Iceland Photography by Noah Bryant

Planning

I use google earth as my main planning tool when preparing for a photo trip. I look at the terrain and use the feature that displays geo-referenced photographs to try and find the places I wanted to explore.

I also brought a paper map (which proved to be my main navigation tool as Apple Maps and Google Maps had a lot of difficulty finding their way around).

I had planned to rent a small car and drive myself around and that was probably my biggest mistake of the trip (the small car). It prevented me from going into the interior of the island to get to some of the more incredible waterfalls that I wanted to photograph because the roads are so bad it's actually illegal to drive on them in small cars. Next time I will rent an SUV - which will be incredibly expensive, but a necessary expense for me. Also a word of warning - gasoline is also incredibly expense. When I was there it worked out to about $9-$10 US dollars per gallon.

There are tourists buses all over the main road from Reykjavík to Vík í Mýrdal(more about Vík later). If you are wanting to visit Iceland primarily for photography, do not waste your time with the tour buses. Driving around Iceland was no problem at all as long as you obey the rules which aren't much different than anywhere else. Almost all the photographs I ended up taking were places I hadn't planned on visiting and that the tour buses don't visit. Exploring the island at your own pace is the best way to go.

Home Bases

My bases for the trip were in Selfoss and Patreksfjörður.

I planned on two 'home bases' for my trip. For the first half of my trip, I rented a cabin north of Selfoss which was centrally located for many of the areas of South, Iceland that I wanted to photograph. For the second half I rented a flat in the town of Patreksfjörður which is in north-west Iceland in Westfjords.

Season

I chose August/September for my trip for two reasons. Firstly, I wanted it to get dark enough at night to see the northern lights - not something that happens during the summer. I also wanted to avoid the huge crowds of people that tour Iceland in the summer.

Supplies

Below you can see everything I brought along for the trip. It all fit into two suitcases as well as the large carry-on sized camera bag.

I went grocery shopping when I got there for food and snacks and cooked my own meals. I was on a very small budget so I only ate out once.

1. Carbon Fiber Tripod | 2. Sturdier aluminum tripod for the big lens | 3. Nikon 500mm F/4 | 4. Nikon 300mm f/2.8 | 5. Nikon 50mm F1.4 | 6. Lighting: two speedlights and three remote triggers | 7. Nikon Micro 105mm f/2.8 | 8. Nikon 85mm f1.8 | 9. Nikon 24mm f/1.4 | 10. Two Nikon D810 cameras | 11. plastic trash bags (water protection) | 12. Map and guidebook | 13. Neutral density and polarizing filters | 14. Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 | 15. Laptop, Memory Cards and Batteries | 16. Shutter release cables and chargers | 17. Power plug adapter | 18. GoPro Camera | 19. Large Camera Bag | 20. Lightweight camera bag | 21. Suitcase for normal clothes | 22. Second Suitcase with cold weather outerwear just in case (and padding for the camera gear)

South Iceland

I flew direct to Reykjavík on an overnight flight. I knew I would need to sleep on the flight so I deliberately got very little sleep the night before my flight so that it would be easier to sleep on the plane. Unfortunately, I underestimated my excitement for the trip and I was not able to sleep a wink on the seven-hour flight.

While reading a novel I had brought along I remember seeing flashes of lightning out the window out of the corner of my eye. It took me a few minutes to realize how unlikely it would be to see lightning that far north and that time of the year so I slowly turned my head to gaze out the window to see the flashes of light were actually green and there were no clouds. For the first time in my life I was seeing the flashes of the northern lights dancing across the sky.

The aurora borealis is something I have wanted to see for my entire life. I'll admit I was emotional upon finally seeing it and shed a tear or two. I lost track of time as I stared out the window. Everyone around me was asleep and most the windows were shut, today I still wonder if I was the only one on the plane to watch the beautiful light show besides (I'm hoping) the pilots.

After my sleepless night crossing the Atlantic the plane landed at sunrise giving me a full day to begin my photography trip and get my bearings.
On my first evening in Iceland I saw this young couple taking a selfie in front of the Seljalandsfoss waterfall in southern Iceland.
As I continued my drive to the east along Iceland's main road it got more and more dark. This is a photograph of Vestmannaeyjar, an island just off Iceland's southern coast and home to a fishing community as well as thousands of Atlantic puffins.
Near Reykolt.
Exploring the area near Hvolsvöllur.
This is one of my favorite photographs from my trip - it shows how gorgeous the low light is in Iceland coupled with the constantly moving shadows from the low coastal clouds.
The Þjóðvegur area is along the main road along the south coast of Iceland. There are also hundreds of caves in this area used centuries ago as dwellings and for storage.

