Erez Marom was ready for the risk. With 2,000-degree lava and a $1,500 camera drone at stake, the photographer took on an Icarus-like challenge in search of the perfect shot.
In early October, Marom hiked five miles out to Kilauea Volcano on Hawai'i's "Big Island" with tour guide Erik Storm. (Two months earlier, Storm's action camera was swallowed by lava flows.) Marom, an Israeli photographer and self-proclaimed "lava addict," was keen on capturing aerial shots of the national park's lava flows.
Plastic from a drone camera melted down due to its proximity to the lava. - PHOTOGRAPH BY EREZ MAROM
About an hour after the hikers got going, new rivers of lava burst out of the side of the mountain, quadrupling the flows and spurting beyond park boundaries. It's illegal to fly drones in national parks, but since Marom had hiked beyond the boundaries, he cued up his DJI Phantom 4 and sent it zooming through the air.
For the next three hours, Marom captured the lava flow as the light shifted from daytime to sunset to twilight. Soaring high above the volcano, his drone recorded the mesmerizing display as lava seeped down the slopes. But during the shoot, Marom noticed something was off with his camera: the right side of his images were mysteriously getting darker. It wasn't until he got back to his apartment that he realized intense heat from the lava had melted the plastic inside his camera drone.
"When you take a drone through a volcano, you take a certain risk that the drone isn't going to come back," Marom says. "I knew the drone might not come back, but it was worth it."
Luckily for Marom, the drone did come back, though slightly singed. Marom's camera drone still shoots, though the heated episode has messed with its quality.
"I'm super happy with the shots. It’s going to encourage me to use drones even more," he says. "If anything, I'll fly closer to lava."
Over the course of the two-week trip, Marom captured the lava flows by drone, land, boat, and helicopter. The assembled collection of photos make up for the legendary drone mishap.
All photographs by Erez Marom