Apocalypse Now

May 14, 2015  •  2 Comments

Apocalypse NowApocalypse NowCopyrighted Digital Photograph

While working in Hawaii on a soon-to-be-revealed project, I spent several days and nights photographing the crater of Kilauea volcano. During daytime, the fact that it is in constant eruption is usually surprisingly hard to see, with only a wisp of steamy grey-white smoke joining its crater to the sky. At night, however, the eruption is marginally visible inside the crater and its fiery glow illuminates both its smoke plume and the clouds above. It seemed to be a Hieronymus Bosch-like vision of Hell.

 

I learned a few days ago that the activity level has stepped up a notch since I left and perhaps the lava eruption may have become a daytime sight? To a non-volcanologist, there seems to have been a spurt of activity worldwide during the last few years, with on-land eruptions spewing megatons of ash into the sky and sub-sea ones creating new islands.

 

Wonderment

 

The sheer power of our planet home’s internal workings, demonstrated in the plasticity of rock and geological processes is a reminder that the stability and fixedness of the surface upon which we live is an illusion. The vast number of curious parameters and combinations of circumstances that place us in this “Goldilocks” zone in time and space astonish me. The more we learn about quantum mechanics and astrophysics, the more we seem to learn of further “quirks” in the functioning of the universe that give rise to our existence, nourish and protect us. Awe-some, in fact.

 

Determination and planning

 

Capturing this image required some logistical thinking and the application of a dose of old fashioned sweat and muscle to backpack 25 kilos of equipment from the tourist car park out onto the rim of the main crater. Oh, and a torch! The friability and sharpness of volcanic rock is uncomfortable to walk on and painful to fall on. Luckily, I was travelling on old, cold surfaces and did not have to worry about any accidents from flowing lava or hidden lava tubes. I had also scouted the spot to set up the tripod during earlier daytime trips, so I had a reasonably good idea about the best viewpoint, as well as where I might risk falling over the edge.

 

Slow and Careful

 

Working in the dark and on a very rough and dirty surface is challenging for a job requiring precise manipulation of delicate mechanical and optical equipment. Slow and sure is the byword, so as to avoid dropping, and thereby probably losing, camera accessories, but my personal worry is about allowing fine dust and particles to blow into the camera body and lenses. If you have ever changed lenses on or near a beach you will know just how easy it is for the sensor to become polluted. A volcano is very similar. I did carry sensor-cleaning materials, but it is preferable to capture a clean image at the outset, than to have to sweat over removing imperfections afterwards in software.

 

Keep it Simple

 

That said, the camera’s shooting parameters were set up, as far as possible, before leaving my lodgings, so that once it was mounted on the tripod and the remaining mass of the camera backpack was slung beneath the central hook, so as to provide further weight and stability, I could concentrate on the adjustments that imposed themselves from the actual conditions on site.

The fundamental issue was trying to photograph a moving cloud in near pitch-black conditions. Experimentation showed that even after I had maxed out the ISO with a choice of 3200. The bright centre of the eruption also needed some negative exposure compensation, such that, overall, the best speed I could obtain was only 1/10th of a second. The D800 provides 6400 ISO and two higher boost settings, but these are very, very “noisy”. All of that said, I tried my luck in the conditions as they were, hoping that a compromise image would be captured, if the clouds did not move to fast in the wrong places. Clearly, bracketing was a key to this exercise.

 

Settings

 

Camera: Nikon D800

Lens: VR 70-200mm zoom f/2.8G

Focal Length: 70mm

VR: OFF

Focus Mode: AF-S

Aperture: f/3.2

Shutter Speed: 1/10s

Auto Focus-Area Mode: Single

Exposure Mode: Aperture Priority

Exposure Compensation: -0.7EV

Metering: Matrix

ISO Sensitivity: 3200

Bracketing set to 5

Mounted on a Tripod

 

The Volcano Park on Hawaii, the “Big Island” is a marvelous, but frequently wet and grey, tropical rainforest experience. I recommend splitting your stay on the island, so as to share time on the sunnier West coast, as well as the cloudier East coast.

 

Copyright Paul Grayson 2015


Comments

David Hackett(non-registered)
That's quite a climb, Paul, with all that equipment. Well done! But the resultant photograph was surely worth the effort. Very dramatic.
Eric(non-registered)
Quelle aventure ! Et au bout une superbe photo. Impressionnant !
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