Iceland is known as the land of fire and ice, the reality is though it should be known as ‘The land of Fire, Ice and many many many Waterfalls“.
On my trip to Iceland last year I experienced 7 or 8 different waterfalls, not that many when you consider how many Iceland has, but enough to come away impressed and eager to see more in the future, unfortunately the time of year and the storm that hit during our trip meant we missed quite a few, however some of the most visited are extremely easy to get to, we visited Kirkjufellsfoss, Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss, Godafoss and Gullfoss to name a few.
Before I get into each waterfall here are a few tips for shooting waterfalls, and to be honest they can apply to shooting in Iceland in general.
Tips for shooting waterfalls.
- Get there early. Iceland is becoming the new must see tourist destination, the Bureau or Statistics in Iceland reported increases of more than 500,000 new visitors from the year before, up almost 25%, large tour buses are a plenty, at Gullfoss we saw probably 20 large coaches full of tourists, the one saving grace is these large tours don’t usually start that early, sure you will encounter the occasional photography related tour but they are generally ok and are small in numbers, 8-15 people max, unfortunately when a 100 person tour bus drops by you can forget about it, if you get there early you not only catch the best light but also less crowds.
- Bring a tripod. To get that smooth water you need to shoot on a tripod and change your settings accordingly, smooth water? the water becomes somewhat blurry, you know that dreamy look, you will notice my camera settings under each photo, take a note of a slow shutter speed and the result vs a high shutter speed, a slow shutter speed of anything below 1/125th of a sec will yield somewhat blurry/smooth water, the lower you adjust your shutter speed the smoother the water will become, now these tips are based on you knowing the basics of exposure, in the future I may write a more detailed outline of settings and my more advanced tips, but for now bring that tripod :).
- Bring a chamois. Yup, the one you use on your car, your gear will more than likely get wet in Iceland, especially at waterfalls, so use that chamois to cover your gear and dry it off. At a few falls in Iceland you can go behind them, or in one case the falls are in a cave so you will get wet as will your gear, this also ties in with tip #4.
- Shower Cap. You know the ones you take from hotel bathrooms :), the trick is, keep the shower cap on the front of you lens until you are ready to shoot, waterfalls inherently spray, in Iceland that spray can reach you from quite aways away, so attach it with an elastic band to the front of you lens, then when you are ready to shoot remove it.
- Filters. This isn’t essential but sometimes you might need them, what are filters for you might ask, well generally they make a scene darker, imagine sunglasses for your lens, because the scene is darker it means you can get to those magical shutter speed exposures quicker, this is whats called an ND Filter or Neutral Density Filter, or some brands call them Stoppers ie Big Stopper or Little Stopper, each one has a darkness rating, the other type of filter is a CPL, a Circular Polarising Filter, CPL filters, cut out glare and reflections and can also make the scene darker ie cutting down the amount of light let in to your camera, they also boost contrast and colours. Let me just say these are not necessary but they do help, they make your life a little easier.
- Scale. a great way to show off just how big these falls are is to put something or a person in the shot to show scale, in my case I tried to put Gil in each of my photos, if you don’t have a Gil 🙂 try putting yourself in the shot, this also ties in with tip #7.
- Remote control. For two reasons having a remote is an essential part of shooting landscapes not only waterfalls, the first reason, as your camera is on a tripod it generally means you are shooting at a low shutter speed, with that can come camera shake, so lets remove that variable with a remote control, either wired or wireless, you can set it on a timer and you don’t have to touch your camera to trigger the shutter, the second is to get that selfie, again with a wired remote you can set it on a timer run in to position (make sure you don’t knock over your camera, I have done that) and take the shot, obviously with a wireless remote you don’t need to run just fire it with the remote :).
- Light. I touched on this in #1 but this is one of the most important to get that ‘epic’, ‘breathless moment’ image. Choosing the time of day is so important, however sometimes you dont get that choice and sometimes the weather doesnt play nice, for us we had maybe 3 or 4 days of good light, if you do have the luxury of time then pick sunrise (just after) or sunset (just before/after), colours are more vibrant, light is not harsh, and contrast is often at its peak.
- Composition/Try something different. This ties in heavily with #8, if you have flat unflattering light your image will inadvertently be flat and unflattering, to counter that try and find a unique composition, this can also tie in with #6 Scale, try and find a leading line, a more interesting foreground, spend a little more time looking for a spot and try to be different, so often photographers research a location and just want to get the same shot as others just so they have it in their bank, sure do that but then move around and think outside the square, you will surprise yourself.
The first falls we visited were Kirkjufellsfoss. Kirkjufellsfoss is located on the northern part Snaefellsness Peninsula just outside the town of Grundarfjörður a small fishing village and only 2 hours North West of Reykjavik, the capital.
