Lake Myvatn (pronounced me – vaht) is the blue gem in the intriguing volcanic area of north-northeast Iceland. Just an hour east of Akureyri, the small 14 sq. mile lake is nutrient, making it an attraction for migrating birds. The lake’s too far for most of the tour buses but it gets plenty of Icelanders and savvy tourists. For photographers, the Myvatn area offers a range of landscape possibilities and it’s worth two days (or more) for the Ring Roader.
Myvatn (like Thingvellir) is a marker for where the North American and European continental plates separate. The lake formed by a volcanic eruption 2300 years ago. And you’ll find everything from volcanic craters and lava columns by the lake. A few miles east, the landscape turns ochre to sulfur gray to lava black.
The lake side is deep green. Yes, there are small hotels and BnBs along the lake road, most in the tiny village of Reykjalid. The town has a small supermarket, gas station, visitor center. The area has various places to eat, an assortment of day tours, a fancy natural bath — and all the natural sights.
Going south from the town on Rt 848 are volcanic cones and lava columns along the water and into the green fields. Further south and east are the nutrient-rich wetlands feasting grounds for a vast range of wildfowl — including 15 or so species of ducks. The lake’s name my (midge) vatn (lake), is a result of the clouds of midges that come in summer.
Further afield, you’ll find Godafoss waterfall to the west and Dettifoss and Selfoss waterfalls about an hour’s drive east of the lake.
Photo locations (listed east to west)
Dettifoss & Selfoss. These classic waterfalls are a 40-60 minute drive east of Myvatn depending on which a access road you take. So if Myvatn is your home base, these natural wonders are on your short list.
Krafla. The Krafla area, northeast of Myvatn, includes a big lava field, crater lake, mud pots and a geothermal power station. Geologically, Krafla is how land looks in the first centuries after being created. Photographically the area is all about going abstract, going wide angle. Go 3 miles east of the lake on Rt 1, then take Rt 863 north for 7 km.
Hverarond. The distinctive brown-orange landscape called Hverarond (or Hverir) is worth a couple hours of walking and/or photo walkabout. There’s lots of mud pots, lava and sulphur streams here. But I was able to be there just before sunset and realized that this shot location makes the most of Golden Hour. Another location that likes wide angle. Tho a 24-70mm will work as well … or a 70-200, or…. Just off the Ring Road about 2 1/2 miles east of the lake.
Shooting Volcanics. I’m always hesitant to photograph stuff like mud pots. The colors are always strangely interesting (if not pretty). But the volcanic elements don’t always fit easily into a composition. So my approach here was to find clear design elements within the complexity.
With its unique coloring (and not so charming smell) this location deserves a couple hours of exploration. But like any enthusiast, I wanted to make the most of Iceland’s Golden Hour. So I decided to return again and do the place justice.
Shooting the Lake
West of Hverarond the Ring Road descends into the lake valley. This is where the turnoff for Jarðböðin við Mývatn, the Myvatn version of the Blue Lagoon, is located. The baths aren’t quite as spa-like as the Reykjavik attraction but there’s food, a great view, less tourists and less price inflation.
Grjotagja Cave. Just west of that turnoff is Rt. 860, the road that takes you to Grjotagja Cave, the hot springs that were featured in Game of Thrones.
East side of lake. A mile further west of the cave area, you’re at the junction of Rt. 1 and 848. Rt. 848 is the ring road around the eastern/southern half of the lake. That’s where Reykjahlid is located. But as you continue south, you begin to see the mixture of lake and volcanic views. There’s lot’s to work with.
Southern end of the lake.
Godafoss. Thirty miles west of Reykjalid on Rt 1 is another of the marquee waterfalls, Godafoss. It is a godly waterfall as its name might suggest. But the history of the “god-falls” name is that one of the forefathers got Christian and dumped all his statues to the Norse gods here.
Tech Specs: I got to Godafoss an hour after dawn. The falls are east-facing but the hills to the east were still blocking the sun. I took my time getting set up. Godafoss can be shot from either side of the river. But the main parking is to the north, just off Rt. 1. And that location opens up the composition (in my opinion) with some interesting foreground elements to choose from. I played around with long exposure but those seemed to have less impact.
I also drove over the bridge to the south side parking. On that side you can shoot from the cliffs or river’s edge. I didn’t get anything worth sharing.
Aldeyjarfoss. Twenty miles upstream from Godafoss is another impressive waterfall, Aldeyjarfoss. The landscape there is nothing but barren rock, much of it basalt. Plus the drive south along Rt 842 or 843 takes a while. But people have gotten good shots here.
Not too far from Lake Myvatn:
Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon. The most expansive canyon in Iceland comes into its own just below Dettifoss. The Hafraigilsfoss waterfall is located there, a couple of miles downstream from Dettifoss.
Ásbyrgi Canyon. Eighteen miles north of Dettifoss, is a couple mile long horseshoe-shaped depression with sheer walls. Legend has it that the canyon is a footprint of Odin’s 8 legged horse, Sleipnir. The place definitely has a mythic quality and a great area for hiking.
Húsavík Whale Watching. An hour’s drive north of Myvatn on Rt. 87 is Husavik, the whale watching capital of Iceland.
Next: on to Akureyri and the northern fjords.