Photographers' Blog

An erupting volcano on the horizon

It was Saturday, May 21, and I was returning from a tour with nine friends. We had spent 15 hours climbing a 1420 metre (yard) high peak named Midfellstindur near Iceland’s Skaftafell national park. While driving back along route 1 from Skaftafell towards our hotel, the organizer of the trip Hans Kristjansson said “This is a strange cloud just above the glacier”.

As a hang glider and ultralight pilot I knew right away that this was no ordinary cloud and said to Hans: “My friend, this is not a ordinary cloud but the start of an eruption”. We stopped the car and I tried to use well the last seven frames that I had on my memory card in my Canon D300 DSLR camera. I took seven frames in about 20 minutes. I always take my photos in RAW format to be able to post-process them. It paid off this time. The pictures were taken at N 63° 56.712 W 17° 23.729.

When I got back to the hotel I was unable to view my pictures as my laptop was at home in Reykjavik along with my card reader. The lesson of the trip is that I will never ever travel again without my MacBookPro and my Lexar card reader. And I will make sure that I have ample space on different memory cards!

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures January 30, 2011

Even though the world's gaze is firmly focused on the events in Egypt and Tunisia, top stories continue to break in Asia. Last week during my morning call with Enny Nuraheni, our Indonesia Chief Photographer, she told there was a ferry on fire with hundreds on board, a train had crashed and Mount Bromo was spewing ash, all on the same day.  In Japan Mount Kirishima was erupting, thousands of birds culled to try to stop the spread of bird flu and the economy and government were under pressure.  But all Japanese worries were forgotten briefly as Japan beat Australia 1-0 in the AFC Asian Cup final in Doha. 

JAPAN/ 

Volcanic lightning or a dirty thunderstorm is seen above Shinmoedake peak as it erupts, between Miyazaki and Kagoshima prefectures, in this photo taken from Kirishima city and released by Minami-Nippon Shimbun January 28, 2011. Ash and rocks fell across a wide swathe of southern Japan straddling the prefectures of Miyazaki and Kagoshima on Thursday, as one of Mount Kirishima's many calderas erupted, prompting authorities to raise alert levels and call on for an evacuation of all residents within a 2 km (1.2 miles) radius of the volcano. REUTERS/Minami-Nippon Shimbun

Issei Kato's picture of Prime Minister Kan addressing parliament is as frenetic as the politics themselves, while Kim Kyung-Hoon's picture to illustrate the economy perfectly timed as the eye is drawn into the frame by all the elements that appear in to be in choreographed perfection. If the apocalypse is coming it is sure to come in one of two forms; the eruptions of fire, smoke and lightening or the eerie silence of spreading disease. We had two pictures giving us a sneak preview of our potential fate. A wonderful image of the sheer beauty of the power, energy, light and colour of Mount Kirishima erupting and the whisper of deadly fumes as fully masked workers with red and blue targets sprayed on their white overalls, cull the hapless birds.  

An erupting volcano and a local saviour

People run after Mount Merapi erupted at Kaliurang village in Sleman, near the ancient city of Yogyakarta, October 26, 2010.  REUTERS/Beawiharta

I want to share my experiences photographing Mount Merapi’s volcanic eruptions in Indonesia but I will say upfront that this won’t be a blog about suffering. There won’t be stories of those who have lost their homes, of painful deaths, of burns, of the death of valuable cattle or the destruction the volcano has caused.

Instead, this will be a blog about the logistics of getting great pictures in a dangerous situation.

Taking snaps of Merapi’s lava-flow at night is a great assignment for a news photographer but first, I needed to find an ideal spot to take pictures.

Freezing the volcano’s lightning

Lightning streaks across the sky as lava flows from a volcano in Eyjafjallajokul April 17, 2010.  REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Lightning streaks across the sky as lava flows from a volcano in Eyjafjallajokul April 17, 2010. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

I realize that this photograph is pretty much the attention grabber from all those that I have taken in Iceland on this trip so I figured I would write up a little about what it took to get the image. As soon as I got this assignment, a photograph of a volcano erupting with lightning inside of the ash plume was on my mind. I had seen one a couple of years ago from a volcano in South America so I knew it happened. When I was watching the ash during the first dusk I saw plenty of lightning so I knew I had a shot at making this picture.

I have shot lightning a few times before but it tends to be a bit of a fishing excursion because of the erratic habits of lightning bolts, this was less so. I knew exactly where the lightning would be (in the caldera) and I just had to find a good vantage point. Earlier in the day I spent some time with some sheep farmers, who lived directly across the valley from this eruption. I noticed some cars crossing a river and driving northeast to get a better view inside the crater. With dusk approaching, I decided to make a go of that route. I drove my jeep across the river and down a very bumpy road that had been rebuilt through fields of mini-icebergs that had been deposited by a glacial flood triggered by the initial eruption. It was here that I made another of my favorite images showing the “Land of Ice and Fire” that Iceland is known for.