Northwest Iceland, a Visit to Dettifoss Waterfall

The section of the Ring Road from Egilsstadir to Lake Myvatn was my least favorite drive. You leave the east coast, head past lush farm lands and drive through fields of black lava for much of the two hours it takes to get to Lake Myvatn. 

There is one important photo location along this section of Ring Road, the Dettifoss waterfall.  Dettifoss is about 85 miles east of Eglisstadir, 25 miles from Lake Myvatn, and the most powerful waterfall in Iceland. Plus, it’s adjacent to Selfoss, a waterfall of equal beauty.

Logistical issues. Dettifoss and Selfoss are something of a rarity in Iceland, they can be approached easily from either side. Rt. 862, the western approach, is shorter and paved. It gets the lion’s share of tourists. The western viewpoint doesn’t give much glimpse of the gorge below.

From the east side, you can walk right up to the cliff edge and aren’t as hampered by defined overlooks. Unfortunately,  Rt 864 is a longer drive down a dirt road. The route is also less accessible. This section of the Ring Road is at a higher altitude so there are snow issues for most of the year. I had planned to shoot Dettifoss from both sides. But when I came in early May, 864 was closed; the sign saying (in nicer words) if you get stuck on this road, you’ll need a second mortgage to pay the towing fees. So I went with the flow.

Best light. On the other hand, I discovered that Dettifoss’ western view is the better choice in the afternoon. The river, Jokulsa a Fjollum, flows south to north so you’re shooting with the sun behind you. The eastern view will get better light in the morning and a better view upstream. Of course this being Iceland, you’re likely to be shooting on an overcast day.

Layout. An easy walk from the parking lot takes you to a couple of fenced off overlooks. The first overlook is just above the falls. The downstream overlook gives a cleaner composition. It’s easier to get the entire falls into frame.

Dettifoss Waterfall

1/20 sec., F20

This framing gave me some nice leading lines into the image. And since there was a perfect rainbow, I used it. I did play around with shutter speeds at this spot. This waterfall is a powerhouse and I wanted a (somewhat) slower shutter speed to suggest movement in the water without sacrificing definition. So for me, anything slower than 1/20 second gave too much smoothing to the falls for my taste.

One note: The swirling black and white along the cliff edge (center) are patterns in the snow. I’m not sure how they got created but I like the effect. Also, notice that the rainbow stops in midair.

As far as post, I mostly just lightened up the shadows in the lower third of the image.

Selfoss

Another nice thing about this shot location is that it’s a twofer. The Selfoss waterfall is just a ten minute walk upstream. (You’ll see the path off to the left as you head back towards the parking lot.)

Selfoss has just as much water flow as Dettifoss (duh) but the layout allows you to shoot from the cliff edge. Plus, Selfoss has a number of smaller falls leading the eye up to the central area of it. So there are any number of ways you can compose the image successfully.

Selfoss Waterfall

1/500 sec., F8

At 1/500 sec., the foreground waterfall becomes lattice-like and the turbulence in the river is nicely detailed.  So this approach seemed to capture what made Selfoss so unique at that moment.

Between the two waterfalls, the gorge narrows and the river moves fast. So I spent longer working this location, seeing how a longer exposure would impact the motion of water. Here’s an example of that.

Selfoss Waterfall

1/10th sec., F22

For me, the slower shutter speed was too weird. I don’t mind the fall’s blur on the right side. But that 1/10th sec exaggerates the river motion. It’s a powerful photographic choice. But I get almost sea sick looking at it and I can’t imaging anyone having this image on their wall. I could have gone for a much longer exposure, 1-5 minutes. But then I lose all the detailing in the river. And those powerhouse rapids are what captured my attention that afternoon.

None of this is meant to say how these two waterfalls “ought” to be photographed. These perceptions are what moved me on that afternoon. With different lighting, different water levels, I would have gone with another approach. The point is to engage with a place, let it “speak” to you, then use your tools to capture the feeling.

Post. For the two Selfoss images, my core adjustments were to equalize the effects of the light differences. The cliffs getting direct sun were a bit harsh and blown out, the cliffs and water in shadow were too dark. That’s a common challenge for us.

