Northern Lights. Photo by: 'Siggi'.

Interview with Sigurður William Brynjarsson

Verified Expert

Londrangar. Photo by: 'Siggi'.

As with all subjects, theory combined with creativity is what leads to innovation. That said, to produce truly great photography, one must understand the art and science behind it.

For Iceland Photo Tours guide Sigurður William Brynjarsson, photography isn’t just about the practice itself, but in connecting with others and being closer to nature. Born and raised in Iceland, this Viking spends his days devising new ways to top each and every one of his existing shots.

A published author, he has written a book on photographing the Northern Lights and is an accomplished educator, having conducted numerous photography workshops in Iceland since the beginning of 2012. This month, we sat down with Siggi to discuss the philosophy behind his work, as well as how to make it in the landscape photography workshop world today.

Hello Siggi! Thanks for chatting with us today. Do you have any formal training in photography?

Halló! I am completely self-taught in photography and have learnt all of my technical knowledge through research, experimentation and by pushing my own creativity. Even these days with technology advancements and trends in photography constantly evolving, I still look for ways to continue to learn and develop my craft – drone photography is a great example of this.

I was also fortunate enough to have some great mentors early on, refining my skills based on their feedback. Throughout my career as a photographer, I have continued to seek feedback on my work, although I am probably my own toughest critic – once I feel that I am perfect, it is probably time to find something else to do!

Kirkjufell. Photo by: 'Siggi'.Kirkjufell. Photo by: 'Siggi'.

How would you describe your approach to landscape photography?

Every time I’m out shooting, I like to first take some time to really observe the scene. I consider both the big picture and the small details. I watch the light and shadows, and I observe movement in water or the sky. I look for an interesting composition and if I am at a location I have shot at previously, then I will challenge myself to find a new direction.

For example, I might change perspective by getting low to the ground, shooting with a really shallow depth of field, or find a place to launch my drone. This approach challenges me to slow down and be thoughtful about what story and mood I want my photograph to capture, which brings out the best in my work.

Of course, you will also find my landscape photography includes a combination of fundamental photography techniques, with some of my favourites being having a focal point that anchors the photo, using leading lines, including an interesting foreground to add depth, and the use of symmetry such as through reflections.

Are you perpetually out and about to find new locations to photograph? 

The vast landscapes, breathtaking coastlines and elusive Northern Lights of Iceland make this a photographer’s wonderland, and my passion lies in photographing this paradise and sharing its beauty. I am always on the lookout for new and interesting landscapes to shoot as I travel around.

Of course, it does help to do some research on Google of the area you’re going to as well!

Silhouette. Photo by: 'Siggi'.Silhouette. Photo by: 'Siggi'.

What is your favourite season for landscape photography and why? 

I am torn when it comes to choosing just one season because for Iceland, it would have to be both mid-summer and late winter.

During summer in Iceland, the country experiences the natural phenomenon of the Midnight Sun.  For photographers, this means that the sunsets can last for hours, followed immediately by a sunrise, making for incredible displays of colourful skies.

Alternatively, in winter we have excellent conditions to shoot the phenomenal Ice Caves and chase the Northern Lights – which is personally one of my favourite activities to do!

Northern Lights. Photo by: 'Siggi'.Northern Lights. Photo by: 'Siggi'.

Your run photography holidays and you personally guide some workshops for Iceland Photo Tours. Can you really teach someone how to be a good photographer? 

Our workshops are designed to develop the photography skills of all clients, and so we attract clients across all skill levels from beginner to professional. Some clients will join a workshop with basic knowledge and need guidance with everything from camera settings to composition. Others are self-sufficient, needing little technical direction from the guide but rather wanting the comfort of having a professional available in Iceland’s iconic locations to ensure they maximise their chances of getting great shots.

Regardless of their ability, the beauty of small groups workshops is that our clients are provided with support and guidance personalised to their individual needs and will return home a better photographer than when they left.

Ice Cave. Photo by: 'Siggi'.Ice Cave. Photo by: 'Siggi'.

What are the benefits and disadvantages of being part of a photography team? 

I have a hard time finding disadvantages. Photography is a journey and you’re always learning something new. I am a firm believer that you should surround yourself with likeminded people as you always pick up something new along the way.
How do you sell yourself to potential clients? What are your unique selling points? 

I use social media to reach people and for advertisement. I also rely heavily on my reputation, as well as reviews on TripAdvisor which pretty much sell me to future clients. I offer small group tours that are highly customisable to every clients needs, whether they are hobbyists or serious photographers.

Ice Cave. Photo by: 'Siggi'.Ice Cave. Photo by: 'Siggi'.

Describe the teaching methods you have found useful with your photography students. 

I think it’s very important to understand the basics of how a camera works – for example what Exposure, Aperture and ISO do. Once people understand that, they can apply that knowledge to different situations and along with a good composition everything comes together.

The other important aspect of teaching is to make sure students stay motivated to keep shooting while they are learning, as it can be initially overwhelming. However, continuing to practice is what makes great photographers. I always make sure that my students have fun along the way, offer lots of encouragement/feedback and celebrate their wins!

Puffin. Photo by: 'Siggi'.Puffin. Photo by: 'Siggi'.

What is the most unpredictable thing about the photography business? 

You never know what kind of clients you will get so you really have to be understanding and patient, a people person, and to be able to handle what this business throws at you.
Nowadays almost everyone has access to devices with which it is possible to take pictures. What do you think is the difference between a professional photographer and any other hobby photographer? 

We all have to start somewhere and we never know where the road might lead us. Some think phone photography is beneath them but honestly, I often use the phone to explore interesting frames and if I find them, I bring the big camera for a higher quality image.

Diamond Ice Beach. Photo by: 'Siggi'.Diamond Ice Beach. Photo by: 'Siggi'.

How has photography transformed you as a human being? What are the key differences that you can identify in yourself before and after you began taking photographs? 

Beforehand I didn’t really notice much about my surroundings. Since taking up photography, I have learned how to be present in the moment, and as a result have become much more aware of nature – as well as the importance of preserving it for coming generations to enjoy too.

Aurora Borealis. Photo by: 'Siggi'.Aurora Borealis. Photo by: 'Siggi'.

What advice do you have for someone who says they want to pursue a career in photography? Is there a key to making a name for yourself? 

There is no shortcut to success in any field – including photography – but my top tips would be:

  • Experiment to find your passion and develop your own personal photographic style that can help to set you apart. From this you can build a strong portfolio of images.

  • Market yourself – build a website and/or be active on Social Media platforms.

  • Have a solid foundation in managing a business.

  • There is ALWAYS something new to learn in photography, so keep yourself updated with technology and techniques.

  • You’re only as good as your last photo so go out there and start photographing!!!

Finally, who are you when no one is looking at you?

I see myself as an artist with the desire to preserve the memories of my beautiful surroundings.

For more information on Siggi's work, check out his website or follow him on Instagram!

Join Siggi on a winter photography tour in Iceland!