Dates: September 14-26, 2019 (12 full days, 12 nights)
Price: $4440 USD or € or ISK equivalent
Availability: spaces available
Iceland Autumn Color Circumnavigation from North to the Southern Highlands: Photographing the Autumn foliage among lava fields of the Reykjanes Peninsula and Myvtan geothermal areas, autumn snowfalls of the Highlands region, the fall equinox aurora borealis, and the annual Icelandic sheep roundups.
This in-depth photo tour around Iceland is meant for enthusiastic outdoor photographers who desire to see and photograph Iceland's autumn color, nuances, and cultural mainstays of the fall season. Highlights of the fall season in Iceland include the colorful birch scrub bushes among the starkly contrasting black lava flows of the Myvatn region, autumn color among lush green mossy lava fields, dustings of snow on the peaks in the Highlands region (which is all but deserted at this time of year), and the strong probability of seeing the aurora borealis in the night sky. Low-angle sun at the northern latitudes we'll visit allows us to capture extended magic light periods. We'll also photograph a plethora of other scenic and rural destinations including country churches, waterfalls, farms, and horses. Autumn is simply a magical time of year in Iceland, perhaps the best season all year, with fewer tourists, accessible highlands, and dark nights.
We begin our tour by rapidly leaving Reykjavik city behind and heading straight to northern Iceland, which has large sheep farming valleys that come alive one weekend each fall during the annual sheep roundup. Perhaps northern Iceland is also the best region in the country for viewing the aurora borealis during the height of fall solstice, which statistically has the most frequently occurring aurora borealis activity. Northern Iceland's Myvatn region is undoubtedly most beautiful in the fall. We will photograph the famous geothermal areas of Lake Myvatn Godafoss waterfall, as well as the Tröllskagi Peninsula mountains, based in Iceland's second largest town, Akureyri. The Akureyri region is ideal to view the aurora borealis due to its more northerly latitudes perfectly situated under the Auroral Oval region of greatest auroral activity. Connecting from the north to the south of Iceland via the scenic Eastfjords for a day, we photograph the obligatory and epic Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon region for a day. Then to wrap-up our loop around Iceland, we'll drive the rough 4x4 Fjallbak route through the Highlands to the famous colorful Landmannalaugar area, staying overnight in the Highlands. We will be based out of fine rural guesthouses and hotels all around Iceland including Akureyri and Myvatn regions, allowing a great itinerary and filling our days and nights with rewarding photography opportunities all around the region.
As a special event, we also will spend up to a full day photographing the autumn sheep roundup in Iceland, giving us up close and personal interaction with Icelanders and their rural way of life. This is all about photojournalistic and candid photography, where the intent changes from capturing beauty shots to telling a story of tradition through your the sequence of images. Not only is this a big weekend for doing the actual work in bringing the sheep down from the hillsides for the winter, but it's also a social time for rural Icelandic families to get together -- children and sheepdogs alike look forward all year to the roundup. Photographers will be able to shoot candid portraits of Icelanders and lots of children grabbing sheep (and getting dragged around) in the roundup, the thousands of sheep jostling and leaping in the roundup sort pen. As the stream of 10,000 sheep pour down from the hillsides from summer grazing grounds, opportunities for video and still, shots will be plentiful. Additionally, anyone is welcome to jump in the pen to help sort or herd the sheep with everyone else.
Day 1 - Reykjavik to Svinavatn sheep roundup
14 September 2019
Departure in the mid-morning from Reykjavik, with pickup included from anywhere in Keflavik or Reykjavik that's convenient for you. You may have chosen to fly in the night before and get some rest at a Keflavik or Reykjavik hotel, or you may choose to fly in over the previous night arriving in the early morning today and ready to go! We quickly leave the city behind on our journey north, passing under Hvalfjordur, and northward to the Svinavatn farming valley area of northern Iceland.
This will be an exciting day photographing the annual sheep roundups and Icelandic rural way of life in the Vatnsdalur and Svinavatn regions -- filled with plenty of cultural and storytelling photography opportunities. The Icelandic sheep roundups have traditionally been the social and economic highlight of the year in rural farming valleys up here, and there is still some of that excitement to be had when ten thousand sheep coming pouring down the hillsides after being rounded up from their summertime Highland pastures. Here all the farmers of each valley coordinate their efforts in rounding up the sheep, driving them down the valley, and then sorting them into pens according to their respective farms they belong too. The whole family takes part, and it's common to see small kids grabbing onto and wresting down rambunctious sheep. All this is one spectacular cultural sight to witness and photograph, and take part in if you so choose. While the exact weekend of the roundup may change based on the weather and how cold it's been all season, typically today on Friday is the likely day of the roundup. If for some reason it changes, there are more sheep roundups we'll come across in Iceland elsewhere, and there's plenty of waterfalls and turf-roofed churches to photograph still. Overnight in Svinavatn region, near Blonduos.
