top of page

Guide to Northern Lights Photography In Iceland


The northern lights over Skogafoss in Iceland, which is lit up at night.

Iceland in winter has incredible landscapes and beautiful light, but the main topic of conversation among travellers is often the northern lights.


Iceland has long stretches of darkness in winter and is very close to the Arctic Circle, making it a great destination for seeing and photographing the aurora.


Seeing the northern lights in Iceland can be a challenge. Iceland is further south than other popular winter destinations (like Lofoten), so you need stronger aurora displays to see it overhead.


The weather is also very cloudy, and finding a patch of clear sky is another obstacle to watching the show.


However, a little planning goes a long way, and you don't have to rely only on luck to capture an image of the northern lights.


This guide explains how to approach aurora photography in Iceland and the photography locations which will give you the best chance of a great image.


Photographing the Northern Lights in Iceland


The northern lights over Reydarfjordur in the eastern fjords in Iceland

Your chance of seeing the aurora is determined mostly by your latitude. There are many photographs of Iceland with the aurora overhead and plenty of tours dedicated to northern lights viewing, but it isn’t any more likely to appear in Iceland than in other locations at the same latitude.


The amount of northern lights tours is driven by customer demand and the feedback loop of images shared online. The more photographers visit and publish their own photographs of the aurora, the more people are encouraged to visit.


However, Iceland has several features that make it great for watching aurora:


  • Iceland has relatively mild winters for its latitude because of warm currents in the ocean. That makes it easier to stay outside at night and patiently wait. Taking as much time as possible outside is the approach that will give you the best opportunity to photograph the aurora.

  • Iceland's long, straight roads mean that you often have the choice of several photography spots in an evening, separated by some distance. This means you can easily move between them to find patches of clear sky.

  • Iceland is very popular as a tourist destination, so there is a lot of infrastructure and services for guests. At the same time, it is lightly populated and has very dark skies outside the capital region. It’s the perfect balance between wild landscapes that are also easy to explore

  • There are some great photography spots in Iceland. If you do see the aurora, you are likely to be able to include it in a great image. If you don’t, it's still the ideal location for a landscape photography adventure.


Northern Lights Photography Spots in Iceland


The northern lights over Vestrahorn in Iceland

There is a lot of advice about the best photography spots in Iceland, and a lot of places to choose from. However, some make better locations for photographing the northern lights than others.


Any good aurora location has low light levels and a wide view of the sky, but a more reliable location will also face in the right direction and allow for large-scale, simple compositions. Some locations are easier than others for aurora viewing, while others are good but with technical challenges or reduced chances.


For your first time capturing the aurora, I recommend starting somewhere simple and with a higher chance of success. As you build experience photographing the northern lights, you might want to try more complex scenes or areas that are more difficult to access.


This section describes some of the best photography locations in Iceland to capture the aurora and a few places that don’t work as well as you’d expect.


Best Iceland Aurora Locations


Photographing the aurora can be a highly pressured experience. Making images at night can be awkward and technically complex. The northern lights can be fleeting, and you do not know how long the show will last. 


Standing with your camera in front of the northern lights is an experience many of us have dreamed of as photographers, but the moment in which to get the image does not last long.


Not all locations for aurora watching are equal, and I recommend beginning at a simple spot where you’ll have the best chance of capturing a successful image. 


These spots have a very open landscape, where you can create a large-scale composition without the extra challenge of a complex foreground. They are also easy to reach and face towards the north, where the aurora is more likely to appear.


Kirkjufell


Kirkjufell is a perfectly shaped mountain isolated from its surroundings, and makes an ideal large subject for an image. It is located on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula north of Reykjavik, and there are several good photography spots nearby; it’s worth spending a few days here with the camera. 


There are several ways to shoot Kirkjufell, and the landscape faces north. It's also easy to access off a main road outside a town, making it a great first place to shoot the northern lights.



Jökulsárlón


Jökulsárlón is a very popular glacier lagoon on Iceland’s south coast. It’s an incredible location during the day and almost perfectly arranged for shooting at night. You arrive at the glacier lagoon on its southern edge, so there is an open, north-facing view of the sky. The foreground constantly changes as ice moves around the lagoon. 


Ice from the lagoon washes up on nearby Diamond Beach, which is another very popular spot among photographers. However, Diamond Beach faces south, and the foregrounds are incredibly complex, making it a challenging northern lights location. You would need strong aurora and considerable night photography skills to make this spot work.



Vestrahorn


Vestrahorn is an incredible photography location, with a stunning mountain and plenty of variety in the foreground. The mountain is tall and nearby, blocking some of the northern sky, so this location doesn’t work with very weak aurora


However, on a medium-strength night, it might be the ideal place to watch the northern lights in Iceland. Vestrahorn is one of those rare locations where you can find easy and more difficult aurora compositions in the same place. 


