Photographer Andrew Hancock explains, in his own words, what he loves most about photography in Iceland. 

My Favorite Iceland Photo Tour

Two of my biggest passions are photography and travel. The power of photography in travel is that you do much more than just visit a location; you get a much more intimate and involved experience. During my explorations of Iceland, I have had many memorable moments with a camera in hand. However, none have been as magical as the time I was treated to an eight-hour display of the northern lights in the lava fields near the Snaefellsjökull volcano on the western peninsula.

Iceland Photo Tour | Luxury Iceland Travel | Ker Downey

On this Iceland photo tour, a blizzard had us holed up in our hotel for a couple days. Then the evening after the system moved out, there was a clearing on the peninsula. However, the forecast for the aurora was very low. Minimal at best, in fact. I was disappointed as I knew this was the best chance for us to photograph the aurora given the short and long term weather forecast. Yet I was not going to let an opportunity to make a picture pass me by. So I was already starting to come up with other ideas and things to photograph with the stars while we were at the location.

Much to my surprise, shortly after dark, a magenta hue began to appear over the volcano. Soon, the show started in earnest. It began with a brilliant and slow moving and spectacular rainbow aurora.

The show would intensify and better from there. Bands and swirls of light kept appearing all around us and overhead. With each passing hour, the display intensified and continued. Few times in my life have I been that awestruck by what I was photographing than that display of the aurora.

Iceland Photo Tour | Luxury Iceland Travel | Ker Downey

During this Iceland photo tour, I had four cameras I was operating. They were all in different places with different compositions. Furthermore, there was almost a mile between the first and last camera. I worked up a sweat despite the frigid temperatures. After six hours in the elements, photographing the aurora from the lava fields, black sand beach and the cliffs of the peninsula, my traveling companions and I decided to make a run for the black church at Budir.

The lights could be seen all around us on the drive. When we arrived at the church, the show only intensified with auroral coronas opening up directly overhead. We decided to call it a night at around 4 a.m. But I was so excited and energized by the evening that I stayed up until 5:30 a.m. editing photos! Indeed, it was a night that I will never forget.

Iceland Photo Tour | Luxury Iceland Travel | Ker Downey

Photography in Iceland

I have photographed Iceland in both of its extremes of summer and winter. Each have their own respective beauty. In summer, the grasses and moss come alive in a brilliant emerald green. Winter colors, on the other hand, evoke powerful shades of blue from the waters of the North Atlantic, the rivers and waterfalls and the majestic glaciers. In fact, the best time to photograph the glaciers in my opinion is during the late winter. That’s because the colors are significantly richer than at any other time of the year. Winter is also the only time that you can explore the glacial caves beneath the glacier.

The charm and the challenge of photography in Iceland is the unpredictability of the weather and the terrain. I have climbed basalt cliffs, mountain sides, on and underneath glaciers, and on the coast. I’ve also hiked through ancient lava fields. The weather, while intense at times, is still certainly manageable.

In preparing for an Iceland photo tour, there are many things to consider. For photography, you will want your fastest lenses along with trigger releases, LED headlamps, tripods (carbon fiber helps keep the weight down), and an array of filters including graduated filters, polarizers and ND filters. For footwear, I tend to travel with two pair of boots. The first is a pair of a hightop gore-tex athletic hikers. The second is a pair of arctic expedition boots. Layers are a must as are gore tex snow pants and parka and gloves. While you will be out in the elements (some extreme) to make pictures, the efforts are worth it. Plus, when you are properly prepared and dressed, it makes the experience much more enjoyable.

Final Thoughts

I feel that with photography in Iceland, you transition from being a spectator on your trip to being an active participant. While soaking in all of the experiences, you are also documenting the trip along the way. The result is a richer experience with stronger memories and a visual recollection that you are proud to share and hang on your wall. Pairing photography with your journey allows you to be much more involved and engaged with what you see — not only in thought but also emotionally and spiritually as well.

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