Iceland Revealed 2016 Trip Report

By Jeff Vanuga on Aug 18, 2016

Iceland sits at the juncture of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans and, geologically, is located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge which runs through the middle of the island.  Considered young at 20 million years old, the evidence of a geologic hotspot is everywhere.  Iceland is still on the move with active volcanoes and ongoing island building.  This geologic influence, along with a relatively milder climate than would typically be found at this latitude due to the North Atlantic Current, has shaped Iceland.  Extensive lava fields, glaciers, mountains and rivers, as well as majestic waterfalls, make the country a target-rich environment for landscape photographers.  Some of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes on the planet, combined with a low population (350,000) of very friendly people, make Iceland a special place to visit.  So, when asked by Joe Van Os to lead this trip in 2016 the answer was not just simply, “yes” but “hell yeah!”  This is a place you do not visit just once!
Our trip began, like most Van Os tours, with a meet and greet at our hotel in Reykjavik followed by what would be a trend throughout the entire trip—eating wonderful meals.  We met our local leader Daniel Bergmann and his assistant and additional driver Bjorgvin Sigurdsson.  Daniel is an avid photographer and has done several books on Iceland, so has intimate knowledge of our shooting locations.  On the following morning, we saw our transportation for the trip for the first time—a 4x4 Super Jeep and a custom built Mercedes Sprinter Van with a highly-modified 4x4 suspension package underneath.  If you are into “heavy metal” these are impressive off-road machines that are able to ford deep rivers, washed out ravines and, in special cases, drive onto glaciers.  We would have great access to remote locations and not much was going to slow us down!  All part of the adventure!
The first day took us into a remote area of the Highlands and the best access to the Landmannalaugar area, with its multicolored rhyolite mountains, and the volcanic Veidivötn Region, famous for mossy mountains and grassy lakes.  We photographed Haifoss waterfall, considered to be the second highest in Iceland.  The scenery in this part of the world is simply jaw dropping and the shutters on the cameras were just chattering away in this target-rich environment.  Initially we had some mixed weather and quite a bit of rain, but breaks in between offered our group some ideal landscapes under overcast skies—the perfect conditions for waterfalls and low contrast scenics.  With jet black lava flows everywhere and light green mossy rocks, the last thing I would order would be clear blue skies.  The photographic conditions were much more conducive to the overcast light rather than brilliant and contrasting blue skies.  
Eventually we left this first taste of paradise and headed north through the heart of the Highlands to Lake Mývatn via the Sprengisandur Route.  This remote and less traveled road, the longest in the Highlands, runs through a high elevation desert for about 120 kilometers and is the closest thing to visiting another planet.  Massive rolling hills of sand and pumice totally devoid of vegetation left me confused as to what caused this lunar landscape.  The area is flanked on the west by the Hofsjökull glacier and on the east by Vatnajökull glacier, the largest in Europe, with nothing in between!  After driving for hours we began to see patches of color in the landscape, mostly along sparse riparian areas.  A popular stop was to photograph a field of colorful blooming wildflowers called arctic river beauty carpeting a creek bottom—and our first sign of water after driving many miles.  Another interesting stop was for a plant known as lime-covered moss growing along springs that flowed from nearby hillsides.  The lime green color of this plant stood in stark contrast to an otherwise desert environment.  Eventually we returned to paradise again and photographed Aldeyjarfoss waterfall, surrounded by beautifully-sculpted columnar basalt formations along the Skjálfandafljót River.  
For the next several days we stayed in the Mývatn region photographing some of the most impressive waterfalls in Iceland, including Dettifoss, Selfoss and Godafoss, as well as the Hveraröndor Hverir geothermal site at the base of Námafjall Mountain, with its steaming fumaroles and solfataras (sulphurous mud pots).  If anyone had sinus problems prior to visiting the thermal areas, they were cured by the strong odor of sulfuric acid in the air!
After visiting the Mývatn area we headed west along Iceland’s northern coast to photograph Hvítserkur, a volcanic monolith along the Vatnsnes Peninsula that resembles a dinosaur feeding.  The white areas are guano from fulmars and other birds nesting and roosting on the rock formation—this is how Hvítserkur received its name which translates to “white shirt.”  Icelandic legend says that the rock is a troll who forgot to retreat from the light and was turned into stone at sunrise.  
Our last stop before returning to the Reykjavik area was at a location northwest of the city called Hraunfossar or Lava Falls.  This series of waterfalls flows from the Langjökull glacier via the Hallmundarhraun lava field in numerous rivulets over a distance of about 2,700 feet.  Beautiful cascading waterfalls parallel the river, and although it is difficult to capture the entire area in one scene, we focused our vision on segments rather than the waterfalls in their entirety.  
Our last evening ended with another wonderful dinner in the beautiful town of Keflavik.  I was very fortunate to return to a country I have had a passion to revisit.  Along with a great local leader and with a fantastic group of clients who let us do our job of taking them to the best places and during the best times to photograph the wonders of Iceland.  By the time the tour ended I felt we were traveling with old friends instead of new clients!  For those of you hoping to join us on another fantastic journey, I will be leading this photo safari again in the summer of 2017.  I hope to share the magic of photography in Iceland with some new faces as well as old friends.