Photographing Jökulsárlón Ice Beach (Iceland)

Ice on Jökulsárlón's beach, my favorite shot (maybe)    Canon 5D Mark IV, 16-35mm | f/11, 1/6 sec ISO 100

Ice on Jökulsárlón's beach, my favorite shot (maybe)

Canon 5D Mark IV, 16-35mm | f/11, 1/6 sec ISO 100

Jökulsárlón (don't ask me to pronounce it), is a glacial lagoon/beach located on Iceland's SouthEastern shore.  As the Jökulsárlón glacier calves it send massive chunks of ice out into the sea that wash back up onto the black volcanic beach.  This makes for one of the most stunning contrasts I have ever seen and some amazing opportunities for photography.  

The Jökulsárlón lagoon.  Great blue and green contrast!    Canon 5D Mark IV, 16-35mm | f/22, 1/8 sec ISO 100

The Jökulsárlón lagoon.  Great blue and green contrast!

Canon 5D Mark IV, 16-35mm | f/22, 1/8 sec ISO 100

 

My sister and I visited Iceland in October 2016 and although Jökulsárlón wasn't on my bucket-list in the past, it was as soon as I learned about it.  When we got to Iceland we began looking for the best spots to stop and we knew this would be on our list, however we weren't exactly sure how to get there. 

We sort of stumbled upon Jökulsárlón as we were slowly making our way around the island.  Towards the end of our day we saw a random place to pull over that low and behold was Jökulsárlón lagoon.  Upon arrival we both laughed about simply pulling over to the side of the road and seeing one of the most stunning landscapes the world has to offer...  But then again that's pretty par for the course in Iceland.  

To find Jökulsárlón look at highway 1 towards the SE part of Iceland.  It's about a 4.5 hour drive from Reykjavik.  

To find Jökulsárlón look at highway 1 towards the SE part of Iceland.  It's about a 4.5 hour drive from Reykjavik.  

 

Upon arrival we decided it was photo time and we started out by photographing the lagoon, a location that offers an endless supply of stunning shots, regardless of the light situation.  The deep blues contrasted with the patches of green grass/moss and white and volcanic black snow.  

While in the lagoon I learned that the wide lens offered some incredible shots.  I didn't capture anything that I feel like I would put on a billboard but I did get some pictures that I was relatively happy with.  In hindsight, after looking at some other photos taken from there, I would do it a lot differently.  

If I could go back and photograph it all again I think I would bring a 14mm lens for some very wide, sweeping shots.  I would have focused a lot more on the contrast of the ice in the water.  I think a good zoom lens might have returned some great shots of the interesting ice formations that were deeper in the bay.  

Having a tripod in both the bay/lagoon and the beach is a must.  I originally had a Manfrotto travel tripod that was absolute garbage.  I tried finding the link to it but I don't even want to put it in here in fear that someone might accidentally buy it and be exposed to its bullshit.  If I could do it all again I'd probably bring the Manfrotto Befree.  Since shutter speed wasn't a huge issue I tried to bump my aperture up as much as possible to capture the incredible depth of field of the glacier.  There was just so much detail in the ice and I didn't want to miss it.  I do wish I had taken the time to get some great panorama photos and I've regretted not spending more time in the lagoon before moving on to the beach.  That being said, every time I go back to edit the photos I manage to come back with another photo that I really enjoy.  

Looking up towards the glacier using a zoom lens.  My goal was to contrast the black volcanic ice in the middle from the blue ice behind it.   Canon 5D Mark IV, 70-200mm | f/9, 1/100 sec, ISO 100

Looking up towards the glacier using a zoom lens.  My goal was to contrast the black volcanic ice in the middle from the blue ice behind it. 

Canon 5D Mark IV, 70-200mm | f/9, 1/100 sec, ISO 100

After photographing the lagoon my sister and I moved to the Ice Beach which is where the real magic happened.  We had a 4 x 4 car, allowing us to drive further down the beach, away from the crowds.  I did find that the further down the beach we went the ice did tend to get smaller and more sparse since it was away from where the glacier fed out into the sea.  On our first day there it was overcast, but it gave me plenty of time to figure out some different ways to shoot the ice.  I quickly found that a long exposure offered some great movement shots of the ice.  However, it's important to note that if the ice is too small the water will move it either while coming in or going out.  The goal is to find a large enough piece of ice that it's not effected by the water but it's deep enough towards the ocean that the water will run smoothy around it.  

In addition to a tripod a wireless remote shutter release was my money maker.  I will admit that I have yet to find a really good remote shutter release but the one linked worked well enough.  In order to capture the shot I set up the camera on manual mode with my desired settings and focal length.  I then placed the camera on the tripod and got my desired shot set up while the waves were out and the water line created a "dry" beach.  I would then wait until the water came in and start to receded.  I would then run up and place the camera in the beach while the water moved back out to sea and start clicking away using the shutter release.  This made some great shots of the water moving around the ice.  

The sunrise made for some amazing backdrops against the ice  5D Mark IV, 16-35mm | f/14, .05 sec, ISO 100

The sunrise made for some amazing backdrops against the ice

5D Mark IV, 16-35mm | f/14, .05 sec, ISO 100

 

I did learn that you have to pay close attention to the water.  While I was checking the view finder I took a massive wave that soaked me from the waist down and almost took me down with it.

I tried to get one of those edgy shots where I am in the photo and the waves are splashing next to me, instead I just got covered in water.   5D Mark IV, 16-35mm | f/9, 1/8 sec, ISO 100

I tried to get one of those edgy shots where I am in the photo and the waves are splashing next to me, instead I just got covered in water. 

5D Mark IV, 16-35mm | f/9, 1/8 sec, ISO 100

The next morning we decided to return to the beach which was possibly the best decision of the trip.  We went at sunrise (not hard to do since the sun rises for hours in October).  We managed to catch the beach in between storms, offering great light, cloud cover and colors.  If I could do it again I'd do both the beach and the lagoon during sunrise.  I'd also bring some waterproof shoes that I could wade in the water with.  

All in all this was an experience that I am happy to check off my photography bucket-list and I hope to go back again, sooner than later.  

5D Mark IV, 16-35mm | f/14, 1/4 sec, ISO 100

5D Mark IV, 16-35mm | f/14, 1/4 sec, ISO 100