How to photograph ice beach in Iceland.

Breiðamerkursandur, popularly known otherwise to visitors as the Jokulsarlon ice beach is one of the most amazing photography spots on the South Coast of Iceland. Where else in the world would there be glacier ice cubes polished like diamonds on a Black Sand Beach. In this article, we will show you how you can take beautiful photos of ice beach like a Pro. But before we begin, let us provide you with some information on safety:

  • Waders / Over Shoes / Rubber Boots  and Waterproof Pants are a must. The waters are cold, stay dry and warm.
  • Arrive early and observe the strength of the waves, it is best to scout the area and find out if you are shooting approaching high tide or low tide as they interact with the swells of the water.
  • Do not stand directly in front of any big chunks of ice. You run the risk of being hit once a big wave pushes it forward. Also be mindful of any razor sharp fragments of the ice with the potential to hit your legs.

What camera gear you need to get ice beach photos.

  • Camera with an Ultra Wide Angle Lens (for example 16-35mm)
  • Filters : 3 stop and 6 stop ND filters and 0.6 and 0.9 HE Grad filters

***  if you do not have ND Grad Filters you can do bracketed shots, keep in mind that your shooting time is limited only until you can control the light and staying within the shutter speeds indicated below. 

  • Bring a sturdy Tripod, light travel tripods are not recommended. 
  • Release Trigger 
  • Have some microfiber cloth, towels in your pockets to dry off your filters and lens from water spray. 
  • A Sling filter pouch or a camera vest, when photographing waves it is best to have both hands free in case of any situation. 

Lets get started! 

  • Find interesting fragments of Ice, best to chose those that are blue/cyan, or transparent, they separate better from the white/grey  pieces as foam of the water go over them.
  • Compose your shot and mount your tripod firmly, best to have them dug a few inches into the sand to prevent them from moving once the waters go in and out from under your tripod.
  • Settle on your composition, remember the smaller the Ice, the lower you will have to mount your camera for them to become dominant focal points on the foreground.
  • Adjust your camera settings, start off with AWB, F11-F16, set your ISO to get the right amount of exposure, during twilight you will start off with a higher ISO 200-400, then work yourself down to ISO 50-100 once the sun rises.
  • Once you are done with the settings mount your filter holder and ring and use your ND and GND filters. You will need your 3 stop ND during sunrise, and 6 stop ND during golden hour to achieve the desired shutter speeds. 
  • Your GND filters will provide the balance between sky and foreground, switch between a 2 and 3 stop Hard Edge to get a healthy histogram. Make sure it is inserted exactly on the horizon line of the water to prevent darkening the ocean.

*** at this point view your histogram and make sure it is set to exposed a bit to the left, or at -1 EV once the water  foam travels on the foreground it will compensate for the right exposure.

  • If you do not use filters you will need to take multiple images first for the sky (for correct exposure) then second for the foreground using the desired shutter.
  • Make sure your focus is locked on the nearest piece of Ice of the foreground as they might be scattered on different planes:

*** use your release trigger and set your camera to burst mode, this eliminates camera shake and allows you to capture more wave action!

Complete all these steps and you are ready for action, all you need to do is to set your shutter to these values as the Final Step! Here are some samples of the outputs from this tutorial:

WAVE PAINTING – taken as the waves recede / move backward around the Ice at a shutter speed from 1 sec to 2 seconds.



WAVE CRAWL – taken as the waves move forward at a shutter speed from 0.4, 0.6, 0.8 to 1 Second

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SPLASHING WAVES – taken as the waves hitting the ice at a shutter speed from 1/25 – 1/50 seconds.

ice beach photos iceland

You may also include a Sun Star or a Person into your frame to give it that extra umphhh!!!  Here is a sample:


This happens when the Sun hits the edges of the horizon or pass through clouds, make sure your filters and lens are clean when doing this, keep your aperture between F16-F22 to achieve the effect. Do note that different lenses vary the effect of the sun burst. This was taken with a Canon 16-35 Mark II set at F16.

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Shooting  light trough crystal ice.

First, find a clear piece of ice with textures directly facing the sunrise or sunset. Sunrise is better as the light is warmer and golden as it rises from the horizon.  Align your tripod at the back of the ice and position it at low angle. Same recommended settings at F8 to F11.  No graduated filters needed, just check your histogram that no highlights are clipping. Very important, make sure the ice is large enough but not overly dominating the frame; a rounded shape ice is also better so that the glow is equal.  

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Good Luck on your Photography  Trip to Iceland!


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