A lot of the time, when we photograph the landscape, our aim is to capture it in such a way that it appears pristine and untouched. In fact, some photographers go to great lengths trying not to include people in their shots, sometimes waiting for long periods of time, creating ultra-long exposures of up to 30 minutes during the day, or even asking for people to move out of view.
How many times have you groaned when somebody in a yellow or a red jacket stood with their arms outstretched in front of the scene that you were trying to photograph?
Well, what if we told you now that adding a human element might sometimes be what’s needed to create truly incredible landscape photographs of Iceland? Scoffing aside, let’s take a look at five reasons why you should add people to your landscape photos when you’re shooting in Iceland!
A person wanders over a mountain ridge in Landmannalaugar. Photo by: 'Iceland Photo Tours'.
More often than not, when we go on holiday, we tend to spend a lot of time documenting our experiences through photography. It’s easy to just point and shoot, without taking much else into account. We’ve all been guilty of it but what we sometimes fail to imagine is how boring it can be for someone to flick through hundreds of the same type of photographs.
The truth is that great landscape photos of Iceland require a bit more thought and it’s often when photographers harness their creative ability to tell stories through their photographs that they’ll find their audience captivated.
Adding a person into your landscape photography of Iceland can help you to tell a story through your images. The person might add a sense of adventure, creating questions within your audience.
Who is that person? What are they doing? Why were they in Iceland?
These are all questions that will engage your audience and add value to your photos.
A glacier guide poses with an ice pick deep within an ice cave. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.
For example, if the person is standing within a crystal blue ice cave and has a backpack or an ice pick, then the viewer may imagine that some sort of adrenaline-inducing activity or exploration is in progress. The person could be someone on an adventure during their visit to Iceland, or they may even be a glacier guide, exploring the depths of the Earth.
The underlying message that is being conveyed with such a photograph is that Iceland is a place for exploring. The story being told is that nature is bigger than man and the beauty of an ice cave is extraordinary.
A girl wanders towards the Black Church of Budir on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.
Another way of adding a person into your photographs for storytelling is to have them appear to be moving towards a subject in the distance. In the image above, the person is wandering on a path towards a small house or church in the distance, barefoot and exuding a sense of freedom and joy.
However you choose to place a person within your photo, if they fit in with the composition, then they will inevitably draw the viewer into the photo. In turn, this allows you to use the surrounding landscape to successfully tell a creative story of Iceland.
When you add a person into your photos of Iceland, it can help to balance your composition and make it more aesthetically pleasing to the eye. There's nothing worse than looking at a photo and feeling lopsided in some sense, due to the fact that it hasn't been composed properly.
Consider this photo of Vestrahorn below, with an equestrian placed within the middle ground, making tracks through the reflection of the mountain as she heads closer towards it on the beach.
Riding towards the peaks of Vestrahorn. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.
Placing a person in the foreground, or mid-way into your scene, can help you to create a sense of depth in your image.
In this case, it also balances out the composition, with the right-leaning mountain culminating in a subject actively moving left from the right side of the frame, in towards the scene. The result is that the equestrian draws the viewer into the image.
Without the equestrian being placed in the right quarter of the frame, Vestrahorn may seem to lean too much towards the edge of the frame, causing the majority of the image to feel heavy and unbalanced.
So while you're in Iceland, if you have the opportunity to position the person within your frame, then take care to place them in such a way that works. You’ll want them to face inwards to the middle of the frame, rather than out, creating a point of interest that allows the viewer’s eye to explore the image.
If the person is facing out of your frame, then it can cause the viewer’s eye to roam outside of the image, making for an unbalanced composition and a sense of discomfort.
Following the rule of thirds works well, particularly if the person faces in towards an expansive space.
When you take a photo of the landscape in Iceland, it can sometimes be so grand and so expansive that it’s impossible for your viewer to have any sense of scale. Mountains might seem larger than life or even smaller than you’d hoped for by the time they finally translate into a photograph.
To successfully demonstrate the size and scope of the landscape in Iceland, sometimes it’s necessary to place people into the scene. This gives the brain a frame of reference with which to understand the surroundings.
