Serenity and Power, Gullfoss Waterfall, Iceland
Iceland is a land of quite outstanding natural beauty. With a population of just 319,000, around 200,000 of whom live in the greater Reykjavik area, space, clean air and waterfalls abound. The rather narrow, but mostly sealed, Route 1 is the national highway that will take you around the island and allow you to visit and photograph many of the countries most spectacular locations. Also known as the Ring Road, it's a great drive that, compared to what most visitors are used to, is not very heavily trafficked.
The Land of Waterfalls
I love waterfalls and was thrilled to be able to visit the wonder that is Gullfoss waterfall, albeit in the early hours of the morning. Actually the fact that so much of my photography was done between 10pm and 3am only enhanced the fairytale nature of this seemingly enchanted land. During the long summer months when sunset is followed, soon after, by sunrise, the time of golden light can last up to 5 hours. The message for the enthusiastic landscape photographer is that sleep can wait!
Though fairly bleak whether was on the way the light at Gullfoss was lovely during our visit and it was an absolute thrill to explore and photograph the location. Needless to say, while very much on the tourist route, the time of our visit meant that my traveling companion and I were left alone with nature and with our own thoughts.
Mist and the Photographer
The amount of water flowing down the Hvita river and over the two-tiered waterfall is quite staggering, as is the amount of mist wafting upwards from the cascade below. The moisture in the air can be problematic to the photographer as it can fall directly onto your camera's lens resulting in a loss of sharpness, lowered color saturation and inaccurate exposure.
In some cases actual water drops can appear as out of focus blobs on your images. Remember to bring a number of re-usable camera lens cleaning cloths or several packs of single-use lens cleaning tissues and be prepared to use them constantly when working in such an environment. A handkerchief or small, microfiber cloth can also be useful in mopping up excess water off the outside of your camera equipment.
What Shutter Speed when Photographing Waterfalls?
The idea of recording moving water within a still frame (photograph) is quite a poetic notion. You could start with a shutter speed of 1/8 second, though the actual shutter speed required will depend on the look your want, the velocity of the water and, of course, by the brightness under which you are working. Just be careful to keep your highlights, with the possible exception of specular highlights, to record inside the right hand edge of the histogram.
I strongly recommend a visit to Iceland for all folks with a passion for landscape photography. And, just an hour and a half drive from Reykjavik, Gullfoss waterfall is a great place to begin your exploration. Just ensure you have at least one week on the ground. It's a remote and fairly expensive place to travel. Glaciers feed waterfalls, but so does rain. And Iceland gets a lot of rain. Those extra few days might be all you need to ensure your trip includes its share of fair weather.
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Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru