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Öxarárfoss is a small (20 meters) waterfall in Þingvellir National Park, Iceland. It flows from the river Öxará and falls into the rift in between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.

Öxarárfoss is a small (20 meters) waterfall in Þingvellir National Park, Iceland. It flows from the river Öxará and falls into the rift in between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.

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Öxarárfoss is a small waterfall in Þingvellir National Park in southwest Iceland.

Þingvellir is a site of historical, cultural, and geological significance. It is one of three sites (Þingvellir, Geysir and Gulfoss) known collectively as the “Golden Circle” which is a tourist route that extends from Reykjavík towards central Iceland and back over a course of about 300km.

Þingvellir is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

North America ends here

Geologically, Þingvellir is the site of a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. On one side of the rift, you can see the European tectonic plate and the North American one on the other. The river Öxará crosses the park and forms a waterfall at the Almannagjá rift where it falls in between the plates. It is a very special place to visit for anyone with an interest in geology.

Almannagjá rift

Trail in between the continental plates.Almannagjá is 7.7km long rift, as much as 64 meters wide and marks the eastern boundary of the North American plate.

In this sense, Öxarárfoss is the very last waterfall in North America. It’s waters tumble over the lip of North America and flow downstream into Europe.

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Chasing the midnight sun in Seljalandsfoss

Seljalandsfoss is a sixty meter high (200ft) narrow cascade waterfall in southern Iceland.

Seljalandsfoss is a sixty meter high (200ft) narrow cascade waterfall in southern Iceland.

Reproduction licenses and fine art prints available in the online store.

On a photographer’s  bucket list of places to visit in southern Iceland, few rank much higher than Seljalandsfoss.

Easily reached by car from Reykjavik and located quite close to the Ring Road, Seljalandsfoss is a sixty meter (200 foot) high waterfall with a very thin cascade. Stunningly set on ancient coastal cliffs, one of Seljalandsfoss’s most attractive features is that there is a trail that allows visitors to walk behind the falls.  If you time your trip right, you can witness a spectacular sunset scene with the water in between you and the horizon. Not your usual perspective!

I met up with German photographer friend Tobias Knoch in Vik and we drove west together aiming to capture the midnight sunset at Seljalandsfoss.

The classic photographer’s point of view of the falls is from the summit of the hill just to the right of the cascade. We hiked up to the top, passing another photographer on the way up. At the summit, we were joined by Marcelo De Castro, another photographer friend from Brazil.

Out came the tripods, lenses, cable releases and filters. And the wait for the light began.

You can’t always get what you want

In mid-June of this year, large swaths of southern Iceland were heavily overcast. Photographers were zooming about crisscrossing the coastal areas as they chased the light from one valley or mountain slope to the next. On the night we travelled west from Vik, although the sky seemed promising near Skógafoss, the clouds set back in during the course of the next 30km as we approached our destination.

A gloriously colorful sunset was not to be had that night. We tried long exposures and a few other techniques to “get something” – but the color was not there to be seen. We left early.

I returned to Seljalandsfoss several times during the course of the next few days. It was always gray, heavily overcast and often crowded by tourists. I headed off to the Vestmann Islands instead.

Third time lucky in Seljalandsfoss

My third attempt to capture sunset at Seljalandsfoss didn’t seem very promising at first.

The sky was overcast again. Many photographers were walking about trying to find a suitable spot to setup their tripods. You could almost feel the collective anticipation as they all hoped for a break in the clouds. Some were down by the river in front of the falls. Others were off to the right slightly behind the waterfall (and probably getting soaked by the spray). Others were on the hill like I was.

Sunset was scheduled for around midnight that night, which meant that the good warm light would be somewhere in between 11pm and 12am. I had arrived early around 10pm and was setup and ready to shoot by 10:15pm.

And then it happened. At 10:30pm, a hole in the clouds briefly passed in front of the sun. The cliffs at Seljalandsfoss turned to gold.

It lasted only five minutes and disappeared as quickly as it came.

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Skógafoss and the troll in the Horn

View of southern Iceland's famous Skógafoss waterfall and 'the horn' a rocky spike jutting out midway up the hill on the right edge of the falls.

View of southern Iceland's famous Skógafoss waterfall and 'the horn' a rocky spike jutting out midway up the hill on the right edge of the falls.

Reproduction licenses and fine art prints available in the online store.

According to polls, most Icelanders believe in (or at least refuse to deny the existence of) spirit beings like elves, trolls, gnomes or fairies. Steeped in a thousand years of history, the belief in mythical creatures runs deep in Iceland. Bothering these mystical creatures who live in all corners of the island is thought to bring misfortune, so Icelanders will do almost anything to avoid annoying them – even changing building projects.

In Icelandic mythology, trolls are gigantic evil ugly dim-witted man-eating creatures that live in caves in the mountains. Some are benevolent while others are formidable monsters with a nasty temper that eat people and livestock. Trolls can only travel at night and immediately turn to stone if exposed to sunlight.

No one ever confirmed it to me personally, but I am pretty sure there is a troll that caught too much sun on the eastern edge of Skógafoss.

