Matt Payne Photography | Discovering the beauty of Iceland and falling in love - the best Iceland photos from a 10 day trip

Discovering the beauty of Iceland and falling in love - the best Iceland photos from a 10 day trip

April 20, 2018  •  3 Comments

Iceland - A stunning & beautiful island full of magic and wonder

Kirkjufell DreamingKirkjufell DreamingOn our visit to Iceland, our second stop was Kirkjufell, an impressive mountain on the coast of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. We had pretty miserable weather, with lots of cloud cover. I decided I wanted to see what the scene would really look like if we were lucky enough to get the Aurora while there. I composited an aurora I got to see a couple days later in Iceland into this scene, shot before sunrise. While I think this makes for a great image, I am still not sold on the use of composites in photography; however, I wanted to show the world just how wonderful this place can be. Back in October 2017, my long-time friend David Soldano reached out to me to see if I was interested in joining him and a small group of other photographers to Iceland during the month of March, 2018. The month of March was chosen because of the increased opportunity to see and photograph the Aurora Borealis. Since photographing the Aurora has been on my list of things I've desperately wanted to do for a very long time, I was instantly on board. This was David's second trip to the island and he had a wonderful itinerary all planned out for the 10-day trip. The itinerary had a lot of flexibility built-in and was very thoughtful and strategic in time allotted for various areas and locations of lodging. Since I had not ever been to Iceland, I kind of packed for lots of various scenarios in cold weather and rain. In hindsight, I brought too much warm clothing. I really appreciated having my rain pants and all of my synthetic clothing for staying dry. A few things that I found interesting about Iceland:

  • Food, alcohol, and gas are insanely expensive
  • Hot water in the hotels in Reykjavik smells like sulphur due to the geothermal action that they use to get their water
  • Everything is smaller - rooms, kitchens, bathrooms, showers, beds
  • Even though I did not speak Icelandic, you could usually figure out what stuff meant
  • Vegetarian and vegan diet is really tough here - I'm a vegetarian and I made it work - not sure how a vegan would do it to be honest
  • The weather is very dynamic - clouds, rain, wind, sun - all can happen quite sporadically in a single day
  • A lot of the people there don't seem very friendly or helpful - I think they are just annoyed at the increase in tourism
  • Everywhere charges for bathroom use, which I found to be quite interesting considering there are lots of (valid) complaints about human waste on the island - it makes me wonder if maybe if they did not charge for bathroom use that the problem would be as bad as it is
  • The mountains in Iceland look HUGE
  • Geology is very much alive in Iceland and on display - a really fascinating place to be geologically curious

The trip lived up to every expectation I had of it and more. I really fell in love with this place. It was a mixture of all of the things I love about nature photography - mountains, oceans, waterfalls, night skies, and dramatic scenes. My approach on the trip was to do as little research as possible and to try the best I could to really "feel" the place and shoot what spoke to me there. This article is just a sampling of my Iceland photos, the remainder of which are located in my Iceland gallery.

For photography equipment, I had to be mindful of the conditions and shooting opportunities. I think a wide angle, a mid-zoom, and a telephoto are perfect. I personally brought my Sony A7RII, Sony 12-24 f/4, Loxia 21 f/2.8 (for those great sunstars), Contax / Yashica 35-70, Sony 55 1.8, and the Sony 70-300. This range of lenses was perfect for my needs; however, for the nights when we had an aurora, I would have appreciated a wide angle lens that was faster than f/4. I took 1,458 photos (I don't do much bracketing and I did no time-lapsing). For those thinking about which lenses they might want to bring, here is a break down on how many photos I took with each lens:

Lens Shot Count
Sony 12-24 f/4 412
Loxia 21 f/2.8 204
Contax / Yashica 35-70 177
Sony 55 1.8 13
Sony 70-300 652

Day 1 & 2: Photographing the magical Snaefellsnes Peninsula

After landing in Reykjavik and getting our rental van, we head directly to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula - a magical part of Iceland north of Reykjavik filled with amazing scenery and diverse photography opportunities. During the drive, I was immediately struck by the splendor and beauty that Iceland had to offer. Large mountains were in all directions, paired with the ocean and waterfalls all over the place. What the heck!? My very first Iceland photographs were not even good ones but I could not help but stop to take them. I was moved.

