There is something truly magical about Iceland. With its strong Viking history, breathtaking natural beauty and rugged mountainous landscape, much of the island remains untouched, with terrain that in places makes you feel like you’ve arrived on a different planet or as I described ‘the surface of the moon’. No wonder, therefore, it has been such a popular film location, as offers the perfect backdrop for a range of movie genres from fantasy and sci-fi to a post apocalyptic world. Star Wars, Interstellar, James Bond, Prometheus, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Thor: The Dark World and Game of Thrones have all been filmed here and with only a population of 335,000 people in total living in Iceland, making it the most sparsely populated country in Europe, there was little chance of interruption from passersby either!
We travelled to Iceland to photograph a pre-wedding shoot with a wonderful Malaysian couple – Jason and Josephine. Over the years the popularity in pre-wedding shoots has risen dramatically in Asia, with couples travelling all over the world to their favourite locations, to be photographed.
The brides-to-be bring a selection of stunning dresses to wear which often includes a wedding dress (but not the one they will wear on their wedding day!), with the groom-to-be wearing a smart suit of tuxedo. The favourite resulting photographs from the shoot, then get printed at poster size and displayed at their wedding for all their guests to see!
If you haven’t been to Iceland before and are thinking of planning a trip then it’s worth noting that Iceland is expensive! Really expensive. My first discovery on this admittedly was at Reykjavik airport, where prices are likely held a little higher due to its captive audience, but even so, I was rather surprised to discover the cost of two flatbread sandwiches and one juice came to the equivalent of 30 Euros! Roughly three times the cost it would be in the UK. I cancelled the juice!
However, don’t let this put you off too much. Iceland has more than enough wonder and beauty to distract you from the expense but forewarned is definitely forearmed!
Reykjavik is the capital and largest city in Iceland and is a popular tourist destination. Founded in the southwest towards the end of the 18th century, it has been Iceland’s cultural hub ever since as serves as a gateway to tourists looking to explore the city or beyond to the wider and impressive landscape.
Hiring a car is the best way to get around Iceland and it’s worth booking ahead before you arrive in order to get the best deals. Route 1 is the national road that runs around the island and connects the inhabited parts of the country. With rugged mountains on one side and flat plains looking out to the North Atlantic ocean, it’s an impressive road to travel on due to the never ending beautiful landscapes you pass through as you drive. You can go sometime without seeing another car at all, making it at times feel like you’re driving somewhere quite unworldly.
We arrived from Gatwick at around 3.30 p.m. and travelled down Route 1 in our hire car the 371 km and nearing on 5 hour drive to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, which was our photography location for day 1. We stayed at the Fossehotel Glacier Lagoon, a brand new 4-star hotel in Hnappavellir (a popular climbing area) and only minutes from Diamond Beach and the lagoon, making it the perfectly placed stop over for our trip. The hotel was incredibly contemporary and wonderfully furnished whilst staying true to its Nordic roots. The rooms were spacious with fabulous views and the hotel reception dazzled with it’s impressive display of contemporary ‘melt’ pendant lighting by designer Tom Dixon.
After a good night’s sleep, we were up and away with Jason and Josephine, who we were now fully acquainted with after our 5 hour journey! We took a tour to an ice cave which we were to use as our starting point for our shoot. It was cold. I was very grateful for my newly purchased Peter Storm waterproof winter coat and very unsexy trousers. I may have looked like I was wearing something vaguely resembling a sumo suit but at least it kept me warm! As Josephine was wearing a wedding dress for the day and Jason was in nothing more than a suit, we were under great pressure to set up the shot before whipping off their coats and getting it taken. Any longer and we may have had to leave them there as permanent ‘beautiful’ ice statues for future tourists to marvel at!
After our ice cave tour we headed for the cafe at The Glacier Lagoon for a quick defrost and lunch before heading down to the lagoon for more photos. With only around 4.5 hours of daylight to work with we had a lot to get through if we were to make it to all three locations we had planned that day. The weather was not our friend. The cold was made so much more painful by the unforgiving and unyielding artic blasts that dropped slightly before picking up with fury as we tried to position Josephine and Jason on the ice, set up the lighting and stop them being blown off into the water. I was also chief giver of warming hugs to Josephine who resembled a delicate but brave and uncomplaining icicle for much of the experience!
Once finished at the lagoon, we headed across the road to Diamond Beach known for its ice chunks, polished by the sea and made to look like diamonds. This was our final location for the day and as the beach was busy with tourists, we chose the rocks as our set piece for the next set of photos. Encouraging Josephine and Jason to ‘channel Hawaii’ when taking off their coats, we managed to get some gorgeous images of the couple, before the shoot came dramatically to a close, about a millisecond after I captured the photo of Josephine sat alone upon the rocks before being engulfed by a freezing wave that would have made a grown man cry (made for a good photo though).
Having returned to the warmth of our wonderful hotel, we settled in for the night. Sadly we did not get to see the Northern Lights during our trip, despite the time of year and near perfect conditions. Mother Nature simply wasn’t playing ball much to our disappointment. So if you are going to Iceland, think of the Northern Lights as more the cherry on top if they appear, because they are apparently not a given in the winter and more unpredictable than I’d realised.
We awoke on day 3 and for the final day of shooting. Thankfully the merciless wind had dropped making for a more comfortable day although it was no Summer break and my attempts at flying the DJI Spark drone we brought were foiled, as the cold drained the battery in all of a few minutes. Josephine wore a stunning red dress with her hair down for the second shoot. We headed for the village of Vik to capture some images with this picture postcard church, that on approach, looked like it had been plucked from a miniature village for a child to play with.
From there we headed to a rather drizzly but nonetheless spectacular Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach. With its roaring Atlantic waves crashing at the shore, this incredible lava beach draws the tourists to marvel, in particular at the enormous basalt stacks that you would be forgiven for thinking had been engineered by man, such is uniformity of this naturally occurring phenomenon. Situated under the mountain Reynisfjall and only a short drive from Vik, Reynisfjara is considered to be the most beautiful example of Iceland’s black sand beaches.
Our final location was at the beautiful Skógafoss waterfall. Situated on the Skógá River in the south of Iceland, it is one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland with a width of 25 meters and a drop of 60 meters. As the waterfall produces a lot of spray, rainbows can often be seen whenever the sun is out. There was no sun for us though, so no rainbows, but we weren’t going to let a little rain dampen our enthusiasm to capture some great images. However, it did mean we had to work quickly to get what we needed. Luckily, Josephine and Jason were true professionals and despite the rain and the cold, we finished the shoot on a high!
The Blue Lagoon
Having said goodbye to our couple in Reykjavik, we headed for some much needed rest and relaxation at the magical blue lagoon. If you are taking a trip to Iceland, it really is a must to put on your tick list. Formed in 1976, this geothermal spa is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland and with good reason. A mix of sea and fresh water and maintaining a blissful natural temperature of 38 degrees, it contains silica and two types of algae found nowhere else in the world. Meant to be wondrous for your skin due to its silica content, when people began to bathe in the water, those with psoriasis in particular, noticed an incredible improvement in their condition over time. Great news if you can visit regularly!
Due to our schedule, we visited at 6 p.m. and stayed till it closed at 9 p.m. I tried three different types of face mask and drank prosecco in the lagoon at the lagoon bar amongst the mist and silhouettes of other bathers. The darkness made it all feel rather mysterious as was not overly lit but it was an incredible experience and incredibly relaxing. Floating on my back in the dark, with my eyes closed and the low hum of water pumps washing away the sound of people around me felt rather womb like and made me feel very peaceful.
My one tip when visiting though, would be to bring your own shampoo and conditioner! They offer shower gel and a conditioner of sorts for your hair but you really need a good shampoo to wash out the salt and as you have to shower before and after you enter the lagoon, I would advise putting conditioner in your hair before you enter as it can be very drying.
To learn more about the lagoon click here: Blue Lagoon