We’ve all seen jaw-dropping photos from Iceland — the otherworldly landscapes, picturesque houses, serene wildlife, and unbelievable views. But trying to figure out exactly where those photos were taken can be tricky, given that Iceland is still relatively unmapped.
So, we’ve compiled some of the most popular Instagram spots around Iceland, pinpointed their exact locations, and even sprinkled in a little bit of photography advice, too.
Easily one of the most recognizable images of Reykjavík, the view from the top of Hallgrimskirkja Church is a must see. The colorful houses and centered streets of the city are too much for any photographer to pass up. To snap this shot, pay the small fee and take a short elevator ride to the top of the tower. There, you’ll find openings that overlook all sides of the capital. Visit in the early morning or late evening (depending on what month you’re traveling in Iceland) to avoid the harsh midday light, and adjust your aperture according to the weather that day (wider for cloudy days, narrower for sunny days). Increase your shutter speed if you’re worried about your hands shaking too much.
Before you leave, don’t forget to poke inside the church itself. The interior features crisp neutral colors, a massive organ, and sweeping architecture. Increase your ISO and follow the natural light.
When photographing Iceland’s waterfalls, it’s best to take advantage of manual mode on your camera by adjusting your settings to reflect a low ISO and small aperture. Experiment with shutter speed until you reach your desired effect.
With multiple viewpoints, this enormous waterfall provides plenty of options for great photographs. First, take some photos in front of the waterfall. Bring your tripod if you want to snap long-exposure shots of the falling water (use longer shutter speeds), and don’t be afraid to get low to the ground to show the scale of the huge, natural landmark. Then, head up the stairs on the right-hand side of the waterfall. It’s a long climb, but the view from the top is worth it.
Another waterfall right off National Road 1, Seljalandsfoss is smaller than its neighbor but has one distinct feature that Skógafoss doesn’t: you can walk behind the fall.
Grab your waterproof camera equipment and rain jacket, and walk behind the flowing waterfall for some amazing shots. Visit at sunset to capture the sun setting behind the waterfall — just be sure to choose a smaller f/stop to open the aperture and bring your tripod to steady your shots.
This massive waterfall is one of the three main attractions along the Golden Circle, and for good reason. The multi-tiered waterfall is overwhelming to witness — so make sure to think about your shots ahead of time. Wander the paths and experiment with angles, but always adjust your camera settings according to the weather. Depending on the time of year, you may want to use a shorter shutter speed to capture this waterfall (contrary to our previous advice about waterfall photography).
That Iconic Plane Wreck Site
You know which one we’re talking about. While you can’t drive right up to the plane anymore, it’s still well-worth the 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) hike. This spot can get extremely crowded during high season in Iceland, so make sure to be bold and get the photos you want. Use a faster shutter speed to capture the scene quickly and avoid photobombers. The lighting conditions can vary greatly, so adjust accordingly. Also note that if you’re visiting during the winter, the days are much shorter, so your opportunities to see the wreckage will be fewer than in the summer months.
Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon
One of the most popular destinations in Iceland, Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon is a sight to behold. Serene chunks of ice float in an unearthly blue landscape — the perfect place for photography. It can be found just off the Ring Road, with ample parking and both a café and gift shop (with restrooms!).
Most visitors don’t leave the parking lot, but we suggest taking the time to explore the surrounding areas of the lagoon. The best times of day to photograph these areas are at sunrise and sunset, though the latter tends to be more crowded. The ice floating in the lagoon can move quite quickly, so you’ll want to use a faster shutter speed of less than one second to avoid blurring your images.
Reynisfjara Beach and the Trolls
This black-sand beach was meant to be photographed. It’s the ideal place to witness the Icelandic trolls — rock formations in the ocean with a mythological-like story — and the basalt sea stacks that act as a creative setting for various scenes.
The lighting at this beach is typically overcast or cloudy, so bump up your ISO, use a wider aperture, or use a slower shutter speed (or all three). There are two other nearby locations great for photographers, as well: Vík, a small town to the east of the beach, and Dyrhólaey Lighthouse, which can be reached via a dirt road to the west of the main Reynisdrangar turnoff.
The lonely house in Arnarstapi
While gathering photographic inspiration from Iceland, you’ve likely seen a shot or two of a secluded, picturesque house. This structure is located in Arnarstapi, a small town on the Snæfellsnes peninsula.
The main (and only) road into Arnarstapi will be your best bet for photographing the house from land. There is a viewing area, and you can park your car and explore the town to find the best viewpoint. If you decide to venture along the cliffs or down to the coastal area, always be aware and stay safe.
The Blue Lagoon
This location isn’t exactly difficult to find, but it deserves a spot on the list. The ethereal landscape of the Blue Lagoon just begs to be photographed. You’ll know you’re in the right place when the air starts to smell slightly sulphuric. Don’t despair; you’ll get used to it! Before you go, you’ll want to plan when and how to capture your images. The Blue Lagoon can be tough to photograph at night due to poor lighting, so opt for an early-morning or late-afternoon visit instead. But, be warned — your tickets are timed, so make sure to plan ahead.
You’ll also want to think about your camera, given that you’ll be in the water. Take precautionary measures to protect your gear: use a Ziploc bag around the camera body to protect it from the water, use your smart-phone, or pack a GoPro with a waterproof case. While photographing, adjust your settings to accommodate the environment. Increase your shutter speed for clearer images, or decrease it to capture the misty atmosphere. Either way, don’t forget to take your camera back to your locker after a while so you can enjoy the experience sans electronics!
The Black Church in Buðir
This dark church sits solitary outside the town of Buðir, so park your car in the lot out front and explore its surrounding area to find your best shot of the building. You’ll likely want to increase your ISO if the day is overcast, or open your aperture for the same effect. If it’s a sunny day (which is more unusual for Iceland), use auto settings when dealing with harsh midday light.
The Moss-Covered House from “Game of Thrones”
This unique Icelandic site can be found at Þjóðveldisbærinn, a reconstructed, Viking-era farmstead in the Þjórsárdalur Valley. Photograph the house from the ground or, for a better view, pack your drone and capture the moss-covered building from the air.
Yet another site along the Snæfellsnes peninsula, and home to the best view of Kirkjufell, Kirkjufellsfoss is a waterfall down the road from the mountain. Hike to the far side of the waterfall to ensure the mountain is in your frame, and tote your tripod along with you to get steady shots. Also, use a longer shutter speed to capture the flowing water, and adjust your ISO depending on what time of day you visit.
Still looking for more? Check out our Photographer’s Guide to Iceland or our Guide to Photographing the Northern Lights.