Highlands - Photo by Iurie Belegurschi

A Beginner's Guide to Aerial Photography in Iceland

Verified Travel Blogger

Are you afraid of heights? Don’t be. Aerial photography can be really daunting and intimidating at first, but if you let your fear get the best out of you, you are bound to miss out on a lot. There is so much to see in Iceland from the sky. What's more, the landscape looks completely different from up there than it does with your feet planted firmly on the ground. There are so many reasons that you should get up in the air for photography in Iceland and in this article, I'll explain exactly why.

Volcanoes from the sky - Photo by Iurie BelegurschiVolcanoes from the sky. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.

Why Fly?

Aerial photography provides you with a bird’s eye view – one that you won’t get anywhere else. Sure, in cities you can maybe get up to the rooftop and have a good view of the urban landscape, but in nature it’s an entirely different, terrifying, thrilling, exhilarating and exciting experience altogether. Seeing things from air provides you with a totally different perspective. There’s nothing quite like it, trust me. Mountains can seem much smaller than they actually are. Rivers take on an ethereal kind of look, like they are the veins of the Earth. What could be just a small mossy patch can seem like an oasis when you view it from the sky. Even lava fields make a lot more sense when you see them from above.

I’ve been fortunate to fly out and take landscapes from the air several times now, and it gets my blood pumping every single time.

Highlands - Photo by Iurie BelegurschiThe Eye of the Highlands. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.

Getting Started

If you're not exactly sure how to go about practicing aerial photography, then you're not alone. It's a whole different skillset to photograph the landscape when you're soaring high above it. There is a lot to contend with, from constant movement to camera shake and dealing with the wind. Here are a couple of pointers that might help you when you fly out to shoot.:

  • It makes sense that since you will be putting your life in you pilot’s hands, that you should pick a good pilot. Communicate well with them. Tell them what you want to do and don’t force something that can’t be done – you may want to get that money shot, but if the wind or other weather conditions don’t cooperate, defer to your pilot’s wisdom. They'll always have the last say on where you fly anyway. In fact, if they're experienced enough, then they may have taken many photographers up in the sky before you and they'll have a very good clue as to what makes a good photo from above.

Blahlyur - Photo by Iurie BelegurschiCrater Lakes in the Highlands. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.

  • Personally, I don’t bring a lot of equipment with me when I practice aerial photography. Space is limited and you really don’t want to waste precious time in the air by fiddling with a plethora of lenses and other gear. Visualise what you want to shoot before you fly, and bring the absolute minimum (don’t forget that your gear could fall out of the plane as well). An all in one zoom lens is the most useful, as you can capture wide vistas but still have enough length to zoom in for intimate landscapes. The usual lenses that most people bring up in the sky range from 24-105mm or 70-300mm.

Glacial river system - Photo by Iurie BelegurschiBraided River System. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.

  • Speaking of gear falling out of the plane, make sure that you secure everything before changing lenses or switching cameras and whatnot. Also, make sure that you yourself are secured, and that you follow your pilot’s instructions on this to the letter. Don’t needlessly put yourself and your other companions on the aircraft in danger. It's easy to get distracted when you're up there flying and to forget about your own and other's safety. However, if you drop something out of the plane, it can cause quite a lot of damage to whoever (and whatever) is below.

Flying over waterfalls in Iceland - Photo by Iurie BelegurschiSoaring above Waterfalls. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.

  • Settings-wise, pick the ones that will enable you to shoot fast while getting your whole image as sharp as possible (unless a bokeh-slash-miniature effect is what you are going for) and ensure that you end up with a proper exposure. There is no room for multiple long exposures here – you have to get it all in one shot. Plus, you’ll be constantly moving, so take that into consideration too. As a rule of thumb, for faster and sharper photos, your shutter speed must be double the focal length, so if you're shooting at 100mm, then your shutter speed would ideally be 1/200.

Oasis in Iceland - Photo by Iurie BelegurschiOasis in Iceland. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.

  • Shooting grand scenes in aerial photography entails capturing all of the little details. An aperture of f8.0 to f11.0 will get you good depth of field. For lesser noise, ISO 400 to 800 is also be a good choice. You can experiment when you're up there but if you find that things just aren't looking sharp, then dial it back to the 'default' settings that I've mentioned above and slowly branch out again with your aperture and ISO.

Aerial photography in Iceland - Photo by Iurie BelegurschiA Different World from Above. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.

  • Last but not least, when you're up there flying in the sky, make sure to enjoy the moment! Not everyone gets to fly often – even I wish I had more chances to fly out and take aerials. You don’t even need a high-end camera (although that’d be nice to have) to practice aerial photography. Just work with what you have and make the best out of the whole experience. Every now and then, be sure to take some time to put down your camera and take in the view yourself as well, and it’ll be an experience that you’ll keep for a lifetime.

Get in the air and see Iceland from a different perspective! Our photography workshops and tours in Iceland are all drone-friendly.