Take a few seconds to look at the picture above (larger version below). That’s flowing lava. That’s the Milky Way. That’s a meteor. And that’s the moon. Would you believe us if we told you that photographer Mike Mezeul II captured it all in one shot? Well, you should believe us, because he did.
Mezeul got his first camera as a birthday gift when he was 15 years old, and he had no idea how to use it. Through trial and error he learned everything on how to properly expose images and create compelling compositions, and he sold his first print by the time he turned 21.
I then decided that this might be something to pursue. From then on it’s been a series of lucky breaks and a lot of hard work to get to where I am now. I’ve had great from family and friends who keep me encouraged to actually do this for a living.
Mezeul has developed a certain affinity for rather extreme nature photography – weather especially. Combined with what he calls “a deep passion for adventure” he therefore likes to put himself in places that most people would never consider, to hopefully capture an image that will take people’s breaths away.
The photography industry is very saturated, so it’s a fun challenge to find ways to create more enticing images than other photographers. Of course there are limitations, and I will never do anything to put myself in a serious life-threatening position, but I push myself to just before that point. I sometimes get some negative feedback on the risks I take, but most people don’t realize how there is a lot of planning behind every shot – and an escape route if necessary. At the end of the day, I still want to come home.
Same story for your epic shot on the Kilauea Volcano?
Absolutely. It required a lot of work and planning to make sure that the image was created safely. Photographing lava was my number two bucket list shot, so when I heard that this Hawaiian volcano was erupting and lava was flowing towards the ocean, I booked my flight with high hopes. It took several days of scouting to find accessible surface flows and on the last day of my trip, I decided to do the 13 mile round trip hike out. I had lunch with a friend who knows a lot about photographing lava, and he gave me several great tips on how to remain safe while documenting this amazing piece of nature. When I finally got out to the lava, it was a life-changing experience, and I knew that I wanted my image to do that justice.
I never expected to get the image that I caught, though. With the setting sun and clear skies, I decided to do a shot of the lava beneath twilight. As the sunlight faded, I started realizing that the Milky Way lined up perfectly with the lava. The moon was also out, but in a small sliver, so I knew that I could photograph the Milky Way without it being completely washed out. I set up my camera and after three shots I saw a meteor fly through my frame. I knew right then and there that I wouldn’t be able to top that shot, so I packed up my gear and called it a night.
Pretty quickly you encountered quite a few people who didn’t believe your picture was real… Why do you think that is?
There are many who just don’t understand how you can capture the moon, the Milky Way, and lava all in one shot, but that’s just because they don’t understand light. The moon was just a sliver in the sky that night, had it been any bigger, this shot would not be possible, because too much moonlight would have washed out the Milky Way. And then there are those who bluntly call me a liar. As a response, I posted my RAW image, to show them that this is indeed possible, given the right conditions.
I captured it all in one shot with my Nikon D810 and Nikon 14–24mm lens. There were no filters involved. The settings for my camera were F2.8, ISO 2500, 25 seconds.
Would you consider this to be your best shot ever?
This image is definitely one of my favorite images that I’ve ever captured. I’m not sure if it is my ultimate favorite, but it’s definitely up there. If I had to choose one favorite shot, right now I think it would be my beauty and the beast shot from earlier this year, with my friend standing in a dress in the field in Kansas with a tornado in front of her. This image will definitely be one for the books too, though.
Discover a lot more of Mike Mezul II’s inspiring photography on his website. The photographer is also on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and if you ever want to learn how to shoot like the master from the master himself: join one of his workshops. Or you can just buy his calendar, of course.