Jökulsárlón & Diamond Beach

Glacier Ice on the Diamond Beach Jokulsarlon

Jökulsárlón Glacier lagoon

Jökulsarlon adds a bit of magic to any trip to Iceland!

Iceland’s famous Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon was the main attraction of most of our popular photo tours. The photos from this location inspired many top photographers and tourists to visit this corner of East Iceland.  The East Iceland glacial lagoon is now Iceland’s deepest lake with parts deeper than 200m in places. The huge lake holds thousands of tonnes of ice that has broken off the Breiðamerkurjökull which is an outlet glacier of Vatnjökull Glacier. It is the only place where ice actually makes it from the glacier to the open ocean.

Ancient Ice

Some of the ice on Jökulsárlón fell as snow in the days of the Sagas. Now the ice retreats at a rate of 100 meters per year.  Warmer sea water from the North Atlantic Ocean creeps under the lagoon to the glacier shelf.  This not only speeds up the melting of the glacier, but also brings in fish along with seals and birds.  For this reason, the lagoon can be one of the best spots for wildlife photography in Iceland. Because of this rich feeding ground, the Nature Photographer can enjoy birds and seals all year round.

Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and mountains
Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and mountains

Warning!

Jökulsarlon seems to bring out the dangerous side of tourists. People will risk their lives by climbing onto floating ice for a selfie & some photographers risk the chance of broken legs if they walk into the sea at the Diamond beach for a more unique perspective.

I have swum in the glacier lagoon and so has Whim Hoff. But this is not to be encouraged. Sometimes, I would see a courageous teenager strip off their clothes in front of their mates and proceed to hop madly into the icy lake.

Some of our guests have taken off their seat belts and tried to jump out of the car before it has stopped moving!!. This had nothing to do with my minty fresh breath, it was because the view of Jökulsárlón becomes so overwhelming.

National Park

This world famous Glacier lagoon in South East Iceland has just been declared a National Park. This is an important decision because it means that the lagoon area will be protected from development.

Pink Glacier Lagoon

Glacier Geology

Jokulsarlon sits on Iceland’s longest fjord. Most of the fjord has been covered with glacier since the mini ice age over the last 8 hundred years. Global warming might just reveal the fjord for the first time in hundreds of years. In the days of the saga, the mighty Vatnjökull was described as 2 smaller glaciers. It was possible to hike between them. 

The East side of the Jökulsarlon lagoon with the cafe and boat tours is now a National park. Camping is forbidden there, but nobody seems to bother the camper vans parked there late every evening. Except the aurora hunting photographers who come to Jökulsarlon for fantastic Northern Lights displays.

The lake is almost completely surrounded by terminal moraines. These small hills are created by the expanding glacier and provide useful view points. There are moderate hikes on both sides of the lagoon. This is a good way to get away from the crowds. Use the large hill near the carpark to see if the ice gets close to the shore in other parts of the lake.

Jökulsarlon reflections.
Summer evening at Jökulsarlon

A place to reflect

In the summer the lagoon is the perfect place to spend time. The ice chills the air nicely as the Arctic terns buzz around above your head. Families of seals try to get away from the groups of tourists but seem fascinated by tripods and telephoto lenses.

The shelter of the ice means that perfect reflections are common on the lagoon. They can be easily disturbed by a passing seal of the crashing of one of the bergs as it turns over. The perfect reflection make the glacier lagoon a favourite place for photographers because, in the early morning or late evening, it is nearly impossible to take a bad picture.

The Glacier Lagoon has been used as a film set for many films including James Bond, Batman and Tomb Raider. The East side of the Jökulsarlon lagoon with the cafe and Amphibious boat tours is now a National park. Camping is forbidden there, but nobody seems to bother the camper vans parked there late every evening. Except the aurora hunting photographers who come to Jökulsarlon for fantastic Northern Lights displays.

Northern lights at Jokulsarlon
Northern Lights on the Glacier Lagoon.

