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Photographing Iceland, With an All-in-One Assist



David Akoubian captures the Nordic island’s glaciers, waterfalls, and resident horses with his Tamron 18-300mm VC VXD zoom lens.


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By Jenn Gidman
Images by David Akoubian


When David Akoubian first planned out last autumn’s trip to Iceland, it was meant to be a tour of the northwest section of the island, along the coast. After he and the photographers traveling with him arrived, however, inclement weather shut down that part of Iceland, and the group had to modify their plans. “Luckily, we had a terrific Icelandic guide who called down to the southern coast, booked all new hotels, and made improvised arrangements for us,” he says. “Our itinerary changed, but we were still determined to capture photos that showed the magnificence of the Icelandic landscape.”

Despite being faced with this unpredictable turn of events—and maybe even because of it—David’s main lens on this trip stayed the course. Using the new Tamron 18-300mm VC VXD all-in-one zoom lens, he was able to achieve all of the images he’d hoped for. “My initial goal was to use the 18-300 for about half of the images I took,” he says. “I had another camera body, along with two other Tamron lenses, in my camera bag, but the winds while we were there were so strong that I would’ve had to have retreated into the van every time I wanted to change lenses—especially on the beaches at Vestrahorn, where the sand was pounding our faces. I ended up sticking with this lens, which was so light and compact, the entire time, and I didn’t miss a single shot.”

The versatility of the 18-300 allowed David to capture perspectives near and far in their starting point, the capital of Reykjavik. “We hiked up the hill to visit Hallgrimskirkja Church, the tallest building in the city,” he says. “You can see out over Reykjavik from the 240-foot-high tower, which is where I shot both the wider view of the city that you see here, as well as a close-up of that red-and-green bakery, which I spotted in the distance. The 18-300 is the perfect lens for those wider shots, and then to zoom in on those details.”

© David Akoubian
19mm, F/8, 1/500th sec., ISO 100
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© David Akoubian
300mm, F/8, 1/500th sec., ISO 100
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One of the first stops outside of Reykjavik was Diamond Beach, a volcanic black-sand beach on the island’s southern coast known for its icebergs and chunks of ice that dot the shoreline. “On the western shore of the inlet, we saw hundreds of those ice nuggets,” he says. “For the first photo you see here, I was dragging the shutter a bit to create that creamy effect of the water coming in around the ice. For the second photo, the sun was rising over to the left, and I saw all of these people running over to their camera bags to switch lenses as the light hit the ice, giving it that wonderful glow. That’s the great thing about the 18-300—I was able to zoom in without moving from my spot or having to change lenses.”

© David Akoubian
46mm, F/16, 0.8 sec., ISO 100
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© David Akoubian
19mm, F/8, 1/500th sec., ISO 100
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The compactness of the easy-to-carry 18-300 lens helped David keep his gear protected while photographing Iceland’s famous waterfalls, including the Hraunfossar falls, a national monument since 1987, and Skogafoss, one of Iceland’s biggest waterfalls, boasting a drop of nearly 200 feet. “At Hraunfossar it’s neat, because the water comes from the top of the hill and falls through the middle of the lava layers,” says David. “Meanwhile, at Skogafoss, we were worried there would be a big crowd that might get in the way of a nice shot, but all the tourists had left by the time we got there. The rainbow was an extra bonus. In both cases, I was able to carry my camera with the 18-300 lens on it on a strap and simply slip it underneath my jacket as we got closer to the waterfall, which sent out a lot of spray toward us. I could then just pull it out when I got to the exact spot where I wanted to take my photo.”

© David Akoubian
255mm, F/16, 0.8 sec., ISO 50
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© David Akoubian
18mm, F/11, 1/30th sec., ISO 50
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Using the wide end of the lens, David was able to capture more expansive shots, like his photo of the remote seaside village of Vik, or one of the nearly 2,500-foot-high mountain Eystrahorn, an extremely steep structure known for its mineral makeup. Zooming in to 300mm, meanwhile, allowed David to concentrate on the details of the Icelandic landscape, like in his photo of the Svinafellsjokull glacier, one of the nation’s most popular hiking sites due to its eye-catching formations. Christopher Nolan shot part of his 2014 film Interstellar on the glacier.

© David Akoubian
18mm, F/8, 30 sec., ISO 100
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© David Akoubian
18mm, F/8, 1/250th sec., ISO 100
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© David Akoubian
300mm, F/13, 1/80th sec., ISO 200
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“I was trying to find contrast in the scene you see here,” says David. “By zooming in, I was able to compose the shot so you see that darker formation to the right, and then those vertical striations and tonality throughout the rest of the image. I also wanted to show a bit of the mountain behind the glacier, which you can see at the very top of the frame.”

One of David’s favorite parts of the trip: his interaction with Iceland’s famous horses, which are locally bred, friendly, and often found grazing along the country’s roadsides. “They’re so sweet, and this was a highlight of our trip,” he says. “For the most part, the Icelandic people don’t mind if you pull over and pet the horses, which will come running right up to the fences to interact with you. If you’re stopping with the intent to take a photo, however, I suggest that you do so when you spot horses that are about 50 feet away. By the time you get out of the car, they’re already running over toward the fence to see you—you want a chance to be able to take their picture before you get your one-on-one time with them.”

© David Akoubian
76mm, F/8, 1/250th sec., ISO 1000
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