Spectacular Skógafoss

Skogafoss

Skógafoss is one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls. Twenty-five meters wide (82 feet) and sixty meters tall (200 ft), it plummets straight down over the edge of the former coastline cliff. The ocean itself has long since receded: the coast is now about 5 kilometres (3.1 miles) from Skógar. The contrast is striking. On one side of Skógafoss you have mountainous rocky terrain and five kilometres of perfectly flat plain on the other.

Most photographs of Skógafoss, like the one immediately above, show the wide plain and the entire width of the falls as seen from the front. My ambition was to visit the troll.

There is an increasingly famous rocky spike, called ‘the horn’, that juts out midway up the hill on the right edge of the falls that looks eerily like the profile of a human-ish face. Or a petrified troll, take your pick.

Reaching the horn requires a climb up the steep staircase on the right side of the cliff but about mid-way up you must leave the safety of the stairs and go out on a very narrow mud path that ends in the horn itself. Be very careful, especially if the weather has been wet, it is a sheer drop on either side of the path. Neither you nor your camera gear would survive the fall.

Photographers next to The Horn at Skógafoss

I wanted to avoid the generic Skógafoss from the plain shot, but I also wanted to capture something that speaks about Iceland as a whole. Lush green foliage, dramatic otherworldly landscapes, the impressive force of rushing water, eerie forms in the rocks – these are things that are common everywhere in Iceland. It is all these qualities that have endowed the country with a magical aura that you can feel when you visit and has nurtured the belief in mystical creatures.

There is nothing more truly Icelandic than a troll forever overlooking a majestic waterfall. Don’t you think?

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An elegant death in Reykjanes Iceland

Icelandic seabird found on the ground in a lava field in Valahnukur Iceland. (Eric Girouard)

Icelandic seabird found on the ground in a lava field in Valahnukur Iceland.

Reproduction licenses and fine art prints available in the online store.

One of the most magical things about visiting a place like Iceland, where one feels very close to nature and you are often surrounded by wilderness, is that the cycle of life and death can sometimes be right there at your fingertips.

During the first day of my recent visit, I had the opportunity to explore the Reykjanes peninsula southwest of Reykjavik. It was a misty foggy day and the plan was to end our first day in the warm waters of the Blue Lagoon.

I saw many wonderful things that day: fumaroles, steam vents, basalt cliffs, amazing rock formations along the coast – but the most poignant thing was this scene. An Icelandic Gull elegantly laid down on the ground, next to another bird. We could only surmise that both birds had died in a midair collision since they were so close to each other. No one will ever know. It could have happened just a few minutes before we discovered them, they looked like they could have been asleep except for the awkward posture.

It was the type of scene that made you gasp. Death and elegance.

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The Beauty of Kirkjufell Mountain

View of Kirkjufell mountain and Kirkjufellfoss waterfall on the northern shore of the Snaefellsnes peninsula in Iceland.

View of Kirkjufell mountain and Kirkjufellfoss waterfall on the northern shore of the Snaefellsnes peninsula in Iceland.

Reproduction licenses and fine art prints available in the online store.

Kirkjufell is one of those places photographers dream of. It’s almost surreal shape has become iconic in modern landscape photography and is now visually synonymous with Iceland. If you shoot landscapes and have an opportunity to travel to Iceland, Kirkjufell is a must.

There is only one true photographic challenge with regards to Kirkjufell. How do you make a photograph of it that is truly your own and doesn’t look like everyone else’s?

Kirkjufell, an exercise in perspective

Driving along the Snæfellsnesvegur route heading east from Olafsvik, you approach Kirkjufell from behind. From this point of view the mountain does not have it’s almost perfect cylindrical shape. Seeing it from afar, it took me a while before I was sure I was looking at the right mountain. But once you pass in front of it, and slightly past it, you easily recognize the famous outline. Like many things in photography, perspective is everything. The classic Kirkjufell image is shot from a southeast position looking roughly north by northwest.

Earlier in the day, we had sunshine near the Snæfellsjökull volcano to the west, but gray skies settled in as we neared Olafsvik. By the time we arrived and setup the camper van in the pull-off by the road near the river in front of Kirkjufell, any chance of a colorful sunset had disappeared.

We walked up to the ridge and over the little bridge that spans the river above the falls to scout out the available positions for a nice wide-angle shot from the southeast. (Yes, the first step was to find where everyone else goes – if only to find out where else you can go that might be better or more interesting.) I setup my tripod and shot a few different compositions.

The drizzle was getting heavy at that point and many of my exposures are dotted with raindrops on the lens. Lots of wiping the lens dry, shoot a frame or two, wipe the lens again, shoot. Rinse. Repeat. My only hope was that I could take enough exposures in between each drying of the lens to be able to composite the images into a single drop free picture. Gotta love Photoshop!

Did I ever mention bring lens wipes to Iceland?

After the second series of exposures, I just couldn’t keep the massively bulbous front element of the Nikon 14-24mm lens dry long enough for a mostly clear shot so I packed up my gear and took shelter in the van.

I have only two good compositions of Kirkjufell and this horizontal one is my favorite. Not bad for a ‘first try’ composition. It is pretty hard to take a bad picture of such a beautiful peak!

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