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Fire Walking With the Lava Junkies
Plumes of gas escaping from vents as lava meets air

"From the helicopter, we saw lava splashing and frothing 50 feet [15 meters] below the surface in these 75- to 100-foot-wide [23- to 30-meter-wide] pools.

"Soon after taking this picture, we heard a big crash of thunder, immediately followed by lightning. In about 40 seconds, we were hit by torrential rain. We couldn't even see 20 feet [6 meters] in front of us, so there was no way the helicopter could find us. And the 7-mile [11-kilometer] hike out was too dangerous in the low visibility.

"Eventually the visibility increased to 100 feet [30 meters]—which was just enough for the pilot to sniff his way through the clouds. The helicopter came crawling along—you could've walked faster. His skids were no more than ten feet [three meters] from the ground as he approached."

—Photographer James Balog

Photography Notes

  • Camera: Nikon D100
  • Lens: 24mm
  • Shutter speed: 1/60
  • Aperture: f/2.0
  • Time of day: 6:30 a.m.

"On the ground there were a limited number of places where I could get a nice graphic arrangement of the steam clouds in relationship to the vents. I worked with the way the wind was blowing the clouds to position myself in such a way that I could capture the action going on in the landscape."


February 2003

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