Have you ever heard someone say they do not want to go to Iceland because it is over-photographed and too mainstream?
Arguably, Iceland is the most popular landscape photography country on planet Earth. It is easy to access, it is easy to get around with a small car, many of the top locations are next to the road, and the landscapes are foreign, epic, and diverse and change a lot during the seasons. Ice caves, glaciers, mountains, and waterfalls in all shapes and forms, geysers, basalt rocks, flower season, autumn colors, midnight sun, minimalist winter conditions, iconic Icelandic horses, volcano craters, black beaches, valleys, canyons, vertical cliff sides, epic sea stacks, caves, an old culture, and not to mention, it is one of the best locations in the world to witness the northern lights. There is something for everyone – a landscape photography paradise.
Iceland is Popular
About the same time as Fstoppers and Elia Locardi made the first part of Photographing the World, Iceland experienced a tourism boom. Personally, I can say that it was their behind the scenes videos which inspired me to go to Iceland in the first place. From a landscape photography community members' perspective I would argue that Fstoppers is partly to blame in the rise of Iceland as a popular landscape photography destination. With more than half a million views on YouTube, the first free lesson from Photographing the World has probably inspired more than a couple of people to go to Iceland for landscape photography. Not to mention my own YouTube where I dedicate one video per location I visit. When I am done with the current batch of videos, I will hit 41 episodes of Iceland! Moreover, I have only just covered famous locations such as Godafoss and Londrangar and have yet to cover famous locations such as Hraunfossa, Háifoss, and Landmannalaugar. That in itself should bear witness to the fact that there are plenty of fascinating, inspiring and beautiful locations to visit.
Yes, some locations are more visited and iconic than others and therefore more photographed. That is simply the human condition and how tourism works. After all, there is only one Eiffel Tower and one Skogafoss.
What Is the Goal?
As the pendulum of life swings at some point, some people “get enough” of the same thing. Being a member of 25+ different photography groups on Facebook and mainly following photographers on Instagram, I get exposed to such a vast amount of landscape photographs each day, I know the names of most iconic locations around the world without having even been there. Trust me, I get why thoughts like “we don’t need more photos of X”, “X, has been over-photographed”, “you can’t make an original photo from X”, “having a photo of X in your portfolio is too easy”, and “you can’t sell a photo of X, because the market is too saturated” arise.
Where I go on a photography tour all comes down to my goals. Do you want to learn, do you want to explore, do you want to experience, do you want to earn money etc. Do you want to do it all?
As a landscape photography “photo tourist”, you go to Mt. Kirkjufell for the same reason as wildlife photographers go to photograph a lion. There can be several different reasons but for the most part, I do not believe anyone thinks they are inventing the deep plate by photographing Kirkjufell. The vast majority of people photograph for themselves and have absolutely no intention of going full time on landscape photography.
If your goal is to make original photographs from less photographed locations, Iceland is still one of the most inspiring and easy-to-access countries on Earth. Simply because of its geography. The Icelandic nature is not particularly unique. There are plenty of locations on Earth to see geysers, waterfalls, black beaches, basalt rocks, sea stacks, mountains, glaciers, volcanoes etc. but it is one of the smallest and most diverse countries containing all of it. Oh, you do not want to see another black beach. What about a red one? Here is a list of less photographed locations in Iceland, which I find interesting. Some I have visited and photographed and others I have not:
- Rauðasandur Beach
- Kolugljúfur Canyon
- The Arctic Henge
- Raudanes Point
A good and diverse collection of locations. These locations are all relatively known as they have a name. Some of them are hard to reach while others are next to the road. Then think about the thousands of waterfalls and incredible rock formations you will pass on the road. Many of them only requires a small hike. In addition, I have not even mentioned the highlands yet!
Did you notice the rock arch on top of the mountain next to the road on your way to Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon from Skaftafell? I am not going to tell you where that is. You will have to find both the location and inspiration yourself.
Tourism is the leading industry of Iceland and many tourists come to see the iconic locations. Even though the vast majority of people do not leave trash around and even if nobody did, there will always be a natural corrosion when many people visit the same location. That can be a problem but a theme for another article.
No, Iceland is not over-photographed. I would even go as far as to say the sentence does not make sense, unless it is from the perspective of stock-photography and even then, you can just leave the beaten path to get away from all the tourists if you want to create something relatively original. You might want that iconic summer sunset photo from Kirkjufell because it is an eye-catcher. Maybe you just want it for the experience? And that is all fine. Do not feel bad for that.
If you want originality all you have to do is leave the beaten path. That in itself is fun. Exploration is a big part of the experience for many landscape photographers. Seeing opportunities where most people would just shrug their shoulders and think, “There is no photograph here” is a worthy and exciting challenge many photographers enjoy.
This is not meant as a raised finger or a commercial for Iceland. If you do not want to go to Iceland for whatever reason, of course you should not go. The entire point was to deal with the sentence “Iceland is over-photographed”, which I disagree with. But maybe I did not cover it fully? What are your thoughts?
You can see me present and explore two fascinating and "unknown" Iceland locations from the above list. One where I got a collection of minimalist and moody photos and one with a fascinating collection of beautiful sunset photos: