Archives for posts with tag: Iceland

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!

Iceland! – The Reynisdrangar Stacks

Helen and I spent ten days in Iceland last summer. One day we’ll return and spend a month – that’s how amazing it was.

We spent all but two nights at the end sleeping in the back of a modified Jeep – the back of the car converted into a bed that was quite comfortable so long as you didn’t attempt to sit up. The Jeep, a 4WD with Iceland-capable tires and suitable road clearance, gave us the ability to explore the island nation as we saw fit, on and off-road. The car also allowed us to drive to and park at some memorable and remote spots to bed down at night.

A quick primer: Iceland has a total population of 330,000. Recently, Iceland’s soccer team advanced to the quarterfinals of the European Championship and 30,000 Icelanders flew to France to cheer on their countrymen. That means that 10% of the entire nation of Iceland travelled in support of their soccer team. I love that.

Here’s another fun fact. From 2006 – 20011, there were roughly 500,000 tourists visiting Iceland annually. It varied from year to year, but not by much. But then growth happened. In 2015, 1.3 million tourists visited Iceland – 5x as many tourists as there are locals. And, to make things more interesting, most of these tourists transit Iceland in the summer months – for the obvious reasons.

Last August, with our kids in sleep-away camp, Helen and I landed in Reykjavik as two of those tourists, picked up our Jeep and began driving north along the coast. That first morning, we parked at the foot of a glacier and, aided by jet-lag, slipped off into a brilliant night of sleep. The next morning we explored the base of the glacier where we had parked and then began day two and our first full day of touring.

It was mid-morning when we pulled off the main ring-road at Reynisfjöru beach. This beach sits at the foot of Reynisfjall, a 1,000 foot tall tuff mountain overlooking the ocean and famous in part for it’s bounty of puffin nests. Puffins, of course, while not technically the national bird of Iceland (that distinction goes to a falcon), may as well be since pictures, postcards and all types of souvenirs depicting puffins overwhelm store shelves across all of this island nation.

And while we thought we were at the beach to see the puffins – and see them we did – we realized quickly we were there for much more than that. There were basalt formations which I’ll share in a future blog post – amazing geometric patterns of rock. And there were the Reynisdrangar Stacks – formations rising out of the sea – nearly 200 feet high.

There is also a slight cave set on the beach which we traversed and which I photographed as well. With the tide coming in, it was bit tricky both getting to the cave and then being inside the cave without getting wet. One particular set of waves came in and nearly did us in, but we managed to stay dry (just barely). Another tourist who’d arrived about the same time we did wasn’t as lucky and got caught up to her waist in the oncoming North Atlantic waves – which I could only imagine was bone numbingly cold. She escaped unscathed but for wet clothes and a bit of embarrassment.

For all the splendor at this Icelandic beach it was this single rock formation that captured my imagination most of all. It was, I suspect, a sight I least expected to see and which, truth be told, made the least sense. A single, skinny, 200 foot tall needle rising out of the ocean. How did it form? How did it survive?

As I made sure I was out of the reach of the incoming tide, I slipped on my 70-200 zoom lens and clicked off a few images of this formation. Next, I turned toward the beach and took the opportunity to scout puffins through my viewfinder – and while they are small birds demanding of a more powerful lens, I was nonetheless able to get one or two decent shots of them in flight.

It was then, out of the corner of my eye, that I noticed this woman walking along the beach and I knew instantly the image I wanted. Her, a vertical line in the foreground and out of focus on the right corner of the frame with the pinnacle in sharp focus behind her. I had to hustle a bit to get into position, pointed my camera and waited for her to walk through my viewfinder. For me, perfection.

I love the symmetry and peacefulness of this image. It’s unusual and, given the rock formation, unexpected. The image is also dreamy and contemplative – with the woman looking down, we can each put ourselves in her place, walking silently, alone on a beach, reflecting inwardly on some aspect of our lives. In the background, nature joins her in this private moment.

I am 1/3 of the way through editing my Iceland photographs. I’m excited to see what else I captured with my camera. At least here, from day two of our trip, I see that I was off to a good start.