My Iceland goals - Kaila Drayton Photography

Before I left for Iceland, I had made three goals in regards to my photography:

Goal 1) To successfully use my graduated neutral density (GND) filter.  

I got the opportunity to do so at Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site 40km outside of Reykjavik. The views are incredible. There is not much in the way of forest in the park, but the shrubs, grasses, lichens, and other ground cover create a colorful carpet across the tundra, turning the familiar autumnal hues of orange and red and yellow. The walk to Öxarárfoss, a  waterfall, is an easy one, with a well-worn trail from the parking area turning from gravel to stone to boardwalk. As you can imagine, it’s a popular tourist site, but visiting during the off-season drastically reduces the number of tourists with selfie sticks, plastic water bottles, and the irresistible urge to climb the waterfall and ruin everyone’s photographs. With the GND filter and slow shutter speed, I was able to make the falls look like a white silk scarf.


Goal number one: complete.


Goal 2) To shoot something I've never shot before. In this case, I chose the night sky.




I figured seeing the Northern Lights (an item on my photography bucket list and half the reason we chose to come to Iceland) was hit or miss, but I knew the stars on a clear night would be incredible. After spending the day at Thingvellir park, we knew it was the perfect place to come back to photograph the stars. Save for a passing vehicle or two, there would be little to no light pollution. We ate a cheap and non-Icelandic dinner in Reykjavik, fueled up on caffeine and sugar, and headed back to Thingvellir. Aaron kept commenting that he thought he saw the auroras, pointing to cloudy bands stretching across the night sky. I thought he was nuts. Maybe it’s clouds or a weird star formation, but no way are those the aurora borealis. No way did NatGeo lie to me. We walked back up to the Öxarárfoss waterfall where I set up my tripod and adjusted my camera settings. I pressed the shutter button and then we waited as the shutter opened for 30 seconds, soaking in any available light from the stars. With the proper settings, cameras can pick up more than we can see with the naked eye, recording more stars than we can even fathom and can even pick up the faintest flare from the auroras. When the LCD screen flashed the preview, we saw green. Green? GREEN! Aaron was right, and as we waited and the night grew darker, the auroras grew stronger. Green and purple ribbons danced over the waterfall, spiraling and flashing in every corner of the sky. I have done quite a bit of traveling and I have never, in my entire life, seen anything like it. The pictures don’t do it justice. You have to see and experience it for yourself.


Goal 2: complete.


Goal 3) To stop overthinking. To trust my gut and my knowledge and go with the moment.

This one has been the easiest goal. There is picturesque scenery at every turn and Aaron and I very much enjoy traveling with each other, making each moment even better.


Goal 3: complete.