Photographer Captures Elopement Portraits Next to Erupting Volcano

Gabe McClintock, a Calgary-based destination wedding photographer, knew he had found the right couple when he agreed to hike straight towards an Icelandic volcano to capture the most amazing set of elopement photographs.

McClintock began to dream of shooting in exotic destinations after he had been shooting locally for ten years in Calgary, Canada. McClintock was able to travel to Iceland in June 2014 to overcome his lack of inspiration. This session changed McClintock’s life completely.

McClintock tells PETAPIXEL, “I knew that these would look great from the first photo I took that day. But I didn’t know how much attention they would get a month later.”

PetaPixel featured the images of the elopement. McClintock’s photos were featured by the media for many more years. Sarah and Josh, the couple featured in the photos were interviewed by The Today Show.

McClintock began receiving emails about the surge in media attention. Although bookings didn’t happen immediately, McClintock received them approximately five months later, during peak season for engagements. McClintock was forced to change his focus and became a destination wedding photographer.

McClintock was contacted by Nina and Rand in 2021. They were interested in eloping in Iceland. McClintock was flexible with their dates and wanted to schedule a session between September 2021 and October 2021. Reynisdrangar is a group of rock formations located on the southern coast of Iceland. The ceremony was planned to begin at that point. They would then make their way to Dyrholaey Lighthouse, a castle-like lighthouse that is a popular tourist attraction for Iceland, and then return to Reykjavik stopping to take photos.

Iceland volcano elopement photography

McClintock approached the couple less than a month before the elopement and asked if they would be willing to alter the itinerary and hike up towards the volcano. McClintock was not sure what they would see or how long it would take, but he wanted to question them anyway.

McClintock spotted online just a day before he flew out that the volcano had been inactive since April and was showing signs of an eruption. He did some research and found that the most popular hiking route was also the longest, taking 1.5 to 2 hours. He asked Nina, Rand and if they would be willing to go on the adventure. Nina even had a backup dress in case the volcano’s climb was too difficult for her original elopement gown.

Iceland volcano elopement photography

After the ceremony, we took a few minutes to shoot the couple on the beach next to Skogafoss before moving on to Skogafoss, which is a beautiful waterfall.

McClintock says that Nina fell into the water after she ran from a wave just minutes before we started shooting. “She laughed it off and continued shooting. It was quite amazing!”

Iceland volcano elopement photography
Iceland volcano elopement photography
Iceland volcano elopement photography

While they were driving to the waterfall, Iceland’s social media and news pages started reporting that a volcano had erupted. This wiped out one of the hiking trails, and closed many others.

Iceland elopement photography
Iceland elopement photography

McClintock says that he could see the plume ash and smoke up ahead. He called Nina, Rand and suggested that they meet at the trailhead to see if it was closed. “I thought, ‘How can they close a volcanic eruption?’ I wanted the opportunity to see if other people were making their way up or down.

McClintock discovered a trail open and they began packing their bags in the lot. They had masks to protect the air quality, water and food, and headlamps to take the hike back down.

McClintock brought two Canon 5D Mark IV bodies and three lenses: a Canon 35mm F/1.4L, 50mm F/1.2L, or a Canon 24mm F/1.4L. McClintock also had a GoPro that he attached to the hot shoe of his camera.

Iceland elopement photography
Iceland elopement photography
Iceland elopement photography
Iceland elopement photography

“The shoot was absolutely amazing. It was amazing. It was amazing to me that this was actually happening, and that we were there when the lava began to flow again.

The resultant photos are stunning, but it was a difficult shoot. It was very cold in the air and it could blow scorching or freezing air up onto the land depending on which direction the wind was blowing.

Iceland volcano elopement photography
Iceland volcano elopement photography
Iceland elopement photography
Iceland elopement photography

It wasn’t easy with sulfur dioxide gas either. “A gust of wind in our direction could make our eyes water, and take our breath away,”

Iceland volcano elopement photography
Iceland volcano elopement photography
Iceland volcano elopement photography
Iceland volcano elopement photography

The wind changed direction constantly, which allowed them to continue shooting. Around 8:30 at night, the wind picked up, and rain began to fall. The fog was rolling in.

Iceland volcano elopement photography
Iceland volcano elopement photography
Iceland volcano elopement photography
Iceland volcano elopement photography
Iceland volcano elopement photography

McClintock recalls, “Definitely not ideal conditions for hiking down a mountain at night on an unmarked trail through the middle of Iceland.” As we made our way back, the conditions became worse. The relentless wind was constant. Three hours later, we finally reached our cars, exhausted, freezing cold, and soaking. What a way to close an amazing adventure!