Touring the Waterfalls of Iceland

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.






Overnight in Doubtful Sound, New Zealand

Having traveled by plane, train and van over the last week or so, traversing both the North and South Islands, we are now ready for a two-day excursion to Fjordland in New Zealand’s South West corridor. From Queenstown, we head toward Manapouri where we take a short boat ride across the lake. We are then picked up by a coach that starts a steady uphill climb across Wilmot Pass, with great views of the imposing fjords in the distance. As we slowly ascend on the sub-alpine road through dense rain-forest, the van stops so that we can take in the vista of sea and waterfalls below. I’m amazed at how the threatening sky makes this landscape look both sinister and inviting at the same time.

After several hours in the coach, we arrive at Deep Cove where a large vessel equipped with cabins and dining facilities picks us up. It is still very cloudy and cold, although there has been no precipitation yet. I’m hoping to stay dry while photographing the fjords since remaining warm seems to be out of the question.

Fjordland is composed of two sounds. Milford is more widespread and is New Zealand’s most famous tourist destination. Doubtful Sound, in comparison, is the second longest, measured at twenty-five miles. It is the deeper of the two fiords, with a vertical drop of 1381 feet. The cliffs are taller and nearly vertical.

Doubtful Sound contains two layers of water, with fresh water on top and salt water from the sea beneath it. The fresh water is fed via the runoff from neighboring mountains. These two layers have the interesting effect of decreasing the amount of light that can penetrate the difference in refractive index between them, resulting in many deep-sea species, such as black coral, growing in relatively shallow depths.

Numerous attractions are keeping me busy along the way. While Browne and Helena Falls look majestic as we make our way through the sound, the captain occasionally announces the spotting of beautiful wildlife, including bottlenose dolphins, fur seals, and penguins. I’m finding that capturing a good photo of these animals is very difficult, as they swiftly dart out of sight.

At one point on our excursion, the captain turns off the ship’s engine and tells us that everyone should go up on deck. We’re encouraged to use all our senses, as we experience the profound serenity of this fjord. This is truly the “Sound of Silence,” no doubt reminiscent of what Captain James Cook experienced when he discovered this vast territory in 1770.

As our time in Doubtful Sound is ending, It occurs to me that traveling to this remote destination has been challenging, but exhilarating. Having seen photos of this area from one hundred years ago, the otherworldly scenery 'I’ve been photographing appears essentially untouched. Now, how many places in the world can you say that about?




Two Lions Digest Their Morning Meal in Kruger National Park, Republic of South Africa

We’re cruising down one of the main trails early in the morning in Kruger National Park. On game drives thus far, all of the big five have been seen and photographed. What I’ve started to realize, however, is that no two excursions are the same around here.

After a ten minute delay, while a herd of Cape Buffalo trudges across the path in front of us, we proceed on for about another fifteen minutes. Then without speaking, Jophet, our tracker, raises his arm indicating that Matt, our guide and driver, should stop our jeep. Pointing to our right in plain sight are two male lions sprawled out under several trees. One has his eyes open while the other appears to be sleeping. It is early in the morning and not that hot yet. What is with this behavior?

The answer to this question lies about two hundred yards west of our current location. Our awake male lion slowly rises and begins to saunter to a nearby open area. Keeping very quiet, Matt starts the Jeep and follows the lion maintaining a safe distance. Within a matter of minutes, the lion stops and stares. He sets his sight on a group of vultures in the process of decimating the remains of a warthog kill. The vultures catch a glimpse of the lion, and within seconds fly speedily to a nearby tree.

Matt explains to us the likely chain of events that clarifies what we have seen. He points to a mid-size hole in the ground, the presumed site in which the lions attacked and killed a warthog. The lions must have devoured the majority of the warthog, and then laid down to digest their meal in the opening where we first saw them. The vultures were taking care of the remains; the parts of the warthog the lions felt were not worth eating.

There is no question that lions are king around here in Kruger National Park. Vultures are scavengers and quite ugly in my opinion. Warthogs appear to me to be sitting ducks, wondering when they will become someone’s morning meal.

A Leopard Kill Becomes Hyena Dinner, Kruger National Park, Republic of South Africa

As dawn breaks, we are motoring through some well recognizable trails in Kruger National Park. Matt, our guide and the driver of our open-air jeep, is proceeding at the direction of our tracker, Jophet, who is perched upon a seat that protrudes out from the front of our vehicle. Jophet says very little. Instead, with eyes glued to the trail, searching for fresh tracks laid down by various animals, he points left, then right, sometimes inducing Matt to plow through virgin brush, hot on the trail of whatever animal has been in the area recently. Matt tells us that Jophet has been a tracker for 30 years; he knows what he is doing.

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After traveling several miles, the sun creeping up ever so slowly, Jophet raises his hand, and Matt stops the jeep. He whispers to us, “There is a leopard over there on the left. He is eyeing a group of impalas several hundred yards away.” Transfixed, we watch as the leopard steals surreptitiously around the periphery, waiting to pounce when the time is right to obtain his morning meal. Before he can make his move, however, the impalas have sensed the leopard’s presence, and speed with grace and urgency out of the leopard’s purview. They are safe for now but will be on the lookout for the next predator to come calling.

