Lava by Air - Mark Venner Photography

Lava by Air

Seeing an active lava field while hanging out of a doorless helicopter was something else. Most of the time the right half of my body was hanging out of the aircraft, and I was constantly battling rotor wash (wind). This again made for a very fun, yet challenging photography opportunity.

The departure point was Hilo, Hawaii. From there is was approximately a 20-30 min lift to the active flow area; again this is as of the winter of 2013. While it was very easy to spot the water entry point, due to the billowing steam, it was more difficult to spot the active flow in the field itself as we went during daylight hours (twilight rides were not available).

That being said, it is possible to get some descent lava scenes given this scenario. I would again recommend the 70-200 lens. While there were times I would have taken the extra reach, given all of the variable (wind/movement/etc.), I'm not sure more zoom would have given the desired result. Additionally, while I brought more lenses in my zipper pockets (backpacks not allowed on copter without doors), I did not have the guts to actually try and make a swap mid flight.
After viewing the water entry, and then the field, the time came for the apex of the flight; viewing the active cone. I was looking forward to this from the start. During the first pass I was able to get some descent shots, but not what I wanted. During the second, and final, pass I accidentally dorked up my ISO and overexposed the shots. I screamed so loud the pilot actually heard me over the rotor wash and asked if I was OK. I told her no, I would die unless we made another pass. We did not, but magically I'm still vertical. Guess we all know what I'd do different if I could take another copter ride over the lava.