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Svartifoss an Icelandic waterfall

Svartifoss waterfall Iceland Skaftafell

Base of Svartifoss taken in 1981 crashing onto broken black basalt columns, with a 200mm lens using a 1 second exposure.

If you like shooting waterfalls, you should visit Iceland. Without doubt, they are the jewels in Iceland’s crown.  In this land of the midnight sun, you have light 24/7 in high summer in the high latitudes and the indirect light after the sun dips below the horizon is perfect for some falls.  Also, the prolonged winter ensures there is a good chance that waterfalls will freeze partly if not completely, with the added interest of icicles forming.

Svartifoss waterfall Iceland

A vertical format captures the complete fall,  narrow lip and basalt columns

If I had to choose an Icelandic waterfall it would have to be Svartifoss.  Probably because it was the first one I photographed more than three decades ago using Kodachrome 25 filmstock. To reach the most famous waterfall in Skaftafell National Park, it is accessed from the southern ring road and requires an hour’s uphill hike.

Svartifoss Iceland waterfall

A horizontal panoramic format on an XPan camera shows the basalt columns dominate the setting.

Unique is often misused, but Svartifoss IS unique with the black curved basalt column wall forming a spectacular partial amphitheatre behind it.  The first time I saw it, I was with a botanist who never hinted about the breath-taking sight of the relatively narrow fall crashing down onto broken black columns.

Svartifoss waterfall Iceland

Detail of sombre basalt columns behind Svartifoss with little vegetation.

Using a slow shutter speed to capture large volume waterfalls does not work since they discharge so much water, there is no subtle rendering of the solid white mass. On the other hand, a small volume appears as a thin veil of water creating a see-through curtain with a slow shutter speed.

Svartifoss Iceland waterfall

A Hasselblad square format incorporates the largest area of green on any image.

Each time I visit Svartifoss I try to find a new viewpoint.  By varying the focal length and using every format possible from square to landscape, portrait and panoramic, it is possible to capture images that can be used for different purposes including a book cover, a website banner and to illustrate web and print articles.

Svartifoss waterfall Iceland

A  Hasselblad shot shows a full frontal of base falling onto broken columns and was the front jacket for my  book How to Photograph Water.

 

Facts and figures

Height: 20 metres

Location: Skaftafell National Park

Fed by: ice-cold meltwater from Svinafellsjokull in the Skeiðará River

On one trip when travelling with my son, Giles, we decided to specialise in waterfalls.  Jon Kr Gunnarsson’s book Icelandic waterfalls was a godsend for planning our route as it features 237 falls marked on regional maps. This invaluable source of information is no longer in print. However, I have discovered the informative website covering European waterfalls features 184 in Iceland, each with the location, height and rating, plus several photos and further information.

Sartifoss waterfall Iceland

A long lens homes in on the black basalt rocks, but it does not have quite the same quality of my first image taken face on with a greater volume of glacial melt water.

References

On one trip when travelling with my son, Giles, we decided to specialise in waterfalls.  Jon Kr Gunnarsson’s book Icelandic waterfalls was a godsend for planning our route as it features 237 falls marked on regional maps. This invaluable source of information is no longer in print.

However, I have discovered the informative website covering European waterfalls features 184 in Iceland, each with the location, height and rating, plus several photos and further information.

I shall be returning to capture Svartifoss in other seasons.

Thanks for reading!

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