My First Iceland PhotoMy First Iceland PhotoMy first Iceland photo was taken right off the road on the way up to Snaefellsnes peninsula from Reykjavik. Just a hand-held telephoto shot of some interesting light on a mountain-side full of grass and volcanic rock. Introduction to IcelandIntroduction to IcelandShortly after landing in Reykjavik, my friends and I drove north and west to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula to start our Iceland journey. We were greeted with majestic views of mountains and water. Welcome to Iceland!

We stopped to photograph a popular waterfall called Barnafoss. I personally found this area to be pretty special, having a place in my heart for waterfalls. Even in full sun, the waterfalls were a joy to photograph. I loved the subtle colors and the immense scale of it all, which is always hard to convey in a photograph. For example, the boulder in the below photograph was probably as big as a large bus.

Barnafoss BlueBarnafoss BlueOn my very first day in Iceland we decided to find and photograph Barnafoss - a magical collection of huge streaking waterfalls along a large river. Huge glaciers power the melt water that cascades down into the river. One of the few waterfalls I've enjoyed photographing in full sun - the light just glistened off of the water.

After spending some quality time zenning out with these waterfalls, we head on out to our next destination - the town of Grundarfjörður. On the way there, we stopped to photograph the quite ubiquitous Icelandic horses that we saw pretty much everywhere off of the side of the road. These dudes were super majestic and really lovely to photograph.

Icelandic PonyIcelandic PonyIceland is famous for many things, including these wonderfully beautiful horses filled with personality and flare. I just loved how his hair flowed in the wind. What a majestic creature!

The next big target was the magnificent mountain and waterfalls known as Kirkjufell. Even though this is a very popular destination, I was very excited to photograph here. There's a reason why this place is popular - the mountain is stunning and really makes one feel grounded with the earth. We did get some aurora alerts this night and tried to photograph it from a lighthouse nearby, but I did not find myself very excited about any of those images, so I never worked on them. Maybe someday!

Kirkjufell DawnKirkjufell DawnWhile this location has been photographed to death, it is pretty easy to see why it is so popular when you get there. The stature and impressiveness of Kirkjufell paired with the peaceful and beatiful waterfalls makes for a stunning combination that soothes the soul and warms the heart.

I also enjoyed the use of Neutral Density filters here to really accentuate the drama in the scene. I should mention, I'm a proud Formatt Hitech Ambassador and really like using their filters. You can use my ambassador code, "PAYNE10" at checkout for a 10% discount on filters and filter kits. For this next shot, I employed the use of a 10-stop ND filter to really bring out the drama in the clouds and to accentuate the reflection in the water below Kirkjufell. 

Kirkjufell in monochromeKirkjufell in monochromeI decided to bust ouy my ND filters for a creative take on Kirkjufell - a 252 second exposure of the impressive mountain with clouds streaking overhead reflected in the water below.

After photographing Kirkjufell, we packed up and drove to the southern part of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, another target rich photography destination. I really enjoyed exploring the sea arches at Gatklettur, which was full of gulls and cormorants. 

Sea Arch ISea Arch IWhen I first crossed this natural bridge, I had no idea I was walking on a sea arch. As soon as I realized that's what I had found, I figured a self-protrait was in order to show the scale of the scene! Also nearby was one of the coolest scenes I've ever shot - a waterfall right on the coast with a majestic mountain in the distance. Damn, Iceland, you know what's up!

FlowFlowA small creek on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula of Iceland terminates into the ocean in a dramatic waterfall before an impressive mountain in spring. The lush green grass and moody clouds made for a very dramatic scene.

One of the coolest things about Iceland and something all visitors should be appreciative of and mindful of is the mossy volcanic rock. The moss there is very fragile and visitors should avoid walking on it and trampling it. I really enjoyed photographing the huge fields of it found on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. 

Mossy DelightMossy DelightOne of the coolest things about Iceland is the moss-covered volcanic rock. I fell in love with it. Each step on the moss is like stepping on a giant pillowtop. The moss is thick and healthy. I tried to only step on rocks to prevent any damage. Scenes like this are everywhere in Iceland. Our last two stops in this part of Iceland were Londrangar, a giant sea stack, and Búðakirkja, the famous black church. I really enjoyed photographing both of these scenes as well. 

LondrangarLondrangarLondrangar is a large sea stack on the coast of Iceland on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. I used a long exposure here to really make more of a dreamy feel for the scene. I also changed the aspect ratio a bit to pull it all closer compositionally speaking. BúðakirkjaBúðakirkjaBúðakirkja or "black church" is an iconic building constructed in 1847 on the coast of Iceland on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.

