6 tips for Photographing Reynisfjara Black Sand beach Iceland

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach photography.

How to get the best Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach Photographs

The amazing Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach in Iceland is truly is a photography heaven, every second of every day it’s littered with loads of photographs to be taken.
Before we go any further though I have to mention this beach is very dangerous and please keep well back from the waves and tideline as there are regular rogue or sneaker waves there. These waves rush the shoreline quickly and catch you out or even worse suck you out to sea.
During my recent trip I personally saw 3 people get soaked, one person was very lucky not to get sucked out to sea. So be careful here and have some respect for it.
Never ever turn your back on the sea and especially on this beach it has no respect for you or your life.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach photography.

So how do you capture the best photographs of Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach in Iceland?

Well, that’s simple, just check out my 6 tips below and you are sure to get some cracking shots. The weather for my recent visit was shockingly bad with a storm one day and thick fog the next but it was still possible to get a few nice shots thankfully.

Tip 1… Timing

Timing is key here, yes I mean getting here at the right time but I am talking about getting here when it’s not swarming with tourists. I have the right times to visit below.

Golden hour is always going to be stunning here but on the down side of things it’s also incredibly busy then too as you are not the only one with that idea sadly. 

On our recent trip here we were lucky enough to be staying directly at Black Sand Beach in an awesome little cabin just two mins walk to the beach so if you can do that you are on a winner straight away. If you meet Ragnar the owner tell him Kieran the Irish Photographer sent you :-). He is a real charachter and the stories he told us changed our view and in fact out whole experience of this beach, giving us a deeper insight into the place. I will be popping up a YouTube video on it shortly with a few of those stories as well as most of my shots from here and behind the scenes video clips also to help you not only get a feel of what you will be facing but also a few ideas of compositions you can use.

What’s the right time to visit Black Sand Beach?

From the comfort of the cabin I kept a very close eye on the weather and the crowds and from what I observed in the two days there you are practically wasting your time being there from about 11AM to about 4 or 5 PM unless it’s raining of course. There are literally swarms of people there in between those times. 

Even at 11am I counted 4 large buses, and over 70 cars. The crowds on the beach were a bit nuts and of course everyone wanted to see the Basalt Columns and the sea stacks so it was packed on the Eastern end of the beach.

From 7am till about 10am it was fairly quiet and again from 7pm onwards it got a bit quiet also. Most of the day tourers were heading home at that stage and all the buses were nearly gone then too. But if I had to choose a time I would go early in the morning to be on the safe side of things.

At least then you are not constantly wishing all those selfie takers would get out of your shot then. I have to admit we took more than a few selfies here ourselves. When in Rome and all that 🙂

Blue skies and a black sand beach with the sea in the foreground.

Tip 2… Compositions

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach is full of different photographic compositions as long as you don’t have hundreds of tourists there when you visit but then again if you do then check out Tip no. 4 to help remove most of them.
Of course the basalt columns and the sea stacks are the main attraction here and the combination of the two is purely spectacular so a close up shot with a nice wave either hitting the cliffs, sea stacks, columns or even just a wave rolling onto the beach will add an extra dimension here so position yourself to capture that as well as you can while staying safe of course.
Heck throw the cat amongst the puffins (so to speak) and take a shot from the other side of the beach like I did above just to do something different. 
The grass dunes can also add a nice bit of foreground to your shot so give that a go also and don’t be afraid to shoot a load of portrait orientation shots also while you are here.
Or shoot a panoramic style shot like I did and focus on the waves and leave the sea stacks and headland slightly soft in the background, just to add another layer to your shot.

Extra tip…

Bring a shower cap with you to prevent your camera and lens from getting destroyed in sea spray while you are there.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach photography.

Tip 3… Waves

As I mentioned above the waves here are both epic and lethal, so have a healthy respect for them please.
I would normally be far more adventurous with my compositions and get closer to the water or preferably be in the water for my photography.
The one time I did this here a whole train of tourists followed me down, which was incredibly dangerous for them so I did’t do that again as I just couldn’t have that on my conscience if anything happened to one of them.
Yes, I know you could say this was also risky for me too but I have spent my entire life living next to the sea and as a seasoned seascape photographer also I have a very keen sense of how waves will behave and I am always ready to move with plenty of time to spare or worse case scenario brace for impact.
You can really play with the movement of the waves here and what really works is to use a wide angle lens to really stretch the foreground of the water/wave on the beach. Combine that with a low angle shot and you get a photograph like the one above. 
Now the one thing you will notice here is the sea stacks get a bit smaller in your image due to the ultra wide angle lens so another option here is to shoot from further back with a 50mm plus focal length to give you a more realistic size of the stacks. This will add one problem though it will bring more tourists into shot.
You can really play around with your shutter speed here too to get the right movement and motion in the waves. I have a few more seascape tips over on my seascape photography tips and tricks article.
Which brings us nicely to Long Exposures.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach photography.

Tip 4… Long Exposure Photography

This beach was built designed and just 200% made for long exposure photography, sadly on my recent trip the weather just didn’t really play along with that though as the mist and sea spray were relentless, making it near impossible for most of the time to get any serious long exposure shots.
It’s of course a lot easier most of the time to do this so do fire off a load of long exposure shots as it will help to remove the people from the shots also especially if you are shooting 1 to 2 minute exposure then a 13 or 16 stop ND filter is going to be near vital here.
If you’re in the market for some ND filters I highly recommend the Formatt Hitech Firecrest Ultra filters (review here) and they have been kind enough to give me a 10% off discount code for my Photography Workshop clients and readers so feel free to use HAYES10 at checkout to save yourself some money.

Tips 5… Use the ground around you.

Yes, the beach is stunning here and while the columns and sea stacks have to be without doubt the highlight of Black sand beach don’t forget the black sand also and a cool tip to highlight the colour of the sand is to use the brown reeds or brown grass (not too sure which one it is) on the mounds further up the beach to really add some contrast to our foreground.
Those mounds can also be handy to hide some of the tourists that frequently gather by the columns. Or you can also highlight this amazing sand by doing more of a close up of the water running over it showing the bright white of the wave and the sheer black of this unearthly looking sand.
I have a few examples above and below where you can see this awesome contrast and it just adds sometime special to the image.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach photography.

Tip 6… Take your time

This has to be the most important tips here as this whole beach is incredibly epic for want of another word.
Evene when I was there a client for a Photography Workshop rang me and asked what it was like when I explained I was at Black Sand Beach, my reply to him was “this place is just so primeval that if a dinosaur walked around the corner right now it wouldn’t surprise me, it would actually make sense” 🙂
So, invest the time take 15 to 20 minutes to really soak this place in and get a feel for it or connect to it. Try and understand whats going on with the waves and how they interact with the beach and pick up any patterns and play with them.
Most importantly, spend the time looking for something here, as trust me there is loads to be seen.
In our recent trip it was covered in an incredibly thick fog for a day and the second day wasn’t a lot better and then of course it rained a small bit and we got a nice sample of an Icelandic storm then too. So not the best photography weather but it was still an amazing experience.
This beach and Jokursalon Glacier Lagoon (photography blog post here) really reset something in me and I could feel it at the time and that feeling has only gotten stronger as I have spent time looking at the photographs I won’t even mention Vestrahorn here 🙂

I hope my 6 tips on photographing Black Sand Beach or Reynisfjara has helped you a little bit.

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to checkout the other blogs on my Iceland adventures below.

Top 7 tips to Photographing Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon Iceland here.

See you out there,