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The wild and beautiful Vestrahorn mountain on the Stokksnes peninsula in Iceland makes for incredible landscape photography all year round. This extraordinary scree mountain, which has been nicknamed 'Batman Mountain' by the locals, overlooks the roaring waves of the Atlantic Ocean, making for truly enchanting and moody scenes.
The dramatic peaks of this spiky mountain reach 454 metres high into the sky. At its base is a glorious black sand beach filled with undulating sand dunes and coastal vegetation that provides a stark contrast to the mountain when covered in snow. As the waves roll in, you can even capture a reflection of Vestrahorn as the water stays atop the sand for a few seconds, before drawing back out to the sea and seeping into the sand below.
A reliable camera
Wide angle lens
Graduated neutral density filters
Neutral density filters
In the typical large vistas that you will see in this area, an ultra wide lens will be your first weapon of choice, giving the viewer a bird’s eye view of the grand scene. However, if you have been to this place multiple times, or are tired of similar compositions made by the many photographers who post in various social networking and/or photography sites, you might want to explore going beyond the norm. Using a different lens or simply moving forward, moving backward, either by foot or by zoom will enable you to create compositions that are uniquely your own.
While filters are not completely necessary, you can use graduated neutral density filters to help you balance out the exposure in the foreground and the sky. This means that you'll be able to spend less time bracketing. When you can, it's always better to get a single, well-exposed shot, as opposed to having to combine two images (one exposed for the foreground and one exposed for the sky) in post-production later on.
Lupines in Bloom at Vestrahorn. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.
The benefit of using a neutral density filter at Vestrahorn is that you can create drawn out movement effects in the clouds, or blur the motion of the puddles and pools at its base to create beautiful reflections.
As it can get very windy along the Stokksnes peninsula, you'll want to use a tripod when photographing Vestrahorn in order to minimise camera shake. Of course, you can always handhold your shots here, but it will be rather difficult in the wind.
The conditions around Vestrahorn can change dramatically in a very short period of time, so you'll need to keep adjusting your settings as you go. However, in general, it's best to use an aperture of somewhere between f/11 and f/16 to ensure that everything is sharp and in focus from the front of your frame to the back.Reflections of Vestrahorn. Photo by: 'Edwin Martinez'.
If you'll be using a tripod, then to minimise image noise, set your ISO as low as it can go. Most cameras go down to 100, though some cameras can go down to 50. For those who will be handholding their cameras, you'll need to boost your ISO up to between 400-800, in order to achieve a fast enough shutter speed that will minimise shake.
Speaking of shutter speeds, what you use will depend largely upon the creative effects that you want to achieve. To capture the scene as it is, use a faster shutter speed such as 1/125 or 1/160th of a second. This will pretty much freeze-frame everything around you. However, to create dreamy effects in the clouds or to blur ripples in the puddles in the undulating black sand dunes, you'll need to use a slower shutter speed for longer exposures. Try somewhere between 30 seconds to a few minutes. There is a lot to photograph at Vestrahorn, so it's a good time to experiment.
As we mentioned earlier, this mountain is nicknamed the 'Batman Mountain', for its silhouette which resembles the comic superhero himself. To capture the perfect image of it, we suggest using an ultra wide lens and focusing on foreground elements, such as cracks in the icy pools at its base or patterns within the sand dunes themselves. Also, explore with your feet, not just by planting your tripod in the one position! When you move around, you’ll find new and exciting compositions that you won’t usually see when you stand in only one spot.
Patterns in the Ice at Vestrahorn. Photo by: 'Edwin Martinez'.
There are many different ways that you can compose with these beautiful peaks in the background, though it often looks best when reflected in pools of water. Luckily for you, there are often puddles and ponds at the base of this mountain, so be sure to walk around and explore every single one.
When shooting at Vestrahorn, it's best to start with a wide angle lens and then to move forwards, making a tighter shot that showcases the mountain itself. You can then deliver a “fine art” appeal using layers, symmetry via the reflections, and the glow of sunset light hitting the peaks at just the right moment.
If the tide is coming in to shore when you visit, then be careful while you're shooting at the beach. Long exposure shots work well from there, particularly when the water leaves a glassy reflection all along the shoreline. However, the waves can come up quite high and they have a strong pull, meaning that you can find yourself at risk of submersion very quickly.
Horse Riding at Vestrahorn. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.
