Inevitably, most people get their first taste of Iceland at Reykjavík, rubbing shoulders with over half the country’s population. It may be small, but what Reykjavík lacks in size it more than makes up for in stylish bars, restaurants and shops, and the nightlife is every bit as wild as it’s cracked up to be: during the light summer nights, the city barely sleeps. Reykjavík also makes a good base for visiting Geysir, the original geyser, the ancient parliament site of Þingvellir, spectacular waterfalls at Gullfoss and the famous and sublime Blue Lagoon.

Beyond Reykjavík, Route 1, the Ringroad, runs out to encircle the island, and the wilder side of Iceland soon shows itself – open spaces of vivid green edged by unspoiled coastlines of red and black sands, all set against a backdrop of brooding hills and mountains.

 The west coast is dominated by the towns of Borgarnes and Reykholt, both strongly associated with the sagas, while the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, with views of the monster glacier at its tip, is one of the country’s most accessible hiking destinations. Arguably Iceland’s most dramatic scenery is found in the far northwest of the country, the West Fjords, where tiny fishing villages nestle at the foot of table-top mountains. Ísafjörður is the only settlement of any size here and makes a good base from which to strike out on foot into the wilderness of the Hornstrandir Peninsula. Beautifully located on the north coast, Akureyri is rightfully known as the capital of the north and functions as Iceland’s second city. With a string of bars and restaurants, it can make a refreshing change from the small villages hereabouts. From Akureyri it’s easy to reach the island of Grímsey, the only part of Icelandic territory actually within the Arctic Circle; and the country’s biggest tourist attraction outside the capital, Lake Mývatn. The lake is a favourite nesting place for many species of duck and other waterfowl and is surrounded by an electrifying proliferation of volcanic activity. Nearby Húsavík is one of the best places in the country to organize summer whale-watching cruises, while just inland, the wilds of Jökulsárgljúfur National Park offer superlative hiking along deep river gorges to the spectacular Dettifoss, Europe’s most powerful waterfall. Then there are the East Fjords which, despite easy access, remain the least touristed part of Iceland, perhaps because there are no major sights – just plenty of calm, quiet, grand scenery.

South of here, Höfn is a good base from which to visit Europe’s biggest glacier, the mighty Vatnajökull, either on a skidoo trip or on foot through Skaftafell National Park, while the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon offers the surreal chance to cruise alongside floating icebergs.

The south coast is marked by vast stretches of black, volcanic coastal sands punctuated by charming villages such as Vík, Iceland’s southernmost settlement. Inland are more mighty waterfalls, including Skógarfoss and Seljalandsfoss; the wilderness surrounding Hekla, a highly active volcano which last erupted in 2000; at least one thermal outdoor pool to soak in; and a landscape central to Njál’s Saga, one of the nation’s great, visceral Viking romances. Iceland’s most rewarding hiking route can also be found here: the five-day Laugavegur trail between extraordinary hot-springs scenery at Landmannalaugar and the beautiful highland valley of  Þórsmörk. Just a quick ferry ride offshore from all this lies Heimaey, at the heart of the the Westman Islands, which hosts one of the the world’s largest puffin colonies – and carries evidence of a catastrophic eruption during the 1970s which almost saw the island abandoned.

Iceland’s barren Interior is best tackled as part of a guided tour – it’s much easier to let experienced drivers of all-terrain buses pick their way across lavafields and cross unbridged rivers than to try it yourself.

Before traveling to Iceland please read the list of 10 things (in no particular order) that you might find helpful before you begin your trip.  If you’re planning a trip to Iceland for the first time, there are just a few things you should know before you go.

1. The weather in Iceland is unpredictable. If you’re renting a car, taking a hike, or simply plan to walk around and sightsee, be prepared to possibly experience a bit of wind or rain on any given day. Packing waterproof pants, a windbreaker jacket (with a hood!), gloves, and of course an umbrella are all smart items to find room for in your suitcase.

2. A helpful tip if you plan on renting a car in Iceland: Manuals are significantly cheaper to rent than Automatics. It’s also important to note that F-Roads are accessible by cars with 4WD only.

3. And on that note, take caution while driving! As mentioned above, Iceland can get pretty windy, so watch your speed and drive safe. It would also be wise to study different Icelandic road signs before taking to the road as these can be a bit confusing.

4. Along with your waterproof pants and windbreaker, be sure to pack your own towels since renting them can definitely add up!

5. Do not fret about having to exchange your money for Krónas. Fortunately, you can use your credit card for almost everything in Iceland. A few situations where you might find cash useful would be for paying parking meters, or buying something from certain cash-only vendors at the flea market. It’s also possible you might come across a public toilet that requires you to pay a few coins. (The exchange rate for converting Icelandic Kronas to United States Dollars is 1 ISK for 0.00887 USD, or 500 ISK for roughly 5 USD.)

6. If you use a smartphone, an Icelandic mobile sim card can be purchased to access Iceland’s 3G network which is extremely helpful since it works even in the most remote areas, away from cities.

7. There is no need to tip when you’re eating out at a restaurant since the tip is always included in the price of the meal, and be careful before purchasing any alcohol (from places like Vínbúðin for instance) since many places offer it much, much cheaper. (There is also no need to tip taxi drivers since that’s also included in your total.)

8. Because the water is heated by geothermal energy, the hot water coming from the faucets smells a bit like sulfur. Regardless, the water is completely safe, so do not be alarmed! Don’t hesitate to drink the cold water either (that’s free of the sulfur smell) since that’s safe, too!

