Despite its namesake, Iceland doesn’t get all that cold even in the dead of winter. Temperatures hover just below freezing throughout the season, and the water flowing through Godafoss never has the chance to freeze over. Instead a multitude of icicles are formed by way of wind driven mist and water splashes. The end result is a gorgeous, half frozen piece of natural artwork.
Godafoss is extremely photogenic, given its dimensions. The layout is such that the waterfall completely fits within the aspect ratio of most cameras. With the right lens and framing, it’s easy to take great pictures of the falls from every angle.
I last visited Godafoss in September 2012. The autumn look in 2012 was entirely different from the frozen scene before me last week. I tried to recapture one of my favorite angles from last time, a shot from below Godafoss which included a distinctive rock in the foreground:
The rock was still there of course, but this time it was encased in ice. I might have been able to walk to it, and indeed a first time visitor would have mistakenly believed there was solid ground under the ice. I knew better and I didn’t test my luck.
The strong vignette (darkened corners) in the shot above was caused by me. I stacked two filters onto my Canon 24-105mm f4L lens. One filter was a graduated neutral density which gently darkens the sky in relation to the rest of the picture. This was necessary to retain some color in the sky; digital cameras would otherwise record that as pure white. I also used a 10 stop neutral density filter which cuts the amount of light going into the camera by 1024 times. With these filters reducing the light, I needed a 46 second exposure time which allowed me to capture movement in the waterfall. In addition to smoothing the water, the 10 stop neutral density filter adds a warm cast. I can easily edit out the cast, but I prefer to leave it in because to my eye the warm look is very beautiful and sort of otherworldly.
The falls created a constant freezing mist and I was having to continually clean my lens to prevent the accumulated ice from showing in the images. I knew that a better way to shoot this would be with a wide angle lens like my Canon 17-40mm f4L which wouldn’t show the vignette. But I wasn’t able to switch lenses because of the spray and I resigned myself to having to edit out the vignette (this is fairly easy to do). Now that I’m home though, I actually prefer the look. It adds a sort of lo-fi, retro look to an otherwise modern shot. And I’d rather have the edited image represent the truth of the shot.
Pictures capture just a short moment in time, but in the case of a waterfall a picture represents something real and ongoing. Godafoss is flowing every second of every day. It’s flowing right now as I write this and right now as you read this. I wonder how much water poured through these falls between my first visit in 2012 and my second visit last week.
Photographing Godafoss again was also a cool opportunity to compare my photography from 2012 vs. today. I think I’ve matured as a photographer in these last few years. The more recent image has better color, light, sharpness, and detail with just one exposure vs. the 5 exposure HDR I shot in 2012 with the same camera. I hope to continue this improvement in my future travels.