Thursday, August 11, 2011

Lousy Weather above? Go Underground...

Ape Cave lava tube, Mt. St. Helens
I spent the last 3 days trying to get some decent light on Mt. St. Helens. The truth be told, it never happened: each day it would clear for a few hours in the afternoon, then cloud up again as the evening - and nice light - came and went.  Three days in a row.  Maybe I'll try again when this weather pattern moves on through.

I filled the middle of the day with exploring the area, and on one memorable morning, I hiked into one of the most astonishing underground passageways I have ever seen.  It is a lava tube, although it is so perfectly formed that it could double as a man-made highway tunnel. Lava tubes are rare in this part of the world, where the volcanos tend to explode rather than extrude flowing lava. Yet Ape Cave  is one of the longest lave tubes in the US - more than two miles long.

(Science note : lava tubes are created by very fluid lava that cools and hardens at the edges, allowing the lava inside to continue flowing inside, forming a stone tube. When the lava stops, it drains out the bottom end, leaving this remarkably uniform tunnel.)

I spent several hours in the cave, trying to sort out how best to photograph it - finally settling on the use of two flashes - one on the camera/tripod and the other in my hands. 30-second exposures allowed me time to position myself in front of the light-colored wall (where I would best show up in silhouette) and fire off a few flashes manually. It was a case of trial and error - mostly error - to get what I wanted. In a perfect world, I would have had a third flash (and a model?) in the far distant bend of the cave, but I'm content with this.

An amazing place.

Nikon D3, 17-35mm lens, 2 Nikon SB-800 flashes


  1. It's so nice to read sometimes, that even pros like you don't always go into things knowing the exact best way to do a thing.

    I would love to visit that place, I nearly made it there a few years ago. One day, now I can walk a little further. :) Until then, I can enjoy your photo!

  2. Yes, it's worth the trip : cool place. Put it on the list!