The cauldron

Sergey Gorshkov's Image

On 29 November 2012, Sergey received the call that he had long hoped for.

Plosky Tolbachik - one of two volcanoes in the Tolbachik volcanic plateau in central Kamchatka, Russia - had begun to erupt. 'I've gone to the area many times, but it had been 36 years since the last eruption,' he says. 'So I dropped everything and went.' The only way to approach it was by helicopter, but extreme cold (-40°C) meant Sergey had to wait until it was warm enough for the helicopter to take off. Flying towards the volcano, the cloud of ash, smoke