Iceland is a country that never stops amazing me. I’ve visited the beautiful island numerous times throughout the years to visit family and later on for photography. The highlands, however, has been a place I haven’t spent nearly enough time exploring with a camera, so finally being able to get back there after around 15 years was quite mesmerizing.
It’s a playground for landscape photographers.
But if you’re dreaming of visiting the Icelandic highlands there are a few things you need to know beforehand. You don’t want to go there just to see the roads being closed or end up stranded on a remote mountain road. In this article, I’ll share exactly what you need to know before photographing the Icelandic Highlands.
#1 Be aware of closed roads
There’s a reason why the majority of tourists on Iceland choose to photograph the Golden Circle rather than the highlands; it’s not because the scenery is less beautiful (I think it’s quite the contrary)
Getting to the highlands means driving on roads that are a combination of gravel and dirt, river crossings and occasionally barely visible tracks. It goes without saying that most of these roads are unavailable once the snow arrives, so it’s important that you plan your visit accordingly.
The exact dates the roads are accessible vary from year to year but most roads are typically open from mid-June to mid-September.
#2 Rent a 4×4 vehicle
With the rough roads leading into the highlands, it’s important that you’re driving a proper 4×4 vehicle. In fact, several of these roads require that you drive an AWD.
I strongly recommend getting a car that has a high clearance that you can feel comfortable driving on bumpy terrain with and that, at the very least, can take you through smaller river crossings without a problem.
During my latest visit, I rented a 2019 Dacia Duster with rooftop tent from Iceland 4×4 Car Rental. I was positively surprised by how well the car handled even the roughest roads and was able to get me to viewpoints I wasn’t sure I could reach by car.
#3 Bring a Drone
The Icelandic highlands are a playground for landscape photographers, especially those interested in aerial photography; be it with a drone or from an aircraft.
During my last visit to the highlands, I had no locations planned and simply spent a few days driving and hiking in various areas. The drone was always with me and I was blown away with all the incredible details you can spot from above, such as this:
Keep in mind that the weather can be quite harsh so take care if you choose to fly your drone. Always respect local restrictions and don’t be that person who flies the drone right over the crowds!
#4 Be prepared for quick changes in weather
Talking about the weather… be prepared for it!
Always have extra layers and rain gear in your backpack if you go for a hike. The weather changes quickly and it’s not uncommon that a nice sunny day turns into a full-on storm on short notice; you don’t want to be caught unprepared when that happens.
Make sure that you have a look at the weather forecast when there’s internet available. Vedur.is is an excellent page for keeping track of temperatures, winds and rain. You should also keep an eye on Road.is to be sure that the roads you’re planning to take are open and safe to travel on.
#5 Bring extra memory cards
Trust me when I say that you’re going to take more images than you normally do when visiting the Icelandic highlands. There’s simply something to photograph around every corner and if you choose to go for some short hikes, your memory cards will fill up quickly.
I’m quite conservative when it comes to the number of exposures I take, and I tend not to shoot things that I don’t believe has the potential of being portfolio images but during the three days I was there last, I took roughly 1000 images.
If you’re one who normally takes many images, expect to fill up a memory card relatively quickly!
#6 Drive and explore
My final tip for photographing the Icelandic highlands is to just go explore. Don’t over plan the visit. Book a night at one of the highland resorts and just spend a day or two hiking and driving.
I had only marked of two regions I wanted to visit but had done next to no planning or scouting besides that. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that inspired on a photography trip and it was such a great feeling to simply go hiking or driving without knowing what to expect around the next corner.
There are so many amazing details in this landscape that there’s no reason to look for the exact same images taken numerous times before.