Although Iceland does have it’s share of ice in the form of glaciers and icecaps, its real calling card is the number and power of their waterfalls (…foss). One search engine said it would be impossible to know the actual number, but I did find a site that listed the top 21 waterfalls. So there are more than enough and I was able to visit quite a few of the ones I researched, but there were plenty on the list that I didn’t get to, because some were not along the path I had chosen. Hiking trails to some others were closed until later in the year, and one I simply missed a gravel road turnoff while trying to find it. Unfortunately for photographers, although waterfalls are all beautiful, photographing them is not as easy as just showing up, plopping down the tripod and snapping a few shots. For the most part, each one I visited, I aimed to be there at either sunrise, sunset or both, to increase the chances that there would be more to the photograph than simply falling water. Dismal weather can add a bit of drama in certain circumstances, and I certainly had my share of dismal weather at the beginning of the trip, while direct sunlight will generally make it almost impossible to make a good photograph. On clear days, the evening or early morning, before any sunlight hits the area, can be a good time to photograph them because of the even light of shade. But if there is a severe lack of clouds at all, that can be just as detrimental to the impact of your photos if the sky needs to be included.
The image of Öxarárfoss (above) was the first real photo of the trip on that first dreary day I arrived after a sleepless overnight flight, and a long drive from the airport. The dismal conditions provided even light, but without the clouds, what little impact the image may have, would have been missing. What made this particular waterfalls interesting to visit is that the water falls into a chasm where the earth’s Eurasion and North American Tectonic Plates are slowly drifting apart!!
Foss a Sidu (below left) was a high waterfall I stumbled upon along the Ring Road that somehow flew under the radar of my research. I suppose it didn’t even make the top 21. The parking area was directly off the road, so it was easy to make the unscheduled stop. It was barely raining and I used the telephoto to focus on the cascades at the bottom of the falls rather than using a wide angle lens to include the entire falls, making them seem much smaller in the frame.
Seljalandsfoss (below right) is one that can be walked behind, which necessitates getting soaked in the spray. And since you are so close to the water, a very wide angle lens is needed to squeeze the entire falls into one shot. If your widest lens won’t cover the entire scene, the alternative to a single shot is to create a panorama of horizontal images stacked vertically, using manual exposure and focus. I tucked my son’s back up camera under my parka, and quickly made five handheld frames to create this image during one of the few moments of sunshine in those early days of the trip. The original plan was to shoot the sunset from behind the falls since it lines up at that time of the year. But that idea drifted away when the clouds drifted in again.
Godafoss is one of the more famous of Icelandic’s powerful waterfalls. And, as was usually the case during this trip, my arrival there was met with a nothing sunset. The main falls and the flat light just didn’t seem to have anything that sparked inspiration, but a small offshoot (above), just downstream from the main falls, seemed to call out to be photographed. And it was a good excuse to take a photo of the incredibly turquoise water. Another with turquoise water was Braurfoss, which may actually be a cascade (below). Although my usual preference is to keep vertical images in a 5:4 ratio, to include the entire cascade and the beautifully colored water required every bit of the 17mm lens in a 2:3 ratio. Again, the overcast sky provided even lighting and added an element of mood to the scene, while a longer shutter speed blurred the cascade a bit, and a polarizer cut the glare to get every bit of color out of the water.
Another of the thunderous falls was Gullfoss (above left). Again, here the clouds help the mood of the image, but the ferocious winds that day created enormous amounts of spray which made things pretty difficult. Aldeyjarfoss (above right) was one that I just wanted to see even though reaching it required driving about 90km of gravel road. It was a completely cloudless day, so the sky added no interest to the composition and was kept out of the frame. The sunshine provided a small rainbow in the spray, while the large area of basalt columns surrounding it were worthy photographic subjects as well. And unexpectedly, the restroom facilities there proved an interesting subject as illustrated below. Luckily, I had these beautiful waterfalls to myself.
In all, I made it to 15 waterfalls, and at only one was there a hint of sunrise or sunset color in the clouds. The sky at Þjófafoss, at the top of the post, looked very promising, but nothing of note ever materialized. What drew me to the location was that the curve of the falls led the eye right to Mt. Burfell far beyond, and research indicated good side-lighting at sunset in May. But there never was any really strong, hard-edged sunlight on the mountain or the clouds before sunset as I had hoped.
Of course, landscape photography is ever dependent on the local conditions at the time you are there for best results, but every waterfall visited was certainly worth the time whether or not it produces a great photo. So I was grateful to have had the opportunity to experience first hand many of Iceland’s powerful and awe inspiring waterfalls.