The Mighty Skogafoss, Skogar, Iceland.

The Mighty Skogafoss, Skogar, Iceland.

Iceland Post #3/16: It May be a Matter of Senses.

[1112 Words | Reading time: 5 min 40 seconds]

Couple under Skogafoss, Iceland. Alberto Mateo Fine Art Photographer. All photographers have experienced at some moment of their lives the powerlessness of being in front of an impressive natural spectacle and fail to transmit the grandeur of the event in her photograph. How many times are we disappointed when we see our pictures on the screen and think: “It looked wonderful, but the pictures I took are boring and fail to apprehend what I felt at that moment” Well, it may be a matter of SENSES. We use five to experience the world, but we as photographers can rely only in one of them to convey a feeling to our audience: SIGHT. 

I had seen many images of Skogafoss before I began my photographic trip to Iceland, and had read that was the cascade with the biggest flow of water in Europe. Have to admit that when I got there and was next to the pond shore, under the amazing flow of water, with my jacket completely soaked, I was really impressed by the height, wideness of the sheet of water, and the huge volume of water that flows in this river. Being near the pool where the water gets collected makes you feel small. The roaring of the water falling, the wetness in the ambient (all the stones around you are soaked even tens of meters away from the base), the spray that rises some meters from the base of the water level, the deafening of the huge amount of water falling from a height of sixty meters. It is in fact one of the most impressive waterfalls on Earth. And what impresses the photographer sometimes is difficult to be captured in a photograph.

When we photographers begin taking seriously our hobby (photography), we sometimes witness natural events and situations that are inherently impressive, and we take photographs thinking we are going to be able to transmit the shock we feel, but the reality is that we have to accept disappointed that the images usually are not very impressive. Simply stated: we have failed, and it is not always easy to know why.

The reason is that when we are witnessing an event, we are using our FIVE SENSES, but when we use our camera we are translating the reality of the world into a two dimensional visual object called photograph. Something that is by nature two dimensional, static and cannot transmit sounds, smells, tactile feelings…

Well thought it is not as bad as it might seem. If photography has survived the attacks of video and cinema during decades is because a good photograph is able to condense an action and transmit its essence thanks to this ability to SIMPLIFY REALITY. The drawback is that we can only count on VISUAL ASPECTS of reality to transmit our impression of them, and the trick to do our best as photographers is to maximize them.

Let us review the senses we use when we are experiencing the mighty Skogafoss. 

  1. SIGHT: It is not easy to capture all the amount of water falling. The fall dimensions are 60x30m… and the movement of the water is simply lost.
  2. SMELL AND TACT: Near the shores of the pool where the water falls everything is completely soaked. Your skin gets wet immediately, you breath small drops of water spray mixed with air…
  3. HEARING: Under the water flow you cannot hear other people speaking. The sound of falling water is so loud…
  4. Unless you are thirsty, TASTE is not very useful to experience waterfalls ;) so we do not lose much information from the scene in our photograph regarding this sense.

Related Post: Set the Scale of your Images 

Now let us check some of the VISUAL STRATEGY to capture in our sensor the beauty of this scene: 

  • SET THE SCALE: The couple, two of the few tourists that woke up early that morning who were configuring their mobile phone video recording app to film the scene, captured as shilouettes against the water spray. They were my actors to communicate to my viewers how big Skogafoss is.
  • THE FRAME: I cut intentionally the upper part of the cascade so that the borders were simplified to black rock and white water…
  • To minimize the CONVERGENCE OF LINES, which is impossible to eliminate when we are near the waterfall with the camera pointing upwards, so I used a telephoto lens, my Nikon 80-200 mm AF used at its minimum focal length (80mm) and leveled the camera on my Gitzo/Manfrotto tripod.

A tripod is a must in these situations. The image would not be blurred at the shutter speed I used (1/250s), but my arms would have got really tired holding the Nikon D800 (1kg) plus Nikon 80-200 AF 2.8 (1.3kg). A big and sturdy head like my Gitzo 1372M Magnesium Alloy is needed to shoot this heavy combination. Big legs like the ones from my Manfrotto 055 Pro completed the tripod set.

  • I wanted to freeze the water falling so I used a FAST SHUTTER SPEED of 1/250 at ISO 200.
  • BLACK AND WHITE simplifies the scene even more. Color does not contribute much to this inherently monochromatic scene, so eliminating it adds value to the image.
  • HUMAN FACTOR: HOW MUCH? All the pictures I had seen before my trip showed masses of tourists armed with cameras and mobile phones, but for me this is a Natural Wonder. Human shapes are ok to set the scale of the scene, but nothing more. In the pre-visualization of the scene I had conceived they had to have a token presence. Too much people subtract preeminence to the main character of the image: the water. So I decided in advance that the picture had to be taken well before people woke up and arrived to the spot.

I got there at around 5:30 and, completely alone, began shooting the shapes of water. When the first visitors arrived around 7:00 to the location, I included them in couples or individual shapes under the cascade. Between 8:00 and 9:00 groups of tourists appeared and, after 9:00, an army of visitors who came in buses disembarked in the area. Another D-Day had begun at Skogafoss.

Related Image: 9/11 Memorial, Manhattan, New York.

This waterfall is rightly one of the most visited spots in this Nordic island. I am sure that most of the 2.2 Million travelers that go on holiday there every year go to this point. It is located just a few hours by car away from Reykjavik, the access from the road is immediate and the show is, to say the least, impressive. These ingredients are a great hook for the multitudes that visit the Iceland every year, so the best is to go there early in the morning so that you can get a more personal experience of this wonder of nature.

After nine the best thing you can do is to leave and look for one of the many beautiful solitary, unique and unforgettable landscapes the Land of Ice has to offer.

Related Post: Add a Trigger to you Photographs. 


Camera Model: Nikon D800
Lens: Nikon 80-200 AF used at 80mm
SETTINGS: Aperture: f4 | Shutter Speed 1/250 | ISO 200


Tripod: [Legs: Manfrotto 055 Pro] & [Head: Gitzo 1372M Magnesium Alloy]
Backpack: LowePro with rain cover (absolutely needed in Iceland)
Filter: B+W 77mm Graduated 0.6 Neutral Density Filter 2 points, soft transition
Memory Card: Sandisk SD Extreme 64Gb

NEXT SCHEDULED POST: Cloudscape, Cumulus over the Atlantic Ocean, near Iceland.

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