Iceland is home to some of the world’s most spectacular scenery and natural phenomena and, at nearly every moment, you will be reaching for your camera to capture the dramatic landscapes, cascading waterfalls, gleaming glaciers and auroras before you.
But before snapping away, there are a few handy hints you should remember that will make your photos even more special, so that you can truly cherish the memories of your Iceland holidays for years to come.
The Northern Lights
Many of our clients return from their Northern Lights adventures in Iceland only to find that their photographs haven’t done the slightest bit of justice to the magical phenomenon they witnessed. We agree that capturing the aurora borealis can be a challenge but by following a few simple steps you can end up with photographs that are guaranteed to astonish your friends.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember when intending to photograph the Northern Lights is that you will have to keep the camera as stable as possible. A tripod (or similar stabilising gadget) will achieve the best results but if you don’t have one to hand then improvise a little bit – rest your camera on a nearby fixed object such as a picnic table for instance. To minimise motion when taking the shot, use the self-timer function so the camera takes the photo without you having to press the shutter button. Better still, use a remote or cable release if you have one.
To effectively capture the brilliant colours of the aurora your camera will need to have a good, long look at the sky. This means that aperture will have to be wide open – as low as your f numbers go – and shutter speed will have to be slow – about 15 to 30 seconds should do the trick but increase or decrease if required.
You will also need to adjust your ISO settings. The more advanced your camera the higher your ISO can be set before the image becomes “noisy”. For most mid-range shoot-and-point digital cameras an ISO of between 400 and 800 should suffice, while more expensive cameras can be set to up to 1600 without too much loss of quality.
Remember to take your camera off auto-focus otherwise it will continually refocus as it scans the night sky for an object. Switch to manual and focus on a fixed object in the distance such as a mountain, tree tops or the moon.
Perhaps most importantly of all, don’t forget that experiencing the Northern Lights can be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so don’t get too distracted with capturing a photograph and make sure to enjoy this spectacular light show with your own eyes!
Snow and ice
Using your camera’s auto setting when shooting a snowy scene can result in images that are either dark and dull or tinged blue, so to faithfully reproduce the crisp, white appearance of Iceland’s wintry vistas and glaciers you may have to make a couple of adjustments to your camera’s settings.
Firstly, a bright scene will cause your camera’s auto-exposure to overcompensate and make things appear darker than they actually are. To overcome this, while in auto mode, increase your EV (exposure value) settings by a value of 1.0 to 2.5. If your camera has an LCD screen, you will see the preview of the image brighten as you increase the exposure. Be careful not to increase exposure too much otherwise your photo will lack detail.
Alternatively, if you are using manual mode, increase the aperture by a couple of stops (remember, the smaller the f number, the more light your camera’s lens will let in) and/or try a slower shutter speed.
If the snow in your photos is appearing with a blue tinge then your white balance will most likely need adjusting. The easiest way to do this is to go into your white balance settings and switch it from ‘auto’ to ‘daylight’.
Remember that taking photos in cold conditions can also affect your camera’s performance and battery life so be careful not to leave it exposed to the elements for too long. You should also try to wrap up as warm as possible as it isn’t easy to stay still when standing in arctic conditions!