ICELAND'S SOUTHERN HIGHLAND 2024
With Daníel Bergmann
The Southern parts of the Icelandic highland
2nd to 11th of August
The highland (interior of Iceland) still retain the feeling of untouched nature and form one of the largest area in Europe, south of the Arctic Circle, which has never been inhabited or cultivated. This unique landscape, renowned for its unparalleled geology and geomorphology, is considered one of the last great wildernesses in Europe. Most of the highland is only accessible by road for three months during the summer and can then be explored via numerous rough gravel roads and tracks.
This tour will take place in a region known as Fjallabak (behind the mountains), both the northern and southern parts of it. This is a large and vast area that I know very well from having explored it with a camera for over 20 years, including photographing for two book assignments for ITA (Iceland Travel Association). I have driven every track and hiked most of the hiking routes in this region and it remains one of my favorite areas of Iceland.
While there are a number of gravel tracks that we will navigate in our modified 4x4 vehicle, and photograph from near the roads, a lot of this landscape can still only be reached by foot. So there will be some hiking involved. Not very strenuous over long distances but we’ll be hiking away from the vehicle, sometimes for up to 5 km (3 miles round trip), although most hikes will be shorter than that. The terrain is rugged and uneven and there will be some elevation gain so this is not an adventure for someone who has difficulties walking or is in bad shape. You do not have to be an athlete, just in descent physical shape and able to carry your camera gear for a few miles of walking.
I’m an Icelandic nature photographer and have been working in photography for over 25 years and guiding landscape photographers in Iceland since 2004. As a local Icelander I have intimate knowledge of the locations I visit on my tours, sometimes from decades of exploring this landscape. I am therefore not there to make my own images but to ensure that you get to stunning locations in the best available conditions and light. I will take care of ensuring your safety and I’m also at all time available for photography assistance or discussion about what wee are experiencing and how to interpret and resolve the landscape before us.
WHAT TO EXPECT
It can be cold and windy in the highlands at the end of summer. The daily schedule can become irregular as sunset and sunrise are not far apart. We’ll rest when we can and photograph whenever possible, but will of course pace ourselves so that we don’t burn out, physically and mentally.
The daily schedule will depend very much on the weather and light. If we have an overcast day we’ll likely stick to a regular daily routine where we depart our accommodation after breakfast, take packed lunch in the field and return for a late dinner. One of the challenges with photography in the highlands is the distance to prime photo locations from our accommodation. At the beginning of August we have sunrise before 5 a.m. and sunset around 11 p.m. Being somewhere out for both sunset and sunrise does rarely work so in any given day we may choose one over the other, depending on the location and what we are aiming for. But Iceland generally gets a lot of overcast weather, which makes the summer photography schedule easier on mind and body. I am also prone to searching for the intimate details in the landscape, which does work better in overcast light. But whatever the conditions will be, we’ll make the most of what we’ll be given and adjust accordingly. Flexibility is important and with a small group of participants (max. 6) it’s much easier being flexible than with a larger group.
This photography tour is about improving your photography as well as experiencing unique and exciting locations. The leader will be out photographing with you every day, helping you to realize the images you’re after and encourage you to explore and see the landscape in new ways. I am as passionate about photography as you are and participating in an intense photographic journey, with a group of like minded individuals, is a good way to grow as a photographer. As a leader and instructor I’m always at hand to assist with specific techniques and I welcome the opportunity to discuss the philosophical aspect of our art. If we’ll be confined to the indoors, in the case of a storm passing through, then we’ll do an image review session where we’ll look at some of the photographs that you have made on the tour, offering both aesthetic and post-processing tips.
The first night, of August 2nd, will be at a hotel in downtown Reykjavik. This first day is scheduled just as an arrival day to make sure that everyone gets to Iceland with their luggage and gets a good nights rest before we embark on our adventure. We’ll meet in the lobby of the hotel in the evening and go out together for dinner.
The following morning, August 3rd, we’ll head out of the city to the Hrauneyjar highland motel, which will be our base for the first 4 days. From Hrauneyjar we’ll venture into the northern part of Fjallabak. Explore the Landmannalaugar area and Hrafntinnusker, which is high up in the mountains.
On August 7th we’ll navigate the North Fjallabak route east towards Lake Langisjór, where we’ll spend the day before driving towards the coast, where we’ll stay for 2 nights at the Laki hotel. The following day we’ll make an excursion to the Laki area and return to the coast in the evening.
On the 9th of August we plan to leave the south coast in the morning and drive north of Mýrdalsjökull glacier towards the southern part of Fjallabak. After a long day of exploring in the mountains we’ll find our way to the south coast again, where we’ll spend the night at a hotel near Hella.
We will then have an additional day in the South Fjallabak region as we return into the mountains via a different route than we cam the previous day. This allows to explore even more new territory, including some little known waterfalls and colorful mountain ranges.
Our last day of August 11th will be the scheduled departure day. We plan to be at the Keflavik airport in the early afternoon, for flights out of Iceland, so we’ll probably just take it easy in the morning as the day before has undoubtably been long and strenuous.
All of the guest houses and hotels are of good standard – modern and comfortable. Wi-fi is available everywhere. We will be eating at the hotels or we’ll take food with us into the field.
If we want to take advantage of good photography conditions during the afternoon and evening, then we might have to skip hotel dinner and rely on the food that we’ll carry with us.
You will not go hungry, there will always be plenty of food, but it might not always be in the form of a hot hotel meal. If we do not return for dinner we’ll make sure that we’ll have a good lunch at the hotel before departing. But this tour is about photography first and foremost. Although we take you comfort seriously, we might have to sacrifice a little bit to take advantage of good light.
The highlands are rough to travel through. The road surface is sand or gravel and some of them are quite corrugated. And we need to navigate through glacial rivers to get to where we want. We’ll be using a 4x4 vehicle on 35” tires, driven by Daníel, to get to even the toughest and most remote areas of the southern highland.
FACTS ABOUT THE WORKSHOP
Dates: August 2 – 11, 2024
Duration: 10 days / 9 nights
Group Size: 6 plus leader
TRANSPORTATION: Modified 4x4 vehicle
COST (in USD): Shared room $7,500