Where Did Vesuvius Go?
We went away for a few days, to Sorrento in Italy. It’s a lovely place packed with cute Italian charm just across the bay of Naples. We chose a hotel in the town (other hotels are a way outside the town with shuttle buses into the centre) and were given a room at the side of the hotel with a small balcony.
Day one, checked in, opened the doors looked to my left and there across the bay was a view of Vesuvius. One of the main reasons to go was to see the towns of Herculaneum and Pompeii, both of which had suffered at the hands of the huge volcano. The guide books tell you the last eruption was shortly after the end of the war. So, many days away from the last eruption – but days closer to the next. Vesuvius is neither extinct nor dormant. It could blow any time so as a nervous traveller I wanted to keep an eye on it.
Got up next day, no Vesuvius. Just a huge bank of what looked like fog. No real view across the bay. The air didn’t clear significantly at all that day and the moody landscape photos I’d hoped for didn’t seem possible. Two questions came to mind:-
- why was the view obscured?
- what can be done about it?
Why is the view of Vesuvius obscured?
Thanks to a tour guide I got the answer. At this time of the year a wind blows up from Africa, a really warm breeze called the sirocco (sometimes spelt scirocco although that’s also a Volkswagen car). Laden with heat and a fair amount of sand, all the local cars needed a wash, it pushes up into Italy towards Naples and Sorrento.
At the same time cold air sits above Europe, when we were there it was also swirling across from even colder areas of eastern Europe. When the warm air hits the cold it causes moisture to condense and that is the cause of the fog like atmosphere that killed the view of Vesuvius and many other things during our stay. Indeed we took the cable car up to Faito yet even though we were some 3,000 ft up the view down was blocked.
As a photographer, what can you do about it?
I think in truth the answer is “not much”. However sitting in our hotel room I did try to find the best answer I could.
Step one is to consider exposure. My Sony camera has a feature called live view which lets you see on screen the impact of changes to exposure as you adjust your aperture. This can be better informed by the exposure histogram. With some fiddling I got the best view I could.
Next, if you can, shoot in RAW format. This means you’ll have much greater exposure latitude when you get home and load your frames from the camera card onto your computer. It’s a much better, more flexible way of shooting compared to jpg files if your camera allows.
Once that’s done it’s a question of using software to extract the best view possible from the data file. If you’re a Photoshop fan here are several videos on YouTube explaining how you can do this with layers. In some cases the results are truly impressive. I tried what is to me a new piece of software, Photo Lemur. Just to give you an example around here you’ll see the before and after results. I didn’t try anything clever, this is what the Lemur did for me with no effort.
OK, you can do a lot. Your image can be improved. But only “somewhat”. And with effort and/or software. Maybe the best solution is to investigate the sirocco and plan your visit for the time when African air stays south of the med. I should say having spoken to a few locals this might only give you a narrow window. Or go to Sicily and photograph Mount Etna.