It’s 4:00 AM. After all these years, I’ve made it to Iceland with a group of landscape photographers with the eager intention of photographing the waterfalls, mountains, lakes, rivers and volcanoes on this sub-arctic island. As my iPhone goes off, I’m disoriented, in a state of shock. This is not a vacation. It should more appropriately be referred to as photography boot camp!
At 4:45 AM we pile all our equipment into the Mercedes 4x4 and hit the road. Our guide and driver, Dui, an Icelandic professional photographer, tells us that we will be seeing some waterfalls today. Frankly, I do not do well at this time of morning with no coffee. The five others on the trip must feel similarly; everyone is quiet, but no one is going back to sleep.
As I sit in the 4x4 on our way to Aldeyjarfoss, Dui explains that Iceland has so many waterfalls due to the wet sub-arctic location we are in. Frequent rain and snow, together with large glaciers that melt on warmer days, all contribute to fast-flowing rivers. These give rise to a multitude of waterfalls on this island. There are said to be up to 10,000 waterfalls here when smaller water cascades over stone terraces are included.
We’ve reached Aldeyjarfoss as shown above. I can hear it before I see it! We get out of the Mercedes, grab our tripods from the back of the 4x4, and scatter in different directions looking for good vantage points to set up. Having reached an ideal ledge with tripod in place, I start what has become a learned procedure: test shot using live view to compose the photo, polarizing filter, then graduated neutral density filter, and finally the Little Stopper (6 stop neutral density filter). I experiment with slow shutter speeds to get the waterfall to appear silky smooth.
I love Aldeyjarfoss Waterfall. Watching the Skjalfandafljot River drop twenty meters into a cold, icy pool surrounded by basalt columns, is an awesome display of nature. We’ve hit it right today, with almost perfect lighting for photographic capture.
Our next stop is Godafoss, or “waterfall of the gods.” It’s given this name for good reason. Located in the Bardardalur District of the Northeastern Region, we can see the large horseshoe shape of the falls as we approach from the Sprengisandur Highland Road. My goal at present is to photograph the falls from both sides of a bridge that leads up to this enormous chute of water.
Legend has it that in 1000 AD, the law speaker, Porgeir, made Christianity Iceland’s official religion. Following his return from Albingi, he threw his statues of the Norse gods into Godafoss. This mythological story is illustrated by a window in the Cathedral of Akureyri.
The last afternoon shoot of the day is the gorgeous Dettifoss Waterfall. Found in North Iceland, the falls are considered to be the most powerful in Europe. The origin of the water for Dettifoss emanates from the Vatnajokull Glacier, the largest on the continent. The runoff from the glacier forms the Jokulsa a Fjollum River that cascades over the falls at 193 meters cubed per second. The river water plummets forty-five meters down into the Jokulsarljufur Canyon.
This waterfall is powerful. I have to cover my camera with a bag in between shots and wipe the lens clean with a large cloth regularly to get clear photos. The canyon is strewn with boulders and rocks, making it difficult to get the appropriate footing for my tripod. Also, there are quite a few Asian tourists here obstructing my view. I wait patiently as they take selfies with the waterfall in the background. One Chinese dude is is having his picture taken by his wife as he backs up to the precipice of the falls. I hold my breath as he does this. One false step and he is sayonara.
It’s time to pack it in and drive to our hotel. I’m completely exhausted from today’s activities and am looking forward to a beer, dinner, and bed. While on our way home, Dui mentions the possibility of photographing the Northern Lights at 10:00 PM. Is he insane? There is a reason I call this photography boot camp.