Icelandic Seascape Photography - Part 2

In Part 1 of my article on Icelandic Seascape Photography I described a couple of my favourite locations for seascape photography. Luckily two of them are about a 30-40 minute drive from home for me. 

This week I go a little further afield to describe 3 other places I have enjoyed visiting around the coast.

Djúpalónssandur

This beach is located just a little drive further along from Londrangur in my last post. Following Route 574 after Londrangur you can take a little detour first to visit the Malarrif Lighthouse and visitors centre there. A good place for a comfort break too. Once back on Route 574 you continue on for a short while before reaching a turning onto Route 572 marked as "Djúpalón 2". I point this out because the beach itself isn't signposted - the 2 here signifies the 2km drive to the car park.

 

The road is paved and in good condition although it is narrow with a lot of blind corners. At the car park there is a small toilet but this is closed in the winter months. There are a few path options to choose from taking you to different points. If you have time it's worth exploring them but if you want to visit the beach take the path down into the little canyon. In winter you definitely need ice grips on your boots - I speak from experience here! Along this path you'll walk between some impressive lava formations including a hole in the rocks where I'm sure some creative framing fun could be had (it was too icy and cold on my visits to scramble about).

Following the path to the beach you will come across 4 different sized stones, if they are not covered by snow! These were a lifting game by fisherman with them competing to see which of the heaviest stones they could lift. Give it a go but be careful! You then walk up a slight rise where you'll see the wreckage of the British Trawler Epine strewn about. I think there is potential for some interesting detailed images of these parts and intend to return when there is less snow to explore more. 

Over the rise is the beach itself with it's famous smooth black pearl pebbles. Depending on the conditions, the sea here provides opportunities for some fun images. In windy conditions it crashes up onto the sea stacks. In calmer conditions it would be a nice spot to practice some long exposure photography. I still haven't visited in ideal conditions and my images so far have been more scouting images but there is lots of potential here. One word of caution: this beach is famous for its "Sneaker Waves" which can reach up remarkably high as some people discovered in this video here. Please be extremely careful here, even if it looks peaceful enough as the currents can catch you out quickly.

I personal love this beach more for the amazing rock formations that surround it. Some of the fractured lava here makes for some interesting detailed landscape images.

In short, there are a huge variety of image taking opportunities here and if you are able to, I highly recommend spending some quality time exploring the area. It's also not dissimilar to my next location but tends to be much quieter.

Reynisfjara

Ok, this one makes it on the list as it's still a fantastic location despite the exponential increase in visitors it is receiving. Located off Route 1 on the south coast, after a short drive on Route 215, is the black sand beach of Reynisfjara. There is a large car park and cafe at the entrance. Keep in mind that this place has become VERY popular. If you want to visit when there are less people I recommend the early morning/late evening when the visiting day trippers from Reykjavik haven't arrived/have left. In the summer head over in the night when it is still light anyway. Alternatively I have enjoyed it here in poor weather which offer some moody image opportunities and have the added bonus of keeping the crowds away!

 

On the beach to your left are the basalt columns which make for some interesting shapes and tower above. If you walk around the corner on the left you will see the famous sea stacks, said to be the frozen stone remains of trolls who were pulling a ship to shore but were caught by the rising sun. There are some lovely seascape image opportunities here. Long exposures would work particularly well on a calmer day as they may have the added bonus of removing the people who would be walking in and out of frame. On dramatic weather days the seas crashes up here and allows for some spectacular images. There is also a cave in the cliffs with interesting rock patterns and formations.

As with Djúpalónsandur, this beach is dangerous because of its "Sneaker Waves." In fact, people have died here having been dragged out to sea. Every time I visit I still see people playing with the incoming waves though without realising that just off the beach is a sharp drop which is where they could be dragged if one of the larger sneakers caught them. In high tide and windy conditions, don't even venture left around the cliffs as the sea can come right up to them.

The images I have shared from here are all iPhone images from my last trip in 2017. The weather was changeable to say the least. Some of the waves were spectacular and the view down towards Dyrhóley was spooky. Incidentally, Dyrhóley is another place to visit with great views on offer from the lighthouse on top of the cliffs. 

