A picture perfect trip to Iceland

Right now, Iceland is where it’s at! After a team of part-time footballers dashed England’s Euro dreams, all eyes have turned north to this unique country. Now you can fill your Instagram feed with some amazing pictures on a new photography tour of Iceland.

Iceland (photo by Oliver Wright)
Iceland (photo by Oliver Wright)

Tour operators Off the Map Travel have teamed up with two professional Arctic photographers, both renowned for their images of the Northern Lights and the Arctic wilderness, to offer an exclusive and intimate photography experience designed to capture the history, culture and natural beauty of Iceland.

The new Incredible Iceland Photography Adventure was created by two leading British born nature photographers, Oliver Wright and Matt Richardson, who met in Northern Sweden over their shared love of the Arctic. The new itinerary will run over two initial dates in September (02 Sept – 10 Sept 2016 or 10 Sept – 18 Sept 2016) and uses local knowledge and off the beaten track locations to give the best possible photographic opportunities for guests on the trip.

Oliver explains, “Iceland is one of the best places in the world for photography. The raw natural beauty attracts the world’s leading photographers who come to capture everything from landscapes to Northern Lights. Both Matt and myself have spent a lot of time shooting in the area and have uncovered some incredible spots only really known by the locals. This trip is all about giving our guests the chance to work in these incredible isolated locations, where we will help our guests get those dream shots.”

The charming coastal town of Akureyri in Northern Iceland, where the majority of the itinerary is based, is arguably one of the best places in Iceland for photography with pristine Icelandic wilderness and rugged coastline. Guests will stay in a 150-year-old historic Icelandic house lovingly restored with a luxurious, typically Icelandic, finish.

Iceland (photo by Oliver Wright)
Iceland (photo by Oliver Wright)

There is no set itinerary for the tour which allows the guides to adapt locations to the weather conditions and interests of the group. With room for just six on each trip, two expert photography guides and two vehicles there is plenty of room for equipment and the chance to split and visit different locations simultaneously, depending on the interests of the group.

Additional excursions include whale watching and a trip to the Myvatn Geothermal Nature Baths, as well as a visit to the Blue Lagoon. There is also a slim chance (being early in the season) of seeing the famous Northern Lights (both Matt and Oliver specialise in photographing the Aurora Borealis so will be on hand to help guests snap their own beautiful photographs).

A nine night Incredible Iceland Photography Adventure, suitable for both beginners and more established photographers, including a night in Reykjavik and eight nights in Akureyri with Off the Map Travel (www.offthemaptravel.co.uk) costs from £2799 per person, excluding flights. This includes all transfers, a night in a 4* central Reykjavik hotel on a bed and breakfast basis with an Aurora Hunt and a visit to the Blue Lagoon; eight nights at the luxury Icelandic historic house in Akureyri including all meals and transfers, expert photography guiding, photography workshops, Whale Watching and the Myvatn Geothermal Nature Baths trips.

For more information about Incredible Iceland Photography Adventure visit www.offthemaptravel.co.uk, call +44 (0) 800 566 8901 or email info@offthemaptravel.co.uk

Iceland (photo by Oliver Wright)
Iceland (photo by Oliver Wright)

Experience the Northern Lights by moonlight – new for 2016

Many experts believe the Northern Lights is best viewed during a full-moon. This new trip is geared towards seeing the Aurora Borealis in the Arctic moonlight…

Aurora with the moon (Off the Map Travel)
Aurora with the moon (Off the Map Travel)

The Moonlight Aurora experience, created by Arctic travel specialists Off The Map Travel and Aurora experts, gives guests an alternative experience in hunting the Northern Lights in January 2016. Contrary to popular belief, many Aurora experts, from leading guides to world class photographers, believe that the full-moon enhances the Northern Lights rather than detracting from it.

Jonny Cooper, Director of Off the Map Travel and Northern Lights travel expert said; “In our experience, a full-moon only affects really weak Aurora, and then only when the moon is directly behind it. For me, a good full-moon can add a different dimension to experiencing and photographing the Aurora. I love it and am more likely to spend the night looking skyward under the glow of a full-moon.”

Aurora Sky Station (Chad Blakley, Lights Over Lapland)
Aurora Sky Station (Chad Blakely, Lights Over Lapland)

Rather than the moon, the thing that can most spoilt a good Aurora display is thick cloud cover. Therefore, the Moonlight Aurora experience takes place in Bjorkliden and Abisko, Northern Sweden, which, due to its surrounding mountains, has special weather patterns that deliver more clear nights than other areas across the region.

Off the Map Travel’s Jonny Cooper continues; “The Arctic moon is a spectacular sight in its own right and gives guests a superb focal point when hunting for the Northern Lights to enjoy the Arctic by moonlight.”

Many photographers say that they prefer to capture the Aurora when there’s a full-moon. Chad Blakely, world class Aurora photographer and owner of Lights over Lapland, added; “I love photographing Aurora in moonlight as it gives pictures a completely different feel by lightening the foreground, and instead of the pitch black background, the moonlight gives the sky a rich blue colour which compliments the green of the Aurora. Moonlit Aurora are spectacular – I love them.”

Alone with the lights (Chad Blakley, Lights Over Lapland)
Alone with the lights (Chad Blakely, Lights Over Lapland)

The Moonlight Aurora experience will be held during the full moon from the 22nd of January 2016 and will give guests the chance to enjoy a range of the Arctic winter activities under the full-moon and, hopefully, under spectacular Northern Lights displays.

