Best Places for Northern Lights Photography in Iceland
Shooting Northern Lights at Lake Myvatn, in Northern Iceland
There are some great places to photograph Northern Lights in Iceland, especially due to its low population density (not much light pollution spoiling the dark skies). And thanks to some strong ocean currents Iceland is not nearly as frigid cold as Norway or Finland in winter. So usually you will not have any issues with your camera equipment and you also do not risk any frostbites out there in February/March. ;)
One of the nearest places to the Keflavik International Airport are the ponds and house at Straumur or the small lakes right beside famous Blue Lagoon. They might be the quickest choice after you arrived or the last chance before you leave. But you'll have a lot (really a lot!) of disturbing "light pollution" from nearby buildings, towns and industrial parks. Lake Kleifarvatn a little more to the southeast on Reykjanes Peninsula offers dark and better skies for night photography. Therefore, our best advice would be: Try to get away as far as you can from any populated place. But shooting some unappealing black mountains silhouettes only will become boring soon too, so you might want to have at least some snow on their peaks, a few interesting patterns in the foreground or a calm water surface for reflections.
Here are some of our favorite places in Iceland for Northern Lights Photography:
- Jökulsarlon Glacier Lagoon and adjacent Iceberg Beach: For us definitely the best place in Iceland to shoot Northern Lights, but just make sure to get away from the crowds by staying along the western shores. The main parking lot at Jökulsarlon is usually full of people and there will be always someone trying to lighten up the large icebergs with a torch (and ruining your shots). The smaller chunks of ice at the Iceberg Beach are also great, most of all when the aurora is very strong and when the colorful curtains also show up to the south. In case the lights don't stop dancing all night long, you might even consider driving to Höfn to catch them behind the famous Vestrahorn mountains at Stokksnes.
- Lake Myvatn Area: This is another one of our all-time favorite places for Aurora. You might have a little bit of light pollution, but nevertheless the lakes and ponds are fabulous for reflections (see image above and previous link) and experiencing the Northern Lights while standing in between noisy fumaroles at the geothermal area at Namaskard (Hverarönd) is so creepy and truly unforgettable!
- Snaefellsnes: The triangular-shaped mountain of Kirkjufell is one of the most popular places for shooting Northern Lights in Iceland because it is so easy to access (only a few steps away from the car) and also due to its proximity to the town (and the hotels) of Grundarfjördur. So do not expect to be all alone out there. But the photo ops are excellent if the aurora display shows up to the north. In case the lights are stronger you should consider also driving to the south coast of the peninsula. The coastline is great and there are also some buildings well worth taking a closer look, e.g. the lonesome house at Arnarstapi or the church in Budir or Hellnar.
- Vik y Myrdal: The small town of Vik is located on the southernmost tip of the island and there is some light pollution practically everywhere near town, so this should definitely not be the first choice for shooting aurora. Nevertheless we really enjoyed the "show" along the access road to Cape Dyrholaey (image).
- Thingvellir National Park: Closest to the capital of Reykjavik; there are a lot of ponds and reflecting waters, best in winter when snow is covering the ground and the surrounding mountains
- Geysir Area: Nearby Geysir Area might also be a good (and creepy) place for Auroras, but we weren't as lucky over there. Each time we tried to set up our tripods we were immediately enclosed by fog and it was almost impossible to get the lenses free of moisture. Same happened to us at Gullfoss over and over again. The presence of Iceland's "nature spirits" was quite eminent... ;-)
- Hvitserkur: This funny-looking sea stack is a nice place to watch out for northern lights too. BUT... it is way off in the Northwest, the roads leading there might be terribly icy and what bothers us most at this location: You will be shooting to the east only, that means if the Northern Lights display shows up to the west/south or only to the north, this is definitely not a good place to stay all night. But as you can see, we couldn't resist going there. However we weren't lucky; the "show" was only very short, very faint and mostly to the west (image).
We hope this blog might help you in choosing the best places for Northern Lights Photography in Iceland. And we wish you the best of luck, since this February and March might be the last two months with really great chances of seeing the aurora before the sun's activity starts to slow down for about 11 years.
Image data: 30 s at f/2.8, ISO 1600; Canon EF 16-35mm 1:2.8 L II USM at 30 mm, Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Related Links: Our report on Northern Lights Forecasts, on Shooting & Seeing Aurora Borealis and our Northern Lights images from Iceland.