After photographing these locations, we head back towards Reykjavik, where we planned to stay just one night. Once there, we got another alert for the aurora; however, the skies were totally clouded over, so we drove about an hour to Þingvellir National Park - we arrived to more clouds and slept in the car for awhile... the clouds never left, so we drove back and got a few hours of sleep. Aurora hunting is exhausting!

Day 3: Photographing Brúarfoss and driving to Höfn

After getting totally skunked in the Reykjavik area, we head south towards the coast. We had a long string of days ahead of us in the Höfn area and decided to stop on the way to photograph the famous waterfall known as Brúarfoss. Access to this waterfall is restricted to a public trail off of the road requiring a 3-mile hike in. Once there, you'll find that the waterfall is quite the magical place! We had the scene all to ourselves for about an hour and really enjoyed photographing it, despite the fact that it was raining quite heavily the whole time we were there. The waterfall has magical turquoise water rolling through it and makes for an idyllic scene, which I am sure would look quite amazing on someone's wall or in a corporate conference room!

Brúarfoss BlissBrúarfoss BlissBrúarfoss ('Bridge Falls') is an amazing little set of waterfalls that cascade into a huge pool of turquoise water which rages in symphony. A truly magical site to behold indeed. Access to these falls in controversial; however, a new public trail has been installed requiring a 3 mile hike to the falls. Well worth it I'd say!

After photographing Brúarfoss, we continued on our way towards Höfn on Hringvegur (ring road). We passed by the town of Vik, which we'd return to later in the trip. On the way, the weather was quite gloomy and foggy, which actually made for some super interesting conditions for taking photos! I saw this one scene off the side of the road that really spoke to me - a huge pyramidal peak with fog rising up through the scene. 

Foggy PyramidFoggy PyramidI was absolutely stunned by the beauty in Iceland. It is everywhere. This dramatic scene was seen on the southern coast of Iceland during dramatic weather. The geology of Iceland creates some impressive mountains that rival any in the world, in my opinion.

We arrived at our cottages at Stafafell, which were in an absolutely amazing location. We were centrally located between some incredible places, including Vestrahorn and the eastern fjords. After getting settled in, we decided to head east on the road to see what we could find. The weather continued to be gloomy, but it really added to the atmosphere of the place. We stumbled upon this insane mountain off the side of the road that I just had to photograph.

Lord of the RingsLord of the RingsThis scene captivated me. The weather had been nasty all day long. Clouds cleared long enough to expose the new moon above this craggy mountain on Iceland's eastern shores.

I wanted to get a better view of the scene, so I walked around awhile in the area. I crested a hillside and was so excited to find a small stream coming around the corner below me, all leading up into the scene I so loved - the pointy mountain and the crescent moon. It is a pretty moody scene, but I really loved it!

River of soulsRiver of soulsIceland is full of surprises! I saw this insane jagged peak with the rising moon behind it and sprinted at full speed to get the scene before the light faded. As I crested the hill, this small mountain stream revealed itself and caused me to get even more giddy about the scene before me. This is why I love photography!

While here, my friend David took an incredible photo of me that I instantly fell in love with. David is a master at inserting human subjects into a scene to really showcase the scale and interest of a place. Matt Payne in IcelandPhotographer David Soldano captures Matt Payne gazing up at an epic mountain on the coast of Iceland.

We also got to see some caribou while visiting Iceland, which was pretty awesome as well. They where everywhere on the southeastern coast. Unfortunately, I was not able to get any great photos of them! =)

We head back to our cottage to eat dinner - while eating dinner, our Aurora notification app (My Aurora Forecast Pro) went off! We rushed out the door to see if we could find it. We decided to drive east again. Having been teased the past two nights, we were eager to see it. As we drove, we finally saw some green in the sky - I begged David to stop so I could get a photo of it. David knew we would have better chances to shoot it; however, I did not want to lose out on possibly my only chance to see and photograph it! So here's my first Aurora photo! Don't worry, we got to see it many more times and captured several amazing shots of it (which are shown later).

My first aurora photoMy first aurora photoAfter two straight days of having Aurora alerts but nothing but clouds, we were ecstatic to find ourselves in a place that had clear skies and views of the aurora. As soon as we realized the aurora was going off, I demanded we pull the car over so I could at least photograph it once in my life, not knowing if we'd have another chance on the trip (we did). It was hilarious and exhiliirating. The Aurora was a magical sight to see. I loved photographing it! What a challenge!

