Surrounded by Lava

General Thoughts
Lava Flow — Craters of the Moon NM, ID © jj raia

Lava Flow — Craters of the Moon NM, ID © jj raia

The idea that active volcanos existed hundreds of thousands of years ago in this area of the western United States has always fascinated me, which was probably the impetus behind deciding to make Yellowstone a major part of this trip with its hot springs and geysers. Although originally planning to go on to Glacier afterwards, the extra driving (in the opposite direction of where I would end the trip in Denver) and lack of enough time led me to one of my options when I couldn’t make my way to the northern sections of Yellowstone because of road construction and snow. So I opted to head to Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho to continue the theme of volcanos. I wasn’t sure of what to expect, but looked forward to a landscape completely different, one covered in ancient lava flows, some dating as recently as 125,000 years ago. Driving nearby, you could see the succession of several cinder cones dotting the area and how the rock around the vegetation was mostly black. It was a new type of landscape to experience and in the different light of clear skies; something I didn’t have much of in Yellowstone. The campground itself was interesting and is literally within a flow of lava and my site had a 5-foot wall of lava on one side.

The image at the top was taken just as the sky lightened in the east, and required a 2-stop Neutral density filter to make the light values somewhere in the vicinity of each other. Because the lava is basically black, it was pretty difficult and I shot a few exposures for use in HDR software afterward. Although that method seemed to work out well for the lava and the slight lighting on the plants, not so much around the edges of the distant mountains where a definite halo was readily apparent. Several attempts at correcting that problem were unsatisfactory, so I resorted to blending layers of differing exposures in Photoshop and finishing up in Lightroom.

For the first sunset of the visit, I decided to climb to one of the highest viewpoints in the park and found some really interesting red rock that would glow in the afternoon sun to use as a foreground. But as mentioned recently, you need that foreground to lead the eye somewhere into the scene, but unfortunately, those rocks did not lead anywhere that made a good photograph. But even then, the Lost River Range of mountains to the northeast that would provide the backdrop for any foreground and middle ground, were not close or tall enough to really punctuate the image. There was a huge, solitary beautiful tree up there too, but the lighting and rocks just did not line up, nor did the tree by itself either line up with the distant mountains or provide any framing for them. I thought they may line up correctly for sunrise, but found the next morning, after climbing up there again, that was not really the case; at least during this time of the year. In the summer, when the sun rises further north, it may work out better. Sometimes the elements simply do not come together and this seemed to be one of those occasions.

Milky Way and Snag — Craters of the Moon © jj raia

Milky Way and Snag — Craters of the Moon © jj raia

Of course, the clear skies found me out at night trying to find the Milky Way and I returned to the snag I scouted right next to the Devil’s Orchard parking area. It was easy to determine where it was, but this time I played a bit with the coloration of the tree while trying to keep everything else pretty much normal in the post processing. I originally thought I would combine two images, one shot using tungsten white balance to give the sky the blue tint I prefer, while the other was shot using daylight for the warm brown glow. But it turned out to be too much trouble to combine them in Photoshop, so I just used the tungsten (blue) image and brushed the rocks and bushes with a very warm temperature and tint to mimic the daylight white balance.

The lava tubes in the park were interesting and I explored one where the ceiling was about 30 feet high, but the others were a bit too constrictive for someone who is a bit claustrophobic like myself. I had hoped for some wild coloration of lichen growth, but not as much as I thought there might be. I found just a few spots, so there was only one shot I thought worthy of an abstraction. But a blue tone seemed to permeate throughout the lava fields, especially during the blue hour before sunrise on my last day, that was fun to try things with. It’s better to remove any polarizer from the lens in these situations in order to capture all the blue reflected light from the sky that a polarizer might eliminate.

On the afternoon I arrived, I saw a hillside with young evergreens growing sporadically across it’s face. I filed that away thinking it might look good with late afternoon light, but opted to take the short hike to a highpoint with great views all around instead. The next day I did make a point to attempt a shot at the hillside but it looked kind of flat until I adjusted the polarizer on my telephoto and then the evergreens popped. The polarizer is a great tool and it’s use cannot be overstated which is why it is on my lenses almost all the time.

Volcanic Hillside — Craters of the Moon © jj raia

Volcanic Hillside — Craters of the Moon © jj raia



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