I just spent an amazing two weeks chasing the light around Iceland. It is an amazingly beautiful place and I cannot wait to go back - so much more to see! I wanted to share the story of the trip with you, hopefully you find it inspiring, useful, and a little funny.
Preparing for the Adventure
A two week photography expedition takes some planning, and I started preparing for this trip three months in advance. An excellent source was the e-book Forever Light by Sara Marino and Ron Coscorrosa. It helped me get an idea of the layout of the country, some must see locations, and recommendations on gear. I likely would have forgotten to bring my waders without their suggestion, and they came in quite handy on several occasions! It also contained excellent advice about bringing camping style food, which came in handy when pretty much all of the stores were closed due to my inverted schedule (midnight sun!).
As I decided to camp / sleep in the car for two weeks that meant I didn't have to worry about lodging, but that car selection was very important. I wanted to be able to travel on F-Roads (the dirt back roads) as well as have room to sleep, so I opted for a small SUV. After reading reviews of many companies and calling a few, I ended up settling on Reykjavik Rental Cars and got a Hyundai Santa Fe for ~$1350 for two weeks. (Thanks to Europe's use of periods instead of commas, the car was originally only $1.35.....but sadly for me they noticed the error and fixed it). The Santa Fe got the job done comfortably, the customer service was great, and my only complaint is how gas hungry it was; it really made me miss my Subaru's 30 mpg! If you travel to Iceland and rent a car, many places offer all kinds of premium insurance, such as coverage from blowing ash damage. This can add hundreds of dollars to the cost, and after reviewing the rental car coverage and discussing it with an agent, we determined that the credit card coverage would be able to take care of any damage... so that saved me a ton of money / provided some peace of mind.
Once in country, the photography map of Iceland that I ordered was my most used resource. Not only is a good map essential when exploring somewhere new, but this one has all the photo locations on it as well! It stood up to two weeks of random folding, was referenced several times per day, and is even water resistant. I'd recommend this as a must have resource for any photography trip to Iceland.
The "days" on Iceland ended up blurring for me, as I was constantly chasing clouds, staying up all night, and all in all having no schedule whatsoever. So the days are all kind of relative here...
After picking up the car and sleeping for 6 hours, I set off to chase some clouds. Wandering through a series of roundabouts, I eventually made my way out of the city and towards Geysir. (during the roundabout wandering I accidentally activated the seat warmer in the car...not knowing how to turn it off while lost and trying to find a place to pull over was rather amusing) It's not a long drive, but I kept stopping along the way to admire the countryside so it took a while. Eventually I saw the geyser erupting in the distance and I knew I was close! The geothermal field is small, and tends to be crowded with tour buses during the day, but at 9 pm there were only a few other people around. The original Geysir is here, but doesn't erupt anymore since some kids threw a bunch of rocks into it. It's neighbor Strokkur though was erupting every 6 minutes while I was there, very impressive! It forms an amazing bubble right before it bursts and since it erupts so frequently, it is an excellent photo subject. I was able to play around with different shutter speeds to get the water exactly the way I wanted it.
After spending not long enough with at Geysir, I headed just a few minutes up the road to Gullfoss, which at nearly midnight I had all to myself. Its a two tiered waterfall, and the lower path gets you up close and personal with both tiers. The lower falls thunders into a canyon and there was so much mist, the bottom dissolved into white. There were no clouds during my visit, so I focused on more intimate compositions which didn't involve the sky. There are so many possibilities with this waterfall you could spend a whole day here. It would also be amazing to see it in the winter.
After two hours of photographing I retired to luxurious sleeping quarters of the SUV and slept for a whole hour...
Awaking slightly rested, the light was still dim outside and it was back to the road in order to chase the clouds North. I was intending to take F335 to Hagvatan which is a tongue of the Langjokull glacier, but it was closed due to spring conditions, so instead I continued on hwy 35 toward Blafell mountain. After an hour of driving, I came to another road closure and so continued on foot. It was a wonderful 32 deg F outside with a light 40 mph breeze, so all the mountaineering gear I brought came in handy. Climbing a snow covered ridge, I walked towards the edge of the Langjokull glacier until I came upon an amazing looking frozen lake. Snow covered peaks and earth shadow were behind the lake, so I was entranced and set up to wait for sunrise. While waiting in the wind, I explored to stay warm and found a great patch of moss which had been distorted due to freezing, the green and black created wonderful sinuous shapes and the rising sun completed the scene.
I hiked back to the car smiling, my first day couldn't have gone better!