Beyond The Waterfalls

Chronicles of Nature

Independence | Iceland – A lone volcanic boulder rests in a windswept landscape of volcanic stone pebbles and patterns.

Hills In The Mist | Iceland


The Great Wide Open – Golden Plover Chick

You may have dreamed of traveling to Iceland, as I did for years, longing to photograph its incredibly diverse landscape. A plethora of images had tempted me for a decade or longer, enticing with massive waterfalls, glowing sunsets and noble Icelandic horses. Admittedly the allure of this magical country is hard to resist. As recently as a few years ago I had a powerful ambition to capture all the ‘iconic’ shots so often published of Iceland, but over time something in me changed. I’m not sure exactly what it was that altered my perspective, perhaps it was a number of factors. I noticed that my interest had shifted towards photographers that were creating more subtle, unique compositions and capturing the hidden elements of a scene, as opposed to the more obvious, grand shots that have almost become common now. I also became weary of what I perceived to be a rabid pursuit of ‘epic’ light. I do not mean to imply that there is anything wrong with photographing ultra-dramatic light and conditions, we would be remiss as photographers if we did not. Unfortunately though, the message often conveyed is, “If there isn’t a flaming sky, stay home” or even worse, “If there isn’t a flaming sky, just paint one in later with Photoshop”. Despite the general popularity and initial impact of these ‘sensationalized’ images of nature, I felt there was something missing. That approach to landscape photography left me feeling jaded. It is to the point now when one posts a photograph depicting spectacular light that they run the risk of their audience automatically assuming that the saturation slider was pushed too far to the right, or some Photoshop processing trick was executed. The viewer usually doubts, even if only sub-consciously, that the conditions represented in the photo ever existed. Often in today’s culture of digital nature photography great liberties are taken when processing files, pushing them far beyond the realm of reality. We’ve labeled this ‘artistic expression’ and moved on. I became more certain with each passing day that there was something forgotten, something overlooked…

Waiting for our attention, beyond all the hype about towering waterfalls and blazing sunsets, there is a quite landscape.

The River Serpent | Iceland – This image was made from a cliff high above Háifoss Waterfall. I sought something other than the ordinary, and found a serpent.

It was with these thoughts on my mind that I arrived in Iceland and began my quest to capture the beauty of this land from a fresh perspective. My first impression was that none of the photos I’d seen could do this amazing country justice. The photographic potential of the landscape in Iceland is staggering, at nearly every turn I found inspiration and elements that caught my eye, begging to be photographed. Since this was our summer photography tour we had nearly 24 hours of light each day making for nearly endless opportunities.

Halo Of The Earth | Thingvellir, Iceland – One of three different rainbows that we photographed on our tour.

One of the great benefits of this ‘midnight sun’ is that the ‘golden hour’ stretches into multiple hours and the window for soft light during sunrise and sunset has a much longer duration. Due to its proximity to the polar circle and location in the center of the vast Atlantic Ocean the weather changes frequently. Some days we would awaken to bright sunshine and a soft breeze and another day troubled, stormy skies with 60 mile per hour wind gusts. Regardless of the weather, the landscape is enchanting, and from a photographer’s perspective it is paradise. Glaciers, icebergs, volcanoes, lava fields, geysers, waterfalls, rivers, mountains, meadows, flowers, birds, horses, beaches and the mighty ocean, what’s not to love?

Bend in the Meadow | Iceland – A simple stand of small, weathered trees are complimented by the gentle curve of a quiet stream.

We visited many of the iconic locations throughout Iceland, but you might not know it looking through my Iceland portfolio. I wanted to shoot what resonated with me personally, not what garnered recognition or would get lots of attention on social media platforms. Much of the time this approach worked well, other times it meant visiting an iconic location and finding nothing that caught my eye but the obvious composition. When this occurred I’d set my gear aside and drink in the beauty surrounding me, capturing mental memories of the scene to enjoy forever.

The Veil | Seljalandfoss, Iceland – The waterfalls that I did photograph I worked to find a fresh composition. This waterfall is repeatedly shot from the side looking back at the setting sun… Google ‘Seljalandfoss’ and you’ll see what I mean.

My one regret from our tour is that it did not last longer. Thankfully I’ll be back in 2016 to lead our Iceland Winter Photography Workshop in January and February where we’ll experience Iceland decorated in winter’s embrace. I can’t wait to return and hope that a journey to Iceland is in your future as well, it’s truly an unforgettable experience.

There are stunning waterfalls everywhere in Iceland… be sure to look beyond them and find all the other beauty this land holds for those who seek it out.

Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.

– Nathaniel

Feel free to email me directly for information on next year’s tours and please also check out: Iceland Photo Tours

Enjoy a hi-res gallery of the images from this article in my Iceland Portfolio.

A Gentle Awakening | Iceland – The incredible beauty of the sunrise over Iceland needs no enhancement, it is already perfect.

