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Incredible sunset in Iceland - Caroline Alamy
Iceland is one of the first countries I visited after starting digital photography. I had my Nikon D90 body for less than a year with only one lens (18-200). I had been dreaming about Iceland since forever and discovered a travel agency specialised in photography tours. It sounded perfect to maximise my luck and my knowledge. And it was !
My equipment was good but relatively « light » compared to what I have today. One camera body, one lens, one tripod bought just for the trip. And that’s it ! No wide angle, no filter. Polarising filters ? I didn’t even know what it was.
The concept was ideal : a groupe of 8 people, one guide specialist of the country (and, cherry on the cake, an extremely good cook as well !) and one photographer who knows the place like home. We traveled across the southern part of Iceland for about ten days, across the diversity of those incredible landscapes. From icebergs to fields of green grass, from waterfalls to hot springs, from mossy lands to rocky and dry mountains.
Everyday was different, a new adventure, a new discovery.
Welcome from Icelandic horses
Dyrhólaey from Reynisfjara beach
Reynisdrangar sea stacks, can you see the trolls?
But that evening we spent near Vik was the most beautiful one of the trip.

Vik, a small village on the South coast of Iceland, is famous for its beach, Reynisfjara, a black sand beach (made out of lava), with impressive basalt columns and lava formations. According to the legend, Reynisdrangar formations, the basalt sea stacks, are trolls which were caught in dailight and got turned into stones, while trying to pull a ship out of the sea.

We spent quite a lot of time during that day, walking on the beach, trying to capture the rocks, the water, the sand. From above, from beneath, close from the water, far from it. But the weather was not that great. Not particularly sunny, not enough cloudy to convey a specific atmosphere.

However, unexpectedly, the sky started to become much more interesting as we were going for our dinner. A warm and golden light gradually appeared, turning any single piece of land into a beautiful painting.
Nice colors are starting to appear
Shot from the window of our jeep, driving to the viewpoint!
We headed to Dyrhólaey viewpoint. From there, the view was perfect : to the north we could see the glacer Mýrdalsjökull ; to the east, Reynisdrangar, the black lava columns ; to the west, the coastline. In front : a gigantic black arch of lava, Dyrhólaey, big enough to let a ship pass through it. And, last but not least, atlantic puffins were there as well, nesting on the cliff.
The trolls again, but under sunset

Cute puffins

A rainbow coming out of the blue (or of the stacks)
The hues were so pure…
…the light was so soft
From golden, the sky above Reynisdrangar turned purple. A rainbow appeared, gushing from the basalt columns. Its colors became more and more vivid. The entire landscape was swimming in a light purple sky.
When I decided to change spots, more to the North, I realised the sky went on fire. Orange, red, pink and purple were mixing with dark grey clouds, giving the impression a volcano had awaken. It was strickingly beautiful.
Couldn’t stop taking pictures of this sky show
This is not the smoke from a volcano
I think we all got hundreds of pics on that evening, trying to capture every change of colors, every change of clouds’ shapes. We stayed there until the colors eventually fade away. It was past midnight.
Last picture of the day!

If you want to see more photos from Iceland, this is here.

Quick Photo Tips

The pictures that illustrate this page are the exact pictures I took on that evening. No editing, no post production. Nothing. Directly from the camera. With one lens and no filter. However I do like them as they are, the colors are stunning just by themselves.
This is a good reminder that photography is above all about light ! If you have a beautiful light, a bit part of the job is done. Then, how do you make sure to capture properly a landscape at sunset, without having the most professional equipment ?

  • Tripod and Speed : If you shoot a sunset, you will likely need a tripod or a flat place to put your camera. You don’t want to go to high on your ISO (especially if your camera body can’t do it without losing in quality). Which means you will sooner than later have to put a slow speed. You need to be stable to avoid blurry pictures. So, bring a tripod or a monopod with you, or find a flat spot (a stone for instance) where you can put your camera.
  • Aperture : Most of the time, for landscape pictures, you will use an aperture between f/8 and f/11 to get more details of the scene into focus. However, if you want to capture a moving piece (the puffins for instance) you may need to increase your speed, and, as a result, put a wider aperture.
  • White balance : The warmer your white balance, the more orange your picture will look. The colder, the bluer. By playing with it, you can highlight the atmosphere of the scene.
  • Nikon Picture Control (Picture Syles for Canon): These are Nikon built-in presets and a great tool to change the parameters directly on the camera, instead of later on the computer. Preset profiles include Neutral, Portrait, Vivid, etc. Each of them encompasses items to optimise pictures : contrast, clarity, brightness, saturation. I have customized each profile to my liking. I tend to shoot a lot in « Vivid ». This way, when my pictures get out of the camera, they will require less, or even none, editing.

Quick Travel Tips

  • In summer times, the days are particularly long in Iceland. This is the Midnight Sun. It can feel quite strange but it is also amazing to be out at 11pm with a relatively light sky. It gives extra time for sightseeing with fewer travelers around ! Bring a sleep mask with you if you struggle to fall asleep with light.
  • Even tough you are here in summer, it can get pretty chilly, especially with the wind. Have layers and some warm clothes with you !
  • As always with that type of places, it can get crowded as it is increasingly popular. Come for sunrise, for sunset, and you will start avoiding the busses.
  • If you don’t have a guide, you will likely drive on your own. This means a lot of driving and planning ahead. So make sure you are well prepared (next fuel stations, snacks, check the roads which may be closed due to snow, even in summer).
  • As always, you will learn a lot by having a guide with you. Our guide was Icelandic and knew the place like his pocket. There are a lof of stories, legends, which are great to be aware of. Similarly, having a photographer, someone who already knows the right spots, the hidden gems, will be extremely valuable, on top of learning photography tips. Patrick Dieudonne was our photographer guide. I would highly recommend him. Also Alexandre Deschaumes, a friend, and an artist I really admire, regularly organises photo trips there

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