It’s true, most travelers these days will go nowhere without a camera. One condition that travelers usually consider when picking their next destination, consciously or unconsciously, is that it promises to be a photogenically rewarding subject. A photo is evidence you have somehow “made yours” what you saw, thus a photo you take is a strong assessment of places you visit. If photography is such an important affair, better be sure it’s going to be worth it.
Here are some tips that can help you to take better photos when you’re visiting Iceland—although they will work with most other destinations, really. Note that this is not intended as a technical travel photography guide: it’s just common sense—something we all need when we travel, but we often forget, that is.
1. Getting a tripod
If you don’t own one, you don’t know yet how much a single accessory can be crucial in more than one instance. Here are a few of the reasons that should make you consider getting a tripod:
- A tripod can help you to take a good photo when it’s dark and handholding the camera could cause blurry shots.
- A tripod will force you to slow down and take your time to plan your shooting. Taking your time means you will probably have to work on framing and composition a little, and this will with no doubt make your photos more interesting.
- Last but not least, a tripod will come in handy when you actually need to be in front of the camera.
You don’t have to buy a top of the line, expensive tripod. A cheaper one is good enough if you just want to take a few nice travel snapshots. You can always upgrade later, if you feel like it. You can go for something classic or you can try fancy models like the Gorillapod. Mind that in Iceland winds can be merciless, so just make sure that the one you get can properly support your camera and won’t tip over. Also, try and make sure you will be able to carry the tripod around: if it weighs too much, you will end leaving it behind.
2. Asking a local
Don’t take for granted that what you read in your travel guide is all there is to know about the place you’re visiting. There are many nice spots and things to do that your guide is probably ignoring altogether. Locals know it better: ask them what are the places you shouldn’t miss, where and when interesting events are taking place during your stay. Whether the people you ask to are your hosts or random folks you meet in the street, more often than not they will be glad to help.
3. Picking the right time
A frequent problem for those who want to take good photos of places they visit is crowds. Taking a beautiful picture of a moody landscape while trying to avoid all those heads and flashy jackets that keep on getting in the frame can be frustrating. This happens because most people decide to visit the same attraction at the same time. That spot that was so crowded just a couple of hours ago might be quite lonely by now: have you checked? Have you tried going when the weather is so-so and others are staying indoors, sipping their tea? Another reason some travel photos don’t turn out that great is that the traveler doesn’t spend enough time surveying the surroundings, light and weather conditions included. For example, when the light is harsh around midday on impossibly bright days, you cannot expect to take a picture full of atmosphere—and you cannot expect to look very attractive in it either. What are the best hours of the day for taking pictures? Well, it depends on the time of the year and on the exact location. Usually, very early in the morning or before sunset are believed to be the best. Knowing about sunrise and sunset times, but also about tides and other weather conditions, can make a huge difference. Iceland is very peculiar, because in winter the sun doesn’t reach very high in the sky and in summer sunrise/sunset hours last longer. However, if you try to take your photos at the wrong time all year round, even when visiting photogenic Iceland you might still be disappointed.
To help you picking the best time to shoot your travel photos, there are some tricks, like asking local people (see tip #2) or relying on other resources, like weather forecasts and astronomical tables.
I tried this TPE – The Photographer Ephemeris application that was designed especially for photographers. Overall, I think it’s quite easy and to the point. The desktop version is free. iPhone and Android apps (both paid) are also available. For tides in Iceland, you can check sites like Tides Forecast. You should also visit vedur.is, the official site for the local Meteorological Office. However, be aware that in Iceland the weather can change from one minute to the next.
4. Looking at things from a different perspective
You know what’s boring about pictures of famous landmarks? That we have seen them gazillions of times already, so there is nothing new and surprising about them. You know, monuments like the Sun Voyager or the Hallgrímskirkja, or all those fancy waterfalls that are scattered around Iceland. All tourists take the same shot of the same thing from the same angle and this makes their photos so awfully… well, touristy. Even if you want just a less than pretentious visual souvenir of your trip, when you visit a famous location that has been photographed many times already, you can still add your own touch if you try looking at it from unusual points of view. Try getting down on your knees and then look up; find a unique vantage point and look down; explore also the other side of that monument… You get my point. Sometimes to make a picture exciting is that easy.
5. Putting down the camera
Yes, that’s right. To take good photos of about anything you sometimes just have to actually look at what’s around it—and what’s around you. If you either just follow the flow, only caring about taking photos beause you have to, or if you only look at the world through your camera’s viewfinder/screen, you will probably end not enjoying your trip as much as you could. Moreover, you will miss many interesting details that you would have loved to capture. To sum it up, train the eye before the finger squeezing the camera’s shutter button.
Finally, do not listen to what people think is the right way to take a photo. The photo you are bringing back home after your trip is over belongs to you, not to them; it’s your interpretation and your vision that really matters.