Day 2 - Svinavatn sheep roundup and northern Iceland peninsulas
15 September 2019
Wrapup of the Roundup - another chance in the morning and midday light to photograph and get the chance to get in on the action and help wrestle down and sort some sheep, in the Svinavatn or Vatnsdalur regions of northern Iceland. Typically the sheep drive and sorting takes place over Friday and Saturday of the 2nd weekend in September, so perfect timing for us! After we've had our fun and photos, we'll visit Kalfshamarsvik lighthouse and basalt columns for sunset photography, then enjoy a freshly caught seafood dinner at a local restaurant. After dinner, we'll drive another hour over the Skagi peninsula to Saudakrokur, where accommodations will be for the night. Nearby there are beautiful old-style turf grass-roofed churches around Varmahlid.
Day 3 - Akureyri and Highland waterfalls
16 September 2019
After a bit of a later start today after our sheep-sorting-chaos exhaustion, we can take a swim in Iceland's Hofsos geothermal swimming pool, considered by many to be the most beautiful in all of Iceland. There's some somewhat forgotten but magical turf churches in this part of the country, so we'll be sure to include those. Then we'll continue through the mountains of the Trollaskagi Peninsula, and eventually come to Akureyri, Iceland's main northern town, and a stop at a quaint rural seaside Icelandic Lutheran Church. Despite it's nice location on Eyjafjordur, there's not much of photographic interest in the Akureyri proper, so after an hour break there, and a decadent lunch at the best bakery in all of Iceland, we'll continue on now easterly, to the famous crescent shaped Godafoss waterfall. There's high and low, left and right bank angles to capture of this beautiful waterfall. Overnight will be just 10 minutes away in a small valley community named Laugar, for great sunset and night / aurora photography potential over Godafoss waterfall.
Day 4 - Aldeyjarfoss Highlands to Myvatn Lake
17 September 2019
We'll next drive down a remote farm valley to the Highland waterfall Aldeyjarfoss, centered between basalt columns and spreading out in a lovely star. More Highland waterfalls and turning yellow birch stands are more possibilities. We'll then take a rough backroad shortcut over to Myvatn in the afternoon, which will be our base for the next two nights. There's so much to explore here in the fall season, especially the red color of fall blueberry bushes and shrubbery growing out of pockets of contrasting black lava. Sunset photography will be overlooking Lake Myvatn and it's psuedo-craters and lava formations in the lake. Overnight in Myvatn.
Day 5 - Myvatn, Krafla & Dimmuborgir full day
18 September 2019
The Lake Myvatn area is very famous among photographers and all travellers for it's peaceful setting often out of the incessessant Icelandic wind, abundant bird life, bizzare lava formations at Dimmuborgir and Hofdi, craters at Krafla, colorful mud springs and hissing steam cones at Hverir, and other pockets of color of fall foliage amongst the black lava. Today is a great day to practice detail photography of the colorful fall shrubbery amongst the black lava. Accommodations will be in Myvatn.
Day 6 - Waterfalls and Canyons of Jokulsargljufur
19 September 2019
Dettifoss is Europe's most powerful waterfall by volume and is magnificant to witness the power of nature, and Selfoss is just upstream. There, Dettifoss falls into the hard-to-pronounce Jokusargljifur canyon, which offers some interesting canyon vistas, and spectacular examples of columnar basalt formed from cooling lava. Detail abstract shots, and yellow birch foliage in front the basalt, can be found down in a canyon sheltered from the wind. Then we drive further north along the west rim of the canyon Asbyrgi, a huge horesshoe shaped canyon that shelters a birth forest that is sublime in autumn. All these locations provide for amazing abstract or detail photography, with the yellow foliage set against patterned black rock. This is also a sheltered canyon, so it can be a respite from wind or rain if the weather is poor. We'll have dinner in the fishing town of Husavik, and go out for possible nighttime or aurora photography over Myvatn formations. Accommodations will be in Myvatn again for a 3rd night.
Day 7 - Myvatn and Northern Iceland region additional day
20 September 2019
This is an additional day dedicated to fully exploring the Myvatn regions and lava fields of Hofdi, Dimmuborgir, Krafla, Namafjall, and Hverfell. The schedule is flexible, and we'll visit or revisit our favorite locations from the past 2 days in the region, or use this time to catch up on our itinerary if we still have more locations to explore. We also have the option to head to Dettifoss waterfall again from its opposite side that we were on the day before. We'll finish the day at Iceland's most remote farmstead Modrudalur, set out in the open plains of northern Iceland, we there's wide open vistas of conical shaped mountains, cake shaped mountains, and old rusty plows all inviting the photographer. Overnight at Modrudalur.
