Iceland winter 2014

Iceland during Winter 2014

This trip was in my mind for a very long time, but I never managed to go. Some old friends know, that I was for a whole summer on Iceland doing geomorphological research. It was a long time ago and I always wanted to go back. But why winter?

This year we have a peak in aurora borealis activity, but I wanted to go to a destination with more options but aurora during the night. Iceland is a spot with lots of photographic opportunities and its geographical position is very good for northern lights. It was a trade off between the unpredictable icelandic weahter with clouds and winter storms and more photographic opportunities.

I did not regret this choice. I had three main photographic topics:

  • Northern Lights
  • Ice Caves in Vatnajoekull glaciers
  • Frozen waterfalls

The first two worked, the last was a bit dissapointing as there was not much or no ice at all in the waterfalls of southern Iceland. You cannot have all.

After weighting options and challenges, the decision was made to drive the whole ring road, weather permitting, with longer stays in Myvatn Area, Vatnajoekull/Skaftafell Area, Vik and the Golden Circle.

At the end of the report I will write about our experience in driving in winter through Iceland, just in case you want to do something similar.

To make it short:

Visiting Iceland in winter is highly recommended!

But decide after looking at the result! As usual I selected a small part of my pictures to give you an idea about Iceland and my work.

Island im Winter - Fotoreise und Workshop

Interessiert? Wir bieten eine fabelhafte Fotoreise mit Workshop im Februar 2016. Viel Zeit zum Fotografieren, möglichst wenig Fahrzeiten, interessante Unterkünfte.



The North and Myvatn Area


In the North I planned two locations, the Skagafjordur area for landscape and horses and Myvatn area for landscape, geothermal power plants and solfataras. The weather did not allow good pictures of horses and the power plant was a victim of dense fog. Overall it was worthwhile and would have deserved more time, especially as the snow around Myvatn was beautifull!

Taking pictures of the Solfataras was very demanding, it was very cold, a bit windy and foggy. The hot humid air coming from the hot springs and solfataras immediately froze to tripod, camera and clothing. Near constant light snowfall made it even more difficult. The results are still quite nice, but it took much more time than estimated.


Surprisingly atmospheric was my session within the drying racks of fish and fish heads (dry fish heads are considered a delicacy in some african countries). It was very dark, very windy and even more smelly. As the wind was to strong to stay in my desired iso range to get sharp shots, I decided to capture the drying process by blurred motion always in contrast with sharp not moving parts. The results are very atmospheric pictures, but they spare you the odor. It took some hours before not only the clothing, but also camera and tripod was back to normal "odor levels".




Vatnajoekull NP - In the shadow of the big, icy vulcanos


This location was one of the highlights and I dedicated 6 days for it. 2 days however where lost due to a severe storm with more than 140 km/h. How do I know the windspeed?. The iceland road authority manages a netwerk of weather stations, which are transmitting their data in near time to a webpage. The next station was just 5km away from our wooden self catering hut. The hut was shaking, our car was rocking in its suspension, life did come to a complete standstill!

This area is full of prime locations: glacial lagoons, huge glaciers and mountains, black beaches with icebergs, ice caves, superb hiking and we had an awesome night full of northern lights.



Ice caves of Vatnajoekull

The ice caves in the glaciers of Vatnajoekull are amazing. Access is possible with guides in winter only. It is visually overwhelming! The colors in the pictures are not a result of oversaturating. Even the raw files as rendered with the standard settings in lightroom are already very intense, HDR and normal increase of saturation results in amazing pictures.

I used ISO 100 or 200 with apertures between 8 and 16 resulting in shutter speeds of 5 to 100 seconds. Depending on the situation I used sometimes HDR. The focal lengths have been between 14mm and 100mm, the majority however was between 27mm and 55mm.


Icelandic Horses


Iclandic horses are a cute and world wide unique horse breed. They are descendants of the lifestock of the early viking settlers and never have been crossed with other horses. They spend most of the time outdoors and develop a thick winter coat to be protected from the rough winter weather. Unfortunately both locations I planned, did not work very well, the first one in the North due to bad weather, in the second location the weather was fine, but the landscape was brown, barren and unattractive due to the lack of snow. The few shots I managed to get have been shot mostly from the roadside. Another reason to come back!




