The island of Iceland, the second largest European island after Great Britain, lies on the Mid-Atlantic Rift—a major seam between the European and North American tectonic plates. These two plates are splitting apart at remarkable geologic speed, making Iceland one of Earth's most geologically restless areas. Iceland is a veritable cauldron of geothermal activity, with active volcanoes, steam vents and bubbling hot springs. While the best-known—and oft photographed—landscapes along the southern Ring Road have long enticed photographers, it is the interior of Iceland, the Highlands, that dwarfs even those dramatic images. More remote and less visited than the south, the Highlands are a landscape of endless pristine vistas where bridgeless glacial meltwater rivers passable only with 4x4 vehicles in summer cascade from distant volcanic mountains.
From our conveniently located lodging at the southern edge of the Highlands we explore Fjallabak Nature Reserve. Fjallabak translates as "behind the mountains" and is our gateway to a vast and untouched interior. Here, multi-hued rhyolite hillsides rise on the edge of a tortured volcanic landscape with numerous blue crater lakes set among moss green hills reflecting summer skies. During Iceland's long summer daylight hours, we travel northward into the heart of the interior traversing a stark and seemingly otherworldly topography edged by glaciers. Photographing the ever-changing light on rock, river, and glacial ice and snow yields bold and graphic compositions.
At the northern edge of the Highlands near Lake Mývatn we photograph some of the most diverse landscapes in Iceland. Here, the waters of massive Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe, thunder out of the north side of Vatnajökull glacier across a broken gray-black lava field and roar—ashen-gray with churning glacial flour—150 feet down into the canyon below. In contrast, nearby Selfoss is graceful and elegant—its water surging over horseshoe shaped bedrock. Steam from fuming volcanic vents dances in the air amidst a backdrop of tall mountains and a charred broad horizon.
En route on our return south, we skirt northern fjords and photograph a wave-carved sea arch, among other features. At Hraunfossar ("lava falls") a series of underground streamlets emerge along a 3,000-foot-long sweep of bright green moss-clad rock to fall gracefully into turquoise waters below.
As this expedition is first and foremost about photography we may sacrifice regular hotel dinners in order to be out in the best light of the evening. In such circumstances we carry food with us into the field. Some mornings we leave our accommodation before breakfast and return after our morning shoot for late brunch. Each day brings excellent, yet unpredictable, photo possibilities as the light on the land spawns seemingly endless prospects to create intensely powerful images. Join Jeff Vanuga and Daniel Bergmann in one of the richest locations for dramatic landscape photography in the world during the long radiant days of Iceland's short summer.
Be sure to read Jeff Vanuga's 2016 Iceland Revealed Trip Report.
Depart from home.
Day 2 (Aug 9)
Most US flights to Iceland arrive at the Keflavík airport in the early morning and those from Europe land in early afternoon. Transfer to Reykjavik. We meet for dinner. (D)
We depart for Hrauneyjar, gateway to the Highlands, on the edge of one of the most active volcanic hot spots in Iceland. This outpost location is near some of the most photogenic sites in the southern Highlands. After unloading our luggage at the guesthouse we photograph locally including Haifoss waterfall. (BLD)
Two full days to explore Fjallabak Nature Reserve, including Landmannalaugar and the Veidivötn region. Created by volcanic activity, this vast, wild and mountainous landscape is one of Iceland's largest geothermal areas. The painted rhyolite mountains of Landmannalaugar offer a brilliant range of color—sulfur yellow, caramel orange, bright green rock created by geothermal gases—at the edge of dark lava fields. We explore the numerous sky-reflecting crater lakes of Veidivötn set among vast mossy mountains and rough black lava. (BLD)
We drive the 125-mile-long Sprengisandur highland route—longest of Iceland's highland roads and accessible only by 4x4 vehicles—through the vast interior to Lake Mývatn. Distant glaciers and mountains fringe the rough gravel road, meltwater rivers snake across our path, and the stark landscape has its own lonely beauty. Here, photographically, "less is more." (BLD)
From our comfortable hotel base at Lake Mývatn we have three full days to explore one of Iceland's most diverse natural areas. Waterfalls—from the raw wild power of massive Dettifoss to the frothing white waters of Aldeyjafoss plunging amid photogenic columns of contrasting black basalt—offer opportunities to create a variety of images during the constantly changing light.
This region continues to be used for the filming of some of HBO's popular fantasy drama Game of Thrones and is featured in several of its story lines. The Mývatn area was also used as a training ground for American astronauts in preparation for the lunar missions of NASA's Apollo Program.
We photograph the geothermal areas of immense Hverfjall Crater and the live steam vents dotting black lava field at Leirhnjúkur. An excursion to Askja, a still-active caldera volcano with deep crater lakes set amid an unforgettable landscape of nearly 5,000-foot-high mountains, is a highlight. (BLD)
We photograph at several locations along the north coast road to Vatnsnes Peninsula. En route, we "shoot" Hvitserkur, a wave-sculpted volcanic monolith rising 50 feet from the pounding waters of the Atlantic like a photogenic stone monster. Local legend tells of a giant troll turned to stone by the sun when it failed to retreat to its lair before dawn. Black-legged kittiwakes and northern fulmars nest on its sheer walls—their guano painting white-washed patterns over the dark stone. (BLD)
This morning we photograph at Hraunfossar ("lava falls") in Borgarfjordur. Photogenic Hraunfosser is comprised of a 3,000-foot-long series of springs flowing gracefully out of seemingly solid lava to form a turquoise blue stream below.
Depending on weather and road conditions permitting, we drive via Kaldidalur Mountain Pass—the interior route to Thingvellir National Park—nearly 2,300 feet in elevation and the second highest pass in Iceland. Our seasonal gravel road traverses the vast expanse of the Kaldidalur Valley surrounded by four glaciers and climbs amid snow-covered peaks. Alternatively, we travel a more direct road to the Reykjanes Peninsula. Our overnight is at a Keflavík Airport hotel. (BLD)
Day 12 (Aug 19)
Depart on flights home. (B)