Day 8 - Barren Northern Iceland to coastal Eastfjords
21 September 2019
Onward to the Eastfjords, we'll photograph the Iceland roads heading through barren wilderness, eventually descending down to the coastal Eastfjords region. As we travel down the east coast of Iceland, we have the option to hike up to Hengifoss, then continue exploring the Eastfjords coastlines, secret waterfalls, old abandoned bridges too narrow for modern cars, and more. There are countless waterfalls and cascades streaming down from the hillsides, and every year we do this trip we always find another spectacular waterfall that's worthy of a stop. The eastfjords offers many locations that are rarely visited by photographic tour groups, offering us the best chance for solitude and harkening back to years past before the current Icelandic tourist boom. We'll stay overnight in a small Eastfjord community of Djupivogur, or Breiddalsvik.
Day 9 - Eastfjords and glacier lagoons around Hofn
22 September 2019
The coastline route southward continues to pass secret waterfalls and inspiring headlands along the Eastfjord coastline, eventually bringing us to the Hofn area which marks the southern end of the Eastfjords, and the beginning the Vatnajokull glacier area. In this region there's some really idyllic, quiet, and off-the-beaten-track glacial lagoons with their own icebergs, that we'll have all to ourselves. One such lagoon is Heinabergsjokull. This are is also great to stop to photograph friendly Icelandic horses that will come right up to you and give you a friendly and exploratory nibble - no telephoto lenses here! Then we'll conclude the day at Stokknes Peninsula with it's black sand dunes and the famous Vestrahorn Mountains. Vestrahorn would also serve as our classic landscape for sunset, and also our foreground for any possible aurora photography. Overnight in Hofn.
Day 10 - Jokulsarlon glacier regions
23 September 2019
Many photographers' favorite destination in Iceland is the famous Jokulsarlon iceberg lagoon. So we have all day planned here, and the adjacent Breidamerkursander black sand iceberg beach. Iceland is utterly unique in that you can walk around these crystal clear chunks of ice on the beach that look like diamonds against a black velvet cloth. Even more magical is when the sun shines through these mini-icebergs making them glow glistening gold. It surely is easy to spend a whole week here in this Jokulsarlon and south coast region, but the emphasis of this photo tour lies elsewhere in the fall colors and remoter parts of Iceland, so we'll just enjoy a single day here. Overnight near Jokulsarlon, with any aurora photographed over the glacier lagoon.
Day 11 - Landmannalauger Highlands
24 September 2019
One last sunrise opportunity at Jokulsarlon, and then we drive a couple hours bypassing the touristy Skaftafell region and other glacier areas (come back in the winter for another trip that focuses on just the south coast and glacial regions!) and head into the Highlands region, via the Fjallbak Nydri 4x4 route. We'll be crossing some small rivers and remote and rough country, accessing unique landscapes I've never seen anywhere else on earth, with steep green mossy mountains rising up out of black volcanic sands below. After a hundred kilometers of some rough driving, we'll finally reach the famous Landmannalauger area, where you can take a swim in the geothermal natural hot water river, and hike around the lava fields for views across the river to colorful ryolite hills. In the height of summer, Landmannaulager is a overflowing with campers and hikers, but now in late September we'll be the only ones around and can enjoy it all to ourselves. This is going to be long day, as from here we'll continue westward through the Fjallabak nature preserve and eventually come out late into the evening to our hotel at the edge of the Highlands, Hrauneyjar.
Day 12 - Secret Southern Highland Waterfalls and Canyons
25 September 2019
From Hrauneyjar, we'll take our last day exploring some remote and lesser known waterfall canyons of the Southern Highlands. In fact, we won't even name some of these here! But they are all breathtaking, awesome, and somehow all qualify as my favorite waterfall in Iceland. In the autumn season there will also be some wonderful yellow birch shrubbery complimenting the pure torquiose glacier waters of these river canyons. Finally after 12 packed days of intensive photography and travel through all the best, most remote parts of Iceland, we'll all be glad to see the now-seemingly huge metropolis of Reykjavik on the horizon. Return to Reykjavik in the evening, time to be determined. Last group dinner in Reykjavik. Overnight in Reykjavik (included). End of trip.
Day 13 - End of trip.
26 September 2019
The trip has now ended, and you're on your own to stay in Reykjavik longer, seeing the city sights or relaxing in the Blue Lagoon, or you may be flying out of the country today.
General Trip Information
Group Size: Maximum size of 8; minimum size of 3.
Start/End: The tour starts on the morning of September 8th, and after a large 2000 km loop around Iceland, concludes back in Reykjavik late on September 19th (accommodation included on the 19th). We'll be so immersed in the Icelandic countryside for our entire time as a group, that we have left no time to enjoy the sights of Reykjavik, so we encourage you to stay in Reykjavik for a couple days on your own, either before or after the tour.
- Professional photography guide with you the entire trip providing instruction and in-the-field coaching.