While shooting, I was talking with a young couple about the challenges of photographing a scene like this. They were enjoying the moment, I was thinking out loud.  I probably mentioned how dark the shadows were getting. It was 6:30 by now but the two ladies could still see every detail in the rocks (on the right side) with no trouble. The camera was registering all that as black since I didn’t want the sky getting blown out. People often think you should just “photograph what’s there.” But what the eye sees isn’t what the camera can deliver. That’s the point of post production, the point of shooting in RAW.

…………………..

After shooting Selfoss, I headed down into a final black plain towards Lake Myvatn, my stop for the night. The deep blue lake is a relief after the lava flats. As I noticed early on, in Iceland you don’t have to drive far before the landscape transforms.

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Lake Myvatn is just beyond the mountains.

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The Hike to Svartifoss Waterfall

Skaftafell is most known for the scenic Svartifoss, a basalt-columned waterfall at the base of Iceland’s largest glacier field. The hike to Svartifoss is as photogenic as the falls themselves. Plus, the rest of the mountainous park has more to offer than one marquee waterfall. It’s a worthwhile stop on a Ring Road tour.

I didn’t bother to show up at Skaftafell till about 9AM. If it’s a rainy day, there’s no point in catching the dawn light. So I slept in, enjoyed Skaftafell Hotel’s free breakfast and tossed my suitcase in the trunk.

Layout. The park is just a few miles off Rt. 1 (the turn-off is well marked) and there’s lots of parking. Once there, go to a kiosk at the Visitors Center to pay for parking. The Center is quite informative. A help desk, illustrations of the birds and beasts found in the area, stuff to buy, it’s all nicely done.

Skiaftafell

A big piece of the park is glacier and there are several companies located to the left of the parking lot that do tours each day. In addition, there are a number of hiking trails criss-crossing the non-glacier section of park, that long spit of land (above).

Trails

The rangers all seem to be total pros. The guy I spoke with gave me some good tips as to the more photogenic trails to take. The S2 trail goes to Svartifoss, S1 goes along the flatlands to the base of the glacier. S5 heads up a ridge for some great views.

The paved Svartifoss trail starts just left of the Visitor Center. It has a fair amount of vertical drop at first, then the trail levels out a bit. For me, things got interesting at a small bridge over a mountain stream. From the bridge, the view was nice but with too many branches and brambles to get a clean shot. So instead of following the crowd up to the marquee event, I found a path down and in front of the bridge.

From here I was close to the stream and some good foreground choices. With a 15-35mm wide angle, the shot just fell into place.

On path to Svartifoss waterfall, Skaftafell National Park

1/15 sec., F22 (All images are handheld, I didn’t bother with the tripod.)

On path to Svartifoss waterfall, Skaftafell National Park

1/5 sec., F22. From under the bridge

By now it was raining again so I grabbed the poncho from my day pack. After a bit more vertical, the terrain levels and gets scenic. Off to the left there are a couple of overlooks, for Hundafoss and Magnusarfoss. (Foss means waterfall.) Both falls have lots of vegetation so getting a clean photo is tricky. This one turned out OK.

Hundafoss waterfall Skaftafell National Park

Magnusarfoss waterfall, 5. sec., F22

Not long after these waterfalls, you can see Svartifoss up valley.

Svartifoss waterfall, Skaftafell National Park

Svartifoss waterfall from the ridge, 1/400 sec., F20

Svartifoss waterfall, Skaftafell National Park

Svartifoss waterfall, Skaftafell National Park. 1/250 sec., F11

Most images you see of Svartifoss are taken from either that bridge or along the creek. Here I preferred to include more of the valley. Part of that was just the situation. The vegetation was just starting to take on that red-brown spring coloring. Plus from higher up, the valley, bridge, mountains behind become part of a context that humans are a tiny part of. These images remind me of the old Chinese pen and ink watercolors, travelers or a monk lost in a vast landscape.

But here’s an example of a more standard Svartifoss landscape shot from below.

Svartifoss waterfall, Skaftafell National Park

Svartifoss from creek level. 1/25 sec., F20

The waterfall and the basalt columns are a more central part of the image from this viewpoint. But the creek itself is visually busy with all the boulders. If I do a 500px search for Svartifoss, the images that hold my attention are mostly the long exposure ones. Doing a longer exposure here would have hidden some of the busyness in the creek behind the gossamer texture. Who know, maybe I would have liked my creek level shots more with a 2-3 minute exposure.

