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I had never managed to capture a force of nature as stunning as a volcanic eruption. Chile has some 90 active volcanoes that roar to life from time to time with the kind of raw natural power that every photographer dreams of catching. But the country is extremely long and narrow, and domestic flights are usually cancelled whenever volcanic activity picks up. That means getting to an eruption usually takes hours of driving. And when you get there, the volcano will most likely have calmed down.
That had already happened to me when the Chaiten volcano erupted in 2010, while I was in Peru covering an international summit, and again when Cordon Caulle erupted the next year, when I was in Peru again for a presidential election. Then, last March, I arrived too late for the twin eruptions of Villarrica, some 700 kilometers (450 miles) south of Santiago, where I’m based. I only managed to photograph a few ashes, to my great frustration.
ust before 5:00 in the morning, we decided to stop in Frutillar, a town on the shores of Lake Llanquihue. The sky was clear and this was the first spot where we could see the volcano, about 20 kilometers away across the lake. The panorama would be a little less impressive than in Puerto Varas. But we weren’t going to risk missing the show if the volcano suddenly decided to go back to sleep or the sky clouded over.
It was a good call. It was still nighttime, it was incredibly cold and the streets were deserted. The curfew that officials had imposed had just lifted. We were completely alone in front of the raging volcano across the lake. You could hear violent explosions, the crater was spitting lava and sometimes a ray of volcanic lightning lit up the darkness, a phenomenon that occurs when molten rock and ash charged with static electricity are ejected into the atmosphere.
I took long-exposure photos, about 30 seconds long. They captured everything that happened in the sky during that interval -- much more impressive than what the naked eye saw from the lakeshore. After two failed attempts this year, I finally had the images I had wanted to capture for so long in my viewfinder.
About 20 minutes later, the eruption was over. We made it in the nick of time. As the saying goes, third time’s the charm.
Text: Roland De Courso, Translation :Emma Charlton-