How to shot an erupting volcano?

Discussion in 'Nature' started by salvatore.mele, Mar 16, 2005.

  1. I am visiting Stromboli in the near future and I would be delighted to get some classical volcano pictures.
    The most likely conditions are jets of stones with the typical streaks, or diffuse glow on the mountain. Examples are here.
    I plan in night shooting from the sea, very close to the coast, and maybe close to the crater, up on the mountain, depending on conditions and permits. I will be shooting with a FM2n w/ 50mm/f1.4 and a small tripod. No way to carry more with me. So, no digital and no possibility to cross check my exposure right there. Assuming I will be shooting 100ASA film or 50ASA slides, I would warmly welcome advice on exposure/shutter time.
  2. I checked out the pictures in the link you provided, and they seem to overwhelmingly have been shot with a telephoto (for safe working distance I assume), and the best of them were shot at twilight hours (dusk/dawn) so that there was just a tiny bit of colour in the sky.

    So, it seems the way to go is to shoot with a telephoto at dusk.

    But you say you'll be shooting at night, with a 50mm lens, from the sea, and I'll assume you mean on a boat when you say from the sea.

    To me that suggests that you'll need the shortest shutter speeds you can get to avoid motion blur from the boat, and also that you won't be getting frame filling shots like the ones in your link.

    I can't give any specific exposure suggestions (other than using the fastest shutter speed possible for reasons mentioned above), but I guess maybe try Evaluative Metering and go with what it says. Hopefully the black mountain (at night) and the bright lava at the top will let the meter average out to a decent exposure. Although even that will depend to some extent to how small the lava will actually be in your viewfinder with a 50mm lens. Maybe try and bracket 1 to 2 stops in either direction if you don't mind burning through some film. At least some of them should be exposed how you like them.

    If someone else on the boat has a telephoto, or a hand held spot meter ask very nicely if they'd mind spot-metering the lava for you, and then make an exposure decision based on that.
  3. The link you provided has a section on tech notes giving photo advice. It looked pretty comprehensive. You might want to test shoot some night shots with your gear in a similarly dark area to see how long sky light at the times you'd be there will take to reach exposure levels you'd like. Consider if aimed towards or away from sunset, moon phase, etc. Some of the photos there show several minutes (up to 20 or 40) exposure times. (Sounds long to me but maybe the strwaking incandescent fountains are sparser than they appear from the long exposures??) Moon phase could greatly add to the amount of backgrund light and reduce available time.

    Then consider the addition of bright objects to the low light background. Lightning or firework techniques can discuss how to deal with exposures if you don't have a remote, mirror lock-up, etc. (Cover the lens opening, like with a hat - not touching it it, open the shutter, remove the hat after vibrations have shut down, recover the lens after "enough" time, then close the shutter - using the covering hat or hood should help minimize vibration effects.)
  4. I've shot different kinds of eruptions in Hawai`i and New Zealand. The Hawai`ian eruptions typically produce hot glowing lava, so are photographically similar to what you're trying to get at Stromboli. The eruptions of Mt Ruapehu that I shot in New Zealand produced lots of ash and steam and not much glowing lava, so were photographed during the day and were simpler to expose (though arguably not as spectacular).

    To get really good glowing lava photos, you need to shoot when the ambient light levels are low (dawn, dusk, or during the night) so the lava shows up brightly. At night particularly, you'll need longish shutter speeds to capture a few outbursts to register plenty of bright trails on film. For this reason, you're better off shooting from land with your camera on a tripod on a stable surface, rather than from a boat (unless you want abstract shots). With a 50mm lens, distance will be an issue too.

    Your success will depend a great deal on your skill with the centre-weighted meter and setting exposure on the FM2n. The explosive outbursts of glowing lava aren't usually very predictable, and vary greatly in intensity, so the amount of light being given off changes all the time.
    In many ways, exposing explosions of hot lava is very similar to photographing fireworks, as the 'correct' exposure will vary constantly, and several outbursts might be needed to make a suitably spectacular image. With your camera, lots of exposure bracketing is a must.

    While night shots can look great if there's plenty of explosive activity, I'd see if you can shoot at dawn or dusk. In Hawai`i the glowing lava really looks amazing when there's colour in the ambient light (Fuji Velvia 50 is magic for this).

    For some other examples of great lava photography, take a look at these photographer's websites: G. Brad Lewis, Bernhard Edmaier, and Dorian Weisel

    Also there's some fairly straightforward advice on lava photography at:
  5. Many thanks to all of you for your help. I was ready to implement most of your suggestions, but on the top of Stromboli, in addition to sulphur smokes to be inhalated and bangs to be heard, the only thing to be seen was fog... so no pictures to post...

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