9. If you plan on bringing electronics or appliances, make sure to bring an adapter. Iceland uses the Europlug/Schuko-Plug which has two round prongs, so find a converter that will accommodate the 220 volts and you should be good to go. Finding a compatible adapter can be harder for a hair dryer, so it’s recommended you leave yours at home and instead buy a cheap one locally, or see if your hotel carries one.

10. Bring an informative travel guide, an accurate and detailed map of Iceland, as well as a GPS if you plan on driving. These will all come in handy and it wouldn’t hurt to study up before you go!

There is no more appropriate subject to photograph than the Aurora borealis to remind one that the word photography literally means to draw with light. 

The Aurora of the north (Aurora Borealis) occurs when charged particles emitted from the sun penetrate the earth’s magnetic shield and collide with atoms and molecules in the atmosphere. Witnessing this phenomenon is out of this world, but the process of photographing it need not make your head spin.

The first thing I always do is set my camera ISO for the aurora between 400 and 3200 depending on how strong it is. Then I put the camera on aperture priority and take a picture. The camera picks a shutterspeed authomatically and makes an exposure. Your camera’s meter is balanced to average out light. As such if you were to point it at a black wall it would make it grey. If you point it at a white wall it would make it grey. So pointing it to a dark sky with lights will often result in an undesirable overexposed exposure. Take the picture and see what happens. Switch to manual mode and adjust the shutter speed accordingly.

Here are the steps.
1. Mount camera on on tripod, frame up your image.
Yes this can be difficult in the dark but you will take several exposures and can adjust as you go.

2. Select your base ISO setting.
I like to start with 400ISO which has very little noise but more speed than 200 or 100. Depending on your camera and on the amount of light present on the night you might go 200 or you might need 3200.

3. Select your aperture.
If you are not concerned with depth of field pick an aperture either the lowest your lens offers, or for best image quality the sweet spot on your lens. This is usually two stops down from the lowest. So if your lens is at 3.5, it would go 4.0 then 5.6. If you want to have more depth of field pick a higher number like f 8.0.

4. Put the camera on A (aperture priority) and take a test shot.
This will force the camera to pick your shutter speed for you. Note what shutter speed the camera picks when on the Aperture priority setting and how dark or light the image is.

5. Switch the camera to M (manual mode).
Double check the aperture is the same as your test shot and set the shutter speed accordingly. If your camera gave you 14 seconds but it is way too bright try halving the time. So 7 seconds. If it is just right note the shutter speed and set it to manual anyhow. This way you will have that exposure as a base reference and the meter will not jump all over the place as the aurora flares up and down.

You will need to use your judgement and experiment with trial and error. Even more so if you are not practiced at metering. You can control it yourself judging the light and what you are getting. Remember you are painting with light and your results can vary greatly depending on the settings above. Have fun and experiment. I usually bring something warm to drink and some very good mitten gloves. The aurora tends to be visible when the skies are clear and the weather is cold.

Icelandic weather is notoriously unpredictable. In summer there’s a fair chance of bright and sunny days, and temperatures can reach 17°C, but good weather is interspersed with wet and misty spells when the temperature can plummet to a chilly 10°C. When thinking about the best time to visit Iceland, it’s worth bearing in mind that most museums and attractions are only open from late May to early September, and it’s at these times, too, that buses run their fullest schedules.

 Although almost all of Iceland lies south of the Arctic Circle and therefore doesn’t experience a true Midnight Sun, nights are light from mid-May to early August across the country; in the north, the sun never fully sets during June. Between September and January the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights can often be seen throughout the country. In winter temperatures fluctuate at 7–8°C either side of freezing point and daylight is limited to a few hours – in Reykjavík, sunrise isn’t until almost 11am in December; the sun is already sinking slowly back towards the horizon after 1pm.

Resting on the edge of the Arctic Circle and sitting on the top one of the world’s most volcanically active hot spots, Iceland is an inspiring mix of magisterial glaciers, bubbling hot springs and rugged fjords, where activities such as hiking under the Midnight Sun are complemented by healthy doses of history and literature.

Iceland is a place where nature reigns supreme. Aside from the modern and cosmopolitan capital, Reykjavík, population centers are small, with diminutive towns, fishing villages, farms, and minute hamlets clustered along the coastal fringes.

 The Interior, meanwhile, remains totally uninhabited and unmarked by humanity: a starkly beautiful wilderness of ice fields, windswept upland plateaux, infertile lava, and ash deserts, and the frigid vastness of Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier. Iceland’s location on the Mid-Atlantic ridge also gives it one of the most volcanically active landscapes on Earth, peppered with everything from naturally occurring hot springs, scaldingly hot bubbling mud pools and noisy steam vents to a string of unpredictably violent volcanoes, which have regularly devastated huge parts of the country. The latest events came in 2010 when Eyjafjallajökull erupted and caused havoc across Europe; and in 2015, when the eruption at Holuhraun created a huge new lava field.

Historically, the Icelanders have a mix of Nordic and Celtic blood, a heritage often held responsible for their characteristically laidback approach to life. The battle for survival against the elements over the centuries has also made them a highly self-reliant nation, whose former dependence on the sea and fishing for their economy was virtually total. Having spent years being dismissed as an insignificant outpost in the North Atlantic (Icelanders gave up counting how many times their country was left off maps of Europe), the eruption under Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 saw the tourist industry, at least, wake up to Iceland’s potential. Now close on a million foreigners visit annually – three times the national population – and Iceland is on a steep learning curve as it struggles to cope with tourist-driven inflation and sagging infrastructure at popular sights.