Chance Favors The Willful Mind – Sunset On Wonchi Crater Lake
by John Downey
Yesterday, a friend and I resolved to catch a break in the monsoon doldrums and drive 2 1/2 hours West of Addis Ababa to Ambo, the source of the ubiquitous sparkling mineral water by the same name. Weather here is unpredictable this time of year, save for a guaranteed hour-long torrent sometime during the day. Nevertheless, we gave it a whirl, chancing we wouldn’t permanent in thick, red Ethiopian earth on the way up Wonchi’s unassuming cone.
Many colleagues have hiked Wonchi and raved about it’s sweeping green and blue vistas; a welcome diversion to Northern Sub-Saharan Africa’s usually brown expanses. After cresting a final hill and successfully navigating some unnervingly deep ruts, clay and eucalyptus fell to a surprisingly vast mountain lake. As most crater lakes, Wonchi finds its source impressively deep, with frigid springs reaching into several hundred meters of volcanic tuff.
Descending on foot to a flat overlook worthy of the Seventh Green at Agusta, a light skewered breaking storm clouds and found purchase on the crater’s far edge. Looking over shoulder, the sun was at crater’s rim and I knew the moment would only last minutes, if not seconds, so I tripped the shutter impatiently with a 17-35. But the lake barely fit in the frame at 17mm, so I rotated the camera ninety degrees and shot a series at 35 to achieve a higher resolution, multi-shot panorama. Turns out, the light hung for more than 15 minutes, so I explored different vantages, including foreground foliage which gives the view more depth and a sense of seclusion.
What makes opportunities like this a success? One, willingness to drive five hours round-trip to an unknown location with the understanding that the weather could force you home with nothing to show for it, save for a few hundred clicks on the odometer. Two, realizing if the clouds break at sunset, a galactic range of contrast will force you or your meter to make a decision. For this shot, twelve stops of brightness would imply the need to create an HDR sandwich from multiple exposures. So, for this shot, I decided what was important and left the rest to chance. I didn’t want all of the sky to blow out and didn’t care about losing detail in the darkest shadows, so I measured (in manual, spot metering mode) from the brightest sky highlight to the medium shadows, halfway down the side of the crater and went with it.
In post, I upped the contrast, but did so locally instead of globally, dodging and burning with the adjustment brush in Lightroom. Other minor adjustments included pushing the clarity, saturation and detail sliders to the right.
Unfortunately, the original RAW image is much more impressive than the compressed .jpg you see here.
Confronting weather, head-on, is cool. If luck doesn’t happen, try again later. In the meantime, grab a coffee.