Reynisfjara is another great location to explore and you can find areas away from the crowds here still. In fact I would make a particular recommendation here. If you plan to visit this area and take in Dyrhóley, Reynisfjara and the aircraft wreck, as many typically do, I say skip the wreck. The car park is miles away from it, the walk is not very nice, it's really busy and the plane doesn't look nearly as good as it once did. I think people have stolen a lot of the parts! I would spend more time at the other locations instead.

To get some different views of the sea stacks it's also worth visiting the beach on the other side, just through Vík. Fewer people visit here for some reason but it offers some nice images.

My wife and our two dogs taking a walk on the emptier beach found by driving through Vík

My wife and our two dogs taking a walk on the emptier beach found by driving through Vík

Húsavík to Hringsbjarg

This is less of a single location but instead a drive I would highly recommend which offers up some lovely opportunities to see the coast in the north of Iceland. I have only driven it once but I'm desperate to get back up there with my big camera and try to capture some of the coastline.

Húsavík is a pretty fishing town in the far north of Iceland. You reach it from Akureyri following Route 1 towards Mývatn before taking Route 85 north towards the coast.

 

 

There is a great fish restaurant in Húsavík called Fjaran where we had a lovely lunch overlooking the picturesque harbour. Here there opportunities to photograph some of the pretty fishing and tour boats and colourful buildings in the town. This would also be a good place to take in a whale sight seeing tour. I believe that these are only possible in the summer but this may have changed. This could provide an interesting opportunity for some unique nature photography and the advantage with this location over others is that it receives less traffic. You are therefore likely to get onto a quieter tour.

From Húsavík the road hugs the coast passing numerous farms and crossing small streams and rivers. On a clear day it really is spectacular and the views out to sea are special. There are a lot of places to stop along the way to photograph the coast. I imagine in the summer during the sunny nights, this would be a great location to capture the midnight sun just dipping below the horizon - you only get full 24 hour sunlight in Iceland from the island of Grimsey which is in the Arctic Circle to the north of here. The leisurely drive probably takes about 45 minutes in total but longer if you are stopping constantly as we were. 

The images for this part of the trip are iPhone images from my honeymoon. It wasn't a photography trip for me so these are just some snaps.

At Hringsbjarg there is a small car park which sits up on the top of some very high cliffs. On a clear day you can see right across the estuary area and over to the far side of the bay. There are a lot of birds here so bring your long lens. This would be another great location to capture the midnight sun and the coastline. On a wild day I image the view may not be as spectacular although it still may be possible to capture some waves crashing into shore.

If you are up this far north already I can recommend camping in Ásbyrgi which has good facilities and is very quiet. Plus the Ásbyrgi canyon is spectacular and empty. I want to revisit there this year and if I do will write up a separate post on this special location.

There are many more places to visit along the coast of Iceland including the grand east fjords, the west fjords and also the islands. I'm sure I will add to my posts in the future with other blogs about some of them but for now, this wraps up some of my favourite spots around the country for seascape photography.

 

 

 

Icelandic Seascape Photography - Part 1

Iceland sits alone in the North Atlantic Ocean. It's a wild ocean up here providing photographers with opportunities to capture the raw power of the sea as it pounds against the island. You won't find crystal clear tropical waters here!

I have spent considerable time in various locations, and in somewhat extreme conditions at times, trying to capture some of that power in my images.

Bracing against the wind I try to capture the waves crashing against this sea stack 

Bracing against the wind I try to capture the waves crashing against this sea stack 

There are a few locations I would recommend visiting if you would like to try and photograph the sea here.

Brimketill

Located on the Reykjanes peninsula, Brimketill is a perfect location to capture waves crashing against cliffs, to see birds surfing the air currents above the water and generally feel the raw power of the sea. 

To reach Brimketill you first travel out to Grindavík along Route 43. Just before Grindavík you take a right turn onto Route 425 and follow the road for about 10 minutes until you see a small sign saying "Brimketill." Incidentally, on the way there are a few places you can stop to see the ocean also. There is a graveyard close to the sea where the waves can be impressive on a stormy day.

