Dettifoss (The Prometheus Waterfall)

It is with renewed impetus that I return to Iceland.

There can be nothing worse than feeling like you have lost momentum.  My first post on Iceland was way back in August.  That’s four months ago, already.  It was only a nine day trip and yet here I am, still writing up day 5.  I should try and claim I had writer’s block, only I would never call myself a writer.  Those nine days could have spawned hundreds of posts, but I think that’s perhaps taking things a little too far 😉

My Tsitsikamma interlude has reinvigorated my brain and given me a much-needed surge of mental energy.  Additionally, I cannot say how much I have enjoyed getting to grips with Lightroom 3.  (Yes, I know v4 is out – I’m a late starter).  You may think that cataloguing is dull, and indeed it can be, but my attempts to tag all my photographs appropriately have gotten my curiosity going again.  You know, a tern is not just any old tern: it might be an Arctic Tern, or it may be a Swift Tern; you have to differentiate.  (Now I’ve just had another Monty Python flash-back – “is that an African Swallow, or a European Swallow?”)

I’m wishing I had discovered the power of Lightroom’s Develop module much earlier than now.  You may have noticed that in the past couple of posts, my photos are looking a little sharper.  It isn’t necessarily a function of tweaking my camera’s settings more appropriately – nor indeed, suddenly becoming a better photographer, for that matter – it is because I’m learning how to process and develop the images in order to reflect how they look to me.  I’m trying to make them come alive.

It’s a learning process that I’m enjoying greatly, despite inevitable trials and errors.  It has even prompted me to revisit photos of that other massive waterfall: Gullfoss AND those geyser shots of Strokkur erupting. You should all know, by now, how much I love the colour of blue water, be it at the sea or a geothermal hot-spring.  Now the blues of the Blesi pools, and the surge of water coming up from Strokkur before the bubbles of hot steam burst the meniscus, are truly ALIVE!  I’ve also replaced the ridiculous number of photos, previously viewed as an inappropriate gallery, for a few more choice images all neatly packaged in a slideshow.  I think that works better, too.

Now all we have to hope for is that WordPress can give us the option of adding images to the slideshow in addition to an entirely different selection of stand-alone images – all within the same post, as they have recently done for galleries.

Anyway, enough harping on – let’s move on.  Time to introduce you to a new locality: Dettifoss

This mighty waterfall is probably best known (in recent times, at least) as “The Waterfall that Features in the Opening Scenes of the Prometheus Movie” or more succinctly as “The Prometheus Waterfall”.


Dettifoss (insert alien engineer on left ridge, and large space-craft above cliffs on the right)

I hadn’t seen the movie before I went to Iceland, but I made sure I did so as soon as I could afterwards.  However, I was watching it on-board an Emirates flight, travelling solo, so didn’t have anyone to prod at and yell things like: “I’ve been there!!” “That’s Iceland, you know!?” “That place is A-MAZE-ING!!”  – probably to the relief of everyone.

Dyngjujökull Glacier, the source for the river Jökulsá á Fjöllum, is a glacial tongue stemming from northern edge of the mightiest glacier of them all: Vatnajökull, which is a remnant of the previous Ice Age and not just any old ice cap, by the way.  It’s no surprise, then, that this river has carved out the largest canyon, Jökulsárgljufar, in Iceland.

Stretching for 25km and spanning 500m, the canyon extends to over 100m deep in places.  It is also where you will find this very impressive waterfall.  The middle falls in a series of three, Dettifoss is 1 km downstream of the 10m drop of Selfoss and 2 km upstream of Hafragilsfoss (27m drop).  It is possible to hike to either of these falls from Dettifoss, but we were on a strict time allowance and so declined the opportunity: we still had to drive all the way around to our accommodation in Höfn, on the southern coast – that same day!

Dettifoss upstream

Upstream of Dettifoss, you can just about see Selfoss making a sneaky appearance


Jökulsárgljufar canyon with rising mists of Hafragilsfoss

Dettifoss can be viewed from either the eastern or the western sides of the canyon.  The east has more tourist facilities: well, a car park with some toilets/restrooms – but not much else.  However, the west bears the brunt of the prevailing wind and, with it, plenty of spray.  The plus side of that is you can get some fantastic rainbow shots over the falls – should the sun be shining, that is.