Lost in the Kerlingarfjoll mountain range. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.
Take this example, of a person walking along the ridgeline of a rhyolite mountain in the colourful Kerlingarfjöll area of the Icelandic Highlands. This mountain range is approximately 1477 metres in height, which is nearly impossible to convey without some form of reference.
By placing a person within the frame, or focusing on people who might already be wandering within your frame, you can effectively demonstrate how epic nature really is.
The image below is another example of great use of a person for scale in the north of Iceland. The steam is rising up from ground, towering in columns over the person, making humankind seem like ants on the surface of the Earth.
A person standing amongst the giant steam vents at Namafjall in North Iceland. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.
Having someone within your frame, performing some type of activity, is a perfect example of how a person can help you to create a more dramatic landscape photo in Iceland. It can convey mood, allow the viewer to understand the temperature or weather conditions, and even help to immerse them within the landscape, effectively making them feel as though they have visited Iceland themselves.
Overlooking the glacial river plains of Landmannalaugar in the Highlands. Photo by: 'Iceland Photo Tours'.
Take this photo above of a person overlooking the glacial river plains of Landmannalaugar in the Icelandic Highlands. Standing at the edge of the cliff conveys a sense of vastness of the entire area. Even the position in which the person is standing expresses information to the viewer, making them seem like they are one person standing steadfast against the rest of the world.
On the other hand, in the image below, there is a person aiming to take a picture of an iceberg at the Diamond Beach, bracing themselves against the movement of the waves around their feet. You can sense the motion of the water as it curls around the iceberg in the foreground, with a leading line created by the white crests of the waves swirling down from the person in the background. There is a feeling of danger, exhilaration and awe conveyed by an image like this.
Getting feet wet to capture the icebergs at the Diamond Beach in Iceland. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.
To create your own drama while in Iceland, try silhouetting someone against a sunset or some other kind of backlit scene. You can even photograph people interacting with the landscape, such as when they are walking through it or photographing it themselves.
As you can see, even the simplest of landscapes in Iceland can become even more interesting and exciting when you add a person or two to the image.
How many waterfalls are there in Iceland? There are over 200 and all of them are beautiful. When you look at enough photos of waterfalls though, they all start to look the same. It won’t be long before that amazing waterfall that you photographed in Iceland becomes “just another waterfall”.
So how do you capture a photo of a waterfall in Iceland without making it seem like all of the others? By placing a person into the scene, of course!
There are so many people doing this at Skogafoss waterfall that it'll be easy for you to find a subject! Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.
Successful landscape photos of Iceland all have a focal point that gives the viewer’s eye a place to rest and which holds their attention. This focal point becomes a point of interest that changes an otherwise boring and nondescript landscape into a stunning scene that captivates the viewer.
Adding a person into your waterfall photos of Iceland can sometimes make for much more interesting images. It can also balance out negative space in the foreground when the waterfall is thundering behind and give a sense of scale as to the size of the waterfall itself.
As a focal point, the person in your image may be used as the subject of your scene, or just a way to complement the landscape. You can even use yourself within the scene by placing your camera on a tripod, setting the timer and running into place. However, if you’re shooting at a popular location for photography in Iceland such as the Skógafoss or Seljalandsfoss waterfalls, then adding people into your landscape image may be very easy. Just find someone who looks interesting and start clicking away.
Overlooking the Valley of Thor. Photo by: 'Max Rive'.
Many times in Iceland, the landscapes that you photograph will be powerful and amazing enough to stand out on their own. However, if you start feeling like your images need a little more help to make them interesting, then look for opportunities to add a human element to personalise the scenes.
Doing so will allow you to describe your own experience of travelling through Iceland, as you photograph all of its epic sights and immerse yourself within the arctic landscape. You may be surprised at the difference that having a person within your landscape photographs makes, especially when you finally get around to looking back on your time in Iceland.
What other kinds of landscape scenarios in Iceland do you think would benefit from adding a person to create a more interesting image? Have you used this method effectively when you’ve been photographing in Iceland? Leave your ideas and comments in the section below!