Icelandic people seem to have a lot of sayings that involve the weather. This is entirely natural when you live in a place where the weather is very dramatic and very variable throughout the day—leading to one of my favourites:
If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes
This presents many challenges for travellers in general, and the travelling photographer in particular, who throughout any given day will likely have to deal with strong winds, rain, sleet, biting cold and even snow. And that’s just summer.
But the weather is a big part of what makes Iceland so special. The harsh environment has given rise to spectacular landscapes comprised of mountains, waterfalls, glaciers, canyons, icebergs, rivers, lakes and beaches.
To capture the amazing landscapes you need to get out and be a part of the environment. To do that, you need to put a bit of thought into your photography kit.
The below covers the kit I brought to Iceland in September 2019. The specific gear (i.e. brands and models) I chose is illustrative of the thinking behind the choices and lessons learned. I hope that the info provided is useful to others considering such a trip.
Before getting into specifics, I thought I’d share a few thoughts about the mindset behind the choices I made. By and large this mindset led to the right choices, and with few exceptions I’d make very similar choices next time round. I’d also suggest taking a look at this article about 5 Things to know before your photography trip to Iceland
Plan your day and setup in advance. With the probability of wind and rain you want to minimise the number of lens changes, and one of the best things you can do is setup for the first planned location. If in doubt, start with a zoom that starts wide.
Take and use two cameras. There are several reasons for this. Firstly having two cameras allows you to have each setup with different lenses, giving you the chance to switch fast without changing lenses. Secondly, there aren’t a lot of camera shops in Iceland, and the loss or failure of a camera could be a real downer.
Shoot for all ranges. Iceland has massive landscapes, but also many opportunities to shoot more intimate landscape images. I took three lenses giving me a full-frame equivalent range of 16mm to 300mm.
Make your cameras completely interchangeable. I was initially planning to take two different camera models, but realised before departing that there would be real advantages in having two of the same, including interchangeability of batteries (and chargers), familiarity of functions and muscle memory, and the ability to have custom settings be exactly the same across both cameras.
Weatherproof cameras (and lenses) are worth it. Wind, sand, dust, rain and spray (from the sea and waterfalls) are big features of the landscapes. These things should stay outside the camera.
The light can be harsh. Control it. Neutral density (ND) and polarising filters are a must. I’d suggest having the ability to get a range of 3-4 f/stops up to at least 9-10 f/stops of ND power to smooth out the waterfalls and the seas.
Dual card slots. I carried lot of memory cards with me, including two 256GB cards, and multiple 32GB cards. Each camera was setup with a 256MB card in slot two, and a 32GB card in slot one. Images were written to both cards. I changed out the 32GB card daily, and carried the cards separately to the rest of my camera kit. I also downloaded these to a separate storage device, giving me three separate copies of every image.
Batteries. It should go without saying that cameras (particularly mirrorless ones) chew through batteries. Especially in cold conditions. I had four batteries across my two camera bodies, and charged everything daily.
- Layers. Iceland isn’t extreme cold, so most clothing will be fine. You just need to be able to adapt quickly, so a base layer, a mid-layer (fleece or down) and an outer shell were important. Rain and wind conditions change regularly, and often without warning. Be prepared with an outer shell layer that is wind and rain resistant.
- Gloves. Photography is a tactile affair. I shot with a pair of Markhof Pro photography gloves from Vallerret and a pair of their Merino liners that could be used as a standalone glove in more mild conditions.
My Camera Setup for Iceland
- Two Panasonic Lumix DC-G9 camera bodies
- Good quality weather resistant lenses covering the full frame equivalent range of 16mm to 300mm:
- Panasonic Leica DG 8-18mm f/2.8-4.0 Lens
- Panasonic Leica DG 12-60mm F/2.8-4 POWER O.I.S. Lens
- Panasonic G Vario 45-150mm F4/0-5.6 Lens
- Sturdy tripod (RRS TVC-23 with BH-30 LR ball-head1
- RRS travel clamp and RRS Pocket Tripod
- Shutter release2
- Lee Filter Seven5 Filters
- L-brackets (1x RRS and 1x 3 LeggedThing Ellie)
- Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L
- SpiderLight Camera Holster system – I prefer the Peak Design Capture system but at the time of the trip there was not a simple way to use Capture with L-brackets3
Processing and Storage
- Multiple SD cards – 1 large in slot B, and rotating smaller cards in slot A
- iPad Pro
- Lacie DJI CoPilot
- Camera rain cover – Commercially made ones were available from camera stores in Reykjavik and Akureyri, but shower caps available from some hotels and pharmacies worked a treat!
- Microfibre cloths—have many as you will be constantly cleaning your lens, especially near waterfalls.
- A tool with Allen keys for your base plates, tripod and other hardware.
- I recommend the lever release style ↩
- Many photographers use a 2 second delay to minimise camera shake, which can work well for landscape and may save a small amount of cost, room and weight. ↩
- Subsequently 3Legged Thing has updated the Ellie system to incorporate an option to use with the PD Capture Clip, so I have swapped back ↩