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Digiscoping meets Art

Enjoying a view of Mount Etna like no one else

Mount Etna in Sicily is not only the largest volcano in Europe, but also one of its most active. The last few years have seen it as an increasingly frequent setting for what are known as Strombolian eruptions and convulsions. These are two phenomena that occur in the upper region of Etna, more than 10 000 ft / 3000 m above sea level. They can also be observed and captured amazingly well by Dario Lo Scavo using SWAROVSKI OPTIK digiscoping equipment.

© Dario lo Scavo

Dario Lo Scavo is a photographer who lives in Linguaglossa, a small town on the north-eastern slope of Etna. Taking photos of volcanic activity is one of his specialties. He used an STX 30-70x85 spotting scope with a TLS APO adapter from SWAROVSKI OPTIK for his feature.

Mount Etna has been showing a noticeable increase in volcanic activity for some time, in the form of Strombolian eruptions, which are a sequence of several minor explosions that very often result in convulsions, which are a series of slowly increasing volcanic eruptions. Both phenomena occur in the upper region of Etna, at a height of more than 10 000 ft / 3000 m.

In terms of taking photos, I find the convulsions the most exciting thing. When these eruptions occur, lasting up to three hours, fountains of lava shoot into the air hundreds of meters high, and it then flows down the lower section of the Valle del Bove, the high valley on the south-eastern slope of Etna. There were more than 25 of these spectacular convulsions throughout the whole of 2012. There were already 13 between January and April alone in 2013.



A photographic challenge

To be able to shoot photos of the events going on in Etna, you need to have a lot of experience, knowledge, and a large dose of passion when dealing with such an intense display by the forces of nature. You need to be familiar with the geological features and the rugged, rough terrain. You also need to walk for hours on end, as far as possible without taking any breaks, due to the close proximity of the active, south-eastern volcanic cone.



Open view of a natural spectacle

The best view is from a distance of between 1.9 and 5.6 miles / 3 and 9 kilometers. Other crucial factors are the wind and wind direction because the plume of smoke rising from the volcano’s crater also includes ash and some very heavy rock fragments. They are deposited within the radius of the first kilometer.



Timing is crucial

Volcanic activity cannot always be forecast, but a certain trend can be interpreted from measurement data. For instance, seismographs detect vibrations hours before an eruption. Once this time comes, you need to act quickly. You only have little time left to find a suitable observation point.



Good photos thanks to digiscoping equipment

A situation like this is where SWAROVSKI OPTIK digiscoping equipment comes into its element, making it considerably easier to choose an observation point. I know, from my own experience, that I will be able to find the ideal observation point less than an hour away by car, and get started shooting photos. This is because the digiscoping equipment enables me to shoot excellent photos, even from far away. This is mainly down to the large focal length, which lets you capture what is going on particularly well.

  • © Dario Lo Scavo
  • © Dario Lo Scavo
  • © Dario Lo Scavo
  • © Dario Lo Scavo

My tip: use a spotting scope rail

Digiscoping equipment is light and not unnecessarily bulky. But you need to carry out a precise analysis and some test runs, most of all when you are focusing at night. I made my first attempts without using a spotting scope rail, which resulted in me being unable to balance the weight of the digiscoping kit with the connected camera. As a result, the wind and the displacement of the air caused by the eruption also triggered significant vibrations that could be noticed in the shots I took. In some videos I could, for instance, see the vibration following the noise of the eruption. This is why I always recommend using a spotting scope rail. Personally, I always use it because it makes the digiscoping equipment much more stable on the tripod.



More light than shade

One of the few restrictions that digiscoping entails is less brightness. This makes it necessary to use higher ISO values, especially when shooting a film. When shooting events on Etna using the Canon 5D Mark II (and recently its successor the Mark III model), I actually prefer to have a fixed aperture with a variable exposure time. Others prefer to use manual mode where they need to set both the aperture and the exposure, or be guided purely by the exposure time, but this doesn’t matter if you’re using a fixed aperture.



Taking close-up shots

I’ve been waiting for Etna’s next eruption since April 27, 2013, to capture this in fabulous photos. With previous eruptions, I mainly used the digiscoping equipment for shooting videos. The result is more than impressive. If I look at the shots I feel as though I am experiencing everything all over again, but this time, as if I were just a few meters from the events going on.