Why Iceland is the Perfect Place for Midnight Sun Photography
Summer has arrived and in the world of landscape photography that means you will be hearing talk about the “The Land of the Midnight Sun.” This sounds like it might be the title of a romance novel, I know. What IS the land of the Midnight Sun and what the heck does it have to do with photography?
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Midnight Sun: When the Sun Never Sleeps
The Midnight Sun occurs during summer in Iceland. Photo by: 'Kaspars Dzenis'.
The Midnight Sun in Iceland is just that. It’s the sun, at midnight. This is a natural phenomenon that occurs in the northern and southern pole regions of the planet. During certain times of the year (June 21st in the north and December 22 in the south) the angle of the Earth in the far northern (or southern latitude) creates a scenario where the sun will never set below the horizon. It is visible for a full 24-hours a day, which means that you can see the sun at midnight.
There are no permanent settlements in the southern hemisphere where you can view this phenomenon in December, so the only chance to witness the magic of the Midnight Sun is to venture to the northern areas, and one of the prime areas to view it is in Iceland. You can also see it in Greenland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Russia and the state of Alaska in the USA but there is no better place on Earth than Iceland to witness the Midnight Sun! What does this have to do with photography though?
Godafoss. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.
Photography in the Midnight Sun zone creates some of the most amazing landscape shooting to be found anywhere on the planet.
As landscape photographers, we intrinsically love sunrises and sunsets. The problem though is that they are so fleeting, there’s barely any time to photograph one before it’s gone and you’re left in the dark (literally).
There are only a few days in Iceland when the sun is fully visible for all 24-hours, but even on the other days, when it does set, it doesn’t set very far. The sun just travels along the horizon creating an extended sunset, which eventually fades seamlessly into sunrise. As such, it's possible to have a sunset and sunrise that lasts for HOURS!
Golden Light at Dyrholaey. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.
So you could say that when the Midnight Sun is in town in Iceland, it’s a sunrise and sunset party! Hours upon hours of golden light makes for a smorgasbord of possible shooting locations and compositions to be covered. These beautiful golden hours are great because they give you the chance to really find that perfect shot, and not rush around trying to find it before the light fades. It’s even possible to photograph the sunset from multiple vantage points while still having plenty of time to enjoy the colours and warm evening light.
The Midnight Sun season in Iceland is perfect for hunting wildflowers. Photo by: 'Kaspars Dzenis'.
Given that the golden light of the Midnight Sun lasts for such a long time, it's even possible sometimes to drive to an entirely different location and still photograph the sunset.
During the later part of June, the lovely light lasts from around ten in the evening every night all the way until two or three in the morning, with some great light in the hours before and after this period as well. All in all, that makes for long nights spent chasing the perfect photographs.
Reynisfjara. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.
Another advantage of the Midnight Sun in Iceland is that you can wait out any bad weather and still have an opportunity for a colourful sunset or sunrise. You know what they say in Iceland, “If you don’t like the weather, then just wait fifteen minutes.”
In the southern parts of the world, when bad weather rolls in, a sunset can easily be ruined by waiting for it to pass. In contrast, there are 5-6 hours of really great light for photography during the Midnight Sun season in Iceland, meaning that it will be possible for you to wait out the weather, or just to get in the car and move to somewhere that the weather is more to your liking. Perhaps you could even pass away the time by waiting in one of Iceland’s many geothermal pools, watching the bad weather as it rolls in and out of the sky from the warmth of a naturally heated bath.
Hallgrimskirkja in the Golden Sun. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.
With 24-hours of daylight, not only will you have enough time to drive to where you need to be, but hiking is also a very good possibility as well. Iceland has numerous wonderful nature trails to explore and with all of that light there is plenty of time to do that!
Some places in Iceland that are great for Midnight Sun photography can only be reached with some dedicated hiking. During summer, you can brave the Landmannalaugar trail and witness some of the most impressive geothermal areas in the country, as well as some of the lushest green forests.
Landmannalaugar is the perfect place to visit during summer, when there are near 24 hours of daylight to explore. Photo by: 'Kaspars Dzenis'.
Another amazing location is the Kerlingarfjöll mountain range, where brightly coloured rhyolite peaks give way to steamy, dreamy geothermal scenes.
The Midnight Sun season is the best time to visit Kerlingarfjoll. Photo by: 'Kaspars Dzenis'.
Meanwhile at Þórsmörk, a veritable oasis awaits you and your camera. There is so much to photograph in the Icelandic Highlands that you'll need to spend more than a day or two to really immerse yourself in the landscape!
The valley of Thor. Photo by: 'Max Rive'.
If a multiple day hike isn’t your style, then there are numerous hikes to waterfalls like Svartifoss in Skaftafell National Park or Öxaráfoss in the beautiful Þingvellir National Park, on Iceland's Golden Circle route. These hikes are all relatively short, and well worth the time. The bonus is that if you are flexible and want to go during the Midnight Sun, you can visit these places without all of the daytime tourists that the tour buses bring!