Start with a wide view of the scene from the dunes near the road, which is easy to compose with the mountain as the main subject and includes a lot of open sky. Later, try the shoreline or reflections in the water on the beach for more difficult compositions and less sky in the image.


On a good night, you might capture several northern lights photographs at Vestrahorn. 



Advanced Iceland Aurora Locations


The northern lights over the Solheimasandur plane wreck in Iceland

The locations above all face north and will allow you to capture large-scale landscapes that are easier to photograph in the dark and have a good chance of featuring the northern lights.


The locations in this section are also excellent for photographing the aurora but each has its challenges. They may require a nighttime hike or are less likely to work unless the aurora is strong and in the part of the sky.


Skógafoss


Skógafoss is an incredible waterfall on the south coast of Iceland, and many tour groups visit from Reykjavik. Its popularity can make it a less rewarding landscape photography location during the day. 


At night, you may have this location to yourself. The viewing area faces north, and the aurora usually appears directly over the falls for a relatively easy composition. However, the landscape is high and blocks much of the northern sky, so you’ll need the aurora to reach high enough to be visible. 



Solheimasandur Plane Wreck


The Solheimasandur plane wreck is a collapsing US Navy aircraft which crashed in a flat area of volcanic landscape in the 1970s and is now a popular attraction for moody, minimalist photography.


It's almost perfect as an aurora location because there are no obstructions of the sky, and you can photograph the plane from any angle. 


However, it is an hour’s hike along a very rough landscape in the dark. I have been at the plane wreck alone at night for more than an hour, and it’s an eerie experience, but it’s more likely you’ll meet other photographers on a clear night. This is a great aurora photography location but be prepared for some late-night hiking



Reynisfjara Beach


Reynisfjara Beach is a black sand bar with sea stacks next to the pretty town of Vik. The beach is a great photography location, and you can explore compositions of the shoreline, the cliffs and the sea stacks that have become recognisable from the many photographs published in recent years. 


This spot can look good with aurora overhead, but the beach faces south, and you can only compose images towards the east, west or south. The aurora will need to be very strong to capture in an image of Reynisfjara Beach, but this might be the ideal location to visit if the northern lights appear late at night, you are staying in Vik, and don’t want to travel far. 



Iceland Aurora Locations: Not Recommended


A close up view of the Northern Lights with detail in the aurora

A good Iceland photography location usually works during the day or at night, but some have real challenges as aurora spots. These locations are popular with photographers but not recommended for northern lights photography.


Seljalandsfoss


Seljalandsfoss is a stunning waterfall and a rewarding spot for landscape photography. It can be busy during the day, as it is within day-trip distance of Reykjavik, but at night it is less visited. 


However, I don’t recommend Seljalandsfoss as a northern lights photography location. The view from in front of the falls is at a difficult angle, and the best compositions can only feature a limited view of the sky; the aurora would have to be very strong to appear in your shot, and you wouldn’t capture much of it. 


The best compositions from Seljalandsfoss are from behind the falls, but the path is closed in winter as water from the falls creates a dangerous layer of ice on the rocks. In any case, the view behind the falls faces south into considerable light pollution, so you’d need a very strong aurora to make this work. 



Eystrahorn


Eystrahorn is one of my favourite photography locations in Iceland, and it is far enough east that it gets fewer visitors than the rest of the south coast. An aurora image at Eystrahorn would be a beautiful shot, and there are enough different foregrounds to be creative in finding a composition. 


This isn’t a firm anti-recommendation, but there are several disadvantages to northern lights photography at Eystrahorn. The mountains are high and close, so some of the sky is blocked, and the aurora needs to appear high in the sky. The location is stunning, but awkward to move around in the dark; it has sudden drops off the edge into the water and often very marshy landscape around the peninsula. 


Vestrahorn is incredibly close by and has a wide open landscape that makes aurora photography much easier; only come to Eystrahorn if you have some aurora photography experience. 



The Highlands


Iceland’s Highlands are inaccessible in winter, which makes them impossible to reach for northern lights photography. Although there are some amazing photography locations if you travel on Iceland’s “F” roads to the interior of the country, the roads are not cleared of snow in the winter, and no regular vehicle can reach this part of the landscape. 


Northern Lights Photography Advice


The northern lights over the black church at Budir in Iceland, which is lit up at night.

This guide has focused on specific advice and locations for aurora photography in Iceland, but there is a lot more to say about finding your own spots and the technical approach you’ll need to capture a great aurora image.


Check out my complete guide to aurora photography here:


A link to a guide to photographing the northern lights

17 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page