Chasing Lava

You have not known darkness until you have been in the middle of a jet-black lava field, on a remote island, at 2:00 am seeking out 1,100 degree C molten lava. It was just me and my trusted guide Jon, a professional photographer and native-born Hawaiian. We were both very much in the presence of Pele, mythical Goddess of Volcanoes and Fire. And while I ventured out to witness one of the most mesmerizing natural wonders in the world, I gleaned far more.

Jon said he would need to pick me up at 10 pm and we would be out for at least 13 hours. Say what? The timing didn’t seem to phase him, but for me – an idle tourist on vacation – I initially balked. No thanks. Sunset shots were much more convenient. Plus they were safe. But was this all I desired? Safe and pretty does not equate to inspired and brilliant.

I reconsidered the commitment required to head out at bedtime to take pictures all night. Sure, I had gone out of my way for photography before. Many times. But not to the extent that would require sleep disruption. Or the loss of three cushy vacation days in the glorious sun. Combined with a journey outside of my comfort zone to bike, hike, then bike again, in the dead of night, traversing over razor sharp volcanic rock in the process. Five tourists nearly died in a similar area on New Year’s eve when they ventured outside an authorized viewing area. Minutes after a ranger retrieved them, 21 acres of old lava delta collapsed into the ocean, taking with it a four-acre chunk of the sea cliff where they had previously been standing. Mother Nature is fickle.

With the above exception, humans, as a whole, tend towards homeostasis. Sometimes I get out of my comfort zone, but for the most part, it’s where I happily reside. After a magnificent evening, filled with awe at photographing the magical lava ‘hose’ that is spewing forth hundreds of millions of gallons of lava, it left me reflecting further upon my return to Canada. In what other areas do I play it safe, and thus receive mostly safe rewards in return? To what extent do adventure photographers need to go in order to capture pictures that warrant two million Instagram followers? I knew I was coming up short. 

It took special preparation and I was a zombie for at least two days afterwards, but saying ‘yes’ to this adventure gave me impetus to push other boundaries. Days later, I didn’t think twice about going out again in the middle of the night, all night, in search of the Milky Way. Although the proper shooting conditions did not materialize, I treasure the memory of experiencing the sun slowly replace the star-filled night, beckoning another perfect day in paradise.

I wonder what your personal ‘lava shots’ would look like, if you pushed your boundaries more often. I can assure you it’s more than worth the effort.