Photographing North Iceland - Husavik, Lupines, Waterfalls, and Geothermal Craziness

North Iceland

Photography isn’t just something I do. Exploring and capturing a beautiful landscape at sunrise or sunset is something I enjoy more than most anything else in the world that doesn’t involve my family or sleeping late on a Monday morning. And photographing Iceland was no different.

So here is part two (of several blogs) where I’ll share what I've experienced about photographing Iceland. In part one, I wrote about my experiences exploring west Iceland and the famed Snæfellsnes Peninsula and, nearby, the most-photographed mountain – Kirkjufell.

Now, let’s move to the north part of Iceland. Leaving my west Iceland home base, Grundarfjörður, I took 54 to connect with the Ring Road (Route 1) and headed east towards Akureyri. From here to Husavik to Mývatn, these are some of my favorite places worthy of a stop.

Goðafoss

Goðafoss (foss=waterfall) is about 50km (31 miles) east of Akureyri just off the Ring Road. As a major stop for tour busses that pass by, it is a nice waterfall – not too large and not too powerful, but easily accessible. The water often shows as an aqua blue on the afternoon sun, and various cascades add to its charm. The walkway is bounded by guardrails, and while here I found myself switching from a wide-angle lens to a 24-105L so I could zoom in. From those images, I created the panorama below.

Goðafoss on a Summer Night 1

Goðafoss (waterfall of the Gods) flows from the river Skjálfandafljót and tumbles 39'. The waterfall is located just off the Ring Road southeast of Akureyri. Seen here under the summer's midnight sun, it is a main stop for tourists exploring this area of north Iceland.

Aldeyjarfoss

A week earlier when I was photographing Ingjaldshólskirkja (kirkja = church), I met a few guys from Wyoming who were traveling in a camper van and had parked out of sight behind the church. While waiting for the midnight sun to cast its golden light across the lupine, we discussed our plans. When I told them I was heading east in a few days, they both said there was a waterfall not to be missed – Aldeyjarfoss. They were right.

In my opinion, this out-of-the-way waterfall is one of the most stunning in the country. The drive to reach this waterfall is 25 miles south of Godafoss down a bumpy dirt road – Route 842. The way is well marked and also requires crossing through several sections of private property. Thus, someone will need to open and close the gates as you pass through. Be aware - the gates do not open like gates in the US – at least any I’ve experienced. Please be considerate as these are working farms with curious sheep who would love the chance to find the greener grass! Once you reach the parking area, you may be happy to find the restrooms are clean and well-maintained. A quarter-mile walk down a slippy, rocky path leads to a waterfall that plunges alongside mysterious hexagonal basalt formations. You'll hear it before you see it! The afternoon sun turns the water a blue-green hue, making for a very unique scene. I tried several lenses here, but my favorite was the 11-24 for its super-wide-angle capability.

Aldeyjarfoss in Late Afternoon 1

Dark basalt columns spread out on either side of the turquoise water of Aldeyjarfoss. This beautiful waterfall is along a 4WD road north of the more famous Goðafoss. While it is a 45 minute drive up a dirt road, the trek is worth it. And in my opinion, this remote waterfall is much more stunning.

Husavik

The Harbor

One of my favorite things to do in a village on the coast is to sit on a bench or stroll the cobblestone streets and take in the subtleties of local life. For photography purposes, Husavik has a lot to offer.

Husavik Harbor in the Late Afternoon 1

Along Skjálfandi bay in north Iceland, the port town of Húsavík has just over 2,000 inhabitants. The main feature of the town is a wooden church, the Húsavíkurkirkja, which was built in 1907 by Icelandic architect Rögnvaldur Ólafsson.

Húsavík is the oldest settlement in Iceland and the largest town in the Þingeyjarsýsla district. It is also known as the Whale Capital of Iceland.

The buildings along the harbor make for quaint scenes, and close-ups of the boats always have something interesting to shoot. Here, I found my 24-105 worked best for both shots across the water and for more intimate details of the boats.

Ship in Husavik Harbor 1

A ship called the Opal rests in the quiet harbor of Husavik, Iceland.

Lupine in Husavik

Lupine are a cousin to the Texas bluebonnet (and mostly unwelcome and non-native to Iceland). Nevertheless, I was excited to find lupine spread across the hills surrounding the coastal village. It took patience and a few days, but on the main road heading south from town, I finally found an early morning (~ around 2:30am) when the winds were relatively calm.

