It seems to go without saying that an outdoor wedding venue requires a backup plan. An elopement in a place such as Iceland, however, typically requires being open to several different photographic approaches and backup plans—like Plan B, C, D and beyond!
Take the elopement of couple Nelson and Joanne, photographed by Reykjavik, Iceland-based adventure guide and elopement photographer Stephanie Zakas of Zakas Photography. “It was snowing this crazy slushy snow and we got soaked,” she explains. “We tried to have their ceremony on the famous black sand beach, Reynisfjara, that the bride had her heart set on, but the conditions were so bad that the bride eventually said ‘Screw it, let’s just do it anywhere.'” That’s when the photographer’s backup plans—which she likes to refer to as Plan B and Plan C—were put into action.
Zakas proceeded to take the couple to a little inlet she knew of that also had black sand, but the group, in the end, couldn’t make it down to that area either, due to pounding wind and sleet.
“We were 5 minutes into the ceremony when I noticed how sad and uncomfortable the bride was, so my photo ops were limited,” she explains. “I know how to pose them, to keep them warm, keep their faces from looking strained, but in this case it wasn’t working.”
That’s when Zakas decided to get the couple back to warmth and they finished the ceremony on the staircase inside the hotel they were staying at. When the weather broke for about 10 minutes, they all ventured out to another part of Reynisfjara and started the ceremony again…until the weather blasted them again.
The following day, Zakas finished their wedding photos in a completely different part of the island. “What I’ve come to learn from these types of shoots is just the reality of eloping outdoors—you need to have backup plans.”
Zakas’s Backup Plans for Tackling Weather-Related Photo Challenges
“The weather here is so wild that even on days when it might be clear and sunny, the wind can be super dangerous,” says Zakas. To make things even more challenging, the weather changes so drastically so suddenly that it’s imperative for her to have a “back-pocket location itinerary” as an alternative. After all, nobody, including the photographer, wants to look back on a wedding and remember the “horror stories” that ensued instead of the happy memories!
“Sometimes the couple is bound to a specific location due to accommodations, guests, the ceremony officiant, and their plans after the elopement, like a nearby dinner or mini-reception—that’s what happened here.”
Zakas says she diligently scopes out the weather radars for a few days prior to the elopement day. Any further out, she admits, would just drive everyone crazy, as the weather will likely change 100 times by the time the special day arrives. “The night before, I check again as it is usually the most accurate report, especially if it comes down to large storms like blizzards and wind storms; then we usually have a few days notice.”
For this particular elopement, Zakas says everything looked calm the night before; no rain or snow in the forecast, just some clouds. “It took place on the South Coast of Iceland, about three hours away from where I live, and when I took off that morning to meet them, everything was awesome until about 10 minutes before I arrived,” she explains. “The clouds just opened up and this really wet, awful, half snow-half rain started pouring down. Time for Plan B—shooting at the inlet.”
Having the ceremony inside the hotel was Plan C. Zakas says it wasn’t ideal because the lobby was very small with one wall completely as a window that she knew wouldn’t look good—and there was no privacy—but in the end, it worked out. “We opted for the stairs. It was also backlit, but compositionally (and with the train of her dress), I thought it looked nice.”
A Slushy Iceland Elopement and How to Cope
For Zakas, shooting in the snow can be fun, but she says it really depends on what type of snow it is. “In the Icelandic language, there are 46 different words for the types of snow we have,” she explains. “In fact, there are 56 words for just the type of wind alone and so many more for the type of rain!”
She says that if the snow is hundslappadrífa—the big snow that is like dog paws that falls calmly—that’s the easiest to shoot in. “It’s easy to catch on the camera, it’s a lot of fun for my clients (especially my clients who come from non-snow climates and are seeing snow for the first time) and it builds really fast on the ground.” It’s also super wet, which is why everyone got so soaked so fast during Joanne and Nelson’s elopement.
For really any type of snow, Zakas adds, you have to keep the couple not too far from the lens, otherwise they might get buried or disappear in the background to the snow in the foreground. “If it’s snowing but there is a break in the clouds, I love to place the couple and play with the really ‘glowy’ light. If it’s really slushy, like in this case, I have to shoot fast and take breaks and make sure my lens doesn’t fog.”
Dealing with Dropping Temps During an Iceland Elopement
According to Zakas, many tourists don’t know that the temperatures in Iceland are relatively mild. “It’s really the wind you need to watch out for, and then if the couples get wet, getting cold happens quicker and easier and the potential to get frostbite increases. I often see tourists in the late summer or spring dying of ‘the elements’ because they think they can camp outdoors,” she says. “I keep this in mind for all locations and I take lots of precautions, run back and forth for extra coats and blankets, and include lots of breaks for the couples.”
The island temp, she says, is around 20°F at its lowest and 65°F at its highest. “The gulf stream ends on our south shore, which keeps our temps moderate—the North, the Highlands, and the West Fjords are a whole other story. Our wind is what does it and is what impeded the shoot with Nelson and Joanne; it comes right from the arctic and sometimes feels like it is tearing your skin off. Fortunately, that didn’t happen—I like to think it’s because I always come with several backup plans!”
GEAR OF THE DAY
Cameras: Canon 5D Mark III and 5D Mark IV
Lenses: Canon 85mm L f/1.2, 16-35mm f/4.0, Sigma 30mm