Dettifoss rainbow

My token Dettifoss rainbow

We drove the gravel road (that we were sure ought to have been classified as an “F” road – “Forbidden for small cars”, remember!) to the eastern bank.  Our poor little Suzuki Swift got a proper rumbling.  I’m pretty used to travelling on gravel tracks with work, but this was rough going.  As if we needed any telling as to how fast you could, or could not, drive on a gravel track in Iceland, we met with a big-brother Suzuki that had earlier skidded into a rocky embankment at a bend in the road.  Ironically, there weren’t all that many rocky embankments on this road to meet with, if I remember correctly.  It had been abandoned; its rear windscreen smashed in.  A harsh lesson learned for one and a timely reminder for us all…

Smacked Suzuki

Smacked Suzuki (drive-by photo)

Dettifoss is 45m high and 100m across.

Dettifoss west bank

Dettifoss and west bank (look at all those tiny people …getting wet!)

That’s not all. Oh no, it is regarded as THE most powerful waterfall in Europe.  On an average day, 193 cubic meters of water flow over the edge – Every.Single.Second.  I, of course, tried to capture the dancing, bubbling waters as they reached the edge, just before they plunged over into the canyon. This time, compared to the sorry photographic attempts I made at Gullfoss, I remembered to set my shutter speed correctly – AND the weather played ball.  I had frothing good fun, I must say!

In summer months, 23 000 tonnes of glacial debris are carried down with the water every day.  Now that is some erosive power, scouring the canyon ever deeper.  What would it be like to witness in flood?  Catastrophic, no doubt.

Dettifoss white water

white (grey) waters come thundering towards us

I don’t think I’d be standing where I was, right on the edge, sans barriers.  If you were to be so unfortunate and fall in you wouldn’t just freeze to death, you’d probably be shredded before you hit the bottom! How’s that for a sobering thought?

Dettifoss spectators

Don’t fall in! – I’m pretty sure that double-helix trick in the movie was just special fx…

I still can’t get over the fact that these wonderful natural spectacles are open to the public without having to fork out an entrance fee.  In Iceland, nature is protected without it having to be fenced off.  What a wonderful notion…

23 thoughts on “Dettifoss (The Prometheus Waterfall)

    1. Thank you, Kurt, for the encouragement! I’ve just had a very quick look at both your blog and 50 photographic safaris and I have to say I am WOWED! I’ve had numerous opportunities to go game viewing here in South Africa, but usually with jumping kids in the back seat, rather than other photographers sitting like mice! I’ll have to go on safari via your site to get the sharp photos 🙂

    1. Thank you Snook 🙂
      I’m still learning and there is always room for improvement, but that’s what makes it all so enjoyable!

      1. they are truly wonderful, and they look so professional! like something i’d see in National Geographic. I’m a point and shoot photography and never got to learn real photography beside composition. never own a nice DSLR or legitimate film camera. Will definitely invest in one soon. This picture makes me want to learn more photography!

      2. Go for it! I find it very rewarding: not only will it aid my memories in years to come, but also I started to notice a lot more of what is around me and really appreciate my environment. There can’t be anything wrong with that 🙂

  1. Thanks for your vivid report of Dettifoss. Your photos from the Eastern side are awesome. And you come so much closer to the waterfall there. Maybe next time I visit the Eastern side, too.
    Unbelievable that you drove to Höfn the same day.

    1. It was a very long drive (but we made it in time for a decent evening meal 🙂 ) We had booked our accommodation before realising how long it would take to drive around all the fjords on the eastern coast (also why I don’t have a single photograph from that region!)
      Thank you so much for the compliments – your photos from the west are great, by the way 🙂

  2. Gorgeous photos Lu! I started using Lightroom 4 back this summer and love it. I use it on all my photos even the ones I take with my iPhone. It really helps. These are fabulous pictures! 🙂

    1. Thank you, Nicole 🙂
      I’m super pleased with Lightroom – as you can already tell!
      I’m also adding photos taken on iPhone, as well as the Point-and-Shoot, DSLR, and old slide film that I scanned in ages ago and can’t figure out what is where any more(!) – it’s all slowly getting catalogued and, most importantly, tagged. It’s how I managed to find a “reflections” photo for this week’s challenge!

