Hell on Earth: Shooting in the Danakil Depression
Hell on earth. It sounds like hyperbole, but the Danakil Depression is exactly that. In late 2013 I spent 1.5 months traveling extensively in Ethiopia, and I visited the Danakil to scout locations for my 'Earth, Wind and Fire' workshop. It is, by my own experience, one of the most inhospitable environments you can actually visit. Scorching heat, no roads, no running water, not to mention hotels or any other modern convenience. But it is exactly these qualities which make the Danakil Depression one of the most fascinating places to visit on the planet.
Located in the north of the Afar Triangle, a geological depression formed by tectonic plates that are slowly ripping the earth apart, the Danakil Depression is very low in altitude (about 100 meters below sea level), dry (rain is extremely rare) and hot - so hot that it's famous for being the hottest place on earth in terms of year round average temperatures. Moreover, reaching it requires a day long drive through the desert, which is both expensive and exhaustingly uncomfortable. But it's worth the effort, because this area holds invaluable treasures for the avid photographer.
|Our journey to the Danakil. Temperatures soared up to 48 degrees Centigrade, and the dust made it quite hard to shoot.|
Upon reaching the Danakil after a long drive, one is immediately struck by the vastness of this wasteland. apart of the odd tree and tribal village, there isn't much else around. This makes sense, since little could survive here, but the few humans that do are quite special.
Arid, seemingly Martian red hills, dry, cracked rock formations, wide salt lakes, fluorescent green pools of sulfuric acid, and of course, the mighty Erta Ale volcano are the main photographic attractions in the Danakil Depression. In this article, I will try to survey them from a photographic point of view, and perhaps make you think differently about Ethiopia and its natural treasures.
The primary means of interaction between the Afar region and the rest of Ethiopia (and the world) is the endless salt caravans, consisting mainly of camels and donkeys, loaded with heavy bricks of salt - the main natural resource in this area. The caravans are very photogenic, both for their sheer size (the most common response I get to my shots is "surely you've duplicated the camels in Photoshop!") and the landscape they march across.
This was just a part of a longer salt caravan on its way back to the Afar region.
After a night's sleep under the stars, we started the journey to Erta Ale volcano. I was extremely excited to visit Erta Ale after seeing a few shots from there. The 3-hour hike up the volcano was a bit strenuous, but since it was done at night, it wasn't too demanding for any of the hikers. Nearing the top, I started sensing faint odors and noises. When I reached the campsite, the bright smoke was clearly visible. I couldn't resist taking an image of the distant smoking pit and the clear, starry sky.
|Erta Ale volcano crater as seen from the campsite.
Canon 5D Mark III, Tamron 24-70mm F2.8 VC
Rising 613 meters, Erta Ale hosts one of only a handful of permanent lava lakes in the world. The name "Erta Ale" means "smoking mountain" in the local Afar language, and it fits this name quite well. It is also notable for being the longest-existing lava lake, present since the early years of the twentieth century.
I knew visiting and shooting this unique place would be very special, but I couldn't quite foresee the level of excitement I would reach upon getting close to it. In my travels I've seen some wonderful natural wonders, but seeing a huge crater, full of red hot, bubbling, exploding lava was one of the most powerful experiences I've had so far.
It wasn't easy shooting the pit itself. The lava is searingly hot and its brightness changes constantly, and the foreground is much darker, requiring HDR technique to reveal its details. Moreover, the pit is very large, and even with a 14mm lens I found it hard to include all of it. If I had tried to step back a bit, I'd have to lose detail in the lava area, since I'd be looking at it from further away.
|Erta Ale Volcano up close. Canon 5D Mark III, Samyang 14mm F2.8, manual HDR from 2 images|
After several trials, I reached a position I was comfortable with, and shot the lava pool together with the serrated volcanic rock surrounding it. The red glow defined the contour of the pit's edges, contributing even further to the hellish look. It can't be conveyed here, but believe me - the smell matched the appearance of the pit perfectly.
After spending the night in the campsite near the volcano, we began our descent to the jeeps. Within an hour's drive, we reached another spectacular location: the sulfur lake. Colors unlike I'd ever seen before, mineral nozzles spewing hot water, crisp red earth and a feeling of another planet are all offered by the second of the two top locations in the Danakil Depression. What's left to do is put on a polarizing filter and, well, start the photo-party. The formations and colors are endless.
I especially enjoyed shooting the pools of sulfuric acid, with their surreal bright green color against the red earth.
There is much more to see in the Danakil Depression. From tranquil, shallow salt lakes to red, Martian-like hills and rock fields, this region is home to some of the most unique topography on our planet. Hard to reach and inhospitable as it is, I wouldn't visit Ethiopia without stopping there to appreciate and photograph a true hell on earth, but a most beautiful and majestic one.
Erez Marom is a professional nature photographer, photography guide and traveler based in Israel. You can follow Erez's work on Instagram, Facebook and 500px, and subscribe to his mailing list for updates.
