I've been interested in taking a photo vacation in Iceland for some time now and with the economic meltdown in that country it would seem to be a good time price wise. For those who have traveled there, did you set out on your own or as part of a tour? I've never been on a photo tour but having never been in the country I'm considering it. How have those of you who have traveled to Iceland find the experience? I'm specifically interested in your opinions regarding photo tours options vs. self guided tours.
As for your question, a photo tour vs. self guided, both approaches have their merit. Iceland is a very photogenic place and it's easy to find great locations by just driving the main highway that circles the island. But to fully experience Iceland in summer you have to get into the interior (the Highland). That however requires camping and hiking, unless you are willing to drive back and forth from hotels, which I don't reccommend, although I do that myself on some tours. Camping is usually easy, there is a brochure published every year - a guide to campsites. The must visit campsite is in Landmannalaugar, in the Southern Highland - Fjallabak Nature Reserve. From Landmannalaugar there are many hiking trails for day trips and it's also worth hiking up to Hrafntinnusker (or driving up there, which requires a 4x4 with high clearance). There is a hut in Hrafntinnusker run by the Iceland Touring Association, they also have huts in Landmannalaugar (for those not willing to camp) and do actually have a net of such huts all over Iceland: http://www.fi.is/en
The best thing about camping in Iceland is the freedom to be where the best conditions are, and not having to travel with prebooked accommodation, because in some areas of the country you have to book hotels far in advance during the hi-season. Also, from a photographic point of view I would reccomend staying longer in a few carefully chosen locations, like for instance around the three national parks (Skaftafell, Jokulsargljufur and Snaefellsnes) plus Landmannalaugar rather than spend too much time driving around. Books like the mentioned Lost in Iceland, with maps where the images are taken, are very useful if you are travelling by yourself but tourist photographers (like Sigurgeir - the Lost in Iceland author) rarely go off the beaten path. That is fine for a first visit to Iceland, just seeing the main tourist locations during a first visit gives a good feeling for the country. The landscape photography hours in summer are usually late enough or early enough to have very few tourist around, if any.
If you have limited time or ar looking for inspiration by travelling with like minded individuals, or just appreciate the company of fellow photographers and having access to expert advice, then a dedicated photography tour is certainly better than travelling by yourself. The quality of such tours is very dependent on the tour leader. I have seen travel agencies run photo tours with leaders that are not photographers themselves and I know of an American photographer that came here with a tour without ever having been to Iceland before. Make sure that if it's a foreign photographer that's leading the tour that he at least has a local guide, preferably a photographer himself. Or rather, do a tour with a respected and experienced Icelandic photographer. That should guarantee a good experience in terms of logistics and locations. The weather in this country is such that there are prevailing microclimates and it can be raining for days in one location and sunshine just 20 km away. Knowledge of locations and different conditions at different times only comes with experience.
As for the logistics of photo tours in Iceland there are two main types: hotel or camping. I run both and each have their strength and weakness. Camping tours require good fitness, they can be tought (like having to break camp in a storm and take shelter inside a cramped hut) but they have much more flexible itineraries and you can camp in the best photography locations, which cuts down on car travel. But camping is not for everyone and hotel tours offer a more "soft" adventure. They usually have a regular schedule (in terms of meals and such), comfortable accommodation and internet connection but require driving back and forth between photography locations and hotels. I have some tours posted on my website, which should give you an idea what's available (at least what I've found to work best) and a PDF Newsletter on the home page, which you can download: http://www.danielbergmann.com
Hope this helps a bit and if you have any specific questions you can email me as I don't visit this forum on a regular basis.
Stuck in Iceland