Skógafoss

Skógafoss is one of Iceland's most popular and easiest to find waterfalls. The 80-foot wide waterfall plummets 200 feet.

I was just visiting with someone in the gallery who was flipping through my Iceland calendar and stopped at this photo and wondered how it was done. Firstly, it took time. As soon as I started driving down the road towards this massive waterfall I pictured this photograph in my mind. There's a lot of technical hurdles I had to cross to capture it though and it took me over an hour to get it the way I wanted it. Firstly, the photo was taken from more than a half of a mile away from the waterfall. I did this because I wanted to truly show the scale of the falls against one of the people who kept climbing up the rocks to take photos. Distance has a 'compressing' effect and it makes it easier to show the scale of different objects that are different distance from the camera. Being that far away, of course I needed a large lens to zoom in so I used a 500mm f/4 lens which is pretty massive. Secondly, I wanted the water to be blurred and if you know much about photographing waterfalls you know that it needs to be a long exposure at least one second or more depending on how fast the water moves. That's normally not necessarily a problem as long as you have a tripod but that's enormously difficult when you are using such a large lens, tripod or not. One reason is that even the slightest movement of the lens or camera is translated into a blurry photograph. The camera's mirror slapping up to take the photograph causes the image to be blurry. I used a camera mode where you can trigger the mirror first, wait a few seconds for the camera to steady and then trigger the shutter. I was using an incredibly sturdy tripod, but even then, if the wind was blowing the camera moved imperceptibly but enough to ruin the photograph. I used my vehicle and my own body to try to shield the lens from the wind too. I always use a shutter release cable so I don't have to physically touch the camera in order to take a photograph. This helps to eliminate movement as well. Another hurdle I had to jump was the fact that it was a bright, sunny day. Usually getting your shutter speed as slow as 1-2 seconds in daylight requires you to use a very high f-stop in the lens which I don't like to do. I like to keep my f-stop for photos like this right around f/8 or f/11 as it maximizes the clarity of the lens. Using f/22 actually makes the image a bit more blurry, despite the increased depth of field. As such, I was using a 10-stop neutral density filter inside the lens. This is a glass filter used to reduce the amount of light coming in through the lens to lengthen your shutter speed. This 10 stop filter reduces the amount of light coming into the camera by factor of 1000 which is perfect for blurring waterfalls. Unfortunately it also has the side effect of you not being able to actually see what you are photographing. I had to set the photo up, focus it, compose it and then put the filter in. From then on I can't actually see what I am photographing. So now that I had the vision of the photograph in my head, a massive lens that was incredibly steady, a shutter release to take the photograph that I couldn't actually see while I used my body to block the wind from swaying the lens I had another problem... I couldn't actually communicate with the people I was photographing. In fact, they had no way of knowing they were actually the subject of this piece of art that still only existed in my mind. I basically had to wait for a single person to climb the rocks (more than one person would be too distracting, I think), and then hope that they would hold perfectly still long enough for me to take a long exposure photograph so that the water was blurred - but not them. Finally I nailed it but it took more than an hour and hundreds of blurry photographs long since deleted.
Skógafoss is incredibly popular and it's not uncommon to see hundreds of people there at a time as the tour buses drive in and out. I used a long exposure (45 secs or so) to blur people as they walked and was very patient as I stood in the river for a lull. Still you can see the slight dark blurs of people walking (look just under the rainbow).
This view of Skógafoss can be seen from the main road, before you turn off at the town of Skógar.
I learned right away that "foss" is Icelandic for waterfall and stopped every time I saw a sign that ended with "foss". Vatnsleysufoss is hidden from the main road along the drive to the massive Gulfoss waterfall.

Dyrhólaey

Dyrhólaey is a peninsula west of the town of Vík í Mýrdal is just about as far south as you can go in Iceland. I am not exaggerating when I say it is probably the most beautiful place I have ever photographed. I got there about two or three hours before sunset and stayed until it was dark.

