The Colourful Mountains of Landmannalaugar are a Photographers’ Paradise

The Colourful Mountains of Landmannalaugar are a Photographers’ Paradise

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There are several places in Iceland where you can capture a fascinating landscape — landforms and natural wonders that display stunning motifs and give you unique photos. From the coastline up to the mountains, there are a variety of places and natural gems to photograph all over this volcanically active island. But of all the landscape flora we have in Iceland, some places are still more interesting than others. These places are packed with ingredients for the perfect photo and seem to call out to the camera at every step you take. One such place is Landmannalaugar. Located in the Icelandic Highlands, it is a unique spot when it comes to geology and landforms and, together with its spectacular surroundings, is one of the most picturesque places in Iceland for photographers.

Landmannalaugar GrænagilThe mountains Norðurbarmur and the Green Gully are iconic places in Landmannalaugar. Photo by: 'Einar Páll Svavarsson'.

Why Are the Mountains in Iceland so Colourful?

Most of the volcanic systems in Iceland are similar when it comes to the magma — the force that delivers the lava and building material for the new landscape. On the other hand, Torfajökull caldera, the volcanic system that produced all the colourful mountains and landscapes around Landmannalaugar, is different compared to most other volcanic systems, due to the high acid level in its magma.

This is a volcanic system with magma that contains rhyolite, the material that defines these colourful mountains. It is a volcanic system that has moulded and formed these mountains over thousands of years... a volcano that has erupted infinite times and eventually collapsed. Combined with other forces, such as erosion and geothermal activity, nature created the stunning mountains and landforms that we see in Landmannalaugar today. It is important to understand this time factor because man has only been able to travel in this area for the last few decades.

Hnausapollur crater with a small lake at the bottomHnausapollur crater. Photo by: 'Einar Páll Svavarsson'.

For photography, the mountains offer inexhaustible numbers of motifs and places to visit. In Landmannalaugar, several hiking paths take you to the top of various mountains and give you many opportunities to take stunning photos. In addition, you can travel for days into the caldera southeast of Landmannalaugar, which is situated in a magical area of colourful mountains. But do remember that such tours require serious hiking and are only possible with a highly competent and knowledgeable guide; the hiking is quite difficult and can take three to five days.

The Many Other Aspects to be Photographed

Other places on the planet, such as Peru and China, also have colourful mountains. What makes Landmannalaugar and the area around the Torfajökull caldera so unique is a combination of many other factors.

For instance, the area is packed with hot springs and geothermal activity—boiling clay and smoking hot springs that not only add colour but also often contribute to both the foreground and background in a photo. The same is true for the many kinds of rock formation and cliffs in the area.

Landmannalaugar colourful mountainsA view to the mountains in the Torfajökull caldera in late September. Photo by: 'Einar Páll Svavarsson'.

The lava from recent eruptions, in historical times, is often different than the ancient lava and lends the landscape the visual experience that photographers love to convey. This also applies to the many craters formed in those eruptions, sometimes with turquoise blue lakes at the bottom, like in the case of Hnausapollur and Ljótipollur.

Between the colourful mountain ranges, you'll often find amazing canyons and valleys with small ponds or crystal clear streams of spring-fed water, along with some vegetation. These landforms present an opportunity to use filters to enhance the photographic outcome.

As Torfajökull is a glacier (the glacier that gives the volcanic system its name), you will also find glacial rivers that add to the colour when photographing from the mountain tops. Even during the summer, snowflakes from the winter won't melt, and the colourful mountains are often dusted with snow during summer.

The Weather and Daylight Factor

Landmannalaugar and the mountains around this natural wonder are covered with snow for nine months every year; all white and sealed in the paw of King Winter. So the opportunity to stroll the colourful mountains with a camera is only open from the middle of June until the middle of September.

A view to the colourful Torfajokull glacier and caldera
In the middle: Skalli - a part of one of the more difficult but rewarding hiking trails. Photo by: 'Einar Páll Svavarsson'.

The area is also deep in the Icelandic Highlands. In addition, the altitude ranges from 550 meters up to 1000 meters and requires a 4X4 vehicle for initial access.

This is an area that is almost never particularly warm. On a clear day, the temperature can go up to 12 to 14°C, but is around 8 to 10°C most of the time during summer. But here’s some good news, daylight in that time period lasts from 16 to 24 hours. And because the sunset is slower so far up north, the golden hour can last for an hour or more.

Vegetation also adds to the coloursA small waterfall and vegetation of díamosi moss in Vondugil valley. Photo by: 'Einar Páll Svavarsson'.

Another interesting fact is that there are only a few hours from the sunset golden hour to the sunrise golden hour. These are some of the things that every photographer needs to understand and plan for when visiting Landmannalaugar.

It is also important for everyone who travels and hikes around the area, for photography and otherwise, to understand the sensitivity of the soil and the land. It is a rough but sensitive place.

Prepare Your Tour to Landmannalaugar

For anyone interested in visiting Landmannalaugar for photography, preparation is crucial. A one-day visit is a good idea to get a sense of the area. You can find many interesting opportunities by hiking along some of the most popular hiking tracks. Later, if you are entranced by the place, you can come back after a good preparation. And you can always take a tour with us at Iceland Photo Tours.

About the Author: Einar Páll Svavarsson is a landscape photographer based in Iceland. You can find more of his work on his website, or by following him on 500px.

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