      1. That is what I need to do! Tag my photos! I also didn’t realize that once in Lightroom, you can’t delete the image file from your computer. I thought if you imported them to LR then they stayed there. Found out the hard way when I deleted them all off my mac and went to LR to find it said “File missing!” Now I’ve got to go back and re-add all the photos to my hard drive. If they are there, then I can open the LR copies. Does that make sense? I get so confused with all this kind of stuff. I thought the images were in two places so it was fine to delete the copy on my computer. Guess I was wrong! Rookie mistake!

      2. Don’t worry – I doubt you were the first to make that mistake (although I did read your comment with my hand in front of my wide-open-in-horror mouth!) It is a hard lesson to learn, but luckily you still have the original files to bring in to Lightroom again. It is a great cataloguing tool and I now use it to the exclusion of explorer for moving/renaming/tagging photographs. I use the collections and collection sets for putting together the photos I think I might use in a post. It helps me tremendously in terms of organising my thoughts, let alone the photos!
        If you are looking for tips and tricks on how to get the best from LR, you should check out – it’s a very handy blog, and I find it a good reference (that’s written in a way that I don’t feel like I should be an Adobe programmer, already!)

      3. Thanks Lu! So one quick question. When you say I have the original files to bring into LR again, what do you mean? Do I need to import them into LR and leave them somewhere (Where?) besides inside the collection set? Is that what you mean? I’m so confused! I will check out this blog and see if it can help too.
        Or is it that when I export the file, it disappears? I only deleted the files off my desktop where I imported the originals into LR.
        Now I have them all in iPhoto but I’m not sure what you mean by bringing them back into LR. No worries if this doesn’t make any sense. I’m just trying to figure out how to fix it! Yes a lot of hard work but hopefully I can save it! 🙂 Thanks so much! N

      4. Hi Nicole
        Ok – from the top (I use a pc and have never used a mac, so terminology might be different. A folder is a directory or other such filing system etc and I don’t know anything about iPhoto)
        1) Download photos from your camera to your computer. If you use Lightroom to download photos from camera/card, it will ask you which folder on your computer you want to download them to (on the right-hand side panel on the Import module).
        If you use iPhoto to do download photos from your camera, then you will have to still point Lightroom to the folder where your photographs are stored on your pc/mac

        2) When you “import” photos into Lightroom, you are actually only pointing Lightroom in their direction – not actually adding them or importing them into the program. Importing/adding photos only enables Lightroom to merely locate them on your hard drive. Lightroom is NOT for storing images, merely editing and cataloguing. The original photos (those that you downloaded from camera) are still THE ONLY versions you have on your pc/mac.

        3) Unless you make a back-up, these original photos will be the only ones you have. DO NOT DELETE THEM!

        4) If you export photos before you have deleted photos then you will have a second image file – but it won’t be the original. Any that you didn’t export, but still deleted may very well be lost.

        4) You might want to check your trash/recycle bin for your deleted photographs and restore them to the folder they were originally downloaded to – or if they are not there, but you are super lucky, you may not have deleted them from your camera, so download them again. Then, in Lightroom – all you need to do is click on the “?” for the missing photo and when Lightroom prompts you to locate the image, you navigate to its position on your computer and select the corresponding image file and all other photos in the same folder will automatically update their locations as well.

        5) hope this helps, and best of luck – it would be a total tragedy to have lost any photos.

      5. Thank you so incredibly much Lu!!! I think where I’ve gone wrong is by importing the photos into iPhoto and not LR. I do have all the originals still on iPhoto and on discs backed up. I’ll try to figure out how to recreate them and going forward I am going to import only into Lightroom instead so I never do this again! Thanks so much! One final thing is that if worse comes to rose, I can always copy the photo off my blog as they are all there too. The quality isn’t as good but still to my eye it works. Thank you SO MUCH!!!!! I really appreciate you taking the time to help me out! Wish me luck as I start recreating it all! 🙂

      6. You are most welcome Nicole, I’m glad to have been of help. Of course I wish you all the luck in your Lightroom endeavors!

      7. Oh thanks Lu! 🙂 I may wait until I have some time and start from scratch. The only photos I had entered were my France ones and I have them all saved to a disc. So not a problem. It is just a little confusing!

  3. It’s certainly been worth waiting for you to “return” to Iceland! That’s an amazing amount of water flowing over the falls. Love the last photo – although like you, I’d be standing further from the edge and photographing it from a distance.

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