To the south, you have rock formations and arches jutting from the Atlantic Ocean. To the east is the Reynisdrangar sea stack formation. To the north, you can see the glacier Mýrdalsjökull and Katla volcano. West you can see miles of black sand beaches and rugged terrain.

My main purpose of going to Dyrhólaey was to photograph Atlantic Puffins and I wasn't disappointed as there were thousands flying between their cliff side nests and the ocean. I was not expecting the entire area to be as beautiful as it was though. It seemed everywhere I looked was an amazing photograph to be captured.

The view looking east from the Dyrhólaey peninsula towards the black sand beaches near Vik. The rock formations are called Reynesdrangar.
This late in the summer, Dyrhólaey was the only place in Iceland I managed to photograph Atlantic Puffins.

The puffins are small and fast. I was using a 500mm f/4 lens and still had trouble getting them close enough. Puffins breed all though the summer and start migrating south in mid to late august. I visited another prime puffin spot in the north a few days later and didn't see a single one. Another great location for Puffins is Vestmannaeyjar - an island south west of Dyrhólaey - but I didn't go there.

The puffins are small and very quick so photographing them was difficult. I was conscientious of the barrier asking that people stay back from the puffins. Unfortunately, there were quite a few people who thought their cameras were a pass to go wherever they pleased. It was the tail end of breeding season and I didn't want to disturb them too much.
Reynisfjara is probably the most amazing beach in Iceland. Stretching almost two miles it's a great place for a quiet and peaceful walk if it's not too windy. Beyond Reynesfjara is the Reynisdrangar sea stacks and just on the other side of the ridge is the town of Vík í Mýrdal.
This is the view looking west from Dyrhólaey. The specks of white you see down below are sheep and on a clear day you can see all the way to the town of Selfoss.
Another view looking west from Dyrhólaey. The setting sun made for gorgeous coloring of the rocks and greenery.
Off in the distance you can see the island Vestmannaeyjabær - another great puffin spot. There is a small airport on the island and a ferry offers transport as well. I didn't have time to visit the island this time but will definately plan on it next time.
As the sun finally dipped below the horizon it was time to wrap up my photography for the day and head back to Selfoss. Not before I was able to do a long exposure of these rock formations. Doesn't the one on the right look like someone laying down with one knee up?

Northern lights

Photographing the northern lights is not all that difficult technically. They are pretty bright and depending on what you're after you can capture them with shutter speeds as slow as 2-4 seconds. There are much more experienced aurora photographers out there than me but my biggest pointer would be to plan the composition before night falls.

Since you don't know where (or if) the northern lights will appear, scout out a few different spots where you can take a photograph pointing in every possible direction. The lights may dance around and disappear within minutes so be ready to rush to wherever you have planned to compose your photograph.

When I was there, if they appeared, they were appearing right at dusk and lasted maybe an hour or less.

If they appear, they may only last for minutes so plan out your composition before it gets dark.
This was taken well after dusk. The light in the sky is coming from the full moon which was obscured by the clouds. The light trail in the lower left was a tractor that drove by and added some nice balance to the photograph.

westfjords

I took this on my way from Selfoss to Westfjords. I deliberately stayed clear of the main roads when I could and found this in a beautiful area north of the Þingvellir National Park.
The same year the Titanic sank this ship was built in Norway and put to sea. It was known as Globe IV and was a state of the art whaling ship. It had both a steam engine as well as sails and was built tough to combat the thick ice in the southern regions. Years later it found a new home in Iceland along with a new name, Siglunes SI 89. In 1963 it was renamed again, this time to Garðar BA 64 and outfitted with a new diesel engine. It was used as a commercial fishing vessel for another nearly 20 years. In 1981 it was deemed too old to be viable. Instead of a traditional burial at sea, the ship was intentionally rammed into the shore near Patreksfjörður.
A misty day near Patreksfjörður.
This was taken from across the fjord as my home base of Patreksfjörður. I was on my way to the Látrabjarg sea cliffs to find puffins. The photograph directly below this one was taken from further down the road looking towards where I took this photograph from.
A long, thirty second exposure and the way the sun is only shining through the clouds at the beach really give a dream like quality to this photograph.
Looking at this photo you might imagine that there was green moss everywhere. And in some places in Iceland - yes - there is bright green moss for as far as you can see. This photograph was taken high up on a mountain in Northfjords. The lush green surrounds only this stream and there are miles and miles of barren volcanic rock as far as you can see in every direction.
While I was kneeling down taking the photo above this one I glanced down and saw this small red sprout pushing its way through a dew covered spider web. This entire scene is about the size of a coin and I had to build a tripod out of stones to get my camera low enough to the ground to take this.