Kirkjufellsfoss is part of the famous Kirkjufell mountain which is widely recognised as the most photographed mountain in Iceland, and for good reason, we spent 3 days here exploring the area and even got to camp 50m from the falls, an awesome experience.
As a photographer you could literally spend 3 or 4 days just at the mountain and waterfall, there is just so much to shoot. You can watch my vlog from Kirkjufellsfoss here.
Check out the difference in the scenes from the one above and below, this was 2 days apart, this is a perfect example of Iceland and her weather changes from one day to the next.
Garðavöllur Eldborg (correction) – 64°43’52.5″N 22°10’59.3″W
The next waterfall was a bit of a surprise and one we didn’t know anything about. As we left the Snaefellsness Peninsula heading back towards Reykjavik we found a waterfall on the side of the highway, a great surprise, when you check my ‘overall iceland’ post you will see a green house located right on the river next to the waterfall, a very different waterfall with nobody around.
Arguably the most visited waterfall in Iceland, it is located on whats known as the ‘Golden Circle’ and losely translated means ‘The Golden Waterfall’.
The Golden Circle is an area close to Reykjavik which has pretty much everything in a small area that Iceland has to offer which is why it is so popular with tours and tourists who have only a few days in the country. Geysers, Waterfalls, Lava Fields, Glaciers, Deep Gorges and the famous Þingvellir National Park, which is on the UNESCO world heritage list, all in the one area.
Gullfoss is HUGE, unfortunately for us it was raining/snowing, we arrived around midday which means a lot of people, as it had also been snowing a few of the trails leading to a better vantage point were closed, we had a quick look and headed to Bruarfoss, you can see my vlog from that day here.
Bruarfoss is on the Golden Circle a very popular tourist area and close to the well known Strokkur Geyser, it’s a very popular off the beaten track waterfall, its fairly unique as in the warmer months you can practically walk in to the river and get extremely close to the falls, unfortunately for us it was raining heavily when we were in the area so we didn’t spend much time here and we certainly couldn’t walk in to the river.
The falls are only a short 500m-800m walk from an access road, its an easy walk in the dry, however with the amount of rain we had it was quite slippery and extremely muddy.
Unlike other waterfalls in Iceland, as it is fairly flat ie doesn’t have the height of so many others the volume of water falling over the fall isn’t as high which means whitewash doesn’t play a major part and in tern means you get that bright blue glacial colour in the water. ‘
Bruarfoss is a great teaser for the massive falls along the southern and eastern parts of the country.
With many waterfalls in Iceland they are just off the main road, Seljalandsfoss however is literally on the main road, its located in the south of the country close to the famous Eyjafjallajökull Volcano and halfway between Sellfoss and Vik.
This is another very popular waterfall, the further East you travel the less popular as you get further away from Reykjavic, its not only popular for its close proximity but because its one of the only falls where you can walk behind the falls, and up above, check out Gils photo from above, its truly spectacular. You can also check out my vlog from here.
Gljufrafoss was probably my favourite waterfall and is only 150m from Seljalandsfoss.
Gljúfrafoss is nestled inside a cave with a small entrance to the falls, the amazing part about this waterfall is that you can reach the top of the cave via a makeshift ladder to the right of the falls, giving you an amazing perspective and you are right on top of it, unfortunately for me my vertigo meant Gil took this one for the team :), check out the vlog from Seljalandsfoss and Gljufrafoss.
Photo by : Gilbert Romane – http://girophoto.com
Skogafoss is regarded as the largest falls in Iceland for its height, water volume Gullfoss may trump it.
Its very hard to put in to scale just how big Skogafoss is, I think my vlog does a pretty good job where I took one for the team and ventured in to the beast and almost lost my hands it was so cold (well not really :))
Finally we got to the God of all falls, Godafoss.
Godafoss is located in the North close to Myvatn and Akureyri which is the 2nd largest city in Iceland.
We arrived in the early hours of the morning after an amazing night of aurora/northern light chasing (watch the video here and check out the blog post here), its one of the most popular waterfalls with photographers and for good reason, it offers perfect symmetry, you can shoot it from either side and in the summer months you can get close to the level of the water, there is a parking area on the right side of the falls and a 200m pathway on the left, there is also a cafe within a 100m so in winter you can get out of the cold and have a nice cup of Mocca.
We were graced with a white out, 99% of the entire area covered in snow which was amazing, having seen picture from the summer here I must sy I think I prefer winter, would have been nice with a nice sky is all.
I used a number of different pieces of equipment during our Iceland adventure, below is list of some that equipment
That pretty much covers each corner of the country 🙂 in all honesty, every waterfall is spectacular from the small to the enormous and we missed a few like Haifoss, Dettifoss, Svartifoss, Hafragilsfoss, Hrafnabjargafoss and Aldeyjarfoss, this just means we need to go back to see the rest :).
If I had to pick my top 3, they would be:.
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