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Capturing Volcanoes In Photos - In this extract Joseph Meehan and Gary Eastwood share their tips on photographing volcanoes.
Volcanoes are one of the most beautiful and destructive forces of nature, and have shaped the face of the planet on which we live since the birth of time. Whether spewing red-hot magma thousands of feet into the air, belching smoke into the atmosphere, dripping hissing lava trails into the sea, or even laying dormant and fertile, volcanoes and volcanic eruptions offer some of the most stunning photographic potential of all of nature’s events, whether from far away or up close.
A volcano represents a fissure or weak spot in the Earth’s rocky crust. This fissure allows the escape of molten rock, known as magma, as well as other materials and toxic gases, which can be ejected high into the atmosphere or flow down the side of the volcano, depending on the ferocity and type of eruption.
There are three different types of volcano: Active volcanoes erupt continuously; dormant volcanoes lie inactive for centuries but erupt abruptly; and extinct volcanoes are considered not likely to erupt. There are also different types of eruption, often named after the region in which they characteristically occur. Hawaiian eruptions, for example, are characterized by effusive eruptions of very fluid lava, while Strombolian eruptions (named after the Italian volcano Stromboli) are driven by bursting gas bubbles within the magma (see page 91 for a full explanation of eruption types).
More broadly, volcanic eruptions can be split into two types: red and gray. As one might imagine, red eruptions are characterized by the presence of lava (the term used for magma once it has reached the surface), while gray eruptions contain ash, dust, rock, and other non-magmatic material. Each can
be equally explosive, photography-wise, but the beauty and elemental nature of red eruptions hold special appeal.
Eruptions in the night:
A more insidious threat is the silent menace of toxic gases that belch out from around even the most benign eruptions. Volcanic gases include sulphur dioxide, hydrogen sulphide, methane, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, while other materials found in the vicinity are likely to include silica dust (harmful to lung tissue) and arsenic. Thus, thorough research is essential before approaching a volcanic area.
As a result, close-up volcano photography is only possible in a few regions of the world, with most photography likely to be limited to distant landscapes. The trick is to make the most of the opportunity presented—volcano photography is still a rare event for most, and any shot will be of some value.
Telephoto lenses for safety:
environmental elements for framing and context, which will make your image take on a more balanced and grounded quality.
benefit of local knowledge and expertise.
Presuming that all safety concerns have been met, the type of images that can be achieved from volcano photography will depend heavily on the type of eruption, its ferocity, the region in which it is occurring, and other local and unique factors. To a certain extent, it is simply a case of being prepared for numerous outcomes.
This technique is an extract from the Fire chapter of Photographing the Elements by Joseph Meehan and Gary Eastwood, courtesy of Ilex Press.