The Land of Fire and Ice is stunning from the ground, but seeing it from the air puts it into a new perspective. Iceland has more than 150 volcanic mountains, a handful of which are still active. On average, a volcanic eruption occurs in Iceland every four to five years.
Because of this constant activity, a good portion of Iceland is covered in lava fields. Another large section is covered in glaciers. They’ve carved out everything in Iceland that hasn’t been shaped by magma and earthquakes, making for a landscape that’s truly distinct from any other country. Iceland covers roughly the same area as the state of Kentucky, but its population is just over 360,000 (as opposed to Kentucky, which has a population of more than 4.3 million). Consequently, Iceland’s small population makes it a largely rural country, and its capital city feels like a really big small town.
This past year, I had the pleasure of exploring Iceland, both on foot and in the air. It’s an experience I won’t soon forget.
Godafoss Waterfall (Above)
Thorgeir Thorkelsson was a law speaker in Iceland’s parliamentary assembly from 985 to 1001. In the year 999 or 1000, Iceland’s legislative assembly was debating which religion they should practice: Norse paganism or Christianity. Thorgeir, himself a pagan priest and chieftain, decided in favor of Christianity. Under a compromise, pagans could still practice their religion in private, so several of the old customs were retained. After the vote, Thorgeir converted to Christianity and, upon returning to his farm, Ljosavatn, is said to have thrown the idols of his gods into a nearby waterfall, now known in Icelandic as Godafoss, the “waterfall of the gods.”
The real name of this black sand beach is Breioamerkurssand, but it is known as the Diamond Beach because there are countless ice chunks glistening in the sun. Most of the bergs are huge blocks when they fall from the nearby glacier into the lagoon. They eventually reach the sea via the Jokulsa River, having melted slowly before washing up on the shore of Diamond Beach. This creates wonderful photo opportunities.
All you need is an umbrella and long underwear. Soaring at sunset along the south shores of Iceland, while overlooking the beautiful black sand beaches, is stunning, to say the least. The black sand is crushed lava rock formed when hot lava reaches the frigid ocean and forms a dark, misty cloud with the dust blowing along the shore.
Spectacular Crater Formations
Flying over the highlands of Iceland reveals old volcano crater formations that would be difficult to reach by foot any time of year. The terrain here is unpredictable and rough; a good lay of the land is beyond a necessity.
Take Me to the Top
Deep within Iceland’s central highlands, Kerlingarfjoll is a group of small, geothermically active and rust-colored mountains capped with snow. This is a view from 1,500 feet, captured as I leaned out of an open helicopter. It’s one of the best ways to really get a great look at the spectacular terrain and scenery of Iceland.
Rain of Light
Lake Myvatn is in the northern part of Iceland, and it’s one of the best places to see the northern lights. This evening provided one great show as I overlooked a frozen lake, with the crater of an old volcano in the background.
Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall, located on the western Snaefellsnes peninsula of Iceland, is one of the most-photographed points in Iceland. The Kirkjufell pointed mountain makes a great backdrop.
Colors of Life
Flying over the shores of southern Iceland, one can see the brilliant colors of the river. They’re the result of mineral deposits picked up by the glacial waters as they flow toward the sea.
The shoreline near Vik offers several black sand beaches, but the Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach in this photo is by far the coolest and most famous on the island. Its combination of basalt columns, unique lava formations, towering cliffs and caves makes the area a nature lovers’ delight.
Ljosartungur is a name for a rather large area east of Laugavegur. The area is quite difficult to travel, as it has many ravines, gullies and ridges. It also has many hot springs, and here you can even find some ice caves. The whole area is extremely colorful, and in some respect, almost unreal. The mountains are at an altitude of 800 to 1,000 meters and, like most places in the Icelandic highland, covered with snow during winter.
Top of the Mountain
The Highlands of Landmannalaugar is a spectacular sight to see. This area is famous for its colorful mountains and steamy, spring-fed streams, frozen lakes, and rivers with a strong thermal environment underneath.
About the Artist
Photographer Brad Nordlof captures many large-scale, panoramic scenes of the natural world. Using a high-powered, medium format DSLR camera, Nordlof carefully pursues his subjects. Guided by more than 40 years of experience, he composes his photos in vivid colors and textures.
Landscape and fine art photography have long been a passion for Nordlof, whose studio, Northern Leaf Imaging, is based in Rockford. There, he prints and frames his artwork for display in professional and residential settings. Visit bradleynordlofphotography.com to learn more about his work or to contact him.