The night before photographing my Milky Way image, I took my workshop group to the popular Halema`uma`u Crater overlook at the Jagger Museum. I’ll never forget my first sight of the radiant caldera at night from there, and was excited to share the experience. As is often the case on Kilauea, a dense cloud cover soon gave way to a mixture of clouds and stars above the crater. We were all thrilled, but had no idea that the volcano had a grand finale planned.
In the moonless dark it had been impossible to see anything but black on the eastern horizon, but a little after 10:00, at about the time we were thinking of wrapping things up, an orange glow appeared in that direction. We soon realized that what we’d imagined to be an empty void had in fact been a bank of clouds obscuring the suddenly active Pu’u O’o Crater. It turns out (we learned later) that the less accessible Pu’u O’o had breached earlier in the day, spilling lava and illuminating the sky with a fiery glow that stretched for a half mile down the volcano. And as if this wasn’t enough, the cloud cover reflected the glow in a manner that magnified the pyrotechnics. Punctuating the scene was Jupiter.
Here the camera’s ability to accumulate light was a true asset. Thirty-second exposures at ISO 800 revealed far more than the beautiful orange glow our eyes saw in the clouds immediately above Pu’u O’o. Instead, our cameras revealed the erupting lava setting the clouds ablaze high into the night sky.