If you'd like to experience and shoot some of the most fascinating landscapes on earth with Erez as your guide, you're welcome to take a look at his unique photography workshops around the world:
Land of Ice - Southern Iceland
Winter Paradise - Northern Iceland
Northern Spirits - The Lofoten Islands
Giants of the Andes and Fitz Roy Hiking Annex - Patagonia
Tales of Arctic Nights - Greenland
Saga of the Seas and The Far Reaches Annex - The Faroe Islands
Desert Storm - Namibia
Selected articles by Erez Marom:
- Behind the Shot: Dark Matter
- Mountain Magic: Shooting in the Lofoten Islands
- Behind the Shot: Nautilus
- Behind the Shot: Lost in Space
- Behind the Shot: Spot the Shark
- Quick Look: The Art of the Unforeground
- Behind the Shot: Watery Grave
- Whatever it Doesn't Take
- Winds of Change: Shooting changing landscapes
- Behind the Shot: Prince of the Night
The Pixii camera is an interesting little rangefinder camera that features a 12MP APS-C sensor and lacks a rear LCD display, opting instead to pair with your mobile device, which can be used to view and transfer images.
Sirui is launching an Indiegogo campaign for a wide-angle answer to its existing 50mm F1.8 anamorphic lens. The 35mm APS-C lens will come in a Micro Four Thirds mount with adapters for other systems.
Sony has added a 12-24mm F2.8 to its top-shelf 'G Master' series of lenses. It's the widest constant F2.8 zoom currently offered for full-frame, with a hefty price tag to match: it will sell for $3000 when it ships in mid-August.
Take a look at the view from Sony's new ultra-wide F2.8 zoom – we paired it with the a7R IV for some initial shooting.
Canon's EOS-1D X Mark III is one of the best DSLRs ever made. With fast burst speeds, great video quality and impressive autofocus, the 1D X III is equal parts cinema rig and sports shooter. Find out how it fares against steep competition in our full review.
Nikon Rumors is reporting that Nikon will announce successors to its Z6 and Z7 camera systems by the end of the calendar year.
Canon says the event, set to take place at 14:00 CEST in two days on July 9, will be its 'biggest product launch yet.'
The Verge Video Director, Becca Farsace, shows how she built a custom Raspberry Pi camera with effectively zero coding knowledge over the course of just three days.
The EOS R5 has been in the works for some time, and Canon has published a handful of specifications, but there's still plenty we don't know. What are you hoping to see from Canon's forthcoming flagship camera?
Canon's CE-SAT-IB satellite camera was destroyed alongside six other satellites during Rocket Lab's ironically-named 'Pics or It Didn't Happen Mission.'
This sample gallery includes images from our recent review of the Tamron 28-200mm F2.8-5.6 Di III RXD zoom lens. Check out these photos to see how it performs, from wide-angle to telephoto and everything in between.
The Tamron 28-200mm F2.8-5.6 Di III RXD provides a wide zoom range in compact, weather-sealed design. Find out why it's Chris and Jordan's new favorite travel lens.
Kodak Portra 800 is a wonderful and versatile color film. And any rumors of it being discontinued, we're pleased to report, are simply untrue. That's a good thing, because it's capable of producing lovely results in all sorts of conditions.
Boering has left the World Press Photo without much of an explanation from either him or the organization, but he tells DPReview the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing the WPP to change the way it makes money.
The standard-size deck of playing cards features unique photography-oriented artwork and act as cheat sheets for photographers.
The Sony ZV-1 and Panasonic Lumix DC-G100 are the first cameras we've seen that are overtly designed with vlogging in mind – and the changes they represent could have implications for the future of all cameras.
The utility allows the E-M1X, E-M1, E-M1 Mark II, E-M1 Mark III and E-M5 Mark II cameras to be used with video conferencing apps over USB.
Olympus is showing final images of its under-development 150-400mm F4.5, which it says will arrive this winter. An unspecified macro and 8-25mm F4 Pro have also been added to the lens roadmap, and the E-M1X's AF gains bird detection.
The scam, which involves sending fake copyright violation notices, has been circulating on the social media platform since at least June 9.
Fujifilm is one of just two producers of tape media (the other being Sony) and it is hard at work on a breakthrough that will allow single tape storage drives to offer 400TB capacities in the coming years.
The National Parks Service says it's investigating the incident, which took place just two days after the park opened following a shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Professional full frame lenses are usually large and have fast apertures. In this episode of DPReview TV, Chris and Jordan argue that there's a need for slow professional lenses – inspired by some of their favorite Micro Four Thirds lenses.
The camera maker joins Olympus, Fujifilm and others is a legal tussle over US digital camera technology patents held by DigiMedia Tech.
NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) photographs the sun every 0.75 seconds. In its first decade in space, the SDO has captured more than 425 million images of the sun. NASA has compiled these images into an amazing time lapse, come check it out.
The lens is available for Leica M, Sony FE, Nikon Z and L-mount camera systems, and now holds the title as the world's widest rectilinear lens for full-frame camera systems.
Tamron's new 28-200mm F2.8-5.6 is a versatile zoom lens for Sony E-mount. Well-suited for travel photography, it's compact, lightweight, and fast/quiet to focus.
Fujifilm has announced that its GF 30mm F3.5 R WR wide-angle lens for its medium format cameras will ship in late July or early August.
Fujifilm's latest lens is a sharp, reasonably compact and well-built wide-angle for the company's GFX medium-format cameras. We took it out and about in the warm Seattle summer with the company's 50 and 100 Megapixel camera bodies to see what it can do.
Fujifilm has issued firmware updates to the GFX 100 and GFX 50 models, with the 100MP camera gaining the most significant improvements.
Although the channel is still growing, it currently has nine videos that offer concise overviews of just a few of the cameras Japan Camera Hunter founder Bellamy Hunt has sitting around his Japanese storefront.