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Capturing Dramatic Portraits Against the Spectacular Icelandic Landscape


My wife, Vicki, and I are full-time portrait and wedding photographers. But when we aren’t shooting these things, some of our favorite concepts are creating dramatic images of people in fantastic surroundings.

After years of doing this kind of work I now find it difficult to photograph landscapes without placing a human subject into the image. In fact, some of our work of this type has been featured on PetaPixel before.

We work with a lot of models and one of our all-time favorites is Sarah Maillet. When we heard she was going to Iceland for a visit I knew we would have to go as well. Sarah arranged for some gowns from some local stateside designers and we brought along some of ours, including a fabulous purple parachute dress from Alice Andrews Designs.

Along with Ryan McCabe, who provided invaluable support to the project, we set out on a two week photo excursion to some of Iceland’s most scenic locations.

First off, Iceland totally lives up to all the hype about its stunning landscapes and natural features. Everywhere you look there’s another amazingly beautiful waterfall, glacier, coastline, cliff, geothermal feature… you name it. It was almost overwhelming.

Every landscape photographer should plan a trip to the island at least once. We’ll be going back sometime, I’m sure of it.

There would be no shortage of great locations to put Sarah into. There was, however, a shortage of good weather. It rained every day, was unseasonably cold, and windy like you wouldn’t believe. In fact, some of Sarah’s poses became seated or relined poses when it proved impossible for her to stand!

We had to work really hard with the little spells of decent weather we got to create some worthwhile images. When the light was good though, it was very good.

Most images were taken with a mix of ambient light and strobes. We had a Phottix Indra 500 and several Nikon speed lights and often used the Indra 500 as a key light and a gridded speed light as a rim or accent light.

We were usually very limited in our choice of modifiers due to the high winds. We used two Nikon camera bodies and had lenses with focal lengths from 17mm all the way up to 500mm, and wound up using the whole range. We had a Nikon 200mm f/2.0 with, us which gave some fantastic results.

In case you can’t already tell, we would highly recommend a trip to Iceland for anyone interested. Air fares are cheap, flights are short, the people are friendly, and the country is spectacular. Each season has something special to offer and the logistics of a trip to the island are very straight forward.

We can’t wait to go back and are excited to see how great it can be there with better weather.

About the author: Jay and Vicki Philbrick are the team behind New Hampshire-based Philbrick Photography. Together, they create extreme and breathtaking portrait and wedding photography. You can find more of their work on the Philbrick Photography website, or by following them on Facebook.