Photographing Mt Yasur Volcano, Vanuatu - Part II: Camera Gear & Other Equipment
Lucky enough to have some options? Or still deciding on that new purchase? Below are the details of the camera gear and other equipment we used to produce our images and that we recommend for your upcoming visit to the Mount Yasur Volcano …
D’s Camera Equipment
For this trip D only brought the one camera, his trusty old Canon 5D Mark III.
Where ever possible D prefers to shoot with a full frame camera, feeling the larger sensor provides the better images relative to a crop, plus the extra flexibility regarding wide angles is preferred.
And for shooting at the volcano it was paired exclusively with his Canon 24-70mm F4 lens.
This is his go to lens these days. It is much smaller and lighter than the F2.8 versions, so is much more convenient to carry and, in particular, pack. But it still delivers high quality images (in our opinion).
A’s Camera Equipment
For this trip A carried her usual two cameras. Those being her equally trusty, and almost as old, Canon 70D plus her Panasonic Lumix GH4 (again hardly new).
On the Canon was her Sigma 24-105mm F4 Art Series lens. This lens is also a huge favourite. While it is probably not quite as sharp as the Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 Art Series which spends most time on A’s camera, we still find it is a very effective allrounder (if a little on the bulky side).
And on the GH4, it was the Panasonic 12-35mmm F2.8.
(In case you didn’t know, the 70D is an APS-C camera, meaning it has a smaller sensor than the 5D. The GH4 is mirrorless and has an even small sensor again. It means the F4 on the Sigma lens is really equivalent to F6.3 on a full frame when paired with the 70D. And in the case of the GH4, the F2.8 lens is actually closer to F5.6 on a full frame. Confused by all that, check out Tony and Chelsea Northrup on Youtube for a lesson in all things cameras and photography skills.)
Changing Lenses on the Volcano
Based on our experience, we suggest it is a good idea to plan to NOT have to change lens on the volcano. The ash is ever present, always in the air even when the wind isn’t blowing past you. Then there is the steam and the sulphur.
The ash alone has claimed many a camera and its associated gear. Mixed together, the three elements are nothing short of a recipe for disaster, especially if they get into the inner workings of your equipment.
So as we say, our advice is to pick a lens and stick to it!
Of course if you do plan to heed our advice regarding avoiding lens changes, your choice of lens becomes even more critical. The best way to deal with this is to carry two (or even more) camera bodies. And as you can see that was in part A’s approach to the problem. D also regularly has two cameras with him on our travels, just not this time.
On our second visit up to the volcano, there was one very will “kitted out” photographer from China who had “all the gear”, including a Canon 70-200mm F2.8 which did momentarily produce a little lens envy in D.
There is no doubt having that extra reach down into the volcano openings could have been handy and produced some interesting shots.
But, overall, we would suggest that type of zoom isn’t necessary.
On the crop camera, A’s 24-105 is effectively equivalent to 150mm plus, so that largely did the job from a zoom point of view.
Having said that, we feel the most interesting images are to be had at the wider angles.
This is in part because even if you have a zoom lens, the perspective will always be down on to the subject, and reasonably steeply at that (specifically from the West View Point).
So we felt the best images were where the action was as close as possible to perpendicular to the camera. And then in particular when combined with a wide perspective taking in a bit more of the surrounds and also the red glow bouncing off of the smoke and steam.
Hence while it is tempting to don the 70—200, we felt our lens choices covered most of the desired bases.
If anything, there were times it might have been nice to have angles closer to 18mm or even 15mm. But again, any lens worth its salt that will go to those extremes (or even wider) are going to be fairly limiting in flexibility (few will go any more zoomed than 35mm). So again, the flexibility afforded by the general purpose ranges of 24mm to 70/105mm seemed a good way to go and didn’t disappoint.
In order of importance (first from an equipment preservation point of view and then successful photography perspective) …
Is a must!
Not for any light filtering, but …
To protect your lens and to be the sacrificial lamb if you are caught in a steam/sulphur/ash haze which will otherwise certainly render your expensive lens permanently null and void!
Plastic covers (though as we were on our last ones each, A had to use a simple Glad snaplock bag for her GH4. While not quite as stylish as the covers (not that they are very stylish in themselves) it did the job of keeping her equipment alive and working well.
We both use Promaster XC525 Tripods which are the smallest and lightest travel tripods we have been able to source locally (in Perth, Australia). And for shooting an active volcano a tripod, any tripod, is an absolute must.
Even if you aren’t attempting to produce tails of light (using long exposure) you will be shooting in low light and hopefully dark conditions, so your shutter speeds will be low and the only way to maintain sharpness is to have your camera held relatively firm on a tripod.
Remote Shutter Release
D used a Hahnel Captur Pro wireless remote shutter release.
Wireless is certainly the easiest way to go. It has the added bonus of allowing you to stand back, take in the entire scene and take in the experience, and then when an explosion happens, you hit that shutter release.
We both had headlamps and a torch in reserve.
You will need at least a torch, but we would highly recommend a headlamp.
We admit to be reluctant to use them, you look a little silly and a bit over the top compared to the majority of visitors who are in nothing more than shorts, a tank top and sandals. But once it is dark, and you are working hard to capture that perfect image, the head light is not only no longer visible to others, it can become the difference between getting your camera set up right, sufficiently quickly, to get the result you are after.
Ok, so we mention this with some trepidation.
It would be wise to have both a lens cloth, and a lens brush with you just in case a minor dust issue occurs on your UV filter.
As we learned the hard way, if the dirt problem on the front of your lens is really bad, it is almost certainly a combination of steam and/or sulphur plus ash. And if that is the case, the last thing you want to do is try to quickly clean it away then and there.
The ash is so fine, yet so strong and destructive, if you simply attempt to wipe it away while it is in that damp state IT WILL RUIN YOUR FILTER (or if you didn’t use one, your lens)!
So choose carefully. It may just be that this is not your day, and getting that extra shot of the volcano was never meant to happen. Accept your lens is too dirty, and too wet, and just put it aside and enjoy the experience and hopefully you already have the perfect shot (or you have another visit planned).
Photographing Mount Yasur Volcano: Part 3 – Image Types & Camera Settings (Still to come)