My mirrorless camera and wildlife lens are essential travel companions whether I’m hiking local trails, or exploring globally. I’ve always found that my experiences in nature are enriched through photography. In addition to preserving meaningful memories, having the ability to zoom in on tender moments—like those shared between animals—is unparalleled.
The enigmatic island of Iceland has called to me with its siren songs, beckoning me to document its supernatural splendors. I imagine photographing sweeping vistas in the golden light of the Midnight Sun, capturing a majestic humpback whale as it breaches from the icy waters of the Atlantic and framing a puffin as it dives off a moss-laden precipice. These are just a few of the epic sights I could experience, and that is why I am elated to announce our newest Natural Habitat Adventures & World Wildlife Fund itinerary: Iceland Full Circle: A Photo Pro Expedition!
It is here—at the convergence of the North American and Eurasian plates—where you and just nine other guests will embark on a two-week journey, charged by the landscape’s geothermal energy. Iceland abounds with wondrous photography subjects: snow-capped peaks, lava fields carpeted in velvet green moss, glittering black sand beaches, steaming craters, iceberg lagoons and raging rivers that thunder over basalt cliffs. Fly among the seabirds on chartered flights; follow in the wake of whales on private boat excursions through fjords; navigate the wild terrain on 4×4 expeditions; and watch for Arctic fox traipsing over the tundra and shaggy Icelandic horses grazing in wildflower pastures. Experience it all on a full circuit around the country!
This in-depth expedition is designed for serious photographers who want the most immersive nature experience available. Our goal is singular: helping you get iconic shots of wildlife and landscapes in some of the world’s most entrancing natural places. We do it by providing exclusive access and more time in the field, often staying out late to capitalize on the ethereal evening light. Since Iceland lies near the Arctic Circle, the summer days are seemingly never-ending. You’ll travel in the very smallest groups, with plenty of room for all your equipment in our vehicles, plus added weight allowance on select flights. Travelers on our Photo Pro Expeditions can expect daily workshops, coaching in post-processing and editing techniques, and a portfolio review from our Professional Photo Guides.
If you are like me and have been seeking the most expansive and exclusive artistic journey, then look no further. We’re offering just two 2023 departures of this photography tour, timed for the best weather and nearly 24/7 summer light. Read on to catch a glimpse of what’s to come!
- Two full weeks on a complete circuit around Iceland, getting you to rarely visited places like the East Fjords and Westman Islands
- Three flightseeing opportunities via fixed-wing plane and helicopter, with a glacier landing
- Two private boat trips to photograph whales, seals and seabirds, including the world’s largest puffin colony
- Two 4×4 Super Jeep excursions to the crater floor of Askja Volcano and the remote Westfjords
- A small group limited to just nine photographers, for the utmost in flexibility and personalized attention
- Two professional guides: An Expedition Leader who is a photography pro and a naturalist, plus a local guide to further enhance your experience
- More chances to photograph Iceland’s fire, ice and falling water than any other itinerary offers
Aerial Photography with a Helicopter Glacier Landing
Natural Habitat Adventures has been the world’s first carbon-neutral travel company since 2007. When you travel with us, the carbon emissions from your trip are 100% offset—including your round-trip flights from home. Upon arrival at Keflavik International Airport, you are transferred to our hotel in Reykjavik where you’ll join our Expedition Leader for a welcome dinner and an orientation to all the adventures that lie ahead.
Our adventures in Iceland begin with an exhilarating aerial introduction: a 2-hour “Fire and Ice” helicopter tour. Flying over Glymur, the highest waterfall in Iceland after Morsárfoss, we make our first landing on Thorisjokull Glacier, stepping out to walk on the ice. Our flight continues over Thingvellir National Park, offering a vantage of the continental drift that is only fully visible from above. The second landing on our air tour is in the Hengill geothermal area, a remote valley that’s only accessible via helicopter or a long hike.
