Yesterday I decided to take a quick drive and shoot a wonderful little waterfall, famous for it’s blue stream. The fall is a little bit tricky to find, and is considered to be a little bit out of the beaten track. But with more and more images of the place popping up on photography websites, people blogging about how to find it etc. more and more people visit the waterfall every day. And it isn’t ready for it. It is all messed up. I was so shocked to find the area in this state, that my photography was off…I couldn’t focus properly on the waterfall (pun intended) because my mind was blurred with the condition of the trail.
First of all, the waterfall is located within an area where Icelanders have access to small huts, used for holidays, both in winter and summer. It is private land where people come to find peace and quiet. Heavy traffic in that area will not be accepted for a long time. There is only one tiny parking spot (fits 2-3cars) for those who are just coming to visit the waterfall, the other parking spaces you see are all there for the people in the huts.
Then, in order to get there, you need to walk for about 10-15 minutes. And even if this is supposed to be “off the beaten track” the track is in ruins. This winter has been unusally warm and wet so the soil has not frosen properly. This makes the trail wet and muddy, and underneath the mud lies some ice that makes it slippery. So people just start walking all over the place, creating new trails, breaking trees and messing the land up.
And this is not the only place in the country where the land is not ready for the increase in traffic. At some of our most popular spots like Gullfoss waterfall, Dyrhólaey, Skógafoss and other popular spots, vegetation is suffering, unwanted trails are forming and things are simply out of control.
Here are the four most common situations where we, photographers and tourists, can improve:
- The trail is muddy, wet and slippery.
Deal with it. Let your shoes get wet and dirty. Bring boots. You can wash the dirt off when you come back. Don’t start walking to the side of the trail, because that will make it way too wide, ruin fragile vegetation, and most likely piss of the landowner who will eventually decide to close the area in order to protect the nature. If your fitness or your shoes don’t allow you to follow this simple rule (stay on the trail), then don’t go. Please, don’t be selfish.
- The landowner has closed the area.
If an area has been closed for traffic, it is done for a reason, and we need to respect that. One well known location where that happened recently, is the airplane wreck at Sólheimasandur. The owners of the land there had to close the trail, leading to the wreck, because people were not following the track, but instead drove to the side of the road, making it 3-4 times wider, leaving a huge mark on the landscape. So if you want to visit it now, you need to walk, and walk on the trail.
- The potentially best angle for my photo is closed off by a rope and a sign that limits access.
Again, don’t be selfish. These signs and restrictions are there for a reason. It might be there to protect you from getting hurt. But most likely it is there because the fragile nature can’t take any more. Some might think: “Well, if it is just me, it won’t hurt.” But it is never just you. Iceland has become a hot-spot for photographers, the internet is full of pictures of the amazing nature that we have here. Each day, you can see hundreds of photographers by the most popular spots, and these are not always ready for the traffic. So please read the signs and respect access limitations.
- I can see horses by the side of the road. I ‘ll just stop the car right here.
The most dangerous part of driving the ringroad today are people who are disrepectful of other traffic and simply stop their car whenever they see a motif they want to shoot, specially horses. In the most popular areas, like around Geysir and Gullfoss, farmers have put up signs asking people not to interrupt or feed the horses. And again, I ask for your respect for that. There are over 2.000.000 people visiting the country each year, so if we all stop to check with the horses it can start to have an effect on the horses that their owners don’t want.
If you are planning a photography trip to Iceland, I kindly ask you to be respectful of the nature. It is beautiful, but at the same time it is so fragile. I get a little bit sad every time I see a fellow photographer cross a fence, walk outside a trail or leave unneccesary marks on the vegetation. Sure, he might get a better shot than me, but at what cost? That the area will be closed for further access because of the marks that we leave?
I understand that we all want the best shot, but sometimes our access is limited. If we all continue to disrepect those limitations our reputation will slowly degrade, and limitation to our access will be even stricter. I honestly believe that a good photography guide is what you should look for, join workshops or group tours. Most of us photography guides have a sense for nature, know where we can go and what is off limits. We know if the conditions are right for going to certain places etc. What we all simply have to remember is that sometimes we have to put our artistic ego aside and behave. For nature’s sake.