 

At Brimketill once you have parked and if the weather is windy you may see the waves crashing up and over the cliff tops above the pathway. In my experience, if this is the case, be a bit careful when you start going up the steps and onto the walkway as the waves can crash up and over here from the right hand side making for a quite scary experience. Generally speaking, this only happens if the wind is directly from the South or South West. It's an impressive but unnerving thing to see! I have been up here in extremely stormy conditions and I will admit that it is frightening!

The walkway extends out onto the clifftop. On a still day there are a couple of tide pools visible. Please don't do as some have and go for a dip! The currents and sea here are extremely unpredictable. On a windy or stormy day you can watch the waves come towards you and break up into huge plumes crashing over the cliffs around you. The noise and energy here is unbelievable!

Valahnúkamöl

About 5 minutes further along the road from Brimketill is another great location for sea photography, Valahnúkamöl. Accessed off Route 425 by following the signs for Reykjanesviti lighthouse, this a safe and fun place to capture a range of seascapes. 

 

Follow the road towards the light house (which is Iceland's oldest) going up and over the small hill. As you come down you will see the coast and car park area in front of you along with impressive sea stacks. Once parked you can spend time walking around the area here to photograph the large sea stack off the coast (see image of me at the start of the article) or further stacks just off to the left. In the distance is the island of Eldey where the last Great Auk was killed. There is a monument of one looking out to sea here which I always find quite poignant.

It is possible to sometimes walk up the cliffs to the left but the municipality will close these off if it is a) not safe or b) they're trying to allow the area to recover from damage. Therefore it is closed, please don't try and get up anyway, something I see all too often here. This is a great location to photograph sunrise, particularly in the winter when you don't have to get here so early!

Londrangur

Londrangur is located on the Snaefellsnes peninsular in the west of Iceland. Famous for its towering basalt cliffs, which are up to 75m high, there are some great opportunities to photograph dramatic images of the sea here. The cliffs are ancient volcanic plugs which have been eroded by the sea. Farmers do not use the area as the two cliffs are believed to be an Elf Church and an Elf Library. There is certainly something mysterious about the place.

 

You can reach Londrangur off Route 574 on the south coast of the peninsula. You cannot really miss them and there is a clearly marked car park on the left. The walkway here leads up onto the cliffs and a number of viewing points where you can photograph the coastline in both directions. The view, on a clear day, of Snæfellsjökull behind you is nothing short of spectacular also.

That's it for Part 1. In Part 2 I will cover another location in Snæfellsnes, Djúpalónssandur, as well as Reynisfjara beach in the south. I'll also mentioned a rarely visited coastline in the north of Iceland.

 

Advice when Driving in Iceland

One of the best ways to see all the amazing scenery we have to offer here in Iceland is to hire a vehicle and head out onto the Icelandic road network for an adventure. It is worth remembering that driving conditions in Iceland can be extremely challenging both in terms of the changeable weather and with regards to the roads themselves. This article is designed to provide you with information on how you can stay safe when driving in Iceland.

1. Check the weather before you set out each day and regularly during the day

The Icelandic Met Office website is the best source of information for the weather. You should bookmark this website on your phone, laptop and tablet and become used to checking it as part of your daily routine when in Iceland.

Website: Icelandic Met Office (English)

Weather warnings, particularly for high winds, rain and snow, are common during the autumn, winter and early spring. If there is a weather warning out for your area of travel on a particular day, please pay attention to the advice on the page. If travel is not advised, don't risk it! There have been incidents where the wind has been strong enough to shatter car windows. Also keep in mind that conditions in Iceland change quickly! Regularly checking out this site during the day will help you avoid any nasty surprises.

You can also use this site to check for the Aurora forecast as well as information on earthquakes currently happening around the country.

2. Check the road conditions before you set out each day and regularly during the day

Another website to have stored when you travel here is www.road.is. This is the most up-to-date source of information on driving conditions on all the roads in Iceland, including the highland and non-paved roads.

