Having recently come back from my trip to Iceland, I was inspired to share a lot of valuable information about this country. Weather you’re a professional photographer, enthusiast, or fellow traveller, you might find this helpful.
Shortly after our arrival, we quickly saw the affects of Iceland being new to tourism, and learned travel information can be scarce. Even from people living there. For intense, there was a huge discrepancy about weather we needed a big 4x4 car or could be okay with a regular car. Even the car company we rented from didn’t know if we needed a big car to get to where the places showed them on a map. So where do you get the info?
Do yourself a big favour and talk to someone who has visited the place. Better yet, hire a guide to take you to it. People who live there might not be the best source, as some of them have never been to the places you’re asking about. We got a lot of maybes from them, and maybes can be dangerous if you’re driving on dirt roads that have been under ice all winter. Also, the tourist info centres for the specific sights might have some better directions than google maps can provide, maybe.
Aside from your camera, a car is the most useful tool you’ll have for shooting in Iceland. If you don’t drive, or are not traveling with someone who can drive you, don’t go to Iceland. Stay home. You’ll be too frustrated traveling on buses that can only shuttle you ones or twice a day and not having enough time to shoot. You also can’t exactly ask the bus driver to stop for you. When you’re in a car, you have a the freedom to stop wherever you like (and trust me, you’ll want to stop a lot). I found the most beautiful shooting locations on the way to the “major sights”. After all, you don’t want to have the same photo every other photographer has taken in Iceland.
Do I need a 4x4 for driving in Iceland?
It depends where you're going. If you're planning on staying on the outer circle (highway 1) and visiting the places that are closest to it, like Jökulsárlón, you will be absolutely fine in a regular car. But if you plan on going closer to the core (on F-roads/ Mountain roads) please rent a 4x4. We rented a 4x4 and loved our experience, we could go on gravel roads that a regular car couldn't handle and therefore some some great scenery. I recommend getting a 4x4 if you're not sure.
The car companies will offer you all kinds of insurance you’ve never heard about, like sand damage. In my opinion, you don’t need any of it except for gravel insurance. There are lots of gravel roads, some with rocks flying under your car, or flying from another car onto your car which can cause some damage. Any damage smaller than a thumbnail you don’t need to worry about. The car companies expect scratches and the like. Other than that, the general collision insurance you don’t need. You have to be a pretty bad driver to get into a collision in Iceland, because there are barely any cars around. But if you're a bad driver, get the collision insurance.
Hiking and camping
Having a car is great for stopping wherever you want, but you don’t actually want to photographs just the main spot where there’s a viewpoint for all the bus tourists to take selfies. If you want to get to some really beautiful and unique places in Iceland, you’re going to have to hike it out, and then camp it out, and then hike some more. This will allow you to explore your shooting location better by scouting the first day to plan where and what time of day you’re going to shoot, camp for the night and shoot the next day. For big places like Þórsmörk, one day is not enough. Same goes for the Vatnajukull glacier area. There are some hiking trails that take days to do, and you don’t want to miss out. I recommend getting a small tent, and a sleeping bag, along with a nice day pack and hike into those mountains and really explore the nature!
Iceland is not for everyone.
Iceland is one of the most unique and beautiful places on this planet. The Icelandic people keep the land largely untouched and preserved. But letting nature on the loose makes visiting quite uncomfortable. It strongly contrasts comparable places like nation parts in the states, that cater to visitors who are free to explore with little worry. Icelandic land is not a friendly place, it’s the kind of place where glaciers and rocks could fall on you at any time, and where elves could attack at any second. It’s basically a big frozen obstacle course. We found it to be a experience well worth the challenge. If you want to get the best photos, you need to be okay with getting dirty, being cold, and being rained on, a lot. Have fun!
All images copyright © Alice Zilberberg