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Our leopard appears undeterred. He goes back to retrieve a bush back kill that he has stashed away in a tree. This must have occurred recently, as very little of the carcass has been eaten. We watch as he carries the corpse in his teeth, presumably to an area where he will be able to consume it.

Sometimes the best-laid plans fail to materialize. The leopard does not get more than 50 yards along the path, when all of a sudden, he freezes. After several seconds, which is apparently how long it takes him to consider his options, he drops the bush back and scrambles out of sight. Matt focuses our attention approximately 50 yards to the right, where no less than a hungry hyena has come on the scene. We’re told that in the game reserve, there is a pecking order amongst the wildlife. Leopards are unable to adequately defend themselves against the brawnier hyenas, one of their natural predators.

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While the leopard appears sleek and elegant, especially in his normal habitat, the hyena looks to me to be a brute. He grabs the bush back carcass, carries it to a secluded spot, and proceeds to devour it. With a surgeon’s precision, he dissembles the poor bush back, not sparing any part of the cadaver. There are 2 exceptions from what I can tell. The bush back was female and apparently pregnant. The fetus is removed, and not touched again. The entrails are apparently not very appetizing and are also left on the side.

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Despite being mesmerized by what we are seeing, Matt points his finger towards a ledge that hovers over this scene of gluttony. Perched on the edge of the precipice, our original leopard stands motionless, watching the hyena gorge himself on what could have been his next meal.

The lesson for today is that the animal kingdom has a hierarchical chain of command. Impalas and bush backs have it tough. Leopards are crafty predators, but no match for famished hyenas. As for this human, a vegetarian lunch today would be a welcome choice.

A Day Aboard the Tranz-Alpine Train, New Zealand

A Day Aboard the Tranz-Alpine Train, New Zealand

We are now encountering grassy plateaus with multiple little hills dotting the landscape. In the distance are more mountains, partially hidden by shrouded mist. The scenery has been spectacular!

Well, we've finally reached Arthur's Pass. This is the end of the show for us, as we depart the train, and head for a van that is ready to take us to the Franz Joseph Glacier. I'll have to say, if you like the great outdoors, unspoiled by humans, the Trans-Alpine train ride is well worth experiencing! Bring your cameras.

Touring Christchurch, NZ, in the Wake of Two Recent Earthquakes

Touring Christchurch, NZ, in the Wake of Two Recent Earthquakes

We've made it to the South Island of New Zealand, and are ready to experience some of the truly awesome examples of nature in the world, including the Trans-Alpine train across the Southern Alps, Franz Joseph Glacier, Queenstown, and the fjords of Doubtful Sound. The first stop, however, is a tour of Christchurch, the site of the catastrophic earthquake of 2011, and the second quake in nearby Kaikoura in 2016. Coming from Florida, I've lived through a hurricane, which was bad enough. Seeing first hand the havoc wreaked by an earthquake, however, is very unsettling.

Touring the Tamaki Maori Village, Rotorua, New Zealand

Touring the Tamaki Maori Village, Rotorua, New Zealand

It's late afternoon, and we've finished seeing the incredible glow worms, stalactites and stalagmites in the Waitomo Caves in Raglan. We're now ready for an excursion to the Tamaki Maori Village in Rotorua to learn about the customs, protocols, and stories, that have been passed down through the generations of the Maori people. This should be interesting!

A Daytrip from Auckland to Waiheke Island, New Zealand

A Daytrip from Auckland to Waiheke Island, New Zealand

We've completed the 5-hour flight from Melbourne to Auckland, and as soon as we are out of the airport, it's obvious that New Zealand is quite different than it's huge neighbor 5 hours away. This city is fairly good size, with a population of approximately 1.5 million. Nevertheless, we're about to find out that outside of Auckland, the North and South Islands are quite rural. Our first taste of the bucolic nature of this island-country will happen today, as we head by ferry to Waiheke Island in the Hauraki Gulf to take in some rugged coastline vistas, and to hit a few well-known vineyards.

Street Photography in Melbourne, Australia

Street Photography in Melbourne, Australia

The sun's coming up in Melbourne, and I'm getting an early start. The goal for the day is to take in as much of the city as I can, by foot or tram. There is a lot of ground to cover, so I have my running shoes tied tight, some Australian dollars in my wallet, and my phone with Google Maps in its holster. I'm ready to roll.

Uluru and Kata Tjuta, Treasures in Australia's Outback

Uluru and Kata Tjuta, Treasures in Australia's Outback

Our seat belts snap shut. I'm sitting shotgun next to the helicopter pilot, while my wife, Lisa, has her iPhone in camera mode in the seat behind us. The chopper blades are rotating, and we have our head phones on.

  "G'day mates," says the pilot. "Is everybody ready?"

  "Let's do it."

And off we go, rising into the desert sky, first in an upward trajectory, then accelerating forward.