Wonders of Iceland: Dettifoss

(© Ian Plant) It seems that Iceland has a large waterfall around every bend, but one clearly stands out from the rest—Dettifoss, located in Vatnajökull National Park in northeast Iceland, is the most powerful waterfall in Europe. Standing above the falls, looking down into the churning abyss below, this is not hard to believe. These falls absolutely roar, and one cannot help but imagine what it would be like to be swept away by the current.

Iceland’s weather is fickle (which is a diplomatic way of saying that it can be downright crappy), and when photographing there, one needs to develop strategies to deal with the often rainy and cloudy conditions (which I discuss in more detail in 6 Tips for Beating Bad Weather). For the photo below, the forecast called for rain for most of Iceland, although the northeast looked reasonably good, so I opted to drive all day to get around the nasty. I didn’t find an opening in the storm until after sunset, when I arrived at Dettifoss during the fading evening light. Too late? Not at all—in fact, the very last gasp of twilight is one of my favorite times to shoot. The stormy clouds above the falls were dramatic and energetic, even in the dim light; all I needed was to find the right composition and run a long exposure. Some quick exploration and scrambling over boulders at the canyon’s edge finally led me to this spot, which perfectly aligned the foreground, the falls, and the clouds above in a robust diagonal line (I discuss the compositional power of diagonal lines in my eBook Visual Flow: Mastering the Art of Composition). I used a polarizer to reduce glare on wet surfaces, and added a graduated neutral density filter to balance the exposure for the sky and the landscape below. The strong blues of twilight were essential to this scene’s power, so I selected a white balance that would preserve the color (in this case, the Shade preset worked best—anything warmer killed the blues, whereas anything cooler was too blue). “Dettifoss by Twilight”—Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland. Canon 5DIII, Canon 16-35mm lens, polarizer filter, 2-stop graduated neutral density filter, ISO 400, f/11, 2 minutes.

Dettifoss is truly an amazing spectacle, one not to be missed when visiting Iceland. You are planning to visit Iceland, right? Iceland is a wonderful place, a “must see” location that should be at the top of every photographer’s bucket list. I found one resource in particular to be incredibly valuable during my recent tripForever Light: The Landscape Photographer’s Guide to Iceland by Sarah Marino and Ron Coscorrosa. Written by people who deeply know and love their subject, this fantastic photo guide allows readers to easily find the best scenic beauty that Iceland offers. For more information, please visit my eStore.