On the fifth day of the itinerary, we fly over Skaftafell National Park from a private fixed-wing plane and photograph the dynamic plain of Skeidararsandur. Black sand and ash are sliced by braided glacial rivers, resembling an intricate network of veins. Focus your lens on Skeidararjokull Glacier and capture striking shots of the jagged expanse draining off Vatnajokull, Iceland’s largest ice cap.
On Day 11, we connect with our late-afternoon chartered flight to Isafjordur, with scenic views of Iceland’s indented coastline and glacier-carved interior en route. The sheer isolation of the Westfjords region has kept it off the traditional tourist circuit, and we traverse it in depth over the next three days, adjusting our exact itinerary for weather and local conditions. We offer a 1-hour fixed-wing flight over the Westfjords that is not sold commercially to anyone else. Our focus is Reykjafjordur and the Drangajokull Glacier—the northernmost in Iceland—which lies next to Hornstrandir Nature Reserve.
Among Iceland’s most treasured wildlife is a quirky seabird, known as the Atlantic puffin. Fortunately, most of the world’s puffins are found in Iceland, where 60 percent of the population breeds. Day 3 of our itinerary begins with a departure for the remote Westman Islands, a premier birdwatching destination. Our visit starts with a walk to Storhofoi to photograph the world’s largest Atlantic puffin colony. Birds thrive here in tremendous numbers due to a lack of predators, like the Arctic fox.
Other abundant seabirds include razorbill, guillemot, northern fulmar, northern gannet, shearwater, storm petrel and a variety of gulls including the great skua and black-legged kittiwake. You’ll have another opportunity to photograph these species on Day 7 in Látrabjarg in the Westfjords, home to the largest bird cliff in the world. Time permitting, we may also visit the tiny settlement of BorgarfjordurEystri, known for its Atlantic puffin colony and numerous Elvin communities that thrive in Icelandic mythology.
If you didn’t get your fill of puffin photos earlier, you will on Day 12 when we visit Vigur Island via a private boat ride from Isafjordur. This small outpost and designated conservation zone is home to a colony of 100,000 Atlantic puffins and we often see them carrying fish back to their nests, which are tucked into the steep, grassy cliffside. Other seabirds include Arctic terns, black guillemot and eider ducks—the source of precious down from which the island’s sole resident family makes their living.
Capture Cascading Falls & Cruise by Cetaceans
After our bird’s-eye view of Glymur and Morsárfoss, Iceland’s tallest waterfall, we exit the helicopter and get an on-the-ground perspective on Iceland’s origins at Thingvellir on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the very epicenter of where Iceland is forming geologically. We do some hiking in the national park, to views of Oxarafoss waterfall and Iceland’s largest lake, Thingvallavatn. We also stop to photograph Thorufoss waterfall before heading back to Reykjavik in time for dinner.
After an exhilarating birdwatching excursion in the Westman islands, we board a sturdy high-speed RIB boat for a 3-hour marine photo safari. We cruise to several of the islands beyond Heimaey, anticipating sightings of whales and seals along the way. Icelandic waters are rich with marine life, including: basking sharks and grey seals; harbor porpoises and white-beaked dolphins; 20 species of whale and more than three hundred species of fish. Minke and humpback whales are common; and blue whales, orcas, fin whales, pilot whales and sperm whales can occasionally be spotted during certain times of the year.
The following afternoon is spent riding a ferry back to the mainland, stopping at several of the most spectacular waterfalls on the south coast. Feel the refreshing spray and snap a photo of a fleeting rainbow as it arches over the powerful Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss.
Day 6 marks a transition in our itinerary, moving from Iceland’s youngest and most dynamic landscapes along the active rift zone toward older regions along the east coast. Near Hofn, we’ll get shots of the double cascade of Skutafoss, pouring over a sheer, rocky cliff. The little-visited East Fjords region has some of the oldest rock in Iceland, with layer upon layer of basalt from ancient eruptions slowly carved away by 2.5 million years of successive ice ages. The expansive coastal plain transitions to classic U-shaped glacial valleys flanked by weathered basalt mountains. The ocean is always close as the road winds along the fjord-riven coast, unveiling rocky coves and picturesque fishing villages. The tiny town of Djupivogur hugs the mouth of narrow Berufjordur Fjord, where we may see whales, seals and dolphins.
On Day 7 we venture to one of the most remote destinations in Iceland, accessed by a road that is open for only about 4 months a year, when it is snow-free. The photogenic Mjoifjordur, or “narrow fjord,“was carved by successive ice ages and is well protected from the elements along the outer coast. The water is often calm as glass, making for beautiful reflection photography. Whales are occasionally seen in the fjord as well. A nearby highlight is Klifbrekkufossar, a seven-step waterfall that terraces down through a rugged chasm. A trail hugs the side of the waterfall’s course, allowing access to varied angles and closer views of the cascades.
The next day we travel inland from Egilsstadir along Lagarflojt Lake, where local lore holds that a sea monster inhabits its waters. At the far end of the lake, we have an opportunity to photograph two distinctive waterfalls: Litlanesfoss is a short walk; while Hengifoss, one of the tallest in Iceland, is reached via a farther hike. Both pour down between high, dark columnar basalt cliffs, lending an otherworldly feel.
On Day 10 we witness the power of Dettifoss, Europe’s largest waterfall by volume and the most powerful in Iceland. Fed by the giant Vatnajokull Glacier, this thundering curtain of water is 330 feet wide and 150 high. Dettifoss is contained inside a massive canyon carved out by ancient glacial outwash floods, where a volume of water four times that of the Amazon River once tore through this landscape. We frequently see rainbows over the falls, which make for dramatic photos. We also stop at Selfoss, a striking U-shaped wall of rushing cataracts fed by another glacial river originating in Vatnajokull.
As we continue westward for the final days of our epic journey, we stop to photograph Godafoss, one of Iceland’s most beautiful waterfalls, which originates deep in the highlands. Shaped like a crescent, it drops 40 feet over a sheer volcanic cliff. More exciting adventures are in store at sea during our time in the West Fjords and Vigur Island. In this little-visited region, we can expect total solitude on the water as we spot humpback and minke whales on our private RIB boat trip. Our final evening in the Westfjords is spent in the presence of the largest waterfall in the region, Dynjandi. Its wide, lacy curtain tumbles down a rugged rock face in tiers, like a flowing bridal veil shimmering in the golden light.
Shoot Alongside a Photography Pro
Our talented Photo Pro Expedition Leaders are senior guides with decades of experience as professional nature photographers and as highly trained naturalists. Their intimate knowledge of wildlife habits and habitat ensures intimate encounters with your captivating wild subjects.
Meet Eddy Savage, one of our Pros who specializes in photographing in polar conditions. Nat Hab traveler K. Connell was especially grateful to have his technical insight. Connell’s review reads:
“Eddy was marvelous! His knowledge and enthusiasm were great and so infectious. He was very, very well organized and helpful. I could not have taken the pictures I did without his superb help in getting me set up for extreme temperature shooting. The icing on the cake was the incredible pictures he gave to us at the farewell dinner that included a picture of myself jumping up in front of the northern lights. He is an exemplary example for your organization.”
Eddy spent 60 days in Iceland this past summer. Watch this Daily Dose of Nature Webinar to hear some of his favorite stories from the land of ice and fire!
Getting the Shot: Photo Pro Tips
Court Whelan doubles as a professional photographer and Nat Hab’s Chief Sustainability Officer. As Editor in Chief of The Natural Photographer, he is always eager to share his photography knowledge and creative guidance with readers through comprehensive tutorials, blog posts and quick tips.
Visit the site to see what Court packs in his camera bag for a trip to Iceland! His staple gear includes a wide-angle zoom as a primary lens, a telephoto lens for greater flexibility in landscape shots, a tripod in case of a northern lights display, a polarizing filter to combat fickle lighting conditions and a neutral density filter to compose silky waterfall photos.
Now that you have your gear sorted and sights set, I hope to see you out there! Be sure to share your magical moments with us on Instagram @naturalhabitatadventures!