One of the things Iceland is known for is it’s many waterfalls (“foss” is waterfall in Icelandic). They are so plentiful, it seems as though everyone has one in their backyard. Some fosses have a large cataractagenitus (mist), some have a plunge pool, some turn into a cascade, and some are segmented. There are many more features of these waterfalls but in the interest of time, let’s stop here. We also learned of an entire vocabulary around the foss. It took us awhile to pick it up, but once we learned it, our visit to each foss was more enriched. 

A newly formed or baby waterfall (foss) is called a fossette.

We visited many fosses of different types during our nine days here. Join me on a fossinating tour of five of Iceland’s best.


Dettifoss was the first waterfall we visited in Iceland. Known for its immense power, it had the land shaking beneath our feet. Getting to Dettifoss was more difficult than we had planned. We rented a car in port and planned for the 1 1/2 hour drive to see and photograph it. The first hour of the drive was in complete fog, with visibility often less than 20 feet. After the fog lifted, we followed a sign to Dettifoss. If we had only consulted a reasonable map, we would have noticed that we could have driven just a few more moments, crossing the river, then head north on a nicely paved road. Instead we traveled a bumpy, gravely, road for 12 miles. When we arrived, we saw that there was a viewpoint from the other side. Luckily, the wind was blowing toward there, pushing a tremendous amount of mist that way.  Taking the road less traveled, we got the better view and the better photos.

Waterfalls can have tremendous power, often they a referred to as  forssful.

There was so much mist it was near impossible to get a good shot.

A well regarded waterfall dentist recommend that all waterfalls foss every day. I believe that missive came from Dettifoss, the waterfall dentist.

Godafoss (Waterfall of the Gods)

Godafoss is called the, “Waterfall of the Gods.” When we saw it, we immediately understood why. It is truly amazing, even in the cloudy, rainy weather we were having. It was not very difficult to compose a shot. I just used my waterfall formula: find a nice foreground element (I chose some nice looking yellow flowers), find a middle element (this was easy, there were big rocks in the river), and make the water silky smooth (since it was already a bit dark due to the low clouds, all I needed was 6 seconds). Bing, bang, boom!

A 6 second exposure provided enough time to get the silky look.


Traveling along the southern coast, on our way to see Jökulsárlón, a glacial lagoon, we spotted a waterfall. There are so many waterfalls, it would be impossible to share photos from all of them, but this waterfall had a nice look to it. We had plenty of time so we pulled into a person’s driveway.  There was not a parking lot, port-a-potty, or a tour bus. This waterfall was in the backyard of someone’s home (small farm)! We pulled up to the gate, which had a sign saying (I think), do not pass. Fine. I’ll just use a long lens and photograph from afar.

It was so windy (30+ mph gusts) that shooting it became problematic. Even with our strong, heavy tripods, it was difficult keeping the camera steady for the entire duration of the exposure (typically 4 seconds). We had to shoot during the lulls, hoping for a few seconds of relative calm. Also making this shot difficult was how the wind was reaking havoc with the waterfall itself. When the wind kicked up, the water stream moved, changing the look of the ensuing cascades. After many shots of trial and error, we came away with a couple of good ones.

It was so windy the downspout moved back and forth, causing additional cascades to be formed.

We enjoyed this waterfall so much that we decided to photograph it again, under calmer conditions. The next day was just that. What do you think of the difference in the water stream?

Almost no wind made it easier to photograph, but lessened the water interest.

When a waterfall is newly formed and in need of guardianship, Icelanders put it in fosster care until it is adult enough to flow on its own.

Svartifoss (Black Falls)

Svartifoss is a waterfall in Skaftafell in Vatnajökull National Park. We stopped in during a cloudy and rainy day, figuring most tourists would stay away, leaving the waterfall for us alone. Boy, were we wrong. The place was packed. There were no parking spots anywhere. Who in there right mind would hike 1.5 miles up 500 feet in the rain, just to see a waterfall? I guess we are in that category. With the crowds, we decided to take a pass. 

We came back the next morning which was beautiful and mostly sunny with some wispy clouds. The place was almost empty.  Go figure.

The basalt columns make for a very interesting geology, but the waterfall itself is quite plain.

When a waterfall dries up, Icelanders refer to it a fossil.

Gullfoss (Golden Falls)

Gullfoss is the last waterfall we photographed on our trip. We may have saved the best for last. It is two-tiered and quite powerful. We were smart to arrive very early to avoid the onslaught of tourists, who arrive by bus, van, car, and bicycle. We got there just after sunrise, looking for beautiful colors in the sky. Instead, we were greeted with clouds. Not to worry, overcast days can be good for photographing waterfalls. Why, you ask? Direct sunlight on the water will tend to overexpose, leaving no detail in the flowing water. Another benefit to the cloudiness is the ability to shoot at a long exposure without much hardship.

Perhaps my favorite from all the waterfalls we visited on this trip. I love the two tiers.

I hope this post did not cause you to fear the waterfall, for if it did, your are now fosstiphopbic.

Remember, it’s all about the light, though not too much when photographing a waterfall.