svartifoss featured image

Creative Edit #7 – Creating A Dramatic Mood In Svartifoss



I’ve had the opportunity to visit Iceland again recently, this time with my family. It was very exciting for me and I’ve made a list beforehand of the places I wanted to see or revisit.

For those who haven’t visited Iceland, it’s a photographer’s paradise! There are many well-known locations such as the Golden Triangle, Jökulsárlón (Glacier Lagoon) and many iconic waterfalls such as Svartifoss (Wikipedia). If you subscribe to a photography magazine, you must have come across photography workshops to Iceland.

The Challenges In Paradise

Iceland is a great place to photograph all year round, especially during winter where you get to witness the Aurora Borealis. However, it’s main challenge is the weather.

Apart from that, another challenge that I endured was the limited time I’ve had at each location. Being on a family trip, I couldn’t spend too much time shooting a scene. I also couldn’t return to the same location again when the weather has improved.

I had fully prepared myself for that before I went and did not have expectations to get any “spectacular” images.

The Unpredictable Weather

We started off in Reykjavik, rented a car and drove around the island anti-clockwise for 10 days. The weather wasn’t the best in September. There were many rainy days (with strong wind) where it was just impossible to get a decent shot of anything.

We were at Skaftafell, which is part of the Vatnajokull National Park in the South of the island. The weather on the way there wasn’t good at all. The visibility was poor, it was windy and drizzling.

As we approach, I could see the sky above the national park had cleared up. The clouds have moved and there was some sunlight coming through. The weather maintained this way for the next few hours while we took a short hike to check out Svartifoss. I thought I was lucky!



Google the word “Svartifoss” and you will find hundreds of images of this waterfall. It’s a popular sight of the national park and gets thousands of visitors each year.

It’s not the largest waterfall in Iceland but it certainly is one of the prettiest I’ve seen.

What’s special about Svartifoss is the basalt columns that set as the backdrop of the waterfall. These dark lava rocks create a beautiful contrast against the soft and silky water that drops down 20 meters from the top of the cliff.

To get to the waterfall, you have to take a left just before the visitor centre and walk up the hill. It takes about 45 to 60 minutes to get there. It’s an easy hike and the path is very well signposted. You get to see 2 or 3 other smaller waterfalls along the way.

Preconception Is Not A Good Idea

I’ve had some idea of what I intended to shoot before I visited Svartifoss. In retrospect, it was the images that I’ve seen on the internet while researching on the location.

When you arrive at the top of the hill, you’ll see Svartifoss on your left (won’t missed it). This was where I took this image. It wasn’t sunny at all but with intermittent shower.

As I followed the path and down the hill towards the waterfall, the weather started to rain again. I arrived at the bottom of the cliff and saw a couple of photographers in the middle of the stream with their tripod setup sturdily in the water. They all had rain covers on their cameras.

I couldn’t find another spot so I had to wait for them to leave. Just as I setup my tripod, more tourists arrived and lined up in front of me to get a picture with the famous waterfall. I was fully aware that Svartifoss doesn’t belong to me (of course not!) so I waited for them to disperse before I started shooting.

It was drizzling. I was cold, wet and had to dab the front of my lens constantly to keep it water stain free.

Before I left, I previewed the images I took on the LCD screen and felt quite happy with it. After all, I took the images I had in mind.

The Joy of The Unexpected

It took me a good week or so to go through the images I took in Iceland when I got home.

As I scrolled through the images I took in Vatnajokull National Park in Lightroom, I paid extra attention to the ones I took right in front of Svartifoss (image below). I processed it but I didn’t feel excited with the result.

A ‘typical’ image of Svartifoss

I realised I’ve fallen into the trap, committed a photographer’s sin, or whatever you call it.

My head was filled with the images I’ve seen while I was researching about the national park and Svartifoss. I was  blinded and couldn’t think outside the box while I was there and took a bunch of images that have been taken a thousand times before.

I felt disappointed.


Bracketed exposure at -2EV and 0EV


I went back to Lightroom a few days later and found the images of the waterfall which I took from a distance away. A bracketed exposure at -2, 0 and +2.

In all honesty, I thought it looked dull and uninteresting on first sight. But on second look, I saw some potential and started playing with it in post-processing



Apart from my post-processing steps, I’ll show you how you can easily create light to add drama to your image in the video tutorial below.



There are 2 stages to this post-processing. I started off by exporting the images from Lightroom to Photoshop for exposure blending, which was followed by tonal and colour adjustment.

The image was then saved and reimported back to Lightroom for further fine tuning on tonal and colour balance, sharpening and adding light.

Below is what I did in Photoshop:

  1. Exposure blending with luminosity masks
  2. Darkening the sky with Levels
  3. Enhancing contrast with multiple midtones luminosity masks
  4. Colour adjustment with Adobe Camera Raw filter
  5. Further colour adjustment with Colour Balance and Photo Filter
  6. Levels with a brights luminosity mask to enhance the waterfall
  7. Dodge and burn to accentuate the foliage and the lava rocks
  8. Cleaning up the image with Clone Stamp
  9. Boost the image with Topaz Clarity
  10. High Pass filter
  11. Orton effect
  12. Levels to recover some contrast
  13. Vignette with Colour Efex Pro


The image was saved and reimported back to Lightroom for further post-processing.

Here’s what I did in Lightroom

  1. Split toning (blue to the highlights and yellow to the shadows)
  2. Sharpening
  3. Noise reduction
  4. Vignette with Colour Priority
  5. Reduced the overall Exposure
  6. Reduced the Highlights slightly
  7. Added light with the Radial Filter (video below!)


How To Add Dramatic Mood In Your Image

Here’s a video tutorial to show you how to add light and shadow in your image in Photoshop and Lightroom.

Bear in mind that there is more than one way to create the effect. I’m just showing you the way I do it =)



Personally, I was happy with how things have turned out.

It wasn’t what I had in mind, but I like it more than the close-up image taken right in front of Svartifoss.

This has taught me a lesson: Try not to research too much on the location before going out shooting. This may prevent me from having tunnel vision again and also maximise the opportunity for creativity.