Cameraman Captures Viral Shot of the Northern Lights Behind an Erupting Volcano

Photographs of the Northern Lights are usually awe-inspiring, but there are no words to describe this one-shot by Christopher Mathews. He observed an incredible sight that is likely to be seen just once in a lifetime, namely a volcano erupting in Iceland accompanied by the aurora borealis.

Mathews, who has lived in Iceland for many years has a passion for landscape photography and his skill is evident in this image. The volcano in the image is the Geldingadalur.

It wasn't as simple as waking up and stumbling into a good photo. Mathews has been watching the situation since early 2020 when volcanic monitoring equipment spotted magma moving up toward the Earth. It was evident that the Reykjanes volcanic system was gradually reactivating after a long period of dormancy. While Iceland has numerous volcanos, it is known as "the land of fire and ice"—the volcano’s location added to the excitement. The volcano is located on the peninsula that connects the airport to Reykjavik and is near to the Blue Lagoon, making it easily accessible to interested visitors. And, because the Geldingadalur valley is mainly deserted, it was an ideal location for an eruption.

When March 2021 arrived and it became obvious that the volcano may erupt at any time, Mathews rushed into action. “I started exploring places for a prospective picture shoot on March 12,” Mathews adds “There was some guessing involved because the eruption had not yet occurred, but I wanted to become acquainted with the region. Although I've lived in Iceland for many years, it's frequently the case that you know the least about the locations closest to home. In the week leading up to the eruption, I had a very solid understanding of the best ways into the region, including several back roads that may be beneficial if the major roads were destroyed by lava.”

Mathews had accurately predicted that access to the location would be restricted, but not by lava. Authorities first closed major highways leading to the site as they assessed the damage. The photographer was only able to capture the light of the lava in the clouds on the first night because the entire roadway was silent. He then proceeded on to the Blue Lagoon, where he photographed the eruption as it reflected in the renowned waters. Mathews, on the other hand, was dead set on getting the shot he'd hoped for—Geldingadalur with the northern lights in the backdrop. As a result, he hunkered down in a nearby rented cottage and waited for ideal weather conditions which were hard to come by.

“Despite the optimistic weather projections, a surprise snowfall rolled through, blotting off the sky and the volcano,” he explains. “Frustrated, I returned to my cottage. When I arrived, I noticed that the clouds were starting to break up, so I made a beeline for the place at the farm's edge. I arrived just as the Sun's shockwave impacted our upper atmosphere, causing brilliant aurora lights to appear over the volcano. As luck would have it, this occurred at 12:01 a.m. on March 24th my birthday. It's difficult to think of a better present!”

And it truly is a gift. As the incandescent volcano sits majestically below, the aurora borealis streaks the sky in beautiful green colors. As the shot has gone viral, it has simply served as a sweeter reward for Mathews' perseverance. Mathews believes that his experience might serve as a lesson to others. “Luck is important in capturing a nice shot but so is planning and most importantly persistence.”

Christopher Mathews had difficulties when photographing the eruption of Iceland's Geldingadalur volcano including limited road access.

While his photograph of the volcano from the Blue Lagoon is amazing...

It pales in comparison to his popular shot of the northern lights over an erupting volcano.

He was eventually able to go further closer to the streaming lava.

Christopher Mathews: Instagram | Fine Art America

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