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Iceland - The Grand Tour - Part 1

Updated: Sep 4, 2021

Kirkjufell - 16mm, f11, iso 100, 0.4 second

From the 2nd to 12th September 2021, I will be running a workshop in Iceland. Whilst the majority of workshops concentrate on the South East to South West Coast, this time we are embarking on what I am calling the Grand Tour of Iceland.

If you have ever been up to this amazing country, you will know that the ring road which goes all around Iceland is called Route 1. This is roughly the route that we will be following with a few detours thrown in for good measure. All told, I expect that we will drive well in excess of 1000 miles, which is why we are giving ourselves 11 days and 10 nights to complete the epic road trip.

Arriving in Keflavik on the flight from Edinburgh ( which is just over 2 hours ) we picked the rental car up from Lotus Car Rentals. I always hire a 4 wheel drive and also go for the best insurance that you can buy. Couple of reasons, firstly some of the roads around Iceland are gravel tracks and you need the 4 wheel drive. Getting the best insurance basically means you can go anywhere you want too and you are pretty much covered for every eventuality. We then headed up to Grundarfjörður which is about a 3 hour drive from the airport. This little town is an ideal location to explore the Snæfellsnes peninsula and had the added bonus of overlooking Kirkjufell, which is probably Icelands most famous mountain. When ever you come to Iceland, you are at the mercy of the weather, take it form me, until you have experienced a windy on day Iceland, then unless you have had this misfortune to be caught in a hurricane or tornado, then you haven't felt wind like it. Remember that best car insurance? Well it also covers you, if a door is blown off its hinges, and yes that is a fairly regular occurrence up here! Thankfully we haven't had too much wind since we arrived, but what we have lacked in gales has been made up for with rain! Thankfully we have a couple of dry hours when we got here on Thursday evening which allowed for a quick trip out to photograph the iconic waterfalls at Kirkjufellfoss.

The Black Church at Búðakirkja - 24mm, f14, iso 100, 100th second

With the weather being very inclement on Friday, we had a tour of what should be the very scenic Snæfellsjökull National Park. Unfortunately due to the low cloud and rain the beauty of this area was not fully experienced but by staying close the the coast, we managed to keep out of the clouds and take in some of the great locations. The little black church at Búðakirkja is well worth a trip as it makes a change to photographic the epic landscapes. The light we had was poor and the only real option was to make a high key image. The are lots of different aspects of the church that will all work and you have the opportunity to shoot either wide angle or telephoto.

Moving further along the coast you come to a tiny town of Arnarstapi which has a fantastic rugged coastline. Probably the most famous composition in the area is the sea arch. Park the free car park on the right hand side as you come into the town next to the pizza shop. You walk past the monument which is directly in front of you and then you will see the viewing platform on the left. It was once possible to get down onto the rocks here, but it got closed off a few years ago so photography is now done from the platform.

Let's just say conditions where horrific when we visited this location. It took all my skill, a wide angle lens hood and a shower cap, plus 2 lens cloths to keep the lens dry enough to get an image with any rain spots of the optics.

Sea Arch at Arnarstapi - 16mm, f11, iso 100, 0.3 second

A couple of hundred meters further along the coast to the west you will come to another viewing platform which gives a fantastic view of some basalt cliffs. You ideally need to be here when the tide is about half way in and a swell on the sea will help make some dramatic shots. Try to time your image just as the waves are crashing against the cliffs and use a shutter speed long enough to get to texture and movement in the water.

Basalt Cliffs at Arnarstapi - 24mm, f9, iso 100, 0.6 second

At Arnarstapi there are a couple of places to eat. The pizzeria where you park the car is expensive and it's sometimes difficult to get a table as it seems that the tours buses use it. However just over the road there is a little cafe that does great hot chocolate and coffee. The chips are also great great. Remember this is Iceland so expect to be paying central London prices if not even more!

Heading a few more miles down the coast you come to the imposing and impressive sea stack at Lóndrangar. You can't miss it, as it is visible from a good couple of kilometres away as you approach. There is a free car park just off the main road and from there its about a 500m walk up the hill to the viewing platform. My advice is to walk past the first platform and head down the hill towards the second, again go past this and the third is directly below this. From here you get an amazing view along the coast to the sea stack. It is possible to get very close to the cliff edge by walking over the low roped fence. It will lend itself to a better image and I have seen plenty of photos from this vantage point. But do this at your own peril. One slip and it is certain death! You will either hit the rocks if the tide is out, or drown if it's in. In my opinion, no photo is ever worth taking unnecessary risks for. Once again conditions were less than favourable, strong winds and driving rain which made for tricky conditions to photograph in.

Sea Stack at Lóndrangar - 18mm, f11, iso 100, 10 second exposure.

From Lóndrangar we followed the road in a clockwise direction back to Grundarfjörður, stopping only once more to photograph a waterfall near Brimilsvellir. Look out for the waterfalls which come tumbling down from the mountains on your right hand side when you are driving. There are a few gravel tracks which will take you up fairly close to them. There are plenty of steams to give you a leading line and although we didn't do it today, then walking up the valleys towards the falls would be beneficial as I am sure there would be numerous compositions to be found.

Waterfalls near Brimilsvellir, 125mm f11, iso 100, 1 second

Couple of essentials to take with you. If you go onto Amazon, then you can order packs of shower caps. These are very cheap, easy to pack in your camera bag and can prove to be a life saver when trying to keep all of your equipment dry. Secondly make sure you take plenty of lens clothes especially on a rainy day. I used 5 today and all of them were soaked by the time we got back to the apartment. Its also a good idea to take some lens cleaning fluid with you are on a wet day, your filters and lenses can get greasy. Finally if you use Lee filters then I would suggest investing in a lens hood. These aren't cheap but can make all the difference between getting a usable image or one which is has rain drops all over the image. Of course you could take an umbrella with you, and this something that I do when back in the UK. However in the wind we have had today, I very much doubt one would have lasted more than a few minutes!

Kirkjufell - 20mm, f8, iso 100, 0.4 second, 2 image focus stack

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