21 thoughts on “Beyond The Waterfalls

  1. I love your view on Iceland and the perspective you take on “shooting” in such iconic places. It reflects my view living near Glacier Park. So often the most beautiful sights are trampled in the stampede to capture the iconic shot a million others have captured. Thank you for your refreshing article and sharing with us that there is beauty beyond the iconic!

  2. This is amazing article. Your adventures are an experience wonderful. Thanks Nathaniel for share superb images.

  3. I love seeing this more intimate side of Iceland. As you say, there is so much to see beyond the icons. My favorite image is the bend in the river with trees and the little patch of cracked mud with the rainbow.

    And, I fully agree with the sentiments in your first paragraph. So well articulated.

    • Thank you for reading the article and for your comments Sarah, that shot of the trees and the stream has been popular. I literally ran to find that patch of cracked earth as a foreground when we saw the rainbow develop, cracked earth isn’t really all that common in Iceland… I hope I run into you and Ron out in the field one of these days.

  4. Stunningly beautiful pictures! Thank you for sharing them. I went to Iceland for the first time this February thinking that it would be scratching an itch that I’d had for a while. Instead, I realized that I couldn’t just go once and your photos have inspired me to make sure that I take my time and think the next time. It’s so east to turn into a snapshot tourist!

    • Thank you for your nice comment Julia, and you are right… it is best to slow down and really see what is in front of you there. It can be overwhelming. We are hosting our next tour there in January and February, I can’t wait to see Iceland in the winter.

  5. Nathaniel, I came across your blog (and Iceland portfolio) via links from two separate people this week. Really wonderful images and thoughts here. I agree that seeing a place like Iceland with fresh eyes is a tall order indeed, and compounded with the internet audience’s increasing demand for crazier and crazier colors and conditions, it becomes practically impossible.

    I also laughed as I read your blog–we’re on the same wavelength, I think, as I recently blogged on almost the exact same subject:

    Greg Russell

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comments Greg and for sharing your blog link on the subject, it is indeed a challenge. With diligence we can find fresh images even in the most popular locations. It’s good to know others share the same sentiment. Cheers!

  6. I just returned from Iceland. Since childhood, it was my dream to go there. Your photos are very contemplating, shows spirit of Icelandic nature. (I added my album from Iceland in “Website” field ;))

    • Thank you for taking the time to browse my article and portfolio Mark, Iceland is an amazing place. I looked though the images you linked to and recall visiting many of the same places as you during our recent tour there. I am delighted that you were finally able to fulfill your dream and visit this glorious country.

  7. Having visited Iceland on a “standard tour” this past May, I can really appreciate your photography and the art in your photographs. I was enchanted with the country, and have on my secret bucket list to return as a photography student, hopefully on one of your tours.

    • Thank you so much for your compliments on my work and I fully appreciate your love of Iceland, it is my favorite place to shoot landscapes. I look forward to having you join us on a future tour and share the experience of this wonderful country together. Cheers!

  8. Your photographs are breathtaking portraits of Iceland. I really enjoyed reading this and seeing your point of view through your work. Your statement about some typical photos showing a particular magic moment and being heavily processed really resonated with me. I see so many images that never could really exist or be experienced except through a lot of editing. Your images are truly artistic, real, and refreshing. Thanks for this window into Iceland. My husband and I look forward to joining you someday.

    • Thank you so much for your kind comments Jen, it is always wonderful as a photographer to learn that your images resonate with others. I will look forward to the day that you both are able to join us for one of our tours, I love sharing the beauty of these locations with others. Cheers!

  9. This is a wonderful article and a compelling series. Loving the hidden beauty you’ve captured. The storm images are also fantastic and super dramatic. Having just visited Iceland for the first time, I can relate to what you said about compositions/locations being overdone. We didn’t venture too far off the Ring Road on our trip, so most of what we came across were the commonly visited attractions. We were honeymooning so I didn’t have my gear, but I was doing some mobile photography on the trip. Every time I snapped one of those traditional compositions, I really questioned why I was taking the photograph. So, I like your strategy of placing the camera down and enjoying the scenery in person instead. I miss Iceland for this reason — the true life experience of being there, being present. I want to return (with my camera gear this time!), but your article will definitely resonate as I’m out there seeking those “epic” shots with “magic light.” Having said that, I still find it thrilling to seek good light and epic locations, but maybe those overdone locations are better served as personal/family prints rather than publishing them online and adding to the hundreds of images that already exist of those locations.


    • Thank you for your great response Simos. Don’t get me wrong, I like epic scenes and magic light as much as the next guy. When I wrote my article I was trying to build on the idea that there is so much more to landscape photography than the standard shot that is taken at the same locations over and over again. I experienced this in a very real way in Iceland and this was my feeble attempt to convey this idea. Thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings. Cheers!

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