Stokksnes also known as Vestrahorn is one of my favorite locations in all of Iceland. There’s just something about the isolation of those mountains in combination with the black sand, which is hard to beat. It gives that rough, yet beautiful feeling of the cold north. Almost no matter the weather you’ll be able to make beautiful landscape pictures here, simply because… it’s a beautiful landscape.
Stokksnes is fairly easy to find. Following the main road A1 a few kilometers from Höfn, you’ll have to make a right turn into a gravel road. There’s a board with a sign for the location, just before the tunnel. After the turn you simply follow the gravel road until you get to an area with a small cafeteria.
There’s a small fee to enter the area. You can either park the car by the cafeteria or drive it further into the area. Be aware of sand on the road if it’s a windy day. During one of my visits the road actually got covered in so much sand it was hard to leave the area again.
I’ve been to Stokksnes on several occasions during almost all kinds of weather. I’ve covered everything from beautiful golden hours during summer, northern lights during night, moody gray days and snow storms during winter. Unless you get a white-out or low-hanging clouds covering the mountains it’s next to nearly impossible to make a bad photo at Stokksnes.
The low hanging clouds do happen quite often, so keep your eyes on the weather apps. Besides being a beautiful landscape Stokksnes also delivers a whole set of strong foregrounds, which you can use to “build up” your photo. Black sand dunes with tall grass, texture rich sand, rocks with clashing waves and reflections are just some of the main elements.
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If you park at the parking lot at the end of the gravel road you will have several options to choose from. The black sand dunes are your first option, if the grass is tramped down or there’re too many footprints try the western side of the road, where you’ll find even more dunes.
Another option is to go down to the beach. At Stokksnes there’re good opportunities for reflection images. The beach is very flat, making the water from the waves pull back rather slow giving you a window to catch the reflection. But small pebbles can disturb the reflection. At this specific location I’d recommend to bring some kind of waterproof boots, so you can just stay in the water without having to run back and forth. After all… falling in the water is super annoying.
At the end of the beach towards the radar station there is a small cliff or rock hill, where you can find some great foregrounds. Especially on a day with wind and waves you can make some gorgeous long exposures here.
Between the dunes and the mountains there’s an area which occasionally floods because of storms, rain, melting water or the tide. The water is often no more than a few centimeters deep, but it’s enough for capturing great reflections – especially on days without wind. During 2017 and 2018 you can see a little Viking village underneath the mountains. It’s a film set for an upcoming movie. One can only hope they’ll not tear it down after shooting.
An ultra-wide angle lens is highly recommended here if you want to capture the entire scene. Even with a 16mm focal length you can’t go too close.
For the most part you’ll be fine with that, but if I could choose only one lens for this location it would be something like an 11-24mm. That of course doesn’t mean you can’t use longer focal lengths to zoom into the details in the mountains or take multiple photos and make a panorama.
From all these locations you’re pointed more or less directly north. That means the sun sets and rises behind the mountains during summer, giving you a chance to catch some epic back-lit golden hour photos.
During the winter half of the year the sunset and sunrise lights up the mountains, which also gives some dramatic photos with lots of emphasis on the mountains. Because of your shooting direction, the mountains, and different options for reflections and foregrounds Stokksnes provides one of the best locations for creating amazing northern lights photos in all of Iceland.
Unless you deliberately seek out clear weather you will probably get clouds here though. That’s by no means a bad thing either as long as the clouds don’t cover the mountains.
If you can hit a day with the right amount of snow showers, you can get some dramatic effects too. Actually one of my favorite photos I caught during a snow storm here – or more precisely a snow shower – the tip of the mountains were almost covered by the shower giving me a great focal point. The foreground sand was all frozen with snow blowing over it.
The entire scene had a feeling of bleakness, coldness and emptiness. Not something you’d initially think would make a great photo, but in my opinion it’s one of my best and why I can recommend Stokksnes in almost all kinds of weather.
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Vestrahorn is an unbelievably beautiful out-of-this-world location and it’s easy to understand why it’s so popular! If you come to Iceland for photography it’s a location which is hard to ignore. If you want to see even more footage from this location be sure to check out my video below with a lot of beautiful cinematic drone footage.