I made one final discovery walking back. The Svartifoss creek and the trail were perfect leading lines for a photo of the entire area.

View trail to Svartifoss waterfall, Skaftafell National Park

Southern view, Skaftafell National Park. 1/500 sec., F11

Tip: There’s a nice cafeteria next to the Visitors Center that’s a good value (by Iceland standards) and a great place to chill after a hike to a waterfall.

 

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Take Care of Your Tools

There were several times on the road when I was reminded of my Yankee side — that part of me that takes a hard look at things, tells you to own up when you screw up. And I had one Yankee moment on the trail up to the Svartifoss waterfall.

Early on, I came to a bridge over a creek. I took the place in: a rushing stream, red-brown bramble lining the banks, rain clouds above. Of course I had to shoot it.

By now, I was under the bridge, close to the water. A wide angle was the choice, i.e. my 16-35mm that no longer had a cap. I looked the glass over as I screwed the lens in place.

My slip of a hand on that cold day was still a bother. It was an easy mistake that had non-trivial consequences. This two week shoot was important to me, as business and as creative opportunity. I’ve planned it up the kazoo. And this essential lens could easily get damaged given the spring conditions. Plus I hadn’t heard of a single store on the Ring Road that would have DSLR lens caps. (I found one a week later up in Akureyri.)

Point taken. I got my head back into photographing the little stream.

On path to Svartifoss waterfall, Skaftafell National Park

Shooting under the bridge, Skaftafell National Park

Five shots later, the 24-105mm was on my Canon, the 15-35mm was in my pack (in one of those little lens bags). I had pulled out my poncho. Yes, there was a steady rain by now and yes, I had remembered to bring rain gear. As I walked, I returned to thinking how I could be more attentive, mindful. …

… My father used to say you always take care of your tools. Clean the paint brush you used. Put the hammer back where it came from. Basic dad stuff, basic life lessons. The early landscape photo pioneers had the same practical perspective on things, maybe that’s what made them pioneers. I started making mental notes of stuff I needed to attend to.

Stuff I need to attend to, a personal list 

  • Put the lens back where it belongs when you switch to a new one … same for ND, CPL filters, cable release, etc.
  • Put your lens cap into your left-hand pants pocket (my system) when you’re shooting.
  • Bring water.
  • Bring extra gear, poncho, windbreaker, etc., if there’s a chance you’ll need them.
  • Bring a camera cover in Iceland, you’ll need it at some point during the day.
  • Check your camera settings before you start shooting.
  • Take the location in, breathe it in, before you start shooting.
  • Keep the rest of your gear close at hand.
  • Don’t take unnecessary risks. Travel safely.
  • Don’t always stay on the path (or in the scenic overlook’s parking lot), explore.
  • Be respectful of property, ask the owner before you intrude on their land.
  • Be supportive of your fellow photographers. Don’t walk into their shot, don’t trash talk on their gear. Appreciate where they’re at, share insights. It’s a community.
  • Don’t pull the trigger until you’re seeing the composition you want.
  • Think outside the box. Try shooting at ground level, from above, with different settings.
  • Recheck settings as you go.
  • Check that your lens is clean, often.
  • Stow everything where it belongs when you’re through with that location.

These are my notes to self, your mileage will vary. I added one more note to the list when I got to Snaefellsness: Zip up your gear pack fully when it’s not in use, so that new Sigma lens won’t drop out and the UV filter won’t be destroyed. Yep.

This list is a work in progress. And I know there are a hundred other points I could have mentioned. But you can only keep so much in RAM.

 

Vik to Skaftafell, the Journey East

After  1 1/2 days shooting Dyrholaey, Vik Black Sand Beach and the waterfalls, I was ready to continue down the Ring Road. My next stopping point was Skaftafell Hotel, just down from Skaftafell National Park, an hour and a half northeast of Vik. The trip turned out to be full of unplanned discoveries. 

Ninety miles isn’t much. During the first leg, the landscape isn’t much different from the western side of the South Coast. You’re driving through a wide swath of rich farmland sprinkled with sheep and horses that’s overlooked by the usual mesa. After that, the massive footprint of Vatnajokull Glacier pushed the Ring Road down towards the coast.