Aurora SoaringAurora SoaringI fell in love with this duo of mountains in Iceland named Brunnhorn (left) and Kambhorn (right) as seen from our cottage at Stafafell to the North. I can't tell you how in love I was with the mountainscapes combined with the Aurora Borealis in Iceland - something from a dream! After this weak solar storm subsided, we went to bed, dreaming of green lights in the sky. The plan for the next day was to shoot sunrise on the coast and then go to Vestrahorn. I was excited to finally see it!

Day 4: Photographing the coast and Vestrahorn

We woke up to seeing this amazing scene right outside our cottage.

Awaken to LightAwaken to LightDay 3 in Iceland started out with matical light in all directions. I love how long and colorful sunrise is in Iceland. Since it is so far north, the sun travels very low on the horizon, making for extended sunrises with great light.

Magical! Shooting sunrise this morning was a real treat as well. The light lasted for a very long time and we took advantage of it! I loved the pink hues on the peaks in the distance.

Coastal SunriseCoastal SunriseI really loved this magically pink sunrise on the coast of Iceland near Hofn. The cold air did not deter these birds (swans?) from feeding and enjoying the water. These impressive mountains really captivated me throughout the whole trip. We decided to photograph the rest of the morning down by Hvalnes Lighthouse, which is surrounded by huge jagged mountains, much like the whole eastern part of the Iceland. What a majestic spot! The mountains right off the coast are home to tens of thousands of birds, which added quite a lot to our images at sunrise, I think.

Crashing into BlackCrashing into BlackI shot this scene on the south east coast of Iceland near Hvalnes Lighthouse looking west along the beach at sunrise. Large quantities of gulls swarmed the skies looking for their first meal of the day. Watching the crashing waves in the early morning light with huge majestic mountains in the background was a really special experience for me. I am usually not a huge ocean fan, but there is something fantastic about crashing waves that really speaks to me.

Waves up and downWaves up and downA waves crashes into the shore of southeastern Iceland below a huge flock of gulls basking in early morning light before an impressive set of incredible mountians in the distance.

We returned to the cottage for a well-deserved breakfast. After breakfast, I decided to take a hike up into the hills behind our cottage. What I found was pretty fantastic. Huge mountains, views of the coast, tons of moss, and clean, fresh ocean breeze. 

Icelandic forestIcelandic forestI decided to take a walk near our cottage in Iceland near Hofn. Trees are quite rare in Iceland so I was amazed to see this small forest of trees at the base of these huge mountains nearby. Moss AbstractMoss AbstractOn a hike in Iceland I found myself surrounded by moss in all directions. Using a telephoto lens, I decided to get an up-close abstract of the moss showing all the details and color hiding below the surface. Path into the VolcanoPath into the VolcanoOn a hike in Iceland I found this road in the distance leading up a steep hill with a massive mountain in the distance. I love how this image shows the diversity of terrain and foliage in Iceland - mosses, bushes, snow, volcanic rock, and grass. Such a cool place to see! Rivulets and Rising GiantsRivulets and Rising GiantsRivulets of water formed by glacier run-off weave through the black volcanic beach near Stafafell Iceland. Two enormous peaks tower above the beach in a display of majesty. After enjoying my time exploring around our cottage, we decided to head on out to Vestrahorn. Vestrahorn is a really interesting place between Stafafell and Höfn. The mountain at Vestrahorn is one of Iceland’s few Gabbro rock mountains.  Dating back 8-11M years, the site was first used by Irish settlers before they were enslaved by Viking invaders around 860 AD. To enter the area, one is required to pay a toll of 800 ISK (about $8). This is controversial because technically the land is owned by the Icelandic Government. There is a radar facility here that was installed by NATO in 1951. The government does not seem to care that the land owner between the beach and the road is charging people a fee to enter the government-controlled area. Interesting dispute! Technically, the land owner is illegally charging people to enter; however, there's not much you can do about it as a photographer. We ended up paying this guy a lot of money over the course of our trip because we returned several times.

We decided to go all the way to the beach at the end of the road to enjoy crashing waves below Vestrahorn. I was in absolute awe of the power of these waves and felt pretty uncomfortable shooting here due to how wet it was and how steep the cliffs were. Call me crazy, but getting unique shots like this is sometimes worth it. 

Rocky InletRocky InletI climbed down to the crashing waves above this vigorous inlet on the coast of Iceland below the mighty Vestarahorn mountain to witness the power of nature first hand. This photo does not do the scene justice at all. The waves were so loud. All of the rocks were wet with salt spray. The mountains towered above. It was quite amazing.

