate landscapes, all within a relatively small area.

Geothermal activity at Hverir Geothermal Park

Geothermal activity at Hverir Geothermal Park

Textures in the mud at Hverir

Textures in the mud at Hverir

An intimate landscape shows various channels and interesting formations

An intimate landscape shows various channels and interesting formations

Curvy stream at Hverir Geothermal Park

Curvy stream at Hverir Geothermal Park

From Hverir, I drove north to the northern port town of Húsavík. One of the benefits of camping and not setting a specific agenda was having the ability to decide along the way what I wanted to see and where I wanted to stay. Húsavík was a location that was not on my initial itinerary, but ended up being one of my favorite areas of the trip.

A great sunset view of the port at Húsavík

A great sunset view of the port at Húsavík

A church in Húsavík

A church in Húsavík

While in Húsavík, i decided to sign up for a boat tour to see puffins and whales. We saw plenty of both, and it was worth having the long zoom lens on the camera that day.

A puffin prepares to take flight

A puffin prepares to take flight

A humpback whale catching a breath of air at the surface

A humpback whale catching a breath of air at the surface

The drive from Húsavík to Myatvan was relatively short in distance, but not short of scenery. I was able to capture a few shots along the way.

Yellow house and white boat along the norther coast of Iceland

Yellow house and white boat along the norther coast of Iceland

A layer of fog sets over the bay near Húsavík

A layer of fog sets over the bay near Húsavík

A rainbow formed by the mist at Dettifoss

A rainbow formed by the mist at Dettifoss

Not far from Myatvan, where I had set up my tent at a wonderful campground, is the popular waterfall Godafoss. I was fortunate to catch it during a beautiful evening. It was just me and one other photographer as the sun was setting close to midnight.

A lower view of Godafoss just before sunset

A lower view of Godafoss just before sunset

A colorful evening at Godafoss

A colorful evening at Godafoss

The 20-minute drive back from Godafoss to the campground at Myatvan provided a couple of photo opportunities, even though the sun had set an hour before.

A river near Myvatan shows a nice glow after the sun had set

A river near Myvatan shows a nice glow after the sun had set

For my next trip to Iceland, I would love to figure out a way to rent this boat and take it out on the water at this time of night

For my next trip to Iceland, I would love to figure out a way to rent this boat and take it out on the water at this time of night

While driving from Mývatni towards the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, I decided to stop by Godafoss during the middle of the day. The midday light was harsh and the crowds were heavy, unlike the situation that I had experienced at midnight. I decided to grab my 6-stop neutral density filter in attempt to get a long exposure shot of fast moving water flowing over rocks.


A long exposure photo of water flowing over rocks in the river below Godafoss

A long exposure photo of water flowing over rocks in the river below Godafoss

My next stop would be The Snaefellsnes Peninsula, which was the region that I had visited during the first couple days of the trip. When I arrived to the Kirkjufell Mountain area, which is on the north side of the peninsula, the clouds were heavy and photos were very flat. I decided to drive over to the south side of the peninsula, which really worked out well. My first stop was in Budir, and as I got out of my car I ran into Tas and Sarah, two of the great participants from our workshop.

Church at Grundarfjordur with Kirkjufell Mountain in the background

Church at Grundarfjordur with Kirkjufell Mountain in the background

A late evening at The Black Church of Budir

A late evening at The Black Church of Budir

Wildflowers, sea, mountains and clouds

Wildflowers, sea, mountains and clouds

Colorful wildflowers along The Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Colorful wildflowers along The Snaefellsnes Peninsula

I chose to stay up past the midnight sunset and into the early morning sunrise to photograph along the coastal towns of Hellnar and Arnarstapi.

Sunrise at at arch feature along the coast in Arnarstapi

Sunrise at at arch feature along the coast in Arnarstapi

After getting a few morning hours of sleep at the campground in Arnarstapi, it was time to start making my way back towards the airport for a flight the following afternoon. I made the drive down past Reyjavik to a campground in Grindavík, which is located about 10 minutes away from the famous Blue Lagoon. That night I went over to the lagoon and caught a couple of photos as the sun was setting through cloudy skies.

Iceland June 2019-76.jpg

My tour through Iceland was an incredible experience. I was fortunate to have fantastic weather during the entire time I was there and had a chance to meet many wonderful people along the way. While Iceland has become a popular tourist destination over the past several years and I had read about the overcrowding issues at many of the iconic locations, I somehow managed to avoid the crowds and often had these amazing scenes all to myself.

For those who are considering a trip to Iceland, I would recommend exploring during the off times of the night and morning when most of the tourists are away. Not only will you avoid the crowds, but you will also enjoy spectacular scenery that is much more impressive in soft light.