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Crater of Mt. St. Helens with shadow AERIAL

I remember the eruption of Mt. St Helens very well. On that day in May of 1980, we could see an enormous dark cloud rising to the south and waited to see if the ash would drop on Seattle.  A few days later, I asked a pilot friend to take me up and over the still-smoking crater. One of the pictures I took that day was my first published image.

Yet although I live only a few hours away, I had not been back to St. Helens until this month.  (I posted a shot of a lava tube on the south side of the mountain last week). Last night, I had a chance to fly over the mountain again - 31 years after that first time.

It was not a perfect flight. I flew around the mountain just before sunset to get the best possible light; but after several days of clear weather, smoke and haze had built up in the mountains, and the light was much more subdued than I would have hoped.  Still, it was spectacular to look down into the steaming crater.

We circled the mountain three or four times, and only at the last minute did I see this - my favorite picture of the shoot. I like the graphic quality of the snow on the crater rim, and the shadow of the peak, which was only visible at this angle. (We couldn't safely fly any higher, which might have been interesting - but hey, the pilot's in charge!)

The trade off: to  get this pretty light (and shadow) I had to sacrifice the light on the lava dome inside the crater. I chose the  evening light..

And yes, I did shoot a horizontal version of this same shot. Which do you like better and why?

Nikon D3, 24-70mm lens



    Almost surreal! I really like the subtle rays of the sun spilling over the cone in the background. As for the eruption of 18 May 1980, I recall the next day when all the cars parked in a parking lot outside of my office (some 1300+ miles away from “ground zero” in Colorado) were covered with a very fine layer of silver-gray dust from the volcano. The next few evenings had fantastic sunsets due to that dust but, unfortunately, I did not have the time to photograph them.


    Yeah, I really wanted to get a higher angle, and more shadow, but when a pilot shakes his head, who’s going to argue? As it happened, we never got any ash here in Seattle – the prevailing westerlies sent it all over the Cascades, e.g. over your way! Thanks for the note.

    Kevin, I envy you your trip! Beautiful images with the silent graphical patterns that reminds of the enormous powers of nature that has been let free here!

    I like the second one better; it shows more of the expected crater form, and the snow pattern is more visible.

    Bo, I like the graphic quality of the vertical, but I agree that the horizontal shows the crater more clearly. It tells more of a story, while the vertical is simply a nice design. Always good to shoot both – and decide later! Thanks for commenting.

    Super shots. I think the vertical is better as the layers just guide my eye through the shot while in the horizontal I find myself just looking around for something to hold on to. Both are nice but vertical has more……uummph. BTW, a friend of mine was not far from there when it blew and it covered his truck with ash. He collected it off his truck and gave it to friends. I think I still have a bottle of the ash somewhere.

    Hey Steve,

    Glad you weighed in – and that you preferred the tighter vertical…:) Meanwhile, you can relate to this: I was sort of pissed off when I was taking these shots because the haze kept the light from getting very red. (Still looks nice, but I was hoping for crimson…) Yeah, I think I have a bottle of ash here somewhere too. (Of course there is several cubic miles of it around the mountain.)

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