Husavik Lupine at Midnight 1

Along the shores of Skjálfandi Bay, the little village of Husavik rests near the north Atlantic Ocean not far from the Arctic Circle. The summer nights are long and sunset can be pretty amazing. Here, blue lupine, called Nootka lupine, fill the slopes in late June and July. This wildflower image was taken around midnight and attempts to capture the beauty of this area.

I used one of my wide-angle lenses for this image – actually blending several separate shots of differing depths-of-field – to produce this lupine image that is sharp from front to back. Even today, I still have RAW files from these lupine that I’d like to work on, but the manual blending process is so tedious, I usually find something else to work on! I know there are apps that will do the blending, but even with slight breezes when talking multiple shots I find too much ghosting for my satisfaction. Thus, I do the blending myself.

I also need to take minute to praise a horseback riding establishment. I took my family horseback riding one morning at Lava Farms. Tora, the main guide, and her daughter, led my wife and two daughters and me across the beautiful land just south of Husavik. She was patient, kind, and shared a lot of the local history from this area. The half-day we spent with Tora, her daughter, and easy-going Icelandic horses was unforgettable, and my girls still talk about how much fun they had.

Mývatn

Heading south on 87, the geothermal wonderland of Myvatn awaits. Lava fields, steaming earth, blown out craters, and boiling mud pools are just a few of the other-wordly and Mars-like terrain that awaits. A few of my favorites included:

Leirhnjúkur Lava Field – a 15-minute walk leads further into the Krafla geothermal area at the edge of a large lava field, and that is just the beginning. I used a 16-35L for this area. Stay on the trail well after the first 15 minutes. Steam rising from the lava, bubbling mud pots, and a Martian landscape are waiting.

Leirhnjúkur Lava Field near Mývatn 1

Just a short drive and 15 minute walk, the Leirhnjúkur lava field was formed by volcanic eruptions from 1975-1984. The landscape is surreal, and steam pours out from the geothermal activity just beneath the surface.

Stóra-Viti Crater – Again in Krafla, this crater formed in 1724 and is much steeper than it appears in this photograph. Taken with a 11-24L lens to capture the stark beauty of this area, this image also captures the aqua color. A trail encircles the crater and makes for a nice hike.

Stóra-Viti Crater in Krafla, Iceland

From high up on the rim of an old volcano, this view shows the amazing blue-green water of a lake at the bottom of the Stóra-Viti crater. This explosion crater was formed in 1724 in the Krafla area, a region full of geothermal activity.

Dettifoss and Selfoss

Jokulsargljufur, as part of Vatnajökull National Park, is a glacier river canyon with breathtaking views and miles (and kilometers) of hiking trails. The three waterfalls best known in this area are Hafragilsfoss, Dettifoss, and Selfoss – all found along the Jökulsá á Fjöllum River. Dettifoss is the most visited, and plunges 144’ while carrying 656 square feet of water over the ledge per second, making it Europe’s most powerful waterfall.

Dettifoss in the Afternoon 1

Dettifoss drops 144’ and is said to be the most powerful waterfall in all of Europe. Located in Vatnajökull National Park, the water originates from the Vatnajökull Glacier and is part of the Jökulsá á Fjöllum River in northeast Iceland. Standing on these rocks, visitors can feel the thunder of the falling water..

Selfoss is shorter (only 36 feet high) but wider.

Selfoss in the Afternoon 1

Just a short walk from the more famous Dettifoss, Selfoss is a beautiful sight as well. Selfoss flows from the same glacier and drops about 98 feet before rolling into Öxarfjörður, a bay in northeast Iceland and part of the Arctic Sea.

For these falls, I used two lenses, a 16-35L and my 11-24. Bring a soft towel or lens wipe because the ever present spray will sprinkle the lens with water.

There is more to come from this amazing outdoor wonderland. East Iceland is up next.

Safe travels, everyone!

~ Rob

Texas Images

Iceland Images

Along the shores of Skj√°lfandi Bay, the little village of Husavik rests near the north Atlantic Ocean not far from the Arctic...

Husavik Lupine at Midnight 1

Along the shores of Skj√°lfandi Bay, the little village of Husavik rests near the north Atlantic Ocean not far from the Arctic Circle. The summer nights are long and sunset can be pretty amazing. Here, blue lupine, called Nootka lupine, fill the slopes in late June and July. This wildflower image was taken around midnight and attempts to capture the beauty of this area.