You've most likely heard of the phrases “chase the light” or “hunt for the light”. In landscape photography, it's all about being at the best places at the right times to capture the glorious conditions that can transform a scene from the mundane into something fascinating. Sunrise or sunset is usually the best time to practice photography, but how do you transform your visions of these moments into reality?
The never ending quest for landscape glory starts and ends with a favourable weather forecast, it does not always have to be fantastic reds oranges, and yellows blasting through the horizon, rather the right setting of mood which compliments the artist’s vision, whether it be fine light, moody overcast skies, monochrome, or mid-day infrared photography.
In the image of Vestrahorn below, you can see that it is absolutely bathed in golden light. This photo was taken in the transition period between golden hour and sunset, when you'll often see the very best light.
Reflection in the Tide Pool. Photo by: 'Edwin Martinez'.
Often when shooting in a place like Vestrahorn, you'll need to wait for the wind to calm down to make use of the reflections in the surrounding tide pools. There is usually no guarantee that either the wind or the light will cooperate. However, that's the beauty of landscape photography! Always remember to plan your vision through potential and not by limitation. If you choose the latter, you might end up walking back to the car before nature rewards you. It’s worth the wait!
During the summer months from June to August, Iceland experiences a phenomenon known as the 'Midnight Sun', when there are near 24 hours of daylight. This is the most popular time of year for people to visit Vestrahorn, so your best bet for landscape photography at this iconic location is to get there around the golden hours, from late in the night until the early morning. As such, you'll be shooting at the best time of the day, while most other people will already be in bed.
The Midnight Sun gives you hours upon hours to shoot at Vestrahorn. Photo by: 'Unsplash'.
Autumn is a wonderful time of year to photograph Vestrahorn, when the weather is cooler and the mountain experiences its first snowfalls. The surrounding vegetation can also take on beautiful shades of orange, red and gold as they make the transition towards winter.
Vestrahorn is perhaps at its most photogenic during the winter months, from November until March. The surrounding landscape takes on an ethereal atmosphere when swathed in a layer of pristine white snow, with the potential to use cracks within the frozen puddles at its base in a myriad of interesting foregrounds. Be wary of where you step when visiting Vestrahorn during the winter though, as it can be slippery and icy. Your best bet will be to wear crampons for safety.
You've probably guessed already that Vestrahorn is an absolutely spectacular place to photograph the Northern Lights as they dance gracefully through the night sky. If you plan to shoot the Aurora Borealis at this incredible mountain, then it's best to visit during autumn, spring or winter in Iceland. This will ensure that the night sky will be dark enough to show the activity of the Northern Lights, though you'll still need to keep an eye open for any cloud cover over the mountain, which can obscure your view.
Northern Lights over Vestrahorn. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.
It also pays to go on a night when the moon is full behind you, so that you'll have some sort of light to illuminate the fascinating foregrounds that the wonderful area surrounding Vestrahorn is well known for!
If you have trouble seeing in the dark, then it may be useful to scout out the mountain and its surrounds during the day. That way, you'll know exactly where you want to stand for your shots when you return in the middle of the night to photograph the Aurora Borealis.
While we often suggest that you try photographing locations in bad weather for dramatic and moody effects, Vestrahorn is an exception to that case. The reason is that bad weather is often accompanied by clouds. Low-lying clouds at Vestrahorn are a landscape photographer's worst enemy, as they will often completely shroud the peaks. While a little bit of cloud can make for a nice atmosphere, too much cloud will make landscape photography at Vestrahorn close to impossible to undertake.
Vestrahorn is a beautiful place for photography but the peaks can be hidden by clouds! Photo by: 'Unsplash'.
Vestrahorn is located on the south east coast of Iceland, near the town of Höfn. Coming from the Ring Road, drive east past Höfn and there will be an unmarked gravel road on the right after about 7km, just before the tunnel. Follow that road for about 5km and you will reach the breathtaking peaks of Vestrahorn.
There is an entry fee of 800ISK to be paid upon arrival to access the gravel path that leads to this beautiful mountain. During the day, you can simply enter the cafe and pay for a ticket, which you then insert into the machine controlling the boom gate to the road. After hours, you can use a credit card to obtain a ticket from the ticket machine outside the cafe. Once you have your ticket, there is no time limit as to how long you can spend on the beach.
Make the most out of photographing the beautiful scenes around Vestrahorn on this 14 Day Circle of Iceland adventure! Learn new techniques in-field and take your photography skills to the next level.