07 April 2013

The Story Behind The Photo: The Heart of Darkness - Nyiragongo Volcano

The Heart of Darkness [Explored] 

"The Story Behind The Photo" is a recurring theme here at Global Goebel Travels, where I chose one of my favorite travel photos and tell the story behind shooting it.

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In my last "The Story Behind The Photo" post, I featured the Darvaza Gas Crater in Turkmenistan.  Now, I'm going to feature another photo of a large burning hole in the ground.  However, this one is created by Mother Earth instead of by a Soviet industrial accident.

In November 2011, I was in the process of planning a trip to Burma when I came across a news article about the Nyamulagira volcano eruption that was ongoing in The Democratic Republic of Congo.  I was blown away by some of the photos that showed tourists standing relatively close to the volcano and photographing it.  There were a couple things that blew me away about this particular article and accompanying photo:
1.  Wow! I didn't realize you could get that close to an erupting volcano!
2.  Wow! Tourists go to Congo!
I did some late-night internet research and found that DRC (The Democratic Republic of Congo) was temporarily offering visas-on-arrival at the land crossing from Rwanda, as long as you were heading to Virunga National Park.  I also found a company called Volcano Discoveries that offers trips to the Nyiragongo volcano in DRC that also include a mountain gorilla trek in Rwanda (which was something that was already on my bucket list).  I then made one of my most impulsive travel planning decisions ever and almost immediately sent them a deposit for their next trip to Congo.  Burma was going to have to wait.  I was heading to Rwanda and Congo in less than two weeks.

Now, it should be noted that at this time I didn't realize that Nyamulagira and Nyiragongo were two different volcanos.  They both started with "Ny" and were unpronounceable words for me.

I eventually figured out that they were two different volcanos when I got an email from Volcano Discoveries saying that although Nyamulagira isn't normally part of the itinerary, there was a chance that it could be added once we arrived to DRC and if everyone in the group agreed.

Hmmm.... If I'm not going to Nyamulagira, then what's this Nyiragongo thing that I'm paying to see?

And then I found a photo essay on boston.com that featured Nyiragongo.  I immediately fell in love with this huge lava lake that has been continuously active for over one hundred years, but was also still hopeful that I'd get to see it's sister volcano, Nyamulagira, which was continuing to spew lava into the air.

Well, we ended up not being able to get to Nyamulagira, due to the the National Park supposedly not having any rangers available to take us there.  However, we camped on top of Nyiragongo for three nights, which ended up being one of my most amazing travel experiences ever.  Every night, we would stay up late watching the lava flow inside this huge crater.  It was absolutely mesmerizing.  The dark spots would continually flow across the crater in what looked like a microcosm for plate tectonics, and occasionally mini-eruption flares would burst out of the lake.  Depending on the direction of the wind, there were also bursts of hot air that would blow past us from deep within the crater.

Among the hundreds of photos that I ended up shooting of the volcano, the one featured above is easily my favorite.  Interestingly enough, some people think it's a computer-designed graphic and not an actual photo.  Amazingly, I actually did very little editing to it, and the end product looks pretty close to the original "straight out of camera" shot.  I basically just did some minor tone shifting and contrast adjustments in Adobe Lightroom.

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Photo technical details:

Camera:           Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Lens:                EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM
Aperture:          f/5.0
Shutter Speed:  1/100 sec
Focal Length:   250mm
ISO Speed:       2000

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To see more of my photos from the Nyiragongo Volano, click here.

The Final Ascent The Nyiragongo Lava Lake Me and My Big Gun Nyiragongo At Night Nyiragongo Haze  Nyiragongo Up Close Sunrise at the Nyiragongo Camp
All photos are © Ryan Goebel, 2011

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If you liked this entry, you may also be interested in:
   Global Goebel Travels: The Story Behind The Photo: "Door to Hell" -- The Darvaza Gas Crater

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