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.