What Photography Gear Should I Bring to Iceland?
As an adventure photographer, traveling to Iceland is like a dream come true.
The gear you bring along can make or break your trip, as with too much you will end up just weighing yourself down, and with too little (or the wrong equipment), you will find yourself a bit upset for missing out on great shots you can see in your mind, but can't realize in person.
Given that we have traveled to Iceland, we have learned quite a lot about what we would (and wouldn't) bring next time. And for sure, there is going to be a next time!
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Our Essential List of Photography Gear for Iceland Travel
All of our recommendations for camera gear comes based on our experience traveling around Iceland - we did the whole Ring Road, Snaefellsness Peninsula, and parts of the Westfjords in 10 days. We brought most of this equipment along with us, and have also included some other items, in retrospect, we would have liked to have.
Keep in mind, your photography style and tolerance for carrying around equipment will dictate what you will want to bring along. These are just the essentials for us. You will also want to consider your accommodation and storage space. Living out of a campervan for 10 days, we had very limited space for our luggage and photography equipment, but were able to make due.
Want to know more about our Iceland adventure? Check out our Traveling Iceland Blog series, starting with Day 1 - The Golden Circle.
It is important to choose a photography backpack that suits your specific needs.
This is our camera bag - which we use for every session, wedding, and during our travels. We did a lot of research before purchasing a backpack that suited our needs, and this is the best of the bunch. We had even purchased a few others before this, and they did not hold up well or meet our needs.
What is good about this camera backpack?
The waterproof rain cover is essential to have along while you are hiking in Iceland. Rain can show up at any time, sometimes at the most frustrating times, like when we were in the middle of a hike at Dimmuborgir in Northern Iceland...With thousands of dollars worth of gear inside, it is best to be able to cover the backpack and not worry about water damage!
The backpack is well padded and comfortable to wear. While carrying around 25lbs of gear isn't always the funnest, it at least isn't painful :)
The space is essential and well laid out. As we are two photographers packing a single gear bag, it was essential to have one that could store all of our lenses + two camera bodies. This does so comfortably, and has extra space for batteries, SD cards, etc.
There is a special compartment for storing your laptop - something you will likely want to bring along to Iceland (more on this later)
There are mesh storage pockets on the sides that can be used to hold water bottles, making this great to have along on long hikes.
Lastly, this bag can be brought on the airplane as a carry on. We had some difficultly when researching online if this would be suitable, but sure enough we brought it on both flights without problem. We even put it in one of those carry on measuring things at the airport, and it was all good!!
Bring along a camera body that suits your style of photography + budget. For our photography, we just use 2 Canon camera bodies, and brought these to Iceland. They both perform very well, and when paired with the right lenses, technical operating knowledge, and an artistic eye - can create stunning and memorable images.
For more detailed reviews, check out our sister site Formed From Light's Canon 5D Mark III Review and Canon 5D Mark IV Review. We go into great depth discussing these camera bodies, and how they have benefited us for our wedding photography business, as well as performing for personal passion projects like shooting landscapes in Iceland.
The funnest part of combing through our photography gear is selecting the lenses we want to use for landscapes. While Iceland offers a lot of unique challenges in terms of weather (it seems to change every couple of minutes), different day/night cycles than we are used to, unique and sometimes difficult terrain, etc. - the reality is that shooting landscapes in this country is no different than you would do at home, or anywhere else on the planet really.
The main consideration should be what you are looking to capture. As we like diversity in our shots, and found it difficult to prepare for some of the unknown "candid" moments that pop up on our trips, it was important to come prepared with a small number of lenses with a wide range of focal lengths. The lenses listed below would serve an excellent purpose if you are aiming to just bring a few lenses to Iceland.
No doubt, this is not comprehensive and you may have a specific need for, say, a wider focal length than 16mm - we certainly have seen some really beautiful photos of Kirkjufell (the easily recognizable mountain from Game of Thrones) taken with really wide lenses. But, for most fellow Iceland travelers, these lenses should suffice.
If you'd like more information about the application of these lenses to your Iceland photography adventure, check our article on 5 Must Have Canon Lenses for Iceland Landscape Photography for more detail!
One of the few things we are comfortable "going cheap" on is a tripod.
This has somewhat to do with the frequency of use - we don't often take shots that require a tripod, so making sense of a $1,000 dollar tripod purchase isn't really easy for us to process in our heads. We have been comfortable using an inexpensive and lightweight tripod for landscapes (and other shots that might benefit from from a tripod - like light painting with long exposure times).
While we specifically use a SLIK U-8000 tripod, you could really just browse the large selection of photography tripods and select one at random that is well reviewed. These days, it seems most tripods in the 50-100$ range have the same basic attributes - lightweight, aluminum or plastic, can be adjusted to different heights and compacted for storing and traveling.
The main purpose of polarizer filters is to darken skies, manage reflections, and suppress glare. As traveling landscape photographers, the time of day that you may arrive at a particular site may not be ideal.
In a location like Iceland, you may be visiting multiple locations throughout one day, and may not be able to spend hours staring at a single waterfall waiting for the perfect light conditions to get the best shot.
Frequently, polarizing filters are used during the bright and harsh light parts of the day (as you would find at high noon), and are also utilized to smooth out the appearance of water, helping to capture images of water flow down falls as you will commonly be snapping shots of.
