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Taking a Photography Tour in Iceland

Black beach at Vik, Iceland
The “stacks” at Vik Beach in Iceland

The two vans pulled up in front of a stunning black beach, huge rocks visible in the distance. Known as the “stacks’ in Iceland, they were plunked there centuries ago by a volcano and carved by a retreating glacier. The landscape in Iceland, a small very “new” land in terms of world history, is jam packed with unimaginable treasures for photographers and nature lovers alike.

Nine people plus our teacher/photographer and our tour coordinator piled out of the vans and lickitesplit were off in different directions  setting up cameras on tripods, stimulated and inspired by the awesome surroundings. Not me, while equally inspired,  being the total beginner in the group, I wasn’t always sure what to do. No, make that, most of the time, I didn’t know what to do.

Ice Lagoon, Iceland
Iceland: a photographers dream
Capturing people enjoying the landscape

I didn’t even have a “proper” photography bag. Half of our group came from British Isles and the word “proper” was sprinkled through daily conversations. They all had back packs filled with lenses and filters and stuff mysterious to me. My camera was stuffed into the tote I used as a carry-on on the plane.  Clearly less than “proper.”

I had never used a tripod and regrettably I am  somewhat mechanically challenged and slightly dyslexic. I was flummoxed and frustrated with the the levers and buttons and series of twisting turns to get the unwieldy thing I had purchased the day before the trip set up and camera firmly attached.  Fortunately I got help and got going, but I wished I had practiced at home.

It was an amazing experience to be off with folks who were comfortable with how their cameras worked and totally in awe of the scenery. They came to shoot fabulous postcard perfect images. What an opportunity. The material to work with was all around us. Jaw dropping much of the time. Sometimes I’d forget I was there to take pictures.

Famous Waterfall in Iceland
Beautiful moments in Iceland


My goals were  to see the Northern Lights and to move beyond  putting my camera on Auto and shooting. Frankly I have friends who tell me they like the images I post on and that makes me feel good, but mostly I feel like it is “dumb luck” when I get one I like.

I took the Wild Photography Holiday trip to move beyond “dumb luck” and gain  skills to be better. Just to be clear, the WPH literature says even “people new to SLR cameras were welcome.”

For example, I wanted to learn how that histogram functions.  I have been told multiple times it is the key to good photography. Actually the first step was finding it on the camera. And then what does it mean? What do you do with those little white lights. F-Stops. Shutter speeds. ISO. Exposure Compensation. Focusing. Depth of Field. I’ve read about these terms in books coming to the conclusion  I needed to spend concentrated time without all the interruptions and demands of daily life to zero in on and understand this stuff.

Wild horses in Iceland
On the Ice Beach in Iceland
Ice washing up onto the Ice Beach in Iceland
Enjoying the Ice Beach


I pointed my Nikon toward spectacular waterfalls, huge chucks of glacier ice, glorious volcanic mountains with still ponds or lakes in the foreground, beautiful fall colors.  While shooting, I tried to remember or asked endless questions (thank you Niall and some classmates for your patient answering and explaining), what to do and then….holy moley, compose something original.

Actually I didn’t really think much about composition until the end of the week. And that’s ok. I worked on what I came to learn. Not only did I learn the basic stuff, I learned that what really excites me as a photographer are the odd and the quirky images.    I’m probably more of what is called a Street Photographer (Henry Cartier Bresson’s Decisive Moment turns me on) and I like strong graphic images. It was fun to learn this about myself.

Northern Lights
More fun on the Ice Beach
Gorgeous fall colors in Iceland

I also learned about the difference between  Narrative Photography which is telling a story and Art, which Niall Benvie, our accomplished and talented photographer/teacher explained was making a beautiful images. While admiring the “art” approach, I’m fundamentally more of a Narrative person.

The week was great. I hated to have it end. I loved the folks I spent the week with and would love to meet up with them again.   My head is exploding with what I learned and I’m going to practice, practice, practice. If I’m lucky, I’ll do another photography tour and next time, trust me, I’ll have a Proper photo bag and I’ll be the first out of the van, heading off to explore the wonderful world in which we live.

Wild Photography Tour group enjoying a coffee after a couple hours of exploring and capturing Iceland on camera.
Wild Horses in Iceland
Couldn’t get enough of the Northern Lights

To learn more about Wild Photography Holidays, click here. 

To learn about Niall Benvie click here. 

And yum, to read about Charlotte Benvie and what she does when not on a Wild Photography Tour with Niall, click here.  Tasty stuff.

Yep, that’s me, trying to figure out what to do next. Thanks to Beth Sacco for the Photo.
Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.


  1. posted by
    peggy depersia
    Nov 2, 2015 Reply

    I have always loved the, to me, mystery of the closed door or darkened window so the photos of the small buildings offer things to wonder about. The Northern Lights shots have a similar effect. We know so much these days about so many things that it is always lovely to be awed and to have experienced it first hand must have been, well, awesome.
    What a wonderful learning experience in such beautiful and exquisitely stark surroundings.

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      Nov 2, 2015 Reply

      The truly fascinating part of the Northern Lights is that what we saw with our naked eyes were white and grayish ephemeral clouds and swirls and streaks. The green (and sometimes purple) only showed up on the photos. This was an experience I’ll always remember.

  2. posted by
    JoAnne Tompkins
    Nov 2, 2015 Reply

    I loved the discussion of Narrative versus Art in photography. You have a great eye for both, but I am always struck by your ability to capture story. I loved the picture of the two guys running on the beach taking a selfie. You caught their wonderful playfulness. And, of course, I am struck by the powerful and mysterious landscape.

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      Nov 2, 2015 Reply

      So nice of you to comment. I appreciate your observations. The landscape of Iceland is something to experience.

  3. posted by
    Nov 2, 2015 Reply

    Oh Susan, Susan, Susan.. What can I say? Other than – you have captured Iceland / Iseland SUPERBLY! We are all on a learning curve of some form and although the jargon is somewhat confusing, in time it will come to make sense (through a lens), I promise.
    I think your narrative is superb and stimulating for anyone outside of their comfort zone (let’s be honest – 99% of us most of the time) and for me, it would be in writing – you do it wonderfully.
    Hang on in there. I really enjoyed your (and everyone else’s) company – like a breath of fresh Icelandic air. Let’s all meet up again – I am biased but wholly recommend the highlands of Scotland.

    dumb luck – oh no, not at all – you’ve a really good eye.

    Sending kind regards & thanks for the Austin, Tx recommendations – I think Aurora & I managed to make it even more weird, as opposed to keeping it weird. We also had a really good time!

    Well done, I mean it 🙂
    Kindest regards

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      Nov 2, 2015 Reply

      Thanks, so much. I appreciate your comment and I can visualize your energy. Let’s stay in touch and meet up again some time. Cameras, tripods and proper camera bags. I want one with one of those little built in raincoats. 🙂

  4. posted by
    Cindy Bera
    Nov 4, 2015 Reply

    I have always loved your pictures and all the fabulous adventures you have had. This time I felt like I was in your head figuring it all out. Amazing!!!

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      Nov 4, 2015 Reply

      Thanks, Cindy.

  5. posted by
    Kim Cornetet
    Nov 4, 2015 Reply

    Your writing and photos have opened my eyes to iceland. What a beautiful and amazing country. Now on my bucket list.

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      Nov 4, 2015 Reply

      It is a stunning country. I’ll be doing more blogs with lots of photos in the next few weeks.

  6. posted by
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    Dec 14, 2015 Reply

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    Apr 27, 2016 Reply

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