Taking night photos of lava

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by slgilley, Jun 6, 2005.

  1. slgilley

    slgilley Guest

    I'm going to be in Hawaii in the next few weeks. I have a Nikon
    Coolpix 5700 digital. I'm not very knowledgable as a photographer,
    especially as a digital photographer. Would anyone be willing to give
    me some (foolproof?) hints about how to take pictures at night of lava?
    I hear a lot about seeing lava glow and taking the pictures, but I
    don't really know what the best method I should use.

    No flash, obviously. If it were film, I'd buy a higher speed film --
    800 probably -- and then open the lens up as much as I could and hope.
    I know I can imitate the same things on the Nikon, but maybe some of
    you who are experienced can give me a better answer.


    slgilley, Jun 6, 2005
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  2. slgilley

    SimonLW Guest

    If your camera has exposure compensation or bracketing, you might try it.
    Since you have the LCD, check to see what you like. Don't got too high with
    the ISO or you'll have too much noise. If you were thinking about a DSLR,
    Hawaii is a good excuse. I got great shots with mine and framed a few.
    SimonLW, Jun 6, 2005
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  3. slgilley

    Ed Ruf Guest

    I wouldn't consider ISO 800 usable on the 5700 from my experience. You
    can clean images up with Neat Image and get reasonable results from
    ISO 400.
    Ed Ruf Lifetime AMA# 344007 ()
    See images taken with my CP-990/5700 & D70 at
    Ed Ruf, Jun 6, 2005
  4. slgilley

    Scott W Guest

    Use a tripod and keep the ISO setting fairly low. Have good shoes,
    water and a good flashlight, it can be a pretty long walk to the lava.
    Watch out for the centipedes as they are pretty thick in that area at
    night and have a nasty bite.

    Scott W, Jun 6, 2005
  5. slgilley

    clutch Guest

    Don't forget the marshmallows :)
    clutch, Jun 6, 2005
  6. slgilley

    Sheldon Guest

    My assumption would be it's a lot like taking pictures of a sunset. You
    need to expose for the lava and let everything else just fall where it will.
    Bracket and make good use of your LCD to get to the proper exposure. If
    your exposures bias the area around the lava I would think the depth and
    color of the lava will wash out. If the playback on the LCD looks good, you
    can always tweak it a bit with software. The closer you get (exposure) the
    less you have to tweak, if at all.

    I'm not sure how bright lava is, so I would only up the ISO just enough so
    you can handhold the camera, or use a tripod. Again, don't know much about
    shooting lava, but you might get some interesting shots using a low shutter
    speed, like when shooting water.

    Have fun, and don't fall in.
    Sheldon, Jun 6, 2005
  7. slgilley

    Roger Guest

    I've got some pictures from the Hilo side on my family room wall.
    Here's what I remember of the film equivalent. I was able to hand hold
    exposures until about 20 minutes after sunset. It gets dark in a hurry
    and lava doesn't reflect any light. The good flashlight and ankle
    supporting shoes are IMO a must. Some of the paths where I walked were
    marked with reflecting tape.

    ISO400, 85mm f1.8 1/50 second
    ISO400, 50mm f1.4 1/30 second

    I tied my shoe laces together and then to my camera strap for extra
    tension dampening for the short exposures. At least a monopod would be
    good. Space to set up a tripod gets iffy as people arrive early and
    camp in the good spots. DO NOT cross any of the boundary tapes.

    If you are viewing from the Hilo side, you are looking into the sunset
    and make sure to include everything. You will need to wait out the sky
    intensity until it matches the lava intensity.

    BTW: my spot metering on my Nikon F100 helped but I also metered off
    the sky and did some zone metering manipulation to set the final
    exposure so the exposures above obviously are only good for those
    matched conditions.

    Be prepared to take many pictures, there is lots of blowing steam
    where the lava hits the ocean and the red glow is often obscured by
    the steam. If the exposure is too long, the blowing steam can whip
    back over the glowing lava and blur the results. Learn to set up
    manual focus and exposure and minimize shutter lag, you will want to
    shoot at precise moments. Lower light levels reveal the red glow. Have
    fresh batteries and lots of exposures about 30 minutes before sunset.
    After that you are too busy shooting to take time to change anything.

    Roger, Jun 6, 2005
  8. This is just off the top of my head:

    Get a sturdy tripod. Not a monopod (like some unnamed bozos), nor a mere
    beanbag on a rock. It will be windy and dark and you will be making
    exposures of several seconds. A sturdy platform will allow you to keep
    the ISO level down and make good exposures.

