Photo Walkabout at Fjaðrárgljúfur

There is a jewel of a river park a few miles west of Kirkjubæjarklaustur that’s a perfect photo location between Vik and the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon in Southeast Iceland. Justin Bieber used the Geopark as a unique location for one of his music videos, landing the little canyon on the world media’s radar screen.

Fjaðrárgljúfur’s parking lot’s just a couple of miles off the Ring Road. The trail takes you along the edge of an otherworldly river canyon for about a mile and ends at an overview of a high waterfall. I’ve stopped here every time I’ve driven southeast Iceland and it’s an experience regardless of the weather.

Location: Follow Iceland Rt 1 west from Kirkjubæjarklaustur for two miles till you see a small sign for the park on the right. It’s Rt 206. Follow it for a couple of miles, it turns to gravel and ends at the park’s parking lot. GPS: N63° 46′ 16.026″ W18° 10′ 19.506″

Photo notes: You can go wide angle or zoom to capture the canyon’s curves. The canyon runs north/south so there’s not as much value being there during Golden Hour. Given the controlled access, there’s no issue with people getting into the shot.

Fjaðrárgljúfur, part of Katla Geopark

Fjaðrárgljúfur, looking upstream. I emphasized the curve of the left hand wall and the river as the obvious leading line.

The trail up the hill starts at the parking lot. The path is man-made and roped off on the sides so that the crowds don’t damage the grassland — a huge issue during the spring rains. There are overlooks along the way for photos but the more delicate trails into the canyon have been made off limits since the Bieber video.


Iceland in the summer. All I’m doing with the composition is following the curve of the geology into the distance. In post I softened the foreground grassland, lightened the canyon shadows and brushed in extra clarity, cooled off the sky — just getting the image to look the way the day felt.

Two studies. The canyon’s charm is all about the strange shapes — kinda like what you find at Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona. The challenge is how you put these elements together. I found if I go wide and include too much of the canyon’s complexity, the composition gets overloaded. With these two studies I also gave extra emphasis to the grassland, juxtaposing the expanse of green against a few of the blue-black of  lava columns.


At the high point of the canyon it’s easy to do too much — get everything into one image. I decided to focus on this one curve in the river. The biggest challenge was how shadowed and contrasty the canyon was.  Once I lighten up on the dark areas in post and added weight to the lava columns, it was like entering a different realm.

The canyon ends just a bit further down the trail at the waterfall. The shot below is taken at the fenced overlook. It’s another view that has a wealth of complicated shapes. But the thing that worked best for me was to use the cliff that juts out on the left as a foreground element that leads the eye to the waterslide of a falls. I crop out everything on the right side.



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