We visited the beach for some long exposure shots of Vestrahorn - shooting wide at 12mm with my 150mm filter kit was quite a blast. The waves created small layers of water on the shore, which helped create a nice reflection when shooting a super long exposure. 

Ominous BeachOminous BeachThe beaches below Vestrahorn in Iceland have a continuous flow of waves crashing onto the shore, creating small layers of water which I used to capture the reflection in during this very long 117 second exposure.

We came back at sunset and were not disappointed with the light and conditions here. Despite several jerks flying drones around us all evening, I loved this spot. The clouds cleared just long enough for us to get some really great photographs.

Icelandic PanoramaIcelandic PanoramaThis panorama captures the essesce of the southern coast of Iceland - intense light at sunset casts amazing color on the clouds and peaks above the coast. IlluminatedIlluminatedLate sunset light cascades upon the upper reaches of this impressive mountain found on the south coast of Iceland.

Day 5: Drive to Seydisfjordur for waterfalls, a unique church, the Aurora, and badass fjords

The drive to the small idyllic town of Seydisfjordur on the north east coast of Iceland was very uneventful - it was very cloudy, rainy, and gloomy - we could not see a whole lot the whole way there; however, when we arrived, the clouds began to break up and the the town brightened up. This small town is pretty awesome, surrounded by large mountains and waterfalls. The town is home to a really interesting church known as Seyðisfjarðarkirkja. the church has a really cool rainbow path painted on the road leading up to it. Worth visiting!

SeyðisfjarðarkirkjaSeyðisfjarðarkirkjaSeyðisfjarðarkirkja is a lovely blue church found in the absolutely stunning town of Seydisfjordur on the far eastern coast of Iceland. A rainbow road is painted on the street creating a lovely path of color.

The town also has a really neat pond in the center of town which made for a nice backdrop for some portrait photography. One of our group's members, Amber, was quite willing to pose for photos pretty much any time! Lucky for her, there were lots of photographers at the stand-by.

AmberAmberOur friend Amber looked great in the late afternoon light in the town of Seydisfjordur Iceland. We decided to grab lunch here and then had back towards our home base back in Stafafell. The drive back was one of the most special days of our trip, filled with amazing scenes and incredible experiences. Right near the town was a waterfall called Gufufoss, which I thoroughly enjoyed photographing. 

GufufossGufufossGufufoss is the largest and most visually stunning waterfall in the Seyðisfjörður area of Iceland. I climbed into the middle of the river on precarious and slippery rock to get this shot, showcasing the sun setting in a perfect location above the falls. According to the Icelandic dictionary, the word "gufa" means "vapor" or "steam" so if this translation was correct, then this would be the "Steam Falls."

Driving the road along the fjords of Eastern Iceland was a real treat. Around every corner was a new set of amazing mountains. Being a mountain geek, I was in heaven. I could photograph this spot for years and still be happy. 

WhisperWhisperRugged peaks formed by glaciation are hit with incredible light through intense clouds on the eastern coast of Iceland. SaturSaturRounding the corner of the road on the eastern Fjords or Iceland and seeing this - so amazing! This is an impressive mountain called Satur. I fell in love instantly. SnæhvammstindurSnæhvammstindurThe ominous peak named Snæhvammstindur towers above a waterfall beneath electric clouds at sunset on Iceland's eastern coast.

Pink LightPink LightSunset illuminates a mountain top on Iceland's eastern coast. The Fjords are CallingThe Fjords are CallingOne of my favorite aspects of Iceland is the fjords, which are large bodies of water forged out of glaciation. The peaks that sit on each side of the fjords are enormous, jagged, and impressive.

When we got back to our cottage it was quite dark and late. We were greeted with an alert that the Aurora was going to explode! I really wanted to drive all the way back to the eastern fjords as my mind could just see the amazing aurora reflected in the water (see above photo); however, our group made a great choice to head back to Hvalnes Lighthouse. When we arrived, I realized that high tide had just receded and that the whole beach would be filled with tide pools! I scampered down to the coast while everyone else stayed up by the lighthouse. I was in love! It was the most fun I have had taking photos in several years. The Aurora was dancing all over the sky and composing was something that had to be re-done every few seconds. What a blast! 

