When I first visited Iceland, I have to admit, I was not impressed with their churches. They couldn’t be more simple and plain, uninteresting to me.

That is until I saw “Hallgrimskirkja” in Reykjavik.  It is a super modern church that is designed to emulate the basalt columns found in Iceland’s geology throughout the island.  Very cool. 

Hallgrimskirkja – I forgot I needed a wide angle. I Promised myself I would go back on our last night to capture this lit at twilight. Suffice it to say, I didn’t make it (after a big dinner and a bottle of wine). What you see is a panorama of 3 images captured with my 24-70mm. 

Hallgrimskirkja had caught my attention, and so I started taking a fresh look at the other more simple churches. I soon became hooked.

  1. First, many of these simple churches offer a beautiful contrast with a dramatic background (Iceland is full of dramatic backdrops.)
  2. Second, their simplicity makes for a good focal point in minimalist image.
  3. Third, because they are simple and minimalistic, many of the churches also look great in black and white. 

Since I’ve been exploring minimalist photography and I’m working to improve my black and white imagery, “simple churches” made for a great new project.

I researched Iceland’s churches on Google, created my list, and I was off to collect my images.


A newer church with modern flare

Black Church of Budir

This has become one of my favorite churches because its setting offers multiple compositions. It is also uniquely black. It gets its black color from the pitch that covers and protects the outside from the elements.

Black church of Budir with the mountains providing a dramatic background.

Driving to the church, we passed through old lava fields, creating a very different foreground.

The Church of Budir works well as a minimalist subject and in Black & White.


Ingjaldshóll – I love the dramatic backdrop. [photo by Jeff]


We drove 1 1/2 across the Snaefelsness Peninsula to visit this church. 

Stykkishólmur is another super modern church, with great lines.


Couldn’t get near this one last visit due to the crowds. Now I had it to myself (a small benefit of the pandemic).


I love how this church sits above the town of Vik in Iceland. I have captured it from different angles, but I like how this perspective isolates the church against the mountains, and how the hillside provides a leading line into the church. 


One of my favorites due to the backdrop. It was transformed by the soft lights and the twilight sky.


My research indicated this was a very old stone church with a turf roof. It was round with a stone fence encircling it. Intrigued, we drove 10 miles on a dirt road in the pouring rain to find it. In the distance, a church appeared on a hill, but it didn’t match my photo. The newer church must be next to the old one (I thought). Upon arriving in the parking lot, Jeff generously jumped out of the car in the still pouring rain to search the wet meadows around the church. The stone church was not to be found. Little did I know that Grafarkirkja is common name for a church, and the one I really wanted to visit was on the other side of Iceland. But the light was good (despite the rain), and we were already there.

One of many Grafarkirjas ?


A cool looking turf church that we were able to find. 

The last built turf roof church in Iceland

The grass mounds shown here are actually old graves.


This church has an interesting story. It was given to Iceland by Norway in 2000 to commemorate the millennium celebration of Iceland’s official adoption of Christianity. It is located on Heimaey Island off the south coast. It is a traditional stave church and built as a near perfect replica to the Norwegian Haltdalen Stave Church built circa 1170.

Stafkirkjan – a Norwegian Stave Church. 

Now I am hooked. I can’t drive by a church without wanting to capture its photo. From a distance many churches may look alike, but with a keen eye, I realized they were all unique. It looks like my project will continue on our next visit.

Do you have a favorite?