Nyiragongo Volcano at Night

The picture below shows Congo’s Nyiragongo volcano at night. There’s glowing steam rising from the crater and illuminating the passing clouds at the night sky. Here’s the story behind the photo.

Nyiragongo volcano at night, Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Glowing steam rises from Nyiragongo volcano (3’470 m) at night. Nyiragongo volcano in the Democratic Republic of the Congo contains the Earth’s largest lava lake. The Virunga volcanoes are part of the Albertine Rift Mountains, the western branch of the East African Rift. In the Virunga region, two parts of the African Plate, the Somali Plate and the Nubian Plate, are breaking apart at a rate of 6 to 7 mm annually. Eruptions of Nyiragongo occurred in 1832, 1904, 1977 and 2002.

I had been looking for a location with unobstructed view to the volcano Nyiragongo during the day when planning the photo. There was a watchtower on a hill from where Nyiragongo volcano could be seen, so I decided to return that night after dark. The rangers of the Virunga National Park patrol the site all night, and it was necessary to have an escort to make sure I could take photos in the dark.

Meeting our escort ranger, we were a bit surprised about his first question about our favourite Champions League team – and it was only then that I realised that there was football on TV… Naming Barça as the favourite team warmed up the atmosphere and on we went.

After a few minutes walking in the dark, we were stopped by a patrol. Hearing of the planned photo shooting, the two friendly rangers decided to accompany us. I realised that the list of challenges for my long exposure of the landscape had grown considerably: it was pitch-dark, I had not prefocused and taped my lens, the wooden watchtower was softly swaying in the wind, and… there were three lively Congolese rangers escorting me to climb the watchtower – eager to return watching Champions League.

Not disheartening, I tried a thirty second exposure, humbly trying to calm down all enthusiastic football talk which would make the tower shake. Nothing – pitch-dark frame. Staking everything on one chance, I dialed up sensitivity, opened the aperture, and asked my son to time five minutes. Maybe the longest five minutes…

The evening went on watching football together, but that’s another story – and another photo.