Dyrholaey. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.
If the countryside isn’t on your agenda during your stay in Iceland, then there is plenty to see and photograph right in the centre of downtown Reykjavík. Reykjavík loves the summer months and even after midnight, there is never a shortage of people out and about, enjoying the wonderful, long days.
Take a stroll by the harbour to enjoy Reykjavik beneath the Midnight Sun. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.
Iceland also has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. This means that you can walk and explore the city with your camera late into the night with relative safety. So whether you would like to photograph the world famous Harpa concert hall and its ever changing coloured light show, or the nearby Sun Voyager (Sólfarið) shaped like a dreamboat pointing out to the sea, you'll be able to do it in peace during the best hours of the day during summer in Iceland.
The Sun Voyager in Reykjavík is a sight to behold beneath the Midnight Sun. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.
With So Much to Explore and Endless Daylight, Are There Any Drawbacks?
Some people find it difficult to sleep during the summer in Iceland, when there is so much daylight that it never really gets dark. Similarly, many landscape photographers find it difficult to adjust to the new schedule, particularly with the excitement of having so much light in which to capture photos during the day. As such, it is easy to get burnt out when you are visiting Iceland in summer for photography.
The locals deal with the Midnight Sun season in no other way than by just not getting very much sleep. For visitors however, using a sleep mask or just napping periodically throughout the day can be a good remedy. With all of the extra hours of daylight, your body will adjust with time and eventually you’ll find some energy for photography hidden up your sleeves.
Given that there is so much light during the day, there is really no problem with using the middle part of the day, when the light is at its harshest, to get a bit of sleep and relax. If you already know that you will be up and photographing around midnight, then try to get some sleep during the afternoon! You'll also be able to bypass the crowds this way, as most people will be out and about from lunchtime until dinner.
Seljalandsfoss. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.
Another issue that you may face whilst photographing the Midnight Sun in Iceland is the potential of running out of memory cards! It’s not uncommon for folks to really burn through their memory cards while photographing the magical midnight light. When there are 24 hours of daylight to work with, six to eight of which are beautiful golden hours characterised by drawn out sunsets and sunrises, it can be easy to get so bombarded by beautiful scenes that you take more photos than you normally would.
When visiting Iceland during the Midnight Sun season, make sure that you bring along plenty of memory cards so that you'll never be without a place to store your pictures! Remember, with 24 hours of daylight, your camera batteries will drain very quickly, so it's recommended that you bring a couple of spares with you.
Vestrahorn in Summer. Photo by: 'Edwin Martinez'.
Having experienced the best and worst of the weather in Iceland, we can safely say that Iceland can be cold, windy, and wet, even during summer beneath the Midnight Sun. As such, it's important that you bring plenty of layers so that you can wait out any periods of time between shoots when the weather isn’t cooperating. If you keep a good attitude, then you'll also understand that dramatic weather can make for moody and atmospheric photographs! Some of our favourite photos in Iceland have been created during crazy storms, so when the weather gets bad, don't put down your camera just yet.
One last piece of advice for travelling in Iceland for photography during the Midnight Sun season is to pace yourself. It’s quite easy to get overwhelmed with the quality and duration of the golden hours in Iceland. We have seen many photographers get so excited with brilliant sunsets that they run around like crazy, trying to capture as many shots as they can, only to realise thirty minutes later that the light isn’t going away... in fact, it's only getting better!
The Midnight Sun in Iceland is a time when you'll have hours of magical light to work with. The trick is to preserve your energy and to take some time away from your camera, so that you can actually enjoy it. After all, what's the point in taking lots of pictures if you weren't even present during the moment to savour the scene?
Midnight Sun over the Moss. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.
So if there's one thing that we can say about Iceland during summer, it's that it is indeed the Land of the Midnight Sun. It’s a friendly and hospitable country filled with limitless photographic opportunities that you'll have endless time to capture! Whether your desire is to photograph puffins in the evening light of the Westfjords, to walk the rugged and wild Highlands or to take in breathtaking waterfalls, there are plenty of places in Iceland where you'll be able to shoot the glorious light of the Midnight Sun. It doesn’t matter if you will be wandering amongst the giant icebergs on the beach near the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon or strolling through Reykjavík and all of its great architecture... there will always something interesting for you to point your camera at.
So what are you waiting for? Pack your bags, your camera (plenty of batteries and memory cards) and set off to visit the Land of the Midnight Sun. Iceland is at its best during the months of May-August and this beautiful country should be on everyone’s bucket list.
About the author: Serena Dzenis is a landscape photographer based in Iceland. You can find more of her work on her website or by following her on Facebook and Instagram.
Are you thinking of visiting Iceland during summer? Join our Midnight Sun in the Westfjords photo adventure!