    If you want to see the lava flow out to the sea, you'll be hiking about
    2-3+ miles from the end of the improved Volcanos N.P. trail on tricky
    dried lava. Don't trip over the STOP sign sticking half way up where a
    suburban intersection used to be. ;-) Kneepads are nice but optional.
    Carry along more drinking water than you think you'll need. Have at
    minimum two sources of light, and extra batteries. Flashlights with LEDs
    are more efficient. If you start just before sundown, by the time you
    get to a good spot it will be quite dark. Don't venture too far on the
    "shelf" just to get a slightly better angle. The shelves are like rock
    glaciers that can calve into the ocean without notice and you'd be a
    goner. Be careful and methodical and know your camera too.

    It is worth it. I stil have dreams about that place.


    Unclaimed Mysteries, Jun 6, 2005
  9. slgilley

    Roger Guest

    Hey Corry,

    Be kind to the unnamed ones :). It sounds like your suggestion for
    pictures comes at a later time in the day than mine. We entered
    several hours before sunset and had about two hours at the location
    before the sun went down - almost ran out of film :). We entered from
    the Hilo side and the trail was well marked with the kind of
    reflective tape used on highways - are we talking about the same
    place? The reflective tape really helped returning to the parking
    location but we had to lead out some folks that did not have a flash
    light. That puts a burden on everyone. Correy's suggestion for
    redundancy is a great one. It is really dark on the Lava, you can hear
    it suck up the light.

    I was on a business trip when I had this opportunity to see the Lava.
    I was a bit light on gear including flashlights but we bought two at a
    local home store before leaving Hilo. We met a friend from the same
    business trip while at the site, they were returning as we were
    walking in. They stopped for a picnic at another site before finishing
    the trek and got caught in the dark without lights. She was cut when
    she fell on the Lava and wrenched her leg badly. They brought in
    rangers to help her out.

    Corry suggests a tripod and I agree that's best. I had to make do
    without one and now always travel with a pocket tripod and/or monopod.
    When I was there it was not possible to see the Lava entry point into
    the Ocean from ground level so you need an elevated device. When we
    were there, all the good vantage points for tripods had already been
    taken with large format cameras. Some folks were kind enough to yield
    their spot to newcomers with time limits as they were waiting for the
    right conditions. I'm sure it varies. I'm tall enough that I was able
    to look over some obstacles for good shots but there were several
    folks who were dangerously pushing people out of the way to get their
    photos. There were also protective barriers - some of the pushy ones
    tried crossing them but the rangers were on them very fast. Some
    tourists ignored the ranger warnings, I think hiding behind language
    barriers. What the ranger was telling them was that people have died
    at this location when a bit further out, the thin shelves of condensed
    Lava break off.

    At our viewing location, I found an 85mm f1.8 lens ideal for speed and
    focal length. I was using film so no cropping factors involved.

    I found that on my longest exposures (over 1/2 second), the swirling
    steam obscured the brightness of the Lava. I'm talking about a
    location where the Lava enters the Ocean, again perhaps we are talking
    about other spots or different conditions. Be prepared for everything
    if this is a photo expedition.

    Anyway my pictures at hand-held exposures, were best shortly after
    sundown where I could also capture the great sky and cloud glow from
    the sunset along with the Lava flow. They are very graphic and show
    well at 11x14" - the lava is clearly visible as is the rising steam,
    waves and sunset. The intensity of the lava "red" color is about two
    f-stops below the sunset colors. When the intensities started to
    balance, hand hold became problematic. My wife had a Coolpix 950 with
    BSS and that produces some excellent results also.

    It is a primordial / spiritual experience. Be prepared to stay and
    enjoy. Do everything Corry said - but leave for the site a bit earlier
    if you want to include the skyglow and the Ocean.

    Roger, Jun 7, 2005
  10. Lava is basically rock hot enough to glow in the red end of the visible
    spectrum. I would thing that turning out the lights and cranking up the
    stove burners might give you something close enough to practice on and
    take notes?

    http://bobqat.com/Cool.jpg - done a few years ago with a Sony digital
    camera, it picked up a lot of infrared radiation as well which recorded
    as purple haze [insert Prince joke here] - ISO 80, 8 seconds @ f/2.8,
    with a couple of two-day follow-ups at the Photoshop clinic.
    Exactly what I told the cat...

    Bob ^,,^
    Bob Harrington, Jun 8, 2005
  11. slgilley

    Ray Fischer Guest

    We in the engineering biz have a saying: Make something foolproof and
    God will invent a better fool.
    1) Use a tripod.
    2) Don't do it at night. Show up around sunset and start taking
    pictures. At some point there will be enough light to still see the
    surrounding rocks and/or scenery but not so much that the lava won't
    glow. When you see the right balance take lots of pictures.
    3) Don't fall in. :)
    Ray Fischer, Jun 10, 2005
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