A four night Moonlight Aurora adventure to Bjorkliden and Abisko in Northern Sweden with Off the Map Travel costs from £1749 per person, excluding flights, based on two sharing. This includes:

  • transfers
  • four nights in a spectacular 4* hotel on a full board basis
  • a private specialist guide
  • a visit to the ICEHOTEL
  • private Lights over Lapland moonlight photography tour
  • dog sledding as the moon rises
  • visit to the Aurora Sky Station
  • snowmobile tour
  • guided moonlit snowshoe walk
  • Norway fjord trip
  • Ice-fishing and cooking under the moon


For more information about Moonlight Aurora adventure or Northern Lights holidays visit www.offthemaptravel.co.uk, call +44 (0) 800 566 8901 or email info@offthemaptravel.co.uk

How to take great wildlife photos on your travels

From urban geese and snowy stags through to underwater habitats and forest close ups, the standard of images at the 2014 British Wildlife Photography Awards was incredible (you can see the winners’ gallery here). If you’ve been inspired by the amazing images from the competition, professional nature photographer Paul Hobson shares his top tips for amateur photographers looking to capture the great outdoors on their travels.

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Taking wildlife close-ups

Taking extreme close up photography, also known as macro photography, is a great way to capture a new perspective of your destination. But showing intricate details in a larger-than-life way can be tricky. Here are Paul’s top macro tips:

Try to get low: Lying down on the ground to photograph close-ups creates a lovely blur effect before and after your subject, helping it really stand out.

Find interesting subjects: Macro subjects are everywhere. Think about patterns such as tree bark or leaves resting on moss. Every season is different – autumn not only adds lovely colours but is the best time for fungi which make brilliant macro subjects. The main thing is to experiment and look for different patterns and textures.

Learn your equipment settings: Paul says “I always shoot in Aperture Priority (Av). I choose my F number when I consider what depth of field I need. However if you have a compact it will usually have a macro setting, choose this. Depth of field is very small when using macro lenses so you often have to use large F numbers like 11, 16 or 22. Learn to understand ISO and use this to increase the speed in low light situations. Be careful though; if the ISO gets too high the image becomes grainy (called noise).”

Buy a large lens: If you are considering purchasing a macro lens try to get the largest size you can afford. All dedicated macro lenses produce an image that is 1:1, i.e. life size. A 90/100mm macro lens produces the same image size as a 60mm macro lens but you are nearly twice as far away. A 180mm macro lens will produce the same image size but at twice the distance of a 90/100mm lens from the subject. The further away you are reduces the chances of disturbing or scaring away skittish subjects (like butterflies).

See more of Paul’s macro photography tips

Taking photos of animals

Woodland animals are notoriously shy, which makes capturing that elusive moment you see them so exciting:

Stalk or wait? Forest animals are very timid. You have to decide if you are going to stalk them or wait for them to show up in one place. Some animals, such as deer in forest parks, are used to people so will allow a closer approach. It’s often better to practise with animals that are used to seeing humans so you can build up your skills.

Get up and out early: Most mammals and birds are most active just after dawn, during the early morning and towards sunset. The light is always better at these times generally. Check out the location you want to photograph a few times before actually taking your camera to work out where you want to aim the lens. A few days watching and learning can make all the difference to your success rate before that first early morning with your camera.

Use a tripod: If you are going to wait for your subject, such as birds coming to food you have put out, use a tripod. It means you don’t have to keep holding the camera for hours. A comfy chair or seat also helps. In some situations you may also need a hide but in others such as a fox walking down a well-used path you can snuggle down and wait.

Research: Reading about your subject is always a good idea. There are lots of good books and websites to help. Learn when your animal is most active, what’s the best time of day (and time of year) to spot it, what behaviour you can expect and how good its senses are. For example, badgers have poor eyesight but have brilliant hearing and sense of smell.

See more of Paul’s animal photography tips

Taking nature landscapes

Seek out shadows: Shadows can play a key part in any landscape image and add drama and depth. Think about how they will move, lengthen or shorten during the day and plan your time when you will create your image to get the best effect from any shadows.

Pick a lens size: The best landscape lenses tend to be the smaller ones, depending on whether your camera has a crop factor sensor (most do). Choose a small zoom, say 16-35, 17-40 or 24–105mm. A 70-200mm can be an effective landscape lens but it’s always a good idea to have one that allows a wider angle approach as well.

Think of the composition: For landscapes, think about the sky and if you are going to include it. If you do, try to avoid having the horizon straight across the middle of your image. Sometimes a point of focus in front of the image, say a fern or mossy rock helps to lead the eye into your landscape.

Use a higher ISO and F number: Most landscape images are shot at high F numbers like 16, 22 or 32 to create a big depth of field. You may have to move your ISO up to make sure you get a good speed if you handhold your camera. Better still though is to use a tripod.

See more of Paul’s landscape photography tips.

About Paul Hobson: Paul has received many awards for his images, including being Highly Commended this year in the British Wildlife Photography awards with his image of a toad underwater. Before becoming a full time nature photographer, Paul worked at Sheffield College as an Environmental Science Lecturer. Paul has been photographing wildlife for over 20 years and is committed to raising awareness of the tremendous beauty and fragility of Britain’s wildlife. His work is regularly used in BBC Wildlife, Birdwatch and Natural World.

All images courtesy of Paul Hobson