When I planned our Iceland vacation, we went through the iconic scenes of Iceland and built our itinerary around photographing our favorites. In some ways, photography is not that different from the hobbies of stamp collecting or coin collecting. Although the artistic and creative aspects are most important, there is also a repressed desire to collect the iconic shots. 

Jeff calls it the Instagram effect. Someone sees a photo on Instagram and has to go get a selfie at that location. I don’t do Instagram or selfies, but I am obsessive about collecting my iconic shots. Should I be faulted for wanting to capture the scene that best represents a location?

As a landscape photographer, I visualize my iconic shot with the most dramatic image I can recall from my online research. As you might imagine, the perfect image has an amazing sunrise (or sunset), the scene is bathed in golden light and sky is full of breathtaking clouds of color. As you might further imagine, I am most often disappointed as reality cannot compete with my imagination. This happened in spades in Iceland as the clouds, rain and fog we experienced took away any drama of sunrise and sunset. How can the perfect image in my head compete with a grey reality?

It can’t. Did this stop me? No. Should it have? Maybe.

But something else happened. After a disappointing morning shoot, I was hungry. For breakfast, yes, but also for a better image. I found that most of my favorite shots in Iceland weren’t of the iconic locations, but of the scenes I found on the way back to our hotel. My eyes were keener and I was able to “see” images where I would not have seen them if I had just captured a perfect iconic image.

One of the iconic shots I hoped to capture was the famous Sea Stacks of Londrangar on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula at sunset.

Iconic Londrangar: Torrential rain and wind created a gray seascape and a very wet photographer

Less than an hour later the fall colors exploded on the side of the road. I couldn’t help but pull over and shoot.

Rich fall color on the Snaefellnes Peninsula

At the iconic Kirkjufell, or ‘Church Mountain’, the rain and fog were so heavy, I didn’t even get out of the car. (A return visit to Iceland is now needed to capture the shot).

I hated to admit that there was no shot here

Yet, further down the road, the red roof of the local church popped out of the clouds against the grey mountains.

Ingjaldshólskirkja stands out against the grey clouds.

Adelyfoss is a stunning waterfall, but it lacked interesting light and the heavy rains had caused the water to churn brown versus the traditional blue. It fell short of my expectations.

Adelyfoss waterfall accented by walls of basalt columns

Yet, just a few miles from Adelyfoss the morning light lit up these aspens causing the bark to glow.

The aspens danced in the vibrant red

The iconic Reynisfjara Beach showed very little color at sunset.

Iconic Sea Stacks at Reynisfjara Beach

But minutes later this small church lit at dusk took my breath away.

Reyniskirkja Church near Reynisfjara Beach

The iconic view at Dryholaey was flat at sunrise.

Sunrise at Dryholaey – the sky never changed color

Less than 2 miles from Dryholaey, the morning light lit up the bay and surround area.

An abandon barn captures the golden light

Which do you like better, the iconic shot or the accidental shot?

Remember it truly is all about the light.