Rising Phoenix AuroraRising Phoenix AuroraThis powerful display of Aurora Borealis on the coast of Iceland reminded me of a rising phoenix, rising into the night sky. Aurora arching above Iceland's FjordsAurora arching above Iceland's FjordsOn my maiden voyage to Iceland, I was lucky enough to witness incredible displays of the Aurora Borealis near the coastline of the beautiful Southeast part of the island. These jagged peaks are part of an incredible network of fjords, carved out by glaciation. On this particular night, my group frantically drove east from our cottage near Hofn to find a suitable subject to pair with the Aurora. I found tide pools, ocean waves, and incredible jagged mountains to go with the Aurora's powerful display of magic. What a night to remember! Aurora Tidepool ReflectionAurora Tidepool ReflectionI spent the good part of two hours prancing carefully on the beach of Iceland just after high tide receded. I was looking for tide pools to get the reflection of the Aurora in. What a blast this was!

Good GreenGood GreenThe Aurora Borealis dancing above tide pools on the coast of Iceland. Brain ExplosionBrain ExplosionAs soon as I found this tide pool I knew I wanted to try to get a reflection of myself in it... you know, for shits and giggles. I have to tell you, all that rock was deadly slippery, not the most comforting feeling with all your camera gear on your back. Fortunately, it was all safe and secure in my F-Stop Gear Loka backpack. I used the Sony Play Memories App to get this shot using my phone as a remote. Fun!

Day 6: Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Aurora at Vestrahorn

Day 5 went down as my second favorite day of photographing for the while trip, only to be surpassed by day 6! We got so lucky with our conditions on this trip. I mean, there were not any epic sunsets or sunrises, but we had clear skies and Aurora. I have to admit, I was pretty lukewarm on the whole idea of taking photos at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon; however, I was quite pleasantly surprised by this place. Every single day, parts of the glacier calves off into the inlet and washes down into the ocean. Waves from the ocean salt water break down the glacier ice, leaving huge chunks of unique ice strewn all over the beach. It was quite fun looking for unique compositions here.

PatternsPatternsAt the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, I found myself drawn to the patterns - ice shaped like the mountain above it - Glaciers in the water looking like the glaciers above. Jökulsárlón Reflection IIJökulsárlón Reflection IITurquoise ice inside this glacier reflects in the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in Iceland. TracksTracksIce formations on the water looked like tracks from sleds in this telephoto shot at a Glacier in Iceland.

Glacial Flow IIGlacial Flow IIGlacial flow in Iceland.

A rare photo of me as seen above a huge glacial field in Iceland. Ice TrailIce TrailIce broken from a glacier leaves a beautful trail along the beach at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in Iceland.

Line of defenseLine of defenseA large glacier stands tall before a huge crashing wave on the beach at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in Iceland at sunset. ClaymoreClaymoreA lone chunk of ice holds onto its last hours of life on the beach at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in Iceland. DancerDancerLarge peices of ice dance on the shore while waves crash into them, slowly diminishing their size over time at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in Iceland. After having fun on the beach, we head back to Höfn for dinner. The Aurora forecast was good again and we knew exactly where we wanted to go: Vestrahorn. On the way there, we stopped to photograph the beginning of the show right off the coast.

Coastal Aurora MagicCoastal Aurora MagicOn the most magical night of aurora watching in Iceland we started our night off the coast near Hofn and witnessed long rivulets of green above huge mountains all reflected in the ocean. Iceland is amazing.

At Vestrahorn, the show was absolutely stunning. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Photographically speaking, it was one of the most challenging nights of my life. The Aurora was moving across the sky so rapidly that I could not keep up with it! At one point, the show was so bright that everyone let out an audible gasp that we could all hear. It was unreal. Seriously. I decided to venture out pretty far into the water left behind by high tide, which was about 4" deep. I didn't care that my feet were wet. 

Strands of GreenStrands of GreenA magical strand of Aurora over the mighty Vestrahorn in Iceland. This night was so amazing. The Aurora just danced over our heads as we stared up at the heavens in awe. Seriously powerful stuff! Moonstar AuroraMoonstar AuroraThe magical Aurora Borealis appears above the beach in Iceland with the moon on the horizon. I shot this on the Zeiss Loxia 21mm lens, which makes incredible sunstars, even at f/5. Man, I love Iceland. So incredible. I can't wait to go back!