So the plan was to stop half way and do a 2-3 hour photo shoot at Fjaðrárgljúfur, a 2 million year old canyon park, then head into glacier country and Skaftafell Park. I had done a quick trip to the canyon on my first trip to Iceland, getting there just before dusk (see slideshow below). Fjaðrárgljúfur had a certain magic and I knew the location would be even better with good light.

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But before easing down the road, I needed to upgrade my cold weather gear. I swung by the store, Icewear, to pick up some serious gloves and a balaclava mask on my way out of Vik.  Icewear is as big as any REI store in LA. Finding all that cold weather gear in a town of 200 is kind of impressive.

About 40 miles east of Vik, Rt 1 crosses a lava area that is covered with dense green moss. It’s an intriguing area, most of it fenced off for environmental reasons. It’s worth a stop at one of the road pull-offs.

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Shooting the moss-covered lava was challenging. It’s tactile and otherworldly but too amorphous to fit easily into a composition. Finding a bit of a foreground design and pulling in a distant mountain plateau seemed to work.

Closed for renovation 

When I got to the turnoff for Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon, I was in for a surprise. A park ranger was waving visitors over to explain that the canyon was off-limits except for the bridge at the bottom of the stream. The wooden boardwalk that goes along the entire eastern rim was getting a major renovation.

That wasn’t what I wanted to hear, the canyon is one of Iceland’s unique photo experiences. Plus this was my one chance to shoot this park, what with me doing the Ring Road. I wanted to see if there was any leeway.

Our ranger was a total pro, articulate, thoughtful, hunky. He explained that as an American, I would understand how important and delicate the ecology of a park can be. He mentioned that it gots 500,000 visitors in 2017, way more than the current wooden boardwalk can’t handle, especially with all the spring rains.

My new ranger friend told me the view from the bridge would be worth it. Knowing that the bridge is located at the bottom end of the canyon, I begged to differ. “Do you think a photo taken from the far end of the Grand Canyon captures the magic of the place?” He got my point. He did allow me to head down to the base of the bridge and wander up river if I wanted. The water was way too cold for that but I did get one or two shots at river level.

Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon

Not the photo I wanted. But I gained a bit of insight into the challenges Iceland faces in preserving its unique landscape. Plus he gave me a ride back up to my car. We shook hands. He continued working with the new visitors, I continued up the Ring Road.

Along the way

With only 50 miles to my hotel, I had plenty of time to kill. So I kicked back and enjoyed the classic southern countryside, golden-green farmland framed by a mountain plateau… plus a wind-swept waterfall.

Waterfall in SE coast, 60 miles east of Vik in Sidu

1/800 sec., F8,  63°51’9.282″ N 17°53’17.322″ W

Just another road pull-off, not a place that’s in any guidebooks or on any tours. But balancing the fence posts with the plateau made it one of my favorite images.

Then I pulled up and parked for a closer look at the falls, called Foss a Sidu.

Waterfall in SE coast, 60 miles east of Vik in Sidu

1/30 sec., F18,    63°51’14.61″ N 17°52’16.128″ W

The area past this point was private land so I didn’t intrude. Just took six shots of this delicate falls. In half the images, the water doesn’t make it do the ground, the wind gusts kept sweeping the falls away.

Eastern District

Twenty miles further on and the Iceland landscape is transformed from farmland to a black sand river delta. I spotted a butte set against the expanse of brown-black earth — another photo location that’s not in the guidebooks. I found a safe pullout just over the bridge. My first image was to the east.

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For this composition I used the curve of straw colored grass along the dune to lead the eye in.

Shooting north, the view is of a long plateau and a tongue of the Vatnajokull Glacier.

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Afternoon exploration, Hof 

By now I was close to my hotel and ready for a late lunch. I checked in and grabbed something at the restaurant/store across the road. I had decided to do Skaftafell and the Svartifoss waterfall the next morning when I was rested. So that afternoon, I drove further east on Rt 1 to take a look at another of the area’s points of interest, the turf church at Hof.

Hof Sod Church

The church itself was closed but the trees and old graveyard made for a shot that could have been in The Hobbit.

This whole area has some intriguing mountains so I explored another 10 km down the Ring Road. There was something about the snow covered peaks fronted by golden tundra grass. But one of my working rules is not just to shoot a cool mountain or waterfall by itself. I need to put any visual element into a more complex artistic context. So I didn’t pull over until I found the missing element, a dirt road that led the eye into the mountains.