The South


The main reason why I wanted to spend so many days in the south of Iceland was landscape and ice coated waterfalls. The landscape was brown and unattractice, no snow, no pictures. Moreover all ice in the famous waterfalls like Skogarfoss has vanished, again no luck.

I tried to compensate with other topics like colorfull houses, the hothouses of Hveragerdi and of course the famous black beaches of Vik. Once we ventured as far as possible into the icelandic highlands.


The Golden Circle - you are not alone anymore in winter


The so called Golden Circle covers the main attraction close to Reykjavik, basically it is Thingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss.

There have been busloads of tourists, even in winter! Summer must be more than crowded. Anyway, the weather was again not in favour, sometimes strong winds, unattractive clouds and finally lots of wet snow. It still was worth while to go there. At Thingvellir we had a bit more luck, as the sun came through during two evenings. As most buses had already left there was a great and kind of magic atmosphere and peace in this normally buzzing place. All the places are so well known, that I do not tell you more about the locations.


Reykjavik - the capital of Iceland


Reykjavik is a nice little capital with lots of attractions, this time however it was not our focus. Moreover winertime is no season to capture street life. Harpa, the new concert hall, looked great during night and really magical is the solfari sculpture. We even had aurora hovering over it.

Travelling through Iceland in Winter


My experience is based on 24 days in Iceland and regular monitoring of weather forecasts and road conditions weeks before and after the trip. Conditions may be similar or completely different, when you are travelling, but it gives you an idea.

All highland roads right through the middle of the island are closed! The ring road is the way to go!

In the South, the Golden Circle and up the east coast to Höfn, driving is realitivly easy. There are nearly no mountain passes and the ring road follows most of the times the coastline. We had snow and lots of wind, but driving is easy, the roads are maintained and cleared of snow. Any car with winter tyres will do, a 4WD is not necessary, especially if you can rest a couple of hours, if the weather turns really bad.

The North is a very different story!

North of Reykjavik towards Akuryeri and especially further on to Myvatn, Egilstadir and Höfn you will have lots of mountain passes, steep climbs, nearly no villages and we had lots of snow with new snow every day. The road authority tries to keep the mountain passes open from Reykjavik to Akuryeri and Myvatn, but sometimes some or all passes on the way have been closed for a couple of hours or during the night. The roads, even the ring road are full of snow, sometimes icy for many kilometers.

The large stretch between Myvatn and Egilstadir was closed nearly half of the time, we just slipped through. As soon as you have wind and a bit of snow, it is very likely that this part is closed down, sometimes for several days in a row! In the north the roads climbs to more than 500m elevation several times, which translates to 2500-3000 m altitude in central europe.

For 100km the road was one big patch of pure ice! Look at the pictures, this was daily reality.

If you have a 4WD with studded tyres (spikes), no problem, you just drive a bit more carefull. I would not even think of going there without spikes!

The road authority has two excellent pages, which are updated constantly and it manages information boards on the roadside.


Road Conditions and Roads closed

Webcams, Weather Stations, zoom in


Check them out regularly. They even count the cars, which pass their roadside weather stations. If there is a zero, I would not try.

Bottom line: Travel is quite easy, if you have the right car, the right tyres and if you check the online information!

And I found driving with spikes was big fun and very easy. Very different to normal winter tyres, which I use on our 4WD in the Alps. As long as you do not have snow drifts, no slippery road will stop you! Our icelandic car rental never rents out cars without spikes in winter, in the south however we have seen many rental cars with normal tyres. Make sure you get the right tyres!


Have fun!

Lust auf einen Fotoworkshop in Islands Winter?

 Lust auf einen Fotoworkshop in Islands Winter?

Hier gehts zur Reisebeschreibung:

Island Fotoreise und Workshop im Winter 2016

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