Website: The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration

The Iceland map on the homepage is split into the different regions. To check the conditions where you will be travelling on a particularly day just click that part of the map. You will then be taken to a detailed road map of that area which is colour coded - the codes are explained below the map. Definitely don't drive anywhere marked as red! Many of the roads also have webcams. You will see little boxes of information including temperature, wind speed and wind gust (with the little arrow next to it - red arrow is strong gusts). Clicking this box will take you to a page for that road itself. If it has webcams you can check these out to see what the roads look like. This has helped me on a number of occasions in the winter, after heavy snowfall, in being able to plan my journeys to avoid the roads that are in the worst condition.

3. Consider registering your travel plans with Safetravel.is

This is a website with lots of useful information on travelling safely around the country, not just on the roads. On the front page you can register your Travel Plan with the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue. This lets them know where you will be - you can even turn on Trip Monitoring with them for extra safety.

Website: Safetravel.is

They offer an app for iOS and Android which allows you to call the emergency services by pressing a big Red Button, direct from the app. You can also check in your location on the app with the services so that if anything happens they have more information to work with - the last 5 locations are stored and they are happy for you to use it! As they say on their site, you are not disturbing anyone!

There is a lot of other information on this site including useful driving tip videos and information on everything from camping to kayaking. I would highly recommend having a read through this website before you arrive in Iceland or before you set out on your big adventure. It's a great resource.

4. Please don't drive where you are not supposed to

This may sound like obvious advice but there are a lot of tempting side tracks leading off to mysterious looking places. These could be simple farm roads where the worst thing that could happen is the farmer wonders who is driving up to see him/her. Worst case you can end up on a poorly marked track that is not maintained or suitable for the vehicle you have. Even some of the main roads during difficult weather conditions can become extremely difficult to drive on so these smaller tracks and roads are just not worth risking unless you are with an experienced guide.

Similarly, please please PLEASE, don't drive off a road onto areas like beaches or fields, even if you see tracks of other vehicles leading that way. A lot of damage can be done to the wildlife that can take a lifetime to repair. Whilst it may be tempting to have some fun, or drive closer to get that all important photograph, please consider parking somewhere instead and taking a walk. Which leads to...

5. Please don't stop to take photographs on the roads

I know, it's tempting. You round a bend in the road and suddenly the scenery opens up into something spectacular and you just have to take a photograph. Whether you are on Route 1 or a smaller side road, please do not stop your car on the road, or even with part of the car on the road, to get out and take a photograph. I cannot stress how dangerous this is.

Whilst the roads here may seem quiet compared to other countries, there is now much more traffic than there used to be. Sure, as a kid in the 80's here we would be guaranteed not to see another car on Route 1 sometimes for up to an hour. I'll admit back then it was possible to stop and take photos and even have a picnic.

But times have changed! What may seem like a quiet road, with plenty of time to stop for a photo, may suddenly be filled with tour buses or cargo lorries, all of which will have to slow or even stop if you are blocking the roads even a bit. You may wonder what the big deal is with this but unfortunately people have been killed recently when stopping to just take a photo.

I highly recommend finding a safe stopping place, of which we have MANY, a bit further on and pulling off the roads entirely. I mean giving yourself lots of space! Then feel free to pop out and grab that shot. 

I would say that this perhaps is the piece of advice I hope you take the most seriously as it is becoming a problem.

Final Thoughts

I hope this post has been useful. Being prepared for travel on the roads in Iceland is essential and will ensure you have both a safe and enjoyable trip. What I recommend in this article takes all of 5 minutes here and there during the day and will minimise your chances of getting into difficulties.

If you do have problems, the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue are there to help. Please do keep in mind that they are a volunteer organisation and rely solely on donations. So when they are called out to rescue someone who hasn't checked the road conditions, and found themselves stuck in a snow drift, they are often coming to help voluntarily. They are often risking their own safety in these situations. Therefore please consider giving a small donation to the organisation as part of your trip to Iceland. I know they would be extremely grateful.

Website: Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue