7 Must See Landscape Photography Locations in the Icelandic Highlands
Deep within the vast interior of Iceland are the wild and uninhabited regions known as the Highlands. Largely unexplored, these remote areas are brimming with possibilities for landscape and nature photography.
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They are accessible only during the summer months, when the snow and ice has thawed enough to reveal an otherworldly landscape, carved out by millions of years of volcanic activity. This is where you will find extraordinary scenes marked by black, sandy deserts and steaming hot springs set amongst the barren, glacial moraine.
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Believe it or not, there are a number of hidden gems in the Highlands – places of such unbelievable beauty that they make for incredible opportunities for photography. Keen to know where they are? Then read on to discover our seven must see landscape photography locations within the Icelandic Highlands!
#7 - Thorsmork
The Valley of Thor. Photo by: 'Max Rive'.
Located in the south of Iceland is the Þórsmörk Nature Reserve, also known as the ‘Valley of Thor’. Sandwiched between the magnificent Tindfjallajökull and Eyjafjallajökull glaciers, this lush oasis and mountain ridge is one of the most popular hiking areas in Iceland which has recently entered the radar for landscape photography.
Þórsmörk is a particularly enchanting place, where fascinating geological formations contrast with inexplicably green moss, ferns, birch trees and winding glacial rivers below. Opportunities for a variety of different compositions abound, including the chance to photograph wildlife, such as the elusive Arctic fox.
Þórsmörk is an incredible location for landscape photography in the Highlands. Photo by: 'Max Rive'.
During summer, you can make the most of this emerald green paradise as the golden light of the Midnight Sun bathes the area in a warm glow. The valley has a warmer climate compared to the rest of the south coast, so the peaks of the surrounding mountains can sometimes be covered in a layer of mist or fog that adds to the mystique.
There are a number of hiking trails at Þórsmörk, including one that links to the much longer Laugavegur trail that stretches for 55km across the Icelandic Highlands. However, a shorter hike is available that will take you to the peak of Valahnúkur mountain, where it is possible to capture an absolutely breathtaking, full 360° panorama of Þórsmörk and its surrounds.
If you’re keen to stay overnight to witness a 3am sunrise, then you can even pitch a tent at one of Þórsmörk’s three campsites, which are equipped with toilets, showers and grills.
#6 - Eldgja
Eldgjá is covered in moss. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.
Another spot located in the south of Iceland is Eldgjá, also known as ‘the fire fissure’ – a volcano and canyon that stretches 40 kilometres long and about 600 metres wide, between the Mýrdalsjökull glacier and Vatnajökull ice-cap. Formed in the year 939, it is the largest volcanic canyon in the world and is steeped in geological history, having been created during a basaltic flood lava eruption.
This magnificent volcanic fissure is a fantastic place for landscape photography, with its spectacular 200 metre high cliffs looming over the mossy canyon floor.
What makes Eldgjá so special though is Ófærufoss, an incredible waterfall that flows into it. This two-tiered waterfall yields incredible compositions, especially when seen from above. It is possible to get close to the lower section of the waterfall, while a short hike up the mountain of Gjátindur will offer an impressive view of the canyon and its surrounds. Needless to say, it is an extremely beautiful stop for long exposure photography and aerial photography at the end of a long summer’s day.
#5 - Haifoss
Háifoss is more than just one waterfall. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.
Right near the mighty Hekla volcano in the south of Iceland, you will find the awe-inspiring Háifoss waterfall. It is aptly named, translating directly from Icelandic to mean “the high waterfall”, though its hair-raising height of 120 metres only makes it the fourth tallest waterfall in the country. This waterfall originates in the river Fossá and flows into Þjorsá, which is the longest river in Iceland.
Plummeting from a jagged, rocky cliff face into a dramatic river gorge, Háifoss is a thin but powerful waterfall that is particularly photogenic throughout the summer and autumn months, when it is surrounded by colourful vegetation and delicate wildflowers. Wide angle shots here portray the sheer immensity of the waterfall itself, framed by rocks teetering along the edges of the cliffs.
Though somewhat difficult to reach unless you have a 4WD vehicle, a visit to Háifoss for landscape photography can be particularly rewarding, as you’ll also have the chance to photograph the Granni waterfall that sits almost right next to it! Translated to mean ‘neighbour’, Granni is a great subject when paired with Háifoss. Panorama photography here is a must, in order to capture the two flowing together into the depths of the canyon below.
However, the best thing about this location for photography is that you don’t need to be there during any particular time such as sunrise, sunset or the golden hours. If you’re lucky enough to be there during a sunny day, then you’ll be in for a treat. The angle of the sun combined with the mist and spray thrown forth by both Háifoss and Granni will inevitably produce rainbows!
- See also: Haifoss is More Than Just One Waterfall
#4 - Blahylur & Ljotipollur
The stunning blue crater lakes of Bláhlyur and Ljótipollur in the Icelandic Highlands. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.
It may not seem very interesting from the road but the crater lake of Bláhlyur (also known as ‘Hnausapollur’) is well worth making a stop for in the central Highlands. Situated in the lake area of Veiðivötn, the name ‘Bláhylur’ translates to mean ‘the blue lake’ and you’ll see why as soon as you get closer.
A short walk along the rocks will take you up to the edge of this explosion crater, which offers magnificent views of the glittering, vivid blue water below. It’s a truly spectacular sight, framed by mountains all around.