- Ground transportation in a comfortable 4x4 van/minibus.
- Accommodation for 12 nights in ideally located and charming guesthouses and country hotels, in twin rooms. Cost is based on double occupancy. Most of our locations have ensuite baths, but a couple nights may not.
- All meals and food (breakfasts provided by our guesthouses; lunches sourced from local cafes, convience stores, and/or grocery stores to faciliate on-the-go lunches; and 2-3 course dinners at restaurants and/or our places of accommodation)
- All entry fees and activity fees listed in this itinerary
- Flights to and from Iceland
- Your time in Iceland before and after the trip
- Transfer between the airport and Reykjavik round trip.
- Trip insurance (required)
- Souvenirs, gas station snacks and purchases on the go, etc.
- All drinks at sit-down meals, alcoholic and non-, where Icelandic water is free
- Anything else not listed as being included
- Single room upgrade fee is $80/nt extra if requested. In the event that a solo-traveller cannot be paired up with like-gender person, then automatic upgrade to single room will incur a 50% subsidized single room upgrade fee.
Experience Needed: This tour is open to digital photographers of all skill levels from beginner to expert. A trip packing list will be provided to help you maximize your photos. If you have additional questions, the trip leader will be happy to answer them over the phone or by email.
This photo workshop is all about in-the-field field photography and situational instruction, working alongside your trip leader, and there will be no formally scheduled classroom workshops or presentations, although on trips we usually do an indoor session or two covering photography concepts and editing skills and image critiquing, weather and time allowing. We will always being prepared to go out to photograph the Aurora Borealis should it occur. Aurora Borealis viewing depends on 2 main factors: solar activity and clear weather. The chances of us photographing this phenomenon are very high, given that we're out for so many nights, and way away from the city of Reykjavik and the southern coast of Iceland.
Photographic topics that will covered while shooting include nighttime and austral photography, Aurora Borealis photography, classic landscape photography composition and technique, HDR (High Dynamic Range) imagery, panoramic photography, adventure and travel photography, and slow shutter -speed effects. Our full 12 days and 12 nights of photography potential, allow us to see a variety of well-known Icelandic natural wonders around Akureyri, Lake Myvatn, and the central Highlands, combined with austral wonderment, enabling each participant to get the most out this once-in-a-lifetime trip. In good daytime weather and clear night skies, September days can long; sometimes our groups are putting in 14+ hour days! A maximum group size of 8 photographers ensures you will receive ample personal photographic coaching in the field from a full time working pro, maximizing the group's flexibility and ability to shoot more places, more spontaneously based on light and weather, and provide an intimate small group adventure experience.
Johnathan Esper of Wildernesscapes Photography LLC, based in the USA, will be leading the trip. Johnathan is a full time photographer and experienced international photo trip leader, and this will be his 60th+ trip he's led to Iceland since beginning trips in the destination in 2011. Every trip so far has been an incredible experience for the participants. Johnathan has a unique background and an intimate knowledge of Iceland from living out of a car, exploring and photographing Iceland intensively for months at a time. He specializes in wide panoramic landscapes and adventure photography in Iceland and the Adirondack region in the USA.
Deposit: A $1000 deposit is due at the time of registration, and the remaining balance is due by the trip start. Until payment is sent, your place is not guaranteed. You may conveniently pay your deposit here (near the bottom of page) securely with your credit card, processed by Paypal payment processor. The deposit portion may also be paid via personal or bank check for USA and Canadian clients. Please contact me if you need any assistance in signing up!
Final Payment: The final payment for the balance due on the trip (after your paid deposit), is due one week prior to the trip start. Payment options include bank transfer to my Icelandic bank account (details on request), cash in person at the trip start (with prior arrangement), personal or bank checks (preferred for USA and Canada clients), and credit cards (a 2% credit card fee will be added for final payments with card).
Cancellation Policy: In the unfortunate case if you need to cancel, cancellation policy is: Deposit payments are refundable as 100% future scheduled trip credit up to 120 days before trip start, 50% future scheduled trip credit if cancellation is 120-60 days before the trip start, and non-refundable less than 60 days before start. Final payments for the full trip balance are 100% refundable as cash until the trip start, and non-refundable after the trip start. If I am able to fill your empty spot on the trip, half of what you'd lose will additionally be returned to you, for all the above situations. If I cancel the trip for some major reason, such as overwhelming volcanic activity, trip leader health crisis, etc, then I fully refund everything in cash or Paypal, or a pro-rated amount if the trip must end early for the same reasons. I am not responsible for reimbursing you for travel or other ancillary expenses you incur in prep for the trip.
For more information, contact:
Johnathan A. Esper
Wildernesscapes Photography LLC
PO Box 326, Long Lake, NY
phone: 001 518 241 3363 (USA) or +354 626 0292 (Iceland)