There are many blog posts and videos about breaking the rules in photography. This post isn't actually about this. I personally believe that you should use or not use whatever rules you want to create images that you like.
No, this blog is about some of the rules and guidelines that we have in Iceland that are worth knowing about before you visit. I have picked a few common ones that I feel are the most important to be aware of. When people ignore these or break them they make national news here so they're not insignificant.
Don't Duck Ropes to Closed Off Areas...
...or ignore the signs restricting access to these areas. At many of the tourist locations you will come across areas that have been closed off. These can be marked by a simple sign or small rope barrier. Whilst they may seem easy to circumvent, and the area closed off may call out for you to hop over that rope, please don't!
There are two main reasons these areas are closed off.
For your own safety. The changing landscape here can mean that once safe footpaths may have eroded and may lead to a dangerous cliff, crevasse or other peril. In areas where there are geothermal hot springs for example, the ground can be extremely weak and the possibility of falling through into a vent is real. Honestly, even if you think the area looks safe, if it has been closed, please do not ignore the signs.
For the protection of the wildlife. We have a very delicate ecosystem here in Iceland. The extreme weather and wild swings between seasons means that there are only small windows for the wildlife to do what it needs to survive and flourish each year. As such, the authorities often mark areas off as being closed for the protection and regeneration of an area. Or they may close an area where there are nesting birds (usually July to September). Unfortunately, with the larger number of visitors to Iceland, areas are becoming damaged faster and for longer. Therefore more and more areas are being closed to allow them to regenerate.
Here is one example where Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon was closed to allow it to regenerate:
One month later, note the updated story:
Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon in South Iceland
I appreciate that people visit Iceland on once-in-a-lifetime trips and therefore finding one of the most popular areas closed can be frustrating. Please note that if you decide to ignore those closures, your once-in-a-lifetime trip can have much longer term consequences for the vegetation and wildlife here. For example, the moss is extremely delicate, takes many years to grow and just the simple act of walking on it can be enough to damage it for decades! I always take care, even when walking in marked areas, to avoid standing on any of the vegetation here.
Don't Drive Where You Aren't Supposed to
This may seem like obvious advice but it still happens. This is also something that is split into two areas.
Firstly, don't ignore the signs if it says that the road ahead is closed or impassable. This happens most often during the winter when some of the smaller roads are not cleared and the authorities just close them. Some of these closures are only marked by a small bollard which is seemingly easy to get around. Please don't! Our fantastic rescue service has been far too busy in recent years as people have found themselves in difficulties. Even some of the major roads can quickly become dangerous in difficult weather conditions so try to imagine how bad a road can get for it to be closed off for 6 months.
I am currently still waiting for one road to reopen nearby here. You can see it marked on the image below. I know this road and it's bad even when it's open. Considering that it's now late May and still hasn't opened, it must be pretty awful. As desperate as I am to get to a location along here, I will wait until it goes green before even trying it!
The second thing I'd like to mention about driving is to please stick only to marked roads and tracks. There have been quite a few controversies over the years here where people have taken their cars off roads and onto beaches or other areas to either get somewhere or just have fun driving about. As with ignoring closed areas, this can be dangerous for you and damaging to the environment.
I actually contacted one influential photography YouTuber, Peter McKinnon, about this after he posted up a video of them driving off road to the plane wreck on the south coast. He removed this footage from the video after I pointed out the potential damage he could have caused. It may have looked like great fun but he was bouncing and driving over areas where Arctic Terns are known to nest.
Don't Chase Waves
This may go hand-in-hand with not ignoring signs but I think it's deserving of its own mention. There are two very popular locations (among many) where it's possible to visit black sand and pebble beaches. These are Reynisfjara in the south and Djúpalónssandur in the west. At both of these beaches there are big, clear signs warning of "sneaker waves".
There is an article about this written here by Guide to Iceland detailing a fatality caused by these waves along with some other very useful information. There have been more accidents since then too.
These places are incredibly popular now and on every visit I have seen people chasing the waves or getting too close. Please take the signs seriously and don't go near the sea, even if it looks calm.
Have Fun, Be Safe, Respect the Environment
I know I have written "don't do this or that" or lot in this post but I thought it was important to provide some useful information on why some of these rules, warnings or guidelines are out there. I have spoken to a few visitors who didn't even realise why crossing a rope was a bad thing and were pleased to have been made aware about the potential danger/damage it could cause.
My advice is to follow the rules. They are there for your safety and to ensure that others can enjoy the environment in the future. If you want to visit locations that are off the beaten track or that aren't marked, hire a specialist guide or take a tour that safely lets you explore these areas without damaging you or Iceland.