Whenever we travel, I make a point of trying to learn a bit of the language so that we can attempt to relate to the native speakers. I must admit that Icelandic defeated me. I simply could not get my brain around the intricacies of the language. And there aren’t a lot of Icelandic words that have been adopted elsewhere. There is one exception. Our word for Geyser comes from the Icelandic word “Geysir.”
It is to the Icelandic geothermal field at Geysir that we go to witness the spectacle of steaming hot water shooting into the air. Located right beside the highway on Iceland’s famed “Golden Circle,” the geysers can be combined with a trip to the Gullfoss Waterfall.
Iceland is known as the land of “fire and ice,” prone to violent earthquakes and volcanic explosions, as one of the newest islands on the planet continues to find its geological bearings, so to speak.
An earthquake in 1294 in the Haukadalur Valley formed the hot springs. More earthquakes over the centuries continued to shape the valley, until one spouting spring – The Great Geyser – became legendary for its power and regularity.
Then, as suddenly as it had started, another earthquake seemingly shut off the Great Geyser. Efforts to reanimate it, including pouring soap flakes into the crater, were generally unsuccessful. Instead, a few years later, another nearby spouting spring, Strókkur, began to spew water and steam.
The eruption is a very regular event – every 5-7 minutes – making it relatively easy to photograph. You can tell when the geyser is about to blow. The bubbling water seems to retreat into the hole in the ground, then pulses slightly, sending ripples around the pool of water. Just before it blows, a dome of turquoise blue water bubbles up, almost as if the Earth is hiccupping. Steam bubbles start to rise and then break the surface. Suddenly, the geyser erupts. Sometimes it is only a few feet high. Occasionally the water blasts as high as 100 feet into the air. Using the camera’s continuous shoot mode, it is possible to photograph the entire sequence.
After it has finished erupting, the water empties out of the pool but is then quickly filled again by flow back from underneath before starting the process all over again.
There is no “wrong” way to photograph a geyser. On a partly cloudy day, sunrise or sunset can provide dramatic images as can shooting into the sun. A tripod is necessary if you want to freeze the action. A polarizing or neutral density filter is helpful if you are there at midday which is when a lot of the bus groups arrive. Including people or trees in the image is a good way to show the scale of the geyser.
We use our wide-angle lens (Nikkor 14-24mm/Nikon D810) on a continuous shoot (F/9 at 1/1600) to capture the entire sequence of the eruption. It takes several tries since it is hard to react quickly to the start of the eruption.
In addition to the actual geyser, there are photographs to be taken of the steaming landscape as well the distant mountain ranges.
Be sure to stand upwind of the geyser or you (and your camera) will get soaked.
IF YOU GO
Geysir is included on most organized trips around Iceland’s Golden Circle. If like us, you prefer the flexibility of exploring independently, then Reykjavik Private Cars provides a great alternative, either through your own rental car or by providing a guide to show you around).
Geysir has a Visitors Center and a well-stocked cafeteria.