Behind the shot: Tambora Sandwich: Digital Photography Review

Today, I’d like to tell you a nice story about mistakes, drone crashes, coincidences and one very cool shoot in which I took a panorama of Tambora Volcano in Indonesia.

Tambora is a volcano on the island of Sumbawa. In 1815, Tambora produced the largest volcanic eruption in recorded human history, which spewed 37-45 cubic kilometers (8.9-10.8 cubic miles) of rock, weighing about 10 billion tons, into the atmosphere. This left a caldera measuring 6-7 km across and 600-700 m (2,000-2,300 ft) deep. The eruption caused a volcanic winter, with 1816 being the second-coldest year in the northern hemisphere since around 1400. Now, doesn’t that sound like something you’d want to visit?

But first, let’s go back in time to a few days after the beginning of my trip to Indonesia in April last year. After taking a few days to do some formalities and get my work permit to allow me to guide my workshop a few weeks later, I used the rest of my time before meeting my participants to do a bit of shooting by myself. I took a short ferry from Bali to the small Penida Island (Nusa Penida), where I settled for a few days in the southwest of the island, where I could shoot some nice beaches with my drone. Unfortunately, this plan went south quickly when I crash-landed my (previously) trusty DJI Mavic II Pro into a tree, followed by it falling to the side of a cliff without any chance of recovering it.

«This plan went south quickly when I crash-landed my (previously) trusty DJI Mavic II Pro into a tree…»

It always hurts losing a drone. Not only are they expensive, but I was now lacking one of the most important tools I have as a nature photographer, and I still had over a month of shooting ahead of me. Luckily, I had invited Noah, one of my workshop participants, to arrive in Indonesia 10 days early to do some shooting together, and he was scheduled to arrive a few days after I lost the drone. I immediately asked Noah for help, and he gladly agreed to have a new drone shipped to him and bring it to me when he arrived. And so, I got a sparkling new Mavic III Classic. The accident and its consequences would greatly affect the upcoming Tambora shoot.

Noah and I traveled to our first shooting location: Moyo Island, specifically the spectacular Mata Jitu waterfall. A short motorcycle trip from our lodge, Mata Jitu is a wonderful gem located in a valley. It boggles the mind to think that in the distant past, people found this waterfall hidden deep in the middle of the jungle without any aids or roads. The waterfall features cascading pools of turquoise water created over the millennia due to the minerals contained in the flowing water.

Mata Jitu Waterfall. The drone’s stability allowed me to shoot a relatively long exposure while still maintaining sharpness. DJI Mavic III Classic,

F5.6 | 0.6 sec | ISO100

Mata Jitu is fed by a beautiful stream, which is so serene that it’s almost always reflective. I took advantage and took an image of the stream and surrounding trees. For a longer exposure, I used an ND filter and a polarizer, which I positioned in a way that didn’t hurt the reflection. The high humidity condensed on my front element, enhancing the magical feeling in the image.

Canon 5D4, Tamron 24-70mm F2.8 at 52mm

F8 | 15 sec | ISO100

After wrapping up the Moyo Island shoot, we took a 2-hour police boat (that’s what we found, don’t judge!) to the main Island of Sumbawa. We spent the night in a local hostel and prepared for the main event: the climb to Tambora.

Tambora Volcano is one of the most famous Indonesian volcanoes and one that produced the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history back in 1810. Before the eruption, it was a conic volcano, standing 4500m above sea level. Today, it’s less than 2500m. Imagine an eruption so monstrous that it exploded through and destroyed 2km of solid rock. If you’re not scared, you’re not imagining hard enough.

Anyway, today the volcano is quite dormant, and you can easily climb up there, even scaling most of the way up with a 4×4, albeit in a crazy, hellish drive. The journey up the volcano begins next to the sea, in comfortable plains, but this quickly changes to denser and denser vegetation and alternating climate zones: fields, rainforest and finally, the barren wasteland you learn to expect when ascending a gigantic monster of a volcano. Our 4×4 was well-suited for the drive but kept overheating, which added some anxiety to the mix.

The entrance to Tambora National Park. Now that’s gotta make you feel welcome!
Our 4×4 making its way in the rainforest.
Our Tambora camp. Much better than nothing!

After finally arriving at camp, we turned in as early as we could since a very early rise was awaiting us. We were up at 2 a.m. to have a quick breakfast and start our climb. The night was rainy, and it wasn’t at all certain we would be able to get up there or even see the landscape, which was a bit discouraging. But the weather gods smiled upon us, and 2 hours’ trailless climb later, we were standing on top of Tambora with plenty of time to go before sunrise. The sky was luckily (and surprisingly) clear.

I hiked around a bit to get behind a large peak on the rim and prepared my drone for liftoff. When I sent it away, I could see a wonderful cloud inversion on the far side of the caldera. Having the Mavic III meant that I had the reception and battery capacity to fly almost 5km (over 3 miles) away and shoot the caldera with the cloud inversion surrounding the drone’s point of view from below. This definitely made the shot and made me feel very lucky to have lost my previous drone, even though I had to go through a lot of stress to get the new one. All is well that ends well.

«Tambora Sandwich»: 18-image, 3 row panorama

DJI Mavic III Classic, wide-angle converter
F5.6 | 1/50 sec | ISO 100

Tambora’s volcanic crater is so gigantic that I had to get creative. I put on the wide-angle lens adapter and positioned the drone in the best vantage point I could find. This meant having the entire bottom of the image filled with the cloud inversion. I then proceeded to shoot a 3-row, 18-image panorama to cover the entire subject (with some margins for error).

Compositionally, it was important to include the clouds on both sides of the crater, as well as the bottom of the image. This is done to show the extent of the cloud inversion, which made even the huge caldera seem relatively small. In addition, note both the large cloud located slightly off-center to the left and the smaller clouds inside the crater. These subjects’ positions in the frame meant I had to have more compositional weight on the bottom right as a counterbalance. Luckily, the cloud inversion was thicker on the right, in addition to the prominence added by the light coming from the right side.

Noah and I, tired but satisfied on top of Tambora. Coffee was well-deserved.

Big thanks to Noah, who not only carried the new drone all the way from the US but also kindly allowed me to use his behind-the-scenes shots after my phone broke down during the trip.

Erez Marom is a professional nature photographer, photography guide and traveler based in Israel. You can follow Erez’s work on Instagram and Facebook, and subscribe to his mailing list for updates and to his YouTube channel.

If you’d like to experience and shoot some of the world’s most fascinating landscapes with Erez as your guide, take a look at his unique photography workshops in Svalbard, Greenland, Madagascar, the Lofoten Islands, Namibia and Vietnam.

Erez also offers video tutorials discussing his images and explaining how he achieved them.

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