Right behind Bláhlyur is another explosion crater called Ljótipollur. Though this one translates to mean ‘the ugly puddle’, it is far from being unsightly. Ljótipollur’s impressive red slopes contrast perfectly with its sparkling water within.
The two craters side by side in the Highlands of Iceland are a breathtaking location for panorama and wide angle photography. It is best to visit in the evenings during sunset, when the sky above can take on passionate hues of pink and red.
This is a great place for aerial and drone photography in Iceland. Far away from the crowds and with few obstacles about, you’ll be able to practice flying your drone safely and comfortably. Getting up high above Bláhlyur and Ljótipollur can also give you a very different perspective of the landscape.
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#3 - Landmannalaugar
Landmannalaugar is a photographer's paradise. Photo by: 'Iceland Photo Tours'.
Have you ever wanted to go to Mars? A day tour to Landmannalaugar is probably as close as you’ll get to something that resembles a Martian landscape. Situated within the Fjallabak Nature Reserve, this remote region in Iceland’s southern Highlands seems out-of-this-world with its colourful rhyolite mountains, steaming hot springs, bubbling mud pots and haunting volcanoes looming in the distance, making Landmannalaugar a true photographer's paradise.
An easy hike from the Landmannalaugar camping ground will take you up the volcano Bláhnúkur, where you’ll have a beautiful panoramic view over the valley. If you’re up for hiking deeper into the surrounds, then there are a number of trails and an abundance of spectacular compositions in Landmannalaugar just waiting to be discovered.
- See also: Private Landmannalaugar Photo Tour
Summer is the best time to visit Landmannalaugar. Photo by: 'Iceland Photo Tours'.
No two photos of this place are ever the same and the area is so vast that it would take years to capture its beauty in all the best light. It’s a landscape photographer’s playground, with spectacular rock formations juxtaposed by expansive lava fields amidst lush green moss and other vegetation. The mineral-rich mountain slopes shimmer with glorious tones in the golden hours, creating a magical tone in all of your photos. Of particular note are the snow-capped mountain ridges, which can take on the familiar sight of vanilla and chocolate ice-cream!
The long summer days in Iceland are wonderful for exploring the ruggedly enchanting landscape of Landmannalaugar. At the end of a hard day of photography, you can even head down from the mountains to the campsite and relax in a natural geothermal bathing pool. What could be better than that?
#2 - Kerlingarfjoll & Hveravellir
The steamy geothermal ridges of Kerlingarfjöll. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.
The Kerlingarfjöll mountain range in the central Highlands of Iceland is a geothermal area that offers extensive opportunities for landscape photography. Volcanic activity is evident from the moment that you arrive, with steaming rivers, bubbling mud pots, hot springs and fumaroles seething forth from the ground.
This location is best known for its spectacular rhyolite mountains, which offer amazing vantage points to photograph the surroundings. Hiking trails and wooden boardwalks snake their way across the perilous ridges, giving you the chance to capture your fellow hikers swathed in curls of steam as they walk along the trail, imparting a sense of scale to the landscape in your images.
Hveravellir is a photogenic hot spring area in the Highlands. Photo by: 'Iceland Photo Tours'.
Nearby, between the Langjökull and Hofsjökull glaciers, you will find Hveravellir – one of the most fascinating places for landscape photography in all of Iceland. Its boiling aquamarine hot springs are an otherworldly sight, surrounded by multicoloured sinters and cracked mud.
The hot springs themselves are sorted by colours; Bláihver meaning the blue hot spring, Grænihver being the green hot spring, and Rauðihver the red hot spring. They are all astonishingly photogenic though especially hot, reaching up to almost 100°C, so be sure not to get too close when you’re lining up the money shot.
For your own safety, heed the warning signs and always stay on the marked paths, which also serve to protect the fragile landscape and wildlife.
#1 - Sigoldugljufur
Sigöldugljúfur is one of the most photogenic canyons in all of Iceland. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.
The top spot on this list of 7 must see landscape photography locations in the Icelandic Highlands goes to Sigöldugljúfur! Nicknamed the ‘Valley of Tears’, this lush, moss-covered canyon is perhaps the most amazing hidden treasure in Iceland, where countless waterfalls flow over steep cliffs into an electric blue river below.
Collectively, the waterfalls are known as ‘Lekafossar’ and while they used to feed the river Tungnaá, the area has since been transformed into a reservoir for the nearby hydroelectric power plant. However, this does not detract from the canyon’s beauty at all.
The greatest thing about Sigöldugljúfur is that it is a little visited place that yields some of the most stunning photos beneath the extraordinary light of the Midnight Sun, particularly when the clouds in the sky are tainted with spectacular hues of red and pink.
You’ll have to stay up late to capture this moment though and there is no camping nearby, so make sure that you’re well-organised with accommodation options before you head out to this location. It is most definitely off the beaten track without facilities and there are no signposts or directions beyond a service road that belongs to the power plant. All of these factors combined make it one of the best waterfalls for photography in Iceland!
About the author: Serena Dzenis is a landscape photographer based in Iceland. You can find more of her work on her website or by following her on Facebook and Instagram.
Now that you’ve got our 7 best locations for landscape photography in the Icelandic Highlands, it’s time to start planning your trip to see them! Join our 6 Day Camping Photo Workshop, Þórsmörk Photography Day Tour or 13 Day Photo Workshop of the Highlands & South Coast that will take you to these spectacular places and more.
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