In terms of polarizer filters to consider for purchase, we kept this simple and inexpensive, purchasing AmazonBasics, Altura, and Polaroid brands. Prices will vary depending on the size, but in general these run around 10$ - 25$.
While many photos you might run into online seem to always show Iceland at it's best, the truth is that Iceland can be a very challenging place to work as a landscape photographer. You are always at the will of the weather. While this is always the truth anywhere, the island climate of this little country in the Arctic Circle is subject to change frequently and without warning. Weather apps are often not all that accurate. We learned this substantially while traveling through the Westfjords - for a good stretch of a few hours, we witnessed weather changes around every fjord-corner - rain, fog, snow...sun, partly cloudy, blue skies. It was absolutely bizarre.
Now that we're sidetracked, back to chatting about being prepared for the weather as a photographer. One thing we did not want to do while traveling to Iceland with all of our expensive camera equipment was come home afterwards with thousands of dollars of damaged gear. A few things we took with us to help prevent this, and still allow us to take photos, were the following:
Due to the amount of unpredictable rain (and maybe even snow) you may encounter in Iceland, it is essential to have a waterproof casing for your camera, so you can continue shooting even during the rain. The DiCAPac WP-S10 is not perfect, but is hard to beat if you are looking for a casing in a reasonable (sub-$100) price range. Most higher quality cases are upwards of $500, and we could not make sense of this purchase for ourselves just for spending 10 days in Iceland. We discuss more pros and cons in our review.
While UV Protectors are typically not necessary (they are basically a cheap piece of plastic going over your lens), in certain harsh weather environments they can serve the purpose of protecting your lenses from scratches and water. Many environments in Iceland are sandy, muddy, and rocky, all of which can have a negative effect on your equipment if proper care is not taken.
With all this talk of rain, having an umbrella on hand makes a lot of practical sense. Choosing a clear umbrella like this one provides a unique opportunity to take photos from underneath it. While you may give up some clarity and definition in your images as you shoot through the umbrella plastic, it may provide a unique framing device. If you are traveling with a partner, this is also a photogenic umbrella for portraits and the like!
There are a lot of little things that are necessary to make your photo trip to Iceland go smoothly. Some items will be more necessary than others (like camera batteries and SD cards...), while others may be more dependent on how you are planning to tackle Iceland (by campervan? hitchhiking? staying in B&B's and hotels?).
Our perspective comes heavily from our experience driving around the country in a campervan for 10 days. Some simple, every day things we generally take for granted can cause a lot of questions the day of if you did not plan ahead. For example, if you are living in a van, how are you going to charge your camera batteries? Well, we have some solutions here, too!
Big Mike's LP E-6 Batteries (a reputable off-brand Canon camera battery for a fraction of the cost that we use)
We purchased this 2 battery + USB charging set specifically for our Iceland travels just to have some extra batteries, and an easy to use charging station. These batteries worked surprisingly well for being just $20!
High capacity SD cards
All of these SD cards are ones we use all of the time. They hold up well to taking many photographs, and don't have an issue with slowing down and being unable to keep up with taking many photos in rapid succession. This likely won't be a concern in too many instances when photographing Iceland, however having high capacity storage will be valuable so you don't have to store too many SD cards in baggies for the duration of your trip as they fill up.
Before going to Iceland, we were hesitant about bringing along our laptop + external hard drive(s). As photographers, though, it was far easier to be able to load pictures from our SD cards onto our computer and hard drives - in particular because at some points we were concerned that we would inadvertently end up with damaged SD cards due in no small part to the weather. Even well prepared, there are some things you just can't always prep for, especially when a perfectly sunny and warm day decides to take a turn for dark, cloudy, and rainy half-way through your long hike :)
Your choice of the specifics here will no matter much, we always recommend Apple computer products (we use an iMac at home, and an Apple MacBook Pro at home and on our travels). WD external hard drives have always worked well for us, too.
Going back to that question at the start of this section..."how do you charge your batteries while living in a campervan?" Well, the answer is simple enough, and comes in the form of a power inverter.
We found this Duracell 175W Power Inverter, which was an affordable one that works well for our needs, and didn't require us to have another car seat dedicated for it (...it's compact). Just plug into the cigarette lighter outlet in the car, and your batteries, phones, laptop, etc. can all charge. Depending on the battery charger used (between Canon brand + off brand), we were able to charge 1-2 camera batteries + two iPhones pretty much at all times. We would swap off on occasion to charge the laptop as needed, only a handful of times at most as we would only use it to load pictures during the evenings.
If you're traveling by campervan, or plan to be in the car for long stretches of time while driving from one scenic vista to the next, it will be essential to have one of these with you in Iceland.
Going on a photography adventure in Iceland is an excellent experience for amateurs just picking up a camera and professional photographers alike!
The most important part of getting your trip "right" is coming well equipped to be prepared for the many challenges Iceland can throw at you, and be prepared for the substantial variety of locations you will be photographing. Once you are well equipped, be sure to have planned out a number of locations you want to hit to take photos - and remember - sometimes the best parts of your trip will be those that are unplanned. This certainly happened for us on more than a few occasions!
If you have any questions about photography gear to bring to Iceland, or just traveling Iceland in general, feel free to leave a comment below and we will get back to you!