Iceland is one of the most beautiful countries on the planet. Literally everywhere you drive there you can create amazing images without much technical knowhow as the landscape speaks for itself. Having shot Iceland 3 times now, the most recent two visits solely shooting there on film I feel I have got a decent idea on how to approach it. Ive driven the entire ring road around it, been up and down the south coast and then all the way out on the western peninsula. This is going to be a guide/blog on what I did, where I shot etc.
Here is the gear I took with me
- Leica M6 with a 28mm Voightlander
- Mamiya RB67 with the 127mm, first visit only
- Tripod and shutter release but only on the first visit
- Film (obviously)
Now the M6 is just my 35mm camera of choice. I actually bought it especially for this trip as the canon A1 I had at the time was hanging on to life. 28mm is my favourite focal length for landscapes, its nice and wide and shows the world how I perceive it. For the vast landscapes of Iceland something wider is ideal too. If you have a medium format camera you are going to want to bring it, I had the RB67 at the time and believe me you will not want to miss out on the detail medium format can blast out of the scenes you will witness. All my "hero" images from my trips there came from the RB and after getting scans back I didn't even look at some of the 35mm work for a while. The tripod didn't get much use at all, it actually broke when I was there and I have not owned one since.
Film wise everyone has their own favourites and each to their own, i'm just gonna say what I shot and why. Trip one was exclusively Portra 400 and then the second trip was only on Kodak gold. Both colour stocks as no way am I visiting somewhere like that to not shoot it in colour. Portra is versatile and gold is cheap. I didn't expect to be going back so soon the second time and Gold was all I could afford but the results I got from it blew me away and made me respect the stock way more then I did previously. Porta 400 is my usual choice for any trip as I'm most comfortable exposing it for the look I want. I find it easier to adjust in post processing also, the stock just has way more wiggle room.
I have only ever been there in September/October so its the only time of the year I can suggest. The conditions are good, the light is nice and when I think about it it only rained once or twice. If you want to do the ring road...10 days. If you just want to bang out the south coast then maybe just 4 days would do.
A car is a must, you won't be able to do anything without one and be prepared for a decent amount of time sat behind the wheel. You want a 4x4. There's a tonne of smaller cheaper rentals and getting to them from the airport is via a shuttle bus. Deposits can be high. Don't climb on the roof of your car. Don't open doors downwind as they will be torn off. That's basically it. Driving there is easy peasy as the roads are dead. If you're out in the middle of nowhere you can literally not pass another car for hours. Always have enough petrol.
In terms of where to stay, from Reykjavik you'd be able to hit a decent chunk of the south and then look over to the west but the drive time would be maybe 4/5 hours a day. which actually isn't too bad as with scenery like that it flies by.
what I would recommend though is finding somewhere to stay on the south coast or be happy to do multiple stays to cut down driving. On my last visit we stopped near Seljandsfoss, Vik and Hofn, this cut down car drives down massively for the most part but from Hofn back to Reykjavik it was a slog. We stayed 2 nights in each area I think, with a final 3 in Reykjavik.
The northern side of the island didn't impress me too much, there's definitely things to see there but the drives between then are way longer.
Must see locations
- Landmannalaugar (painted hills)
- Reynisfjara beach ( the one with the black sand everyone goes)
- Solheimasandur plane wreck
- Diamond beach
- Budir black church and the areas around it
- A glacier, loads to choose from. I visited one near Skogafoss and honestly between visits of only a year it had melted away way more then I would have thought. which was a scary global warming shock. So yeah see one while you can?
How I shot
For Portra 400 I rated it at 200 iso and overexposed it by 1 stop. For the Kodak gold, I shot that at box speed. Purely as I don't really know how it can handle being pushed and pulled, it's not something I had done at the time so I just played it safe. In terms of metering I went off the M6 light meter and I would say I was taking readings from the shadows to bottom halves of my compositions, basically metering looking at the floor for some scenes. reason being I like my skies to be on the edge being blown out but still have remains of cloud detail. The landscapes of Iceland can be rather dark and the colour pallet not too varied in some spots so getting a good exposure on the shadow detail really helped. I saved the 120 film for the more "hero" landscape shots, so I would have at least one good establishing image from each location I visited. For the 35mm I only shoot that vertically. Not for any reasons specifically, I just enjoy that ratio more.
The majority of the scans came back perfectly exposed with only one or two muddy ones which when looking back was down to my own mistake. In terms of post processing I dropped the whites and highlights but then bumped the exposure up slightly as I wanted a more pastel, flatter but bright final output.