13 Days around Iceland

Beginning of March, I spent 13 days on a road trip around Iceland. It was a mix between holidays and personal projects.
After New-York and Tokyo I was looking for something different, challenging, out of my comfort zone. The main idea was to take pictures but I also wanted to take that opportunity to realize a video of my trip and that’s why I decided to buy a drone.


At first, the video was supposed to be just some nice aerial shots. It’s actually my first project with a drone so I wanted to focus on that. However, after one day driving through Iceland, I was so impressed by the diversity of the landscapes and this infinite road number 1 that I had to capture some footage from the car too!

13 Days Around Iceland - Xavier Portela

13 Days Around Iceland – Xavier Portela

The video ended up being a mix between sequences taken from the drone and from the car.

In terms of cameras, I used a GoPro Hero 3 Black edition on the drone and a GoPro Hero 3+ Black edition on the car; both with the Protune Mode ON, 2k, 30fps. The post-production was done with Adobe Premiere (editing) and Davinci Resolve 11 (color grading).
The music is “In the Shadow of the Colossi” by Doug Kauffman.

GoPro Hero 3+ Black edition with the Suction cup

GoPro Hero 3+ Black edition with the Suction cup

Drone in Iceland

I used the DJI Phantom II with the Zenmuse H3-3D Gimbal to stabilize the GoPro. I also bought a video monitor Black Pearl 7 RC 801 which allows me to see what I’m filming. I bought this configuration because I didn’t want the built-in camera from DJI. I want to be able to use/change/update the GoPro. It also means I had to install the transmitter, the iOSD and the gimbal by myself but some great DIY videos on Youtube make it quite easy actually.

DJI Phantom II with Zenmuse H3-3D Gimbal and GoPro Hero3 Black edition

DJI Phantom II with Zenmuse H3-3D Gimbal and GoPro Hero3 Black edition

What I’ve learned so far with the drone: never take-off directly after starting your drone. You have to calibrate it for every flight but also you have to let the drone find as many GPS signals as possible before take-off. GPS signals are very important when you are a beginner because it helps you stabilize the drone and make your flight way easier that in manual mode. Also, once the drone has enough GPS signals, it will record is “home” position, so that it can come back to it by itself if it is out of range or if the battery is too low. So before each flight, wait for the lights to turn green! It will save you some troubles. Of course it’s not easy to flight when the wind is strong that’s for sure… also the cold temperature directly affects the battery’s autonomy. You can fly between 15 and 20 minutes max when the temperature is below 0°, try to keep your battery in a glove or in a pocket against your body.

The First Person Viewer is a must have, especially because you can quickly lose your drone! As you can imagine, Iceland is quite white during the winter with the snow, so your white drone on that white background will be hard to follow. Once it’s at 300 meters from you, it’s impossible to follow with your eyes. You should also consider the DJI iOSD. It’s an essential accessory that allows you to see your battery level on the screen, as well as your distance, altitude and also the amount of GPS available. More importantly, it helps you to measure the distance between you and the drone, which it’s quite useful when you don’t see it very well and you wonder if it’s coming back or going further.

DJI Phantom II with Zenmuse H3-3D Gimbal and GoPro Hero3 Black edition

DJI Phantom II with Zenmuse H3-3D Gimbal and GoPro Hero3 Black edition

The GoPro is also behaving differently in low temperature. I found several times corrupted files on the card which made me really mad. The kind of thing that shouldn’t happen with professional gear in my opinion.
Pull Up! Last but not least, no matter what happens, if you think you lose control or you are too close from an obstacle, go up! It’s the safest and fastest solution, at least you won’t hurt anyone and you can then try to get your drone home safely.

After 13 days in Iceland and flying almost every day, I have to say that it’s not easy but it’s worth it! I regret I wasn’t more prepared for that kind of shooting but anyway you always need a first project. Now I’m looking forward to find a GoPro 4 Black edition, because I was disappointed to find out a lot of glitches and artifacts in my footage with the GoPro 3 Black edition. I read on internet it was due to the rolling shutter issue when the camera is moving fast but I wonder if that problem is also present on the last edition of the GoPro.


Iceland is a paradise for landscape photographer. I saw a lot of inspiration online before my trip. Looking back at my work, I can say for sure that nature photography isn’t really in my DNA and I didn’t really know how I was going to create something impactful and aggressive the way I like it from those soft and virgin landscapes… but I needed to come back with something I would be happy to share, so I started thinking and making some plans about what I would experiment there.

In the end I didn’t do anything I planed, I didn’t play with long exposure, I didn’t use my nd filter, the only time I used my tripod was at night and finally I found myself shooting landscape almost like I would capture the atmosphere of Manhattan. The only difference is that I needed to find a scale. Those infinite space were huge, breathtaking and I needed to be able to frame them completely but also to give them that surprising effect they give you when you discover them at the end of a road, behind a mountain at the exit of a tunnel. Obviously, I came back from Iceland with way too many pictures… I really tried to limit myself but it’s kind of compulsive.

This is my first selection, more will come soon.

If you should pick only one lens for Iceland, it’s a wide one. For most of my pictures I used the 17-40mm with a polarize filter on it and I had my second body ready with the 100mm Macro in case I wanted to capture something close or a texture. Usually I never leave the 24-70mm off my body, but those landscapes are so huge and the light is so strong that I actually found myself almost not using it at all.

If you are looking to do long exposure, take a heavy tripod, the wind is always very strong. I mainly used mine at night to capture the sky and the northern lights. Another important thing: if you do a road trip, you will spend most of your day outside without access to power, so don’t forget to bring a usb car charger. It’s also interesting to get a local sim card so you can stay connected on 3G/4G, it’s very helpful to check the weather, check if the roads are open and you can use GoogleMap as your GPS (which I did all the time), and as a photographer you will find very interesting to use an app to track your GPS coordinates so you can geolocalize your photos in Adobe Lightroom in post-production.

Very important: pay attention to the temperature and keep your cameras in a bag when you go inside or outside. I had an issue with my 5D Mark III after spending an hour in the rain and the wind. I thought it was okay because my camera was in special plastic bag to protect it from the water. It was freezing and the camera was really cold, I enter in a bar, the temperature was warm and of course it started to condense, that was my first mistake. But my biggest mistake was going back out without putting the camera in the bag. I had some dysfunctions, like it was taking a picture when you half press the shutter button… Fortunately for me, after one night inside it was completely dry and everything was fixed. So remember, if the temperature is radically different, keep your camera in the bag or leave it in the trunk if you don’t need it inside.

Pay attention to your gear when the temperature changes radically.

Pay attention to your gear when the temperature changes radically.

What was in my bag?

As I want to keep my gear with me in the plane, I’m limited in terms of weight and number of bags. I had two backpacks: The Vanguard UP-Rise II 48 which is in my opinion the best backpack for the DJI Phantom II and it accessories. The ThinkTank Airport Essentials which become my first choice for traveling lightweight (2kg empty).  Weight limitations was one of the reason I didn’t take my rolling bag: the ThinkTank Airport International V2, because it weight 5kg empty.

Vanguard UP-Rise II 48 (5kg)
DJI Phantom II, Zenmuse H3-D3, GoPro Hero 3 Black edition, Batteries, Monitor, Remote control

ThinkTank Airport Essentials (12kg) :
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Canon EF 24-70mm F/2,8 USMII L, Canon EF 17-40mm F/4 USM L, Canon EF 100mm F/2,8 Macro, GoPro Hero 3+ Black edition, GoPro accessories, Macbook Pro 15 Retina, 1 External hardrive 2TB + 2x 500GB for backup redundancy + accessories

All power supplies, cables and tripod were on my checkin bag.

ThinkTank Airport Essentials and Vanguard UP-Rise II 48

ThinkTank Airport Essentials and Vanguard UP-Rise II 48

I also brought with me a smaller bag for hiking: the Vanguard Reno 41BL which is perfect to carry a dslr with 2, 3 extra lenses and the essentials you need for a complete day outside. The ThinkTank Airport Essentials is great to travel, to transport the gear, but it’s too heavy too keep with you all the time. The duo Vanguard UP-Rise II 48 and Reno 41BL allow me to bring the drone and the dslr everywhere.

Vanguard Rino 41BL and Vanguard UP-Rise II 48

Vanguard Rino 41BL and Vanguard UP-Rise II 48

I hope this article helped you to choose your next travel destination! If you have any questions don’t hesitate to comment, and follow me if you want to see the rest of the pictures from this road trip.


16 comments on "13 Days around Iceland"

  1. Pingback: 13 days around Iceland | QUALTIYSTREETMIXES

  2. Pingback: The Devastatingly Gorgeous Natural Beauty of Iceland | The Inertia

  3. Excellent filmography Xavier. Quick suggestion- highly recommend a ND filter to put on your GoPro. It’ll reduce the amount of jello especially in brightly lit scenes.

    Did you use a LUT? or did you simply grade?

    Like the equipment packages that you put together.

    • Thank you for your message Kenji.

      I will try ND filter, because I’m so disappointed with the amount of jello effect I have on my entire footages from Iceland. Thanks for the tip!

      No LUT, actually I didn’t find any LUT that was exactly matching what I wanted, so I just grade with DaVinci Resolve.


  4. Thanks for sharing your experience ! Great work !!

  5. dennys bisogno on

    Thank you for sharing. I did a 11 day around Iceland in Fall 2009 and then a 7 day trip in 2012. Seeing your beautiful footage brings great memories! :)

    • Thank you Dennys!

      Iceland was amazing during the winter, but I want to go back in the summer, so I can really see it with more colors.


  6. Pingback: And Miles to Go Before I Sleep: Unfiltered Iceland | The Inertia

  7. AA..wesome video.
    I am goin to iceland in late march 2016.
    I never thought shooting video there, but u defenitely changed my view.
    For such a beginner like me, what’s your advice?
    How much do all your eqipments cost?
    Any tips, I ll b appreciated.

  8. Great works.
    I am goin in March 2016.
    After seeing this, i really wanna start Drone shooting.
    Whats ur advice for a beginner? Equipments?


    • Hi Atta,

      Thanks for your comment.
      My drone is DJI Phantom 2 with the Gimbal H3-3D for the GoPro.
      You can find all the details on the official website of DJI.

      I’m myself a beginner in drone shooting, so my only advice would be to do a lot of test and training flight before going to Iceland.



  9. Well done, sir! I like it how you play with the timing of your shots to the piano tunes, instead of just to the beat / rhythm. I think the combination with normal footage makes it a better video.

    One thing I don’t like that much is the big waterfall sound effects. It feels a bit fake to my taste. In all the shots you seem to use the same sample and volume, however the visual shows different angles and distances to the waterfall so my mind is expecting different audio volumes.

    Anyway, great film!

    • Hi Thomas,

      Thank you for your comment.

      Actually, I’m not using any sound effects, I don’t know what you heard exactly but there is only one music and it is “In the Shadow of the Colossi” by Doug Kaufman. You can find it online or on spotify, as you can hear it’s the original, no sound effects or anything else added to it. I’m not a sounddesigner. That music already existed prior to my video.

      Best regards,

      • That’s interesting :) it’s the change in music at 1:47 then. I thought it was a sfx :) my bad.

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