Photo tips:

Wide Angle

If there is an colour or drama in the sky, then a wide angle lens is a good choice. Look for any icebergs that are close to the shore. Sometimes you can get a bit closer to the floating ice by putting your tripod in the lake. Be careful though, because the lake is tidal and you could lose everything. Try to focus on foreground and find a nice piece of ice which will lead into the bigger scene. Experiment with a polariser. Try some long exposures if you can, but be aware that the ice moves.

Telephoto Lens

Telephoto landscapes work very well at Jökulsarlon . Try to fill the frame with as many different textures as you can find. Don’t try to avoid the dirty black ice. It is not great to look at, ut can add a lot to a photo. Adjust your exposure around 1 to 1.5 stops over to correctly expose the ice if it dominates the scene. Use a long telephoto lens to photograph seals. Telephoto landscapes – try to fill the frame with as many different textures as you can find. Shooting seals needs around 200mm-400mm.

Diamond Ice Beach

Diamond Beach Jokulsarlon
Nacreous clouds – diamond beach dawn.

There are only a few places that constantly challenge my photography and continues to inspire great shots.  The Diamond beach is one of them.  The glacier ice beach is mainly Black Sand, but has areas of pebbles and shingle.  From the beach, you are looking South over the North Atlantic Ocean.  In the mid-Winter, the sun rises and sets over the sea.   Having Blue Glacier Ice on black sand is incredible.  Catching the scene with an Arctic sunrise is a photographer’s dream.

Northern Lights

Jökulsarlon is probably the best place to photograph northern lights. We were often rewarded with an Aurora display over Jökulsarlon Glacier Lagoon.   Normally, the Northern Lights will cross the Northern Night Sky.  It seems to connect the mountains on the East with the mountains on the West of the glacier.  If you are lucky enough to have clear night skies on an active Aurora night, you might be treated to a perfect reflection in the glacier lake.

Iceland aurora reflected in Jokulsarlon
Iceland aurora reflected in Jokulsarlon

The article Night of Ghosts was written about one of these experiences.Northern Lights over the Diamond Beach.

If the Northern lights are really active, they might appear in the Southern Skies.  This means that it could be possible to photograph Northern lights on the Diamond Beach.  The long exposure could be too much is the waves are big.  The smaller icebergs could move around over a 30 second exposure. Also, it can be dangerous to stand near the ocean in the dark.   Always allow for big swells and have waterproof footwear.Jokulsarlon Ice with 135mm telephoto lens.

Hali Country Hotel

The closest and best hotel to Jokulsarlon is Hali Country Hotel.  This Hotel started as a small guesthouse which now houses the excellent team of staff.  They have over 30 rooms with private bathrooms.  The beds are all large single beds with clean and comfortable bedding.  Each room has T.V. and internet connection.  There is a communal area where you can make tea or coffee and buy alcohol in the evening.  Breakfast is served in the Restaurant and is a high quality buffet.  The buffet features bacon, eggs, sausages and beans.  There are cereals, milk, yoghurt and fruit.  Alternatively, you can make a sandwich with slices meats and home baked breads.

(This link takes you through to Booking[dot]com.)

It is possible to photograph Northern Lights from Hali, but you are only about 10 miles from Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon.

Find Hotels Near Jokulsarlon

Booking.com

Tours to Jökulsárlón

These group tours include South Coast waterfalls, Black sand beach at Vik and Jökulsárlón Glacier lagoon and Diamond Beach. A day tour is a very tight schedule, so I recommend a multi-day tour to really appreciate Jökulsárlón.

Day Tours

This is a long day tour along the South Coast of Iceland and back. Most tours include short stops at Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss and Vik. Be aware that mid-winter some of these stops could be in the dark. 

Multi-day

Multi-day tours to Jokulsarlon are highly recommended if you have the time. There are enough beautiful locations to keep you photographing for several days. See the links below for a wider choice of Jokulsarlon tours.; 

Private Tours

Single and Multi-day private tours to Jökulsárlón. These are a bit more expensive, but include more flexibility. On balance these work well for small groups and families.

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By Tony Prower

Tony Prower spent over 15 years photographing the landscapes of Iceland. Tony Prower is a pioneer of the Magic Cloth Technique and ran thousands of photo tours in Iceland over 10 years.