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Hawaii as you've never seen it before: a spectacular time-lapse of the lava flow from the Kilauea volcano

Jack Fusco was a little worried. The weather on Hawaii Island wasn’t cooperating — it was rainy and cloudy — and he needed to bring back some great photos.

It wasn’t that he was worried that people would mock him for puny pictures on Instagram or Facebook. Fusco is a professional photographer whose time-lapse videos of the night sky have shown off the night skies in Alberta, Canada, the New Jersey shore and Southern California.

Although there is pleasure in capturing great photos, this trip wasn’t just for the fun of it; it was part of a project in conjunction with Macphun (photo editing software) and Sigma (cameras and gear). 

He and Mark Jacobs had three days to complete the shoot. The clock was ticking.

On Day 1, rain.

On Day 2, more rain

On Day 3, a break in the weather.

Hawaii saved the best for last.

In all, Fusco made more than 9,000 photos; about 6,000 made it into his time lapse called “61g Ocean Entry.” 61g is the name of this flow, which the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said “is still active and entering the ocean at Kamokuna” as of Tuesday.

The volcano made news on New Year’s Eve when a lava delta lava collapsed, sending 26 new acres tumbling into the ocean.

The eruption isn’t new. “The current ongoing eruption cycle began on Jan. 3, 1983, along the middle of the east rift zone,” Mary Bagley reported in Live Science.

But it does always seem to have new tricks up its volcanic sleeve. Not always good ones.

Nonetheless, Fusco could just imagine capturing the lava flowing into the ocean against a backdrop of stars. Pure photographic magic.

Unless, of course, you can’t see the stars.

But Fusco persevered, and the result can be seen in the video above. (The opening moments show Rainbow Falls, and if you look closely you can see how hard it’s raining.)

Here are some of the stills that make up the video. (You can also read Jacobs’  behind-the-scenes making of the video.)

Just as the sun is setting

Light is always a key to great photos. In this photo at dusk, the plume looks almost benign and fluffy.

Take Fusco’s word for it: It wasn’t always.

But, he added, “it was cool to see how many people came out to see” the lava hit the water. 

What was not cool: people who went beyond the ropes set up by Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Fusco said. He worried about them, particularly because the terrain can be difficult.

If it was just for a better Instagram or Facebook photo, the risk wasn’t worth it, he said.

(In various places in the video, you can see people, off to the right, standing places where they should not have been.)

One star is not like the others

If you look closely at the photo above, just above the plume and to the right, there appears to be a bright star. It’s actually the planet Venus, Fusco said.

The wind began to shift, so did the plume, which contains high concentrations of sulfur dioxide, which is irritating to eyes, skin and respiratory systems, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

“At Kīlauea volcano in Hawaii, high concentrations of sulfur dioxide produce volcanic smog (VOG), causing persistent health problems for downwind populations.”

A closeup view

Look at the dark areas in the photo immediately above; there are little wisps, a bit to the right and up in the photo.

That’s dirt and  debris, Fusco said. “It was mesmerizing.”

And another reason not to get too close.

Watching lava in the crater

The last night and finally, stars, which you can see to the right of the molten, spewing lava in the photo above. 

Fusco left the entry area where the previous two photos were shot and headed for Halema’uma’u crater. 

“You’d occasionally see lava spurt over the rim,” he said. The lava hitting the water was fascinating, but this “was equally mesmerizing,” he said.

Painted with moonlight

In the photo above, “the moon is just out of the frame,” Fusco said.

“It’s starting to light the top of the plume. The almost bluish light gave a cool counterbalance to the orange glow of the lava.”

And, again, you can see stars.

A new vantage point

The plume shifted, so Fusco and Jacobs packed up equipment and headed for safer ground, erring on the side of safety.

“This wasn’t one location we had planned on shooting, but when we arrived, we liked the different, unique perspective,” Fusco said.

“The wide field of stars all around that plume — it was just incredible.

“We were lucky we were able to witness it and capture it.”

He hopes others are inspired to “go out and see something like this — enjoy the outside under the stars.”

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