Is there anywhere as far-flung as Iceland? While it lies just 900 miles away from the UK, with an area of less than half, you perhaps wouldn’t find many places quite as otherworldly.
This is a land where the sun can set at midnight in the summer, while the night sky sparkles with the Northern Lights in winter. Where volcanoes are encrusted with ice, while rugged rock formations are laden with tales of folklore. From the trendy capital of Reykjavik, to the ancient geysers, hot springs, waterfalls and lava fields, it’s no reason Iceland is a true magnet for adventure seekers.
So, where better for adrenaline-seeking photographer, Tom Kahler, to go than here? Teamed up with Timbuktu, Tom recently made his latest visit to the ‘Land of Fire and Ice’ to capture some stunning landscapes and embrace the depths of its winter.
We caught up with him to find out how it went...
What made you set your sights on Iceland as a travel destination?
Iceland is a place close to my heart. I have been lucky enough to visit six times over the last few years; to me, any excuse to get back is a good one!
During the last few trips, I was never satisfied with the winter conditions I experienced - I wanted more snow, more extremes. However, after talking to some locals, I learnt that February seemed like the best chance to experience some heavy snow.
Where did you stay in Iceland?
We spent a total of seven days in Iceland: two days in the west exploring the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, where we stayed in a cute traditional Airbnb; the remaining five days were spent on the south coast staying in both Midgard Basecamp (my second home) and Grimsborgir Hotel.
How did you plan your time in Iceland?
This trip to Iceland was a little hectic to be honest! We tried to make most of our time there and visit a lot of locations. We collaborated a lot with the hotels we stayed at and local tour guides in order to maximise our experiences in Iceland, whilst remaining within our travel budget. Nevertheless, we of course had a really great time.
Any dining recommendations?
Eating out in Iceland isn’t a cheap experience, but it's nice to enjoy some luxuries after a day exploring in the cold.
Upon arrival to Iceland I have made a tradition of stopping by Reykjavik Roasters for some good coffee and a few loaves of fresh bread for the trip. Midgard Base Camp makes a really good veggie burger, and it’s something of a tradition to enjoy one of these upon arrival. However, if you fancy a change of scenery there's also a local museum nearby called Valhalla, which serves some really good bbq food including another good veggie burger.
Can you give us a few of your most memorable moments from your trip?
For me, one of the most memorable parts of the trip was watching the moon set over the mountains early in the morning whilst driving east in the blue hour, completely surrounded by snow.
Meeting new friends is always a highlight for me too - we spent some time hanging out with Mirek and Maja. I also loved the ATV tour, which was awesome fun with a great crew.
What are your must-see stops on an Iceland road trip?
Iceland is a vast landscape and there's a lot to see. It's also worth noting that although the locations are pretty spread out, it's easy to enjoy the hype spots close to the ring road along the south.
However, the reason I love Iceland is for the remote and desolate landscapes. To enjoy these you need to get off the beaten track. The highlands and Thorsmork are some of my favourite places in Iceland, along with a few remote roads driving up to the ice cap.
How did you make sure you were prepared for the Icelandic elements?
Icelandic weather can throw a lot at you in one day. From sun to rain, hail, snow and almost always high winds.
But, that's the beauty of this country. Because of this, it is really important to be prepared and stay comfortable. What you mightn’t realise is that you will likely spend a lot of time in the car travelling between destinations. I found myself wearing my Timbuktu long sleeve t-shirts and sweatshirts from the Classic Range most days. Under my parker, they're super warm and cosy, whilst also looking good when you stop off for some food during your day of adventures.
Mid-layers are essential for this kind of journey, helping you keep warm outside but allowing you to take your coat off and get comfy when you stop off for a break. If it's an extra cold day, I would recommend a base layer, which you can cover up with a long sleeve t-shirt.
What essential items would you say you need to keep in your backpack while out exploring Iceland?
It's alway worth keeping a few extra items in the car for days out. A snow shovel during winter, spare shoes and boots as you will likely get wet feet and waterproof trousers are a must for rainy days.
For camera gear, I often tend to carry a lot of lenses. However in Iceland, with the brutal weather changes, these lenses can be a challenge with the risk of moisture getting into the camera. So, I shot with the 24-70 and 100-400 most of the time, keeping a bunch of microfibre cloths in my camera bag and car. This really will be a lifesaver to keep your gear dry during an Icelandic adventure.
How did you go about capturing the magnitude of the Icelandic landscape on camera?
The landscapes in Iceland are vast but can get busy, so it is worth timing your travels to get to locations early in the morning to miss the crowds.
I also recommend keeping an eye on the aurora forecast and alway have a plan of locations you could shoot, just in case you get an unmissable opportunity. And of course, be prepared with a tripod and fast wide lens on your camera so you are ready to go to capture the sky.
I love using my long lens in Iceland. It’s perfect for picking details from icebergs, glaciers and mountains, as well as capturing pockets of light as the weather changes. A drone isn’t something I use a lot generally when traveling, but in Iceland it can be the only way to capture some of the vast landscape. However, always check the rules first, as a lot of places don’t allow the use of drones.
Will you be going back to Iceland?
For anyone that knows me, this would seem like a slightly silly question! I am completely addicted and can’t wait to go back. Hopefully next time I can visit in summer when it's all green again, and I can shoot midnight sun.
Where is next on your travel wishlist?
There are so many places on my travel wishlist. Greenland and Svalbard would probably be at the top of that list, but the trips I had lined up for 2020 included a Bentley road trip around the Alps, campervanning in both Algarve and Norway, plus a road trip through Nevada and California.
Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 outbreak, these are all on hold at the moment. Instead, I will be looking back at my favourite memories of previous trips which I have been lucky enough to make until we can all get back out exploring again.