Although the main attractions in Iceland—for both tourism and photography—are natural wonders, one should not overlook the role that history and the people play. The island has a rich history which reaches back to the settlement in the ninth century.
Up until the early 20th century, Iceland was mainly an agricultural society where most people lived on farms. Along the coastline, only a few clusters of houses formed tiny communities, mainly as trading posts or fishing stations. These were usually set up in a location where rich fishing grounds with abundant stock of cod, halibut, or other species were easily accessible.
The town of Siglufjörður in the northern region in Iceland is one such town; its development accelerated from the 1930s up to the '60s in the last century, which made it exceptional in regard to the flora of the approximately 60 towns and villages around the coastline. At that time, it became one of the most populated areas in Iceland.
Siglufjörður is located at the foot of a mountain slope in a narrow, small fjord which has the same name as the town in the northern region. The landscape is captivating, as the fjord is surrounded by steep mountains on the west and the east side, as well as the bottom. For centuries, it was an isolated place only accessible from the sea – except for a few weeks in the summer months when a mountain pass, Siglufjarðarskarð, was opened.
Even after it was open to cars from 1946, it was impossible to drive there during the winter. These days, you can drive through a tunnel on the west side from Skagafjörður fjord and continue eastwards through a new tunnel to Ólafsfjörður fjord.
The location at the tip of the large Tröllaskagi (Troll Peninsula) facing the ice-cold Arctic Ocean makes it even more interesting, as the drive to Siglufjörður from both sides is quite scenic. It is truly a town where you can combine landscape and architecture photography, with several interesting old houses and factory buildings being situated in Siglufjörður.
You can still see some remains from the time of the herring frenzy. Photo by: 'Einar Pàll Svavarsson'.
Since Iceland is a young country in geological terms, it doesn’t have any valuable minerals like gold, diamonds, or oil for that matter. Instead, the country's natural resources are comprised of water and the fish stock around the island. Accordingly, we have never had anything resembling the gold rush or oil tycoons in Iceland, except when we chased the ocean’s silver – the herring.
In the late 1930s and up until the '60s, one of the first prerequisites to find and accumulate wealth in Iceland was based on the herring. It was also at a time when urbanisation was in its early stages. In those conditions, when the humongous herring stock filled the fjord right at the doorstep of this small town in the north, Siglufjörður became the centre of the herring frenzy and exploded economically.
In a short time, mainly during the spring and summer, it became the most populated place on the island, as the demand for herring was high in many countries. However, since the 1970s and up until the 21st century, Siglufjörður has shrunk back to a struggling small town, so it has gone through some difficult stages.
The Herring Museum in Siglufjörður. Photo by: 'Einar Páll Svavarsson'.
These days, Siglufjörður has recovered economically and is a joy to visit.
From a photographic viewpoint, the summer is more interesting than winter.
The most interesting time for the golden hour is during the second half of June and first weeks of July, when sunset and sunrise merge at the mouth of the fjord. Then, during the day, the sun is quite high and shines on the town until the afternoon.
In a fjord like Siglufjörður, following the best light can be tricky, as the fjord is narrow and the mountains steep. In the afternoon and even during the entire night (keep in mind that here we have daylight for 24 hours during summer), the fjord is often quite calm, displaying optimal conditions for reflections. With this premise, the old houses, the remains from the herring frenzy, the boats, harbour, and the town itself become ideal spots for taking photos.
The old houses and the fjord are of interest to photographers. Photo by: 'Einar Páll Svavarsson'.
During the winter on the other hand, the sun is quite low, the mountains are covered with snow, and the weather is much more unpredictable. But for those who come to Iceland for winter photography, it is also an excellent place for both freezing motives and the Northern Lights. So if you are interested in combining history, towns and villages with landscape photography, Siglufjörður is a place you should take into account when planning a tour to Iceland.
See the best of the north on this 11 Day Northern Lights Photo Workshop around Iceland, during which you'll chase the Northern Lights across this stunning winter landscape!