Iceland in 16 Days: Day 6, North Iceland, Dettifoss Waterfall

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As noted in my previous article, Dettifoss and Selfoss are a pair of waterfalls on the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river. You arrive at Dettifoss first. A short 10-minute hike or so leads to Selfoss.

This pair of waterfalls was on my “must get good images” list. We arrived near sunset, with Dettifoss in a deep shadow. I thought we would have to come back.

We hiked on to Selfoss and the light was amazing. After photographing gorgeous rainbows at Selfoss, we hiked back out. That’s when I met Tony Prower, the proprietor of Iceland Aurora Photo Tours and Workshops.

Tony told me to wait around for a while to photograph Dettifoss at sunrise. While my wife Liz slept in the car, I was out with Tony. Here are the results.

Feature Image: Canon 24-105MM F4 L lens at 47MM, ISO 100, F/16, for 3.2 seconds.

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Image Details: Canon 24-105MM at 28MM, ISO 100, F/18, for 0.4 seconds.

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The above image is looking downstream of Dettifoss along the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river.
Image Details: Canon 24-105MM at 47MM, ISO 100, F/16, for 10 seconds.

Yes, those exposures are wildly different, which I explain in a moment.

All of the images on this page were taken pre-dawn. In Northern Iceland you can photograph sunset, wait an hour or so and photograph sunrise. Over the course of that wait, light levels can change a lot. The second image was also way underexposed. It took quite a bit of effort in Lightroom to bring out the shadow details.

The horizon was relatively flat, so graduated neutral density filters work reasonably well. If you are going to use such filters, I highly recommend the Galen Rowell series. I have a 3-stop soft and a 2-stop hard. There are other densities. I almost always use the soft.

There are other techniques. Tony taught me an interesting one: He used his coat sleeve as a filter, holding it over the top portion of the lens, sliding it up and down. It takes some practice. And it takes a long exposure, at least 3 seconds.

I used his technique, setting my exposure compensation to +2, boosting the exposure, then reducing it with my coat sleeve. Results are obviously not repeatable, but you can get some interesting effects. I believe the feature image and the final images used this method.

Thanks Tony!

I have not used Tony’s method much since, but I now take my graduated neutral density filter, hold it by hand, and move it up and down rather than putting it in a holder (which I never had), or holding steady as I did do.

Once again, it takes long exposures to use either my method or Tony’s. One might also try painting a piece of cardboard black, or using a black piece of plastic in lieu of a coat sleeve. I have been meaning to try that, but I haven’t yet.

Right at sunrise, a huge fog bank rolled in. Tony said, “I know this experience well. That’s it for the evening”.

We were quite a ways from our hotel and it was early AM already. The saving grace for this stop was we had a rare two-day stay in Reykjahlid (Lake Myvaten), the only multi-day stop on our trip except for a final stay in Reykavik.

Please see our Iceland Guide for recommendations and details.

At this spot, the best shots at Selfoss were right at sunset. The best shots of Dettifoss were pre-dawn. Seconds after sunrise, everything turned dense grey.

For Selfoss rainbows, please see Iceland in 16 Days: Day 6, North Iceland, Selfoss Waterfall.

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Up Next: North Iceland, Goðafoss Waterfall

Mike “Mish” Shedlock

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