Rt 1 pull off southeast of Hof

A leading line into composition

Evening light

It had been a long day so I rested before dinner. But Iceland had more in store for me, the evening light. I walked outside and noticed sunlight filtering down to the glacier behind Skaftafell National Park. Sweet.

Skaftafell Park

A closer look.

Skaftafell Park

And further down the road.

Pond south of Skaftafell Park along Rt 1

This time looking east with the stream as a leading line and anchored by the rough vegetation.

Pond south of Skaftafell Park along Rt 1

A variation

I got back to my room just after nine. It had been an interesting day, a perfect road trip day. My only must-see photo location had been a washout, called on account of spring rains. But the photos I had were uniquely my own … just me seeing something that other folks on the road had driven past. Not bad.

Shooting Vik Black Sand Beach

Reynisfjara, otherwise known as Vik Black Sand Beach, is one of the most popular photo locations in Iceland — as a visit to the 500px enthusiast site will confirm. The beach is a beautiful expanse of blue-black punctuated by distinctive sea stacks. Legend has it that the sea stacks were trolls that got caught outside after dawn broke and were turned to stone.

My first visit to Reynisfjara beach was a couple of years ago. I could see the potential of the place. But I didn’t show up until about 9 am (duh) and there were enough bodies walking the beach and climbing the basalt columns to limit my photo choices.

March 2017

March 2017

First visit to Black Sand Beach, March 2017

So on my first full day in Iceland I showed up at the beach at 4:15 am. … Not that I was trying to prove my seriousness as a pro shooter. Truth is, I was seriously jet lagged and by 3:30 I was fully awake. At 4:05 I was driving Rt. 1, by 4:10 I was heading south on Rt. 215 following the sign for the Vik beach (and restaurant).

I parked, pulled out my pack and tripod. The temperature was hovering just above freezing and there was the usual wind. I tried not to think about how crappy my gloves were.

I read the little welcoming signs, noticed the warning about “sneaker waves,” rogue waves (wearing sneakers) that can send an unsuspecting visitor to their death. When I got to the beach, I made sure to leave my gear pack above the high water mark. I’d rather walk 20 feet to grab a ND (neutral density) filter than run after a floating camera bag. I got the tripod up and decided on my 24-105mm f4 (the Sigma version).

Breathing the place in

Vik Black Sand Beach

Black Sand Beach looking west to Dyrholaey

The beach is the southern-most point in Iceland and the fierce waves have pulled in more than a few folks. You feel the wildness of the place, and the stripped down beauty.  On that morning, the wind was whipping the waves into white froth. There was still plenty of cloud cover. Birds flying around the sea stacks, occasional waves forcing me to back up. It was a lot to take in.

The view west towards the Dyrholaey peninsula (above) was lovely in its way, but then that’s Iceland. The eastern view, with so many moving parts, was the obvious choice. And with no climbing tourists, the distinctive basalt columns were the perfect foreground element.

Vik Black Sand Beach

1/250 sec., F8

On this day, the cliffs, wave action, sea stacks and light were the elements I wanted to focus on, to balance. The above shot was a good first effort. A lot better than on my earlier trip. But the light wasn’t great yet and the composition felt mushy, maybe a bit cluttered.

Vik Black Sand Beach

1/100 sec., F8

Good overall balance, this one’s definitely a keeper. … But let’s keep exploring.

Vik Black Sand Beach

1/125 sec., F8

Then I got hit by the combination of high tide and a sneaker wave. Clearly I needed a bit more black sand.

I decided to see what would happen if I slowed my shutter speed a bit — just to play with how the foamy surf would look against the black sand. A slower shutter can add dynamism to the image. I began playing aggressively with a longer shutter speed.

Vik Black Sand Beach

1.6 seconds, f22, ND filter

This slow shutter choice creates some serious blur in the waves and gives the feeling of velocity. It’s a cool effect but here it seemed to overpower the rest of the composition.

Vik Black Sand Beach

.2 sec, F16

So I dialed back the shutter speed to .2 sec and pulled the trigger as the foamy surf was coming in. Since that section of the beach is closest to the camera, it has more of a blur than the breaking wave at right-center. And being adjacent to the basalt columns, the wave motion stands out in relief.

Vik Black Sand Beach

.2 sec, F16 (with more post work)

For my fav shot, I kept the same slower shutter but managed to catch the incoming foam just at its apex. There is a bit of motion in the breaking wave (center-right) but the overall feeling is more settled. I also gave the columns on the left more real estate. This element is just as intriguing as the sea stacks and I was starting to realize that.

In post, I added a bit of sheen and focus to bring out the ebony in the basalt. And I cooled off the sky so none of the color or cloud texture was blown out.

By 5:30 it was time to head back to bed for some shut-eye before the free guesthouse breakfast. 😉  But I did stop at the little church that’s just north on Rt. 215 to take advantage of the color in the sky.

Church N or Black Sand Beach

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A Wind and Wave Experiment

Dyrholaey (and Vik) are the southern tip of Iceland and the North Atlantic seas are particularly dangerous here. On this south-facing Dyrholaey overlook, the rock outcrop was being punished by an onslaught of wind and wave.  That conjunction of high wind and high seas was what made this overlook intriguing on this particular visit.

That’s one thing I care about, seeing what elements of nature are in play at a photo location.  On most days this southern overlook is pretty — rocks, waves, sea stacks in the distance, but nothing unique. But capture the forces of nature in a way that has visceral impact and the image can grab the imagination.

My Approach

I didn’t bother with a tripod, the wind was too strong. Plus any shutter speed below about 1/300 turned the wave action into a blur. My first step was to set up a workable composition that would include some foreground context, the distant sea stacks and that sky. Then just wait till the next wave hits and shoot the watery explosion at the right moment. I didn’t bother with continuous shooting, the waves moved slow enough for me to (generally) hit the moment. And who wants to wade through 500 images of the same seascape.

Some of the shots were duds. But several of the wave explosions captured the feeling, the drama, of being out there. This image reminded me how heavy-handed the wind was (something I could feel in my bones).

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This second shot had more of the elements I was going for, including one of the last rays of sunlight highlighting the wave. The sea stacks in the distance (left side) are in front of Vik Black Sand Beach.

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Even at the tail end of a wave, the harsh conditions are obvious with this image. 2G7A5944

I lucked out with this final image of the day. The wave explosion is particularly dramatic and the foreground cloud is bathed in sunlight.

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Post production notes

I decided not to brighten the final image too much. The shot was taken just after sunset and pushing the exposure much higher would have eliminated the “blue hour” feeling. What I mostly did was to pull out the detail in the wave explosion with more clarity, sharpness, white. I also did some “painting” of the wave shape to make it more three dimensional. The final touch was to enhance the reflected light from the cloud in the ocean.

 

 

 

 

 

The Eastern Fjord Country

Iceland’s East Coast seems to be the least visited section on the Ring Road. It’s on the other side of the country from Reykjavik so you don’t see the tour buses. And it doesn’t have as many “sights” and tourist infrastructure. But from my perspective as a photographer, all that’s to the good.

The eastern coast is classic Iceland though, long fjords punctuated by little fishing towns, snow tipped mountains and photo pull-off spots — if you take the time to see them. And spending a day or two enjoying the fjord country, stopping here and there, are why we do road trips.

Logistics

Most folks do the east with a stopover at Hofn at the southern end and the regional center, Egilsstadir, on the north. You can do the trip in a few hours. But I wanted to explore the Stokkesnes area just above Hofn on a photo walkabout. Stokksnes was overcast and rainy when I was there but I saw a bit of the magic of the place and worth a stop for the photographer.

And I had heard that the most charming of the towns along the east is Seydisfjordur, a short drive east of Egilsstadir. So I broke the eastern fjords into a two days with my first night in Djupivogur, my second in Seydisfjordur.

About 25 miles past Stokksnes, you run into another little known photo op, a black sand beach located by the Hvalnes Lighthouse. By now the rain was heavier so I continued onto Djupivogur.

This section between Hofn and Djupivogur has a rawness to it. And on a cold day in May, I could have just driven to my warm hotel. But by now I was realizing that if you take whatever Iceland gives you, there’s beauty in the bleakness.

Before Djupavegur

Pull-off @ 20 miles past Stokksnes

Before Djupavegur

Djupivogur. Forty five minutes north of the lighthouse, you’re fully into fjord country at the town of Djupivogur. Djupivogur has a couple of nice places to stay and eat, a working harbor area, impressive swimming pool and 500 or so residents. I checked in at the Hotel Framtid, an old style place with wood-frame walls and an excellent restaurant. And, since it had stopped raining, I wandered along the harbor area.

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Djupivogur harbor as seen from a nearby hill.

Flashes of Mortality

After all the cold rain and driving, I was ready for a nice meal. And the Framtid definitely did the job. Their restaurant has a great view of the harbor and fjord and great (and pricey) food for a town of a few hundred folks.

Their cauliflower soup was quite excellent. But I wasn’t. I’m not totally sure what triggered there attack, maybe exhaustion. Suddenly the room started spinning. I tried to get the waiter’s attention, I knew this was a serious symptom. When he didn’t come around, I made my way out of the restaurant, told the man at the front desk they’d need to bill my room. I made my way down the long corridor hugging the wall so I wouldn’t  fall.

The problem wasn’t the soup, not even the road fatigue. I had been having attacks of dizziness, nausea, loss of hearing for months on and off. And just before I left, my ENT doctor told me that I probably had a hole in the bone that separates the inner ear from the brain, a rare condition called Superior Semicircular Canal Dehiscence.

Usually the biggest hassle was a low grade motion sickness, no big deal. But the symptoms continued to develop. And this perception that the “room is spinning” was something I had only experienced twice before, both times when I had been going without sleep and doing stimulants that excite the inner ear.

Bottom line, I spent twenty minutes revisiting the soup. The next morning I was totally fine. I didn’t need to think too much about my options. The spinning visual field symptom was rare. There was no way the condition would get treated without getting a Iceland doctor up to speed, doing a CT scan, neurosurgery. And Reykjavik was the other side of the island. My only takeaway was to listen to the body, get extra rest, make the most of my time. Life goes on.

The next morning was another easy day. An hour and a half drive along the coast, lunch at Egilsstadir, then on to my next night’s stay, Seydisfjordur.

Eastern Fjords, Day Two

At this point Rt. 1 hugs the coast, heading inland on one side of the fjord then heading east on the other side. It’s lovely country to drive through with plenty of nice pull-off possibilities. In fact, just on the other side of the fjord from Djupivogur, I found a waterfall that doesn’t seem to be mentioned in any of my resource materials, not even in my Concise Guide to the Waterfalls of Iceland.

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The next fjord:

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Ring Road pull-off on East Coast

Each fjord seems to have it’s own tiny fishing village with occasional tourist points of interest (the guidebooks cover this stuff better than I possibly could). Eventually Rt. 1 gets tired of the fjords and heads west, up-valley to Egilsstadir, the only real commercial center in the East Coast.

Egilsstadir & Hengifoss. Egilsstadir doesn’t have much history (being founded in 1947). But it has several places to stay and eat. But the photo possibilities here are Lake Lagarfljot and Hallorms Stadur, a lovely national forest with a bunch of hiking trails.

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A hike in the national forest. With there being so few forests in Iceland, this arboretum in the forest is a perfect change of pace.

There are a couple of  waterfalls on the lake’s far side, Hengifoss and Litlanesfoss, if you don’t mind a bit of a hike. Hengifoss is the better known — being the third tallest waterfall in Iceland. Litlanesfoss, further down valley, is far more photogenic in my eyes.

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Litlanesfoss with its basalt cliffs. Hengifoss waterfall in the distance

Seydisfjordur. Egilsstadir is also your starting point for visiting the only truly scenic town on the East Coast, Seydisfjordur. Seydisfjordur is on another fjord, 20 miles due east of Egilsstadir.  This fjord town was established by Norwegian fishermen in 1848 and the village has some interesting buildings. The town also gets visited by a weekly car ferry from Denmark and has a strong art community. I spent a lovely evening shooting there.

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Evening, Seydisfjordur (here with a 60 second exposure)

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One of the art shops

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Seydisfjordur church

Skipping the eastern fjords. The eastern fjords are nice but someone who’s in a hurry can skip the northern section of the Ring Road and head straight northwest from Breiddalsvik to Egilsstadir on Rt 95. This option is only about a half hour less driving but you’ll be less enticed to stop.

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