Látrabjarg Sea Cliffs

The Látrabjarg sea cliffs.
I didn't have the time to hike this entire trail but I really would have liked to.
Small rain storms are constantly being pushed in from the Atlantic.
I saw this Scheuchzer's cottongrass throughout Iceland.

Dynjandi

Dynjandi is a waterfall unlike any waterfall I have ever seen. Situated in northwestern Iceland, it's one of the country's top five waterfalls. The waterfall starts out about sixty feet across but fans out to nearly 300 feet as it slowly cascades down the mountain. Below the main waterfall there are several other huge waterfalls.

I am embarrassed to admit I had left my spare battery at my flat so I only took a few photographs here before my camera battery died.

Here you can see the large Dynjandi waterfall spilling down into smaller waterfalls on down the mountains.
This is one of the smaller waterfalls on the hike up towards the giant Dynjandi waterfall in northern Iceland. Dynjandi is an absolutely unreal waterfall - there's nothing like it in the world.
The most difficult thing about photographing Dynjandi was trying to convey the sheer size of the waterfall. There were no trees around so this couple posing for a photograph will have to suffice.

Back to Vík

My first few days in Westfjords were fine but the weather soon turned for the worse. Rain fog and overcast skies prevailed for two straight days giving me very little to photograph (although it was nice to get some rest from the 18-20 hour days I had been putting in).

I decided to head back down to Vík and get a hotel room. I knew there were still quite a few places down there that I needed to photograph and the weather reports looked better down south.

A small lake I passed while driving back down to Vík from Northfjords.

Gulfoss

I mentioned Gulfoss earlier but this is the first photograph. I had visited the waterfall earlier in the trip but the light was so bad I didn't even take one photograph. Remember what I said about tour buses? Look at the throngs of tourists on the left of the waterfall.

The Gulfoss waterfall is one of the largest in all of Europe. It's actually two different waterfalls set opposite each other. The way the water falls past the lush green grass opposite the river it looks as though the water is just falling down into the earth.

Gulfoss is absolutely awe-inspiring.

Reynisdrangar

According to Norse folklore, trolls are nature beings who live as families in rock formations, mountains and caves. They cannot be out in daylight lest they turn to stone. According to Icelandic legend, one night, many years ago, three trolls named Skessudrangur, Laddrangur and Langhamar were trying to pull a three masted ship ashore near the present day village of Vík í Mýrdal. It was a large ship that gave them quite a bit of trouble, and before they knew it, the rising sun turned them all into stone. Today, these rock formation are called Reynisdrangar.
A closer view of one of the Reynisdrangar sea stacks.
Remember the two mile long black sand beach I showed you earlier? This is that same beach but looking the other way towards Dyrhólaey. Do you see the two people enjoying a walk on the beach through the mild storm?
This is probably my personal favorite photograph from the trip. A fine art print, four feet wide, hangs over my fireplace. Not only is it a beautiful photograph but it also combines another love of my life - aviation. As a pilot and major aerospace nerd this photograph really means a lot to me. This site has since been closed to the public due to massive amounts of graffiti and vandalism.
A self portrait at Látrabjarg.

For some people, a camera is a way to preserve memories. For Noah Bryant, it’s a way to inspire. He’s not just trying to inspire the countless people who gaze upon the wonders of the world he so brilliantly freezes in time, he’s hoping, with every shot he takes, to inspire himself.

From the time he was barely a teenager, Bryant has been drawn to the world around him – the majestic mountains that sprang out of the ground to the west of where he grew up, the drop of dew hanging precariously from the perfectly symmetrical spider web in his backyard, the ruffled feathers of a Bald Eagle soaring effortlessly against the clouds – the wonders of nature have always been right there in front of him, but it’s never been enough for Bryant to just witness them, he’s always been driven to share that splendor with the world that inspires him so much. The inspiration to see more. To do more. To be more.

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