No, Iceland Is Not ‘Over-Photographed’

No, Iceland Is Not ‘Over-Photographed’

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.

Reynisfjara is one of the most iconic landscapes of Iceland.

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.

The iconic Skogafoss in Southern Iceland during winter.

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.

A freezing February morning at Mt. Kirkjufell. All the photographers are ready!

Originality

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
  • Hornstrandir
  • Drangaskörð
  • Kálfshamarsvík
  • Hofsós
  • Kolugljúfur Canyon
  • Dimmuborgir
  • Ásbyrgi
  • Hafragilsfoss
  • The Arctic Henge
  • Raudanes Point
  • Hengifoss
  • Seydisfjordur
  • Eystrahorn

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!

Grafarkirkja is a perfect focal point. Do you know where to find it?

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.

The epic Eystrahorn. Just as fascinating as its sister-location Vestrahorn.

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.

Kálfshamarsvík is a small cove in the northern part of Skagi, with unusual, beautifully formed sea cliffs of columnar rock.

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:

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57 Comments

Previous comments
Jonathan Reid's picture

This is probably going to inflame a lot of photographers, but what I can’t stand about photo hot spots are the photo tours. Iceland becomes a hot spot and all of a sudden, photographers from all over the world are offering tours to Iceland, sometimes without even having visited before.

Why did it annoy me? Because wherever they are, it becomes instantly crowded. Surely going solo is a better, more productive experience?

David Wo's picture

I think some people want the given shot as if they are checking of a list of photographs to have. I think I’d enjoy a one day one on one with some photographers but I have very little interest in going with a group. When I went to antelope canyon I had a very bad experience with one photo tour literally elbowing me to take the exact same composition I took. It was ridiculous and felt like they had to have the shot because someone else had it. While I enjoyed the trip down the canyon with my wife as part of our honeymoon I would never go back there.

I can understand why organizations like parks create special rules for photo tours.

Nic Hilton's picture

Who cares if some place has been photographed a lot? If your goal is to sell the photo you’ll definitely have a tougher time, but you never know what you’ll get once you get there. And besides that, why wouldn’t you want to see a place like that for yourself? Capture something that you are proud of, or that you can display in your home. Capture something that gives you a memory to reflect on. I am in no way a landscape photographer, but once I have gone to a place, I always prefer my photo of it. I prefer mine because that’s how I remember seeing it with my own eyes. I remember how I felt. No perfectly captured image of halfdome would ever compare to what it feels like to actually be there.

Lorenzo Gerace's picture

Well, I might add...it's starting the get over photographed and over visited. When I went there for the first time myself some three years ago it was an experience I can't tell in words. It is so diverse that you can find a spot to take original shots. True, classic spots have been shoot to death already, but I think if as you correctly say, you go there for the experience, which I did, the shots you'll be taking home will be somewhat unique. I have seen countless shots of the black beaches of Vik, including mine. Still, the thrill of climbing down the rocks from the top to the steep overhanging the ocean and witnessing the power of waves crashing into the cliff (in a bit of a risky situation...) is something I can clearly feel each time I look at that image.
To me that's more than enough.

Einar Gudmann's picture

This got me thinking - and blogging since I was at Kirkjufell last weekend. I looked back over the last 10 years photographing Kirkjufell at all seasons. When is a location over-photographed? https://icelandinphotos.is/kirkjufell-from-all-sides-and-seasons-for-10-...

Maximilian Salomon's picture

Funny: That's definitely me and my girlfriend in the center of the Kirkjufell image. Hence I can say the image description "A freezing February morning" is wrong. It was march 6th just before sunset.

FAKE NEWS!! FAKE NEWS!! 😛

On topic: I was a bit shocked how many photographers there've been and especially how ruthlessa lot of them behaved to get their perfect spot. Wouldn't want to go to those spots a second time.

Arvids Baranovs's picture

My thoughts about Iceland (just was there for the 2nd time and will return next summer) and any location for that matter is that I totally agree about leaving the beaten path, but that comes with a responsibility. I think we as photographers should not share exact locations of places that are epic, but don't lie exactly on the Ring Road or are printed in every tourism brochure. I can say that a picture has been taken in the Highlands or on the North coast, but it is as much as I'm willing to share. I want people to think and explore on their own, not follow someone's footsteps which in the end completely ruin a place in my opinion. I also was at the basalt rock formation and totally enjoyed being alone there. I don't think you should do videos titled as "why is this location not famous". Take people on private tours there, sure, but don't invite the whole of Internet to ruin the place and make another Kirkjufell.