Magical Aurora at VestrahornMagical Aurora at VestrahornThe most intense aurora we got to witness in Iceland was witnessed from Vestahorn after high tide had left three inches of water along the beach. The show above was so intense that it reflected in the pool, making for an incredible scene. Dreamscape AuroraDreamscape AuroraI was lucky that the most incredible display of Aurora from my trip to Iceland coincided with a trip to Vestrahorn. The Aurora danced above for hours, creating uncountable compositions and scenes to photograph. It was landscape heaven. I long to return. The Sky DancerThe Sky DancerI was lucky that the most incredible display of Aurora from my trip to Iceland coincided with a trip to Vestrahorn. The Aurora danced above for hours, creating uncountable compositions and scenes to photograph. It was landscape heaven. I long to return.

That show went down as the most amazing part of the trip, I think.

Day 7: Glaciers, waterfalls, and more Aurora action - Yes!

Day 7 started as a fairly gloomy day, a perfect day to seek out some glaciers and waterfalls to photograph! The glaciers in Iceland were quite a treat to see and photograph. The scale of these things is hard to describe. They are massive! They made for a fun challenge using a telephoto lens. It was a good time trying to pick out interesting compositions from long distances.

CrackCrackA huge glacier field with cracks, valleys, and striations all created by geologic forces - on display in Iceland. How I was bornHow I was bornLines carved in this mountain show just how it was created by moving ice from the glacier below. RipleyRipleyMassive glaciation as seen in this abstract from Iceland Twin TowersTwin TowersTwo towers of rock and ice are surrounded by fields of ice and snow above a huge glacier in Iceland. We also stopped to photograph a really amazing waterfall, which I think is not a popular destination for most photographers; however, I really loved the shots I got from there. The light and mist played off of each other in a whimsical fashion. Also, loved the sunstar I got from the Contax / Yashica 35-70 lens.

Stjórnarfoss IStjórnarfoss IStjórnarfoss is a small but impressive waterfall on the southern coast of Iceland. The setting sun made for a perfect accent to this beautfiul scene.

Stjórnarfoss IIStjórnarfoss III just loved how the afternoon light shone down between rock cliffs above the waterfall known as Stjórnarfoss in southern Iceland. After the fun time photographing glaciers and waterfalls, we head to the town of Vik, where we planned to stay for the rest of our trip. Vik is a really nice little town on the southern coast of Iceland and is a nice hub for seeing some of the more popular waterfalls and sea stacks, including Reynisdrangar.

ReynisdrangarReynisdrangarReynisdrangar are basalt sea stacks situated under the mountain Reynisfjall near the village of Vik in southern Iceland.

Legend says that the stacks originated when two trolls dragged a three-masted ship to land unsuccessfully and when daylight broke they became needles of rock.

Contemporary legends note the story of a husband who found his wife taken by the two trolls, frozen at night. The husband made the two trolls swear to never kill anyone ever again. His wife was the love of his life, whose free spirit he was unable to provide a home for; she found her fate out among the trolls, rocks, and sea at Reynisfjara.

Of course, we were pleased to learn that the Aurora would once again be visible this night! As a group, we debated on where we would go to photograph the Aurora. I convinced the group that we should go see if we could get the Aurora over the popular waterfall Skogafoss. David was not super excited about this idea; but I made it up to him later by finding an awesome lighthouse to photograph afterwards.

Skogafoss Aurora ISkogafoss Aurora IFrom the observation deck above Skogafoss, I was able to witness the Aurora lighting up the skies above. A magical sight to behold.

Skogafoss Aurora IISkogafoss Aurora IIThis shot represents almost a horizon-to-horizon panorama of the Aurora over the mighty waterfall called Skogafoss in Iceland.

After shooting at Skogafoss, I decided to find a lighthouse for David to photograph. What a treat it was to discover Dyrhólaey Lighthouse on the coast! 

Dyrhólaey Lighthouse with AuroraDyrhólaey Lighthouse with AuroraPhotographing the Aurora Borealis in Iceland was a dream come-true. On this amazing night, I found this incredible lighthouse on the southern coast of Iceland called Dyrhólaey Lighthouse. After an adventurous ride up the sketchy road in our mini-van, we were so happy to discover how much character this lighthouse had - surely an ancient beacon to those lost at sea. Dyrhólaey Aurora MoonstarDyrhólaey Aurora MoonstarThe aurora shined brightly above Dyrhólaey with an impressive moonstar lighting up the coast. and waves below. Day 8: Vik sea stacks, Vikings, and more waterfalls

For our 8th day, we decided to photograph the coast near Vik. The conditions were pretty boring, but we had fun anyways. Instead of shooting the sea stacks there, I decided to look for interesting, more intimate subjects along the beach. I found really interesting salt water patterns in rock cracks, which shot using the macro mode on my Contax / Yashica 35-70 lens. 

SaltSaltSalt water left in cracks in the cliff-face near Vik, Iceland. Meanwhile, David had found quite the treat - a young woman from Germany had dressed up in Cosplay as a Viking and was trying to get photos of herself on the beach. David, being the consummate portrait photographer, asked her if he could take her photo. She was hesitant at first, but David is a master at making his models feel comfortable, and as soon as she saw the first shot of her through his lens, she was all-in. Nice work David!

Cosplay PhotographerCosplay PhotographerMy friend David Soldano has a knack for portraits. When we arrived on the beach at Vik,we saw this young woman dressed up to cosplay as a viking on the beach. David sprung into action and got her to model for him. His shots of her are fantastic!

I stole a few shots of her as well with my camera.  Cosplay VikingCosplay Viking

I also decided to get some rare shots of myself with the basalt columns found on the beach.

Cliffed outCliffed outA quick self portrait of me under the huge cliffs near Vik, Iceland.

Next, the group decided to head on over to the ever-popular Seljalandsfoss. Conditions were pretty boring, but I tried to make the most of it. 

SeljalandsfossSeljalandsfossMy take on Seljalandsfoss - Iceland's most popular waterfall. We had pretty dull conditions and huge crowds, so I was happy to come away with this one. I was way more excited to shoot the less popular, but more interesting nearby Gljufrafoss (no idea how to pronounce that one). Upon arriving, I discovered you could climb up a sketchy trail and climb up some rocks to look down on this 200+ ft. waterfall from above. It was equally incredible and terrifying. 

GljufrafossGljufrafossAs my friend Randy calls it, "Goofyfoss" - an impressive 200+ foot tall waterfall. Gljúfrafoss, which is almost completely hidden behind a cliff face, has carved a mossy cylindrical chamber into the rock which can only be reached through a thin crack in the outside cliff wall. To reach this vantage point, I climbed up mud and rock on a very steep and scary section to look down and across the waterfall. This reresents the total length of the waterfall shot at very wide angle and a very long drop to one's demise.

Our friend and trip companion Shari Peterson posed in front of this amazing waterfall to showcase the scale of the scene.

Gljufrafoss BeholdGljufrafoss BeholdMy friend Shari looks into the chamber where Gljufrafoss resides.

Gljufrafoss in BlueGljufrafoss in BlueA telephoto shot of Gljufrafoss from below - some artistic liberties were taken in processing this one.

Day 9: Visit to Skogar Cultural Museum and Kvernufoss

The weather on day 9 was awful. Wind gusts up to 60 MPH. Rain. Clouds. We decided to visit the Skogar Cultural Museum which was close to an interesting waterfall we all wanted to photograph as well, Kvernufoss. The museum is well worth visiting - you learn a lot about the history of Iceland and how early settlers survived. It was quite fascinating indeed! They basically lived off of fish year-round. Kvernufoss was really tough to shoot in the intense wind. It is a giant waterfall that you can hike behind. The wind created unbelievable amounts of spray, making images quite difficult to obtain.

Kvernufoss IKvernufoss I50+ MPH wind whipped water and spray at me from all directions from behind this mighty waterfall named Kvernufoss in Iceland. Kvernufoss IIIKvernufoss IIIThe might of Kvernufoss on display along the rushing creek of Kverna in Iceland. That about does it! The rest of the trip was spent driving back to Reykjavik. The group decided to spend a couple hours at The Blue Lagoon; however, it was windy and pouring rain, so I decided to nap in the car. Maybe next time!

Buying Iceland photography

I hope you enjoyed these Iceland photos! This is just a sampling of images. To see the rest, visit my Iceland Gallery! All of these images are all available to buy as prints and wall art directly through this site or by contacting me directly. Spruce up your walls now with a unique and stunning Iceland print from my gallery. You can choose from over a hundred Iceland artworks with the option to print on canvas, acrylic, metal or museum quality paper. Feel free to share on social media or with your friends! It is appreciated! 


Gale Rainwater(non-registered)
Wow, an awesome group of images Matt! Great trip! I'll read the article later. Inspiration to go someday for sure.
Candee W(non-registered)
Besides the aurora shots... which I didn't get much of while there.. oddly enough, my favorite shot of yours, is the image with green mossy type stuff. It reminded me of an abstract painting. Nicely done.
Lisa zitelli(non-registered)
Absolutely breathtaking gorgeous!! I sent in messenger to friends. You are very talented. I miss add a visit here to my need to do list!
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