Tourists in Thailand, afraid of missing out on an amazing experience, typically visit so many of temples as to become numb to their majesty. You might even hear them mutter, “oh no, not another temple.” The same is true of waterfalls in Iceland. There are roughly 50 waterfalls listed in the Icelandic guide books and plenty more that you just stumble upon every day as you make your way through the country. Imagine visiting five waterfalls every day on a ten day trip and if you’re like me, after day three, you’re cooked.
The challenge, then, is to determine which waterfalls are not to be missed. Even then, by the end of 10 days in Iceland, trudging to the next amazing waterfall is a chore. Even worse, I became spoiled and judgmental. How did this waterfall stack up? Was it worth the effort?
With that as a backdrop, we entered Iceland’s Western Fjords toward the end of our journey. The Western Fjords cover nearly 9,000 square miles and has only 7,000 inhabitants, most of whom are concentrated in one small area. What this means is there is a lot of natural landscape to explore. Which Helen and I did gladly in our rented Jeep, complete with fold out bed and fuel driven heater in the back.
At one point, as we traversed a dirt road that seemed to go on forever and on which we seldom saw another car, Helen suggested we take a detour to visit Fjallfoss (“foss” being Icelandic for “waterfall”). Helen thought the guide book description of this foss, also known as Dynjandi, was intriguing enough to warrant an extra hour of driving. I agreed and so we went.
We arrived at the base of the waterfall at 10:30 in the morning. It was drizzling and misty to point where it seemed as if we were inside a cloud. Campers were in various stages of getting up, packing up their tents and brushing their teeth. Helen and took advantage of the toilets (see: sleeping in the back of a Jeep) and began to walk the trail toward the waterfall.
As we walked up the trail, the mist became a soft drizzle. The sky was a flat, claustrophobic gray and we were bundled up in all of our rain gear. Very quickly, we saw the bottom part of the waterfall depicted above. But that was it. The waterfall behind it – the large impressive wall of water toward the top of the frame – was entirely obscured by the mist to the point where we didn’t know it existed.
Helen and I looked at one another. We had taken a one hour detour, donned all of our rain gear all to see this single small foss? At home this might look amazing, but in Iceland it didn’t rate. We laughed in disappointment. “You call this a waterfall?!” I joked.
But there we were, and feeling the need to stretch our legs we kept walking the trail. That’s when the 300 foot tall waterfall you see in the background began to appear, slowly, magically, emerging from the shroud of mist. Helen and I stood, mouths agape – we’d never seen anything like this anywhere in the world. It was large. It was powerful. It was, in a word, awesome.
I pulled my camera bag around, laid it down on it’s waterproof jacket, unzipped the main section and pulled out my trusty camera. Doing my best to keep the camera and lens dry (I had a rain jacket for both that another photographer/friend had given me earlier in the year in Rwanda), I began taking pictures.
I was enraptured. Every step closer to the foss gave me a new perspective and appreciation for the size and power before me. I captured image after image. Twenty minutes later, perched atop a few rocks in the water basin at the base of the falls, I thought to look at the face of my lens. It was, of course, covered in water from mist and spray. I wiped the lens dry and began thinking about how many shots I would need to recapture with the now dry lens.
It was 11:15 and the mist and clouds had lifted enough that I could capture several images including the one above. This turned out to be a magical moment in time – at least on that particular day. We were back at our car by 11:45, pulled out our camping stove, boiled water and enjoyed tea and two hot pots of camping junk food. By the time we finished and cleaned up it was 12:15 and the visibility had gotten decidedly worse. So much so that it was considerably less than when we had first arrived.
I don’t know what it looked like there for the rest of the day, but I daresay, Helen and I lucked into the small window during which we could see both the small waterfall in the foreground and the 300 foot monstrosity in the background.
When photographing moving water, I do experiment with different shutter speeds. The fastest shutter speed captures water as if still in a moment in time. The slowest shutter speed makes the water look like cotton candy, a soft often majestic blur. I didn’t have a tripod with me on this trip, so it’s all hand held. I tried my various shutter speed and aperture combinations and then have a painstakingly long edit process when I get home.
Suffice it to say, as I look over all of my images from Iceland, I don’t regret a single side trip or detour to see any of the waterfalls, least of all this one. And every time I see this image I’m reminded of my rush to judgement when we first arrived, and that moment as this tremendous waterfall emerged out of the mist. Bravo Iceland!