Waterfalls lovers the world over eventually make their way to Iceland, for the ubiqitious waterfalls in Iceland are both varied, spectacular and in close proximity. Here are four of my favorite images from a trip around this island nation, two well known falls, then two relatively unknown waterfalls delights. See the Iceland gallery on my website for more images from Iceland.
The Aldeyjarfoss waterfall is in the north of Iceland, at the northern part of the Highland Road. Two things make this falls especially photogenic. The contrast between the black basalt (columnar basalt), and the spreading white waters produces an almost perfect range of contrasting tonality, from black blacks, to almost pure whites, even in the water bands. But what really stands out about this waterfall and this image, is that the water radiates outwards with enormous force, spreading evenly across the entire immense pool and producing huge ripples, standing waves really, as clearly seen in this long exposure and black and white conversion.
The rock is the reason for this unusual effect. Basalt is very hard rock, but the intersecting vertical joints common in lava flows creates a columnar appearance and structure. As a result of that jointing, the basalt columns fall down due to weathering relatively often, (‘often’ in geologic time), drawing the edge of the falls backwards faster than for other rocks. See, for example, the ‘recent’ rock fall, the lighter-colored columns to the left of the falls. Once broken off from the surrounding bed, these submerged basalt columns can stand up to the waterfall’s constant pounding and erosive force better than less dense rock. Thus, instead of the falling water creating a deep pool and driving downward into boiling and foamy water, as is more typical for waterfalls, all of this waterfall’s energy radiates outwards, jetting out to the far edges of this glorious pool. Using a long exposure, 1/4 of a second, the streaking effect of the white water is accentuated and, I think, is especially pleasing. Contrast this result with the ‘curtain’ like quality of the falling water in my next image of the Dettifoss waterfall.
The Dettifoss waterfall is in Northeast Iceland, in Vatnajökull National Park. It is the most powerful waterfall in Europe. Ninety seven thousand gallons of water pour over the lip of this falls every second!
For my photograph of Dettifoss, I chose to emphasize the falling curtain of water, with an even longer exposure time for greater blur than for the Aldeyjarfoss image. In the Aldeyjarfoss image, the visual interest is evenly divided between the falls itself and the base pool. From my vantage point across from the falls, I chose to create two intersecting visual planes, the horizontal base pool occupying the lower half of the image, bumping into the vertical plane of the falling water and adjacent basalt palisade and canyon walls. In the Dettifoss image, the central two thirds of the image is all falls, with two bordering bands of sky and then the foreground rocks, framing the falls. The setup challenge at Dettifoss was to find a hump to stand on, to elevate my tripod enough to capture the immensity of the river behind the falls, but to still have enough downward angle to include the foreground rocks, all across the bottom edge of composition.
The basalt palisades on the south Coast of Iceland are incised with frequent falls, some huge, like the nearby Skogarfoss, others unnamed, like this verdant side canyon. While working this scene, the ram and ewe emerged from their rocky shelter. With the isolation that comes with living on an island, the Icelandic sheep is one of the purest breeds of sheep in the world. There are about 800.000 sheep in Iceland and only about 323.000 Icelanders.
The placement of the falls close to the center of the image, works well here because it is as much above the mid-line of the image as is the expanding stream below the mid-line. Plus, I composed this image to have the stream bloom outward to fill the entire frame on the bottom edge. The most fortuitous element is the mossy rock, mid-stream. Without that mossy rock and the tuft of grass, there would have been too much white water in the approaching stream. Also, the dark slack water in the eddy of that rock, extending to the lower right corner, functions as a corner vignette.
I visited this falls with a group of photographers. We all raced to the small falls beyond the last turn shown in the distance. But I retreated out of there quickly, to come back to this location downstream to work quietly, by myself, on this image. Usually, these ‘downstream’ waterfalls images show the falls and outlet stream as one. I’ve seen a similar ‘downstream’ shot of Elowah Falls in Oregon taken from far downstream and appearing separated from the falls looming in the distance. That image is stuck in my waterfalls, ‘pre-visualization’ waterfalls brain and I always look for it when visiting a new waterfalls location.
This less well-known area also in the Iceland Highlands, is at a location between two large reservoirs created to generate hydroelectric power. No one told me this but I suspect that the water supplying these many small falls is from the larger reservoir located above this Canyon. The water must permeate down to harder strata, then move laterally to emerge here, at the lower terrace area in the Canyon. I set up here an half hour before sunrise, then made this image just before sunrise.