Can You Capture the Colors of Iceland? Skip to content

Can You Capture the Colors of Iceland?

Iceland – Colours + Patterns by Jón Ásgeir Hreinsson is an interesting little book which looks just like a sample booklet you might get for free at a hardware store to help you decide what color of paint to buy for your apartment.

And it is a sample of colors that can be used for such purposes. Only these colors are all based on photographs of Icelandic people, places and buildings and are supposed to represent the variety of shades that can be seen in the country’s nature and urban areas.

It’s a simple and original idea. Take the pretty picture shot near the volcano Hekla in south Iceland on an autumn day on page 1, for example.

Photoshop or some other photo processing program is used to extract four colors from the picture, labeled: “Southern Sky Blue”, “Riverbank Green”, “Late Grass Yellow Ochre” and “Autumn River Blue”.

The book contains many beautiful pictures that demonstrate the country’s diverse flora and fauna: a black sand beach with driftwood, the steaming ground at Gjástykki by Mývatn, tiny purple highland flowers and an adorable wild yellow gosling.

Of course some of the biggest attractions are represented, such as whale watching, the northern lights, Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, Skógafoss waterfall and the Blue Lagoon, as well as the two volcanic eruptions of 2010, the lava fountains of Fimmvörðuháls and the ash cloud of Eyjafjallajökull.

But lesser known places are included too, such as on the picture where the light is playing on the façade of Mt. Kirkjufell in west Iceland and of Örlygshöfn in the West Fjords where a woman is wading on a bleached gray sand beach.

There are also pictures of daily life in Iceland and special events, like Gay Pride, which I found a nice touch, the bright pink, green and orange wigs of attendees in stark contrast with the soft colors of nature.

There are other photos, though, that seemed like they could have been taken anywhere, like one of motorcycles, which should have been left out, in my opinion.

On the flipside of the book are various patterns, close-ups of grass, mud, waves and buildings that create certain forms.

Many of them are striking, like the first one of a frozen pond, but others not so much, as the one of cobblestones in Reykjavík, which, as in the case with the motorcycles, isn’t particularly Icelandic.

Also, the captions describing what the patterns are and where the photos were taken are in white and can sometimes hardly be read at all.

With the colors, the captions are on the margin, which makes them easier to read, but some of them seemed incomplete. For example, where was the picture of the northern lights taken?

I find the concept of this book neat. It is essentially a photo book and should be enjoyed as such, while the colors and patters add an extra element to it.

I don’t know how practical the book will be to readers when they paint their house, knit a sweater or make an artwork, as the back cover suggests, but perhaps it can serve as inspiration. At the very least, the colors and patterns makes you look at the pictures in a different way.

It is impossible, though, to sum up the colors of Iceland in a simple palette.

Can you really catch the exact color of the midnight sun, lighting up a mountain in different shades of brown and grey, waves in various harmonies of blue crashing against a dark beach and a grassy patch ranging from light to dark green?

Or the luminous green of the aurora borealis, constantly changing color and shape while dancing across the black winter sky?

No, these colors are intangible. And they’re something that photographs and videos can never fully capture either. You have to see them with your own eyes to fully grasp the magic.

All the colors of the book are catalogued on the final pages. It’s good to have an overview but when pulled out of context, they lose their distinction. And you also notice that many colors are practically the same, such as the red on pages 18, 36, 21, 10 and 11.

Even so, if this book isn’t taken too seriously as a catalogue of colors and patterns, it can be appreciated as a handy little photo book, a good souvenir or a present. And who knows, it might also make someone’s home decoration or piece of art inspired by Iceland.


Published by JPV, Iceland – Colours + Patterns is available in Icelandic bookstores and in the webstore of Forlagið (for questions email [email protected]).

Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Get news from Iceland, photos, and in-depth stories delivered to your inbox every week!

* indicates required

Subscribe to Iceland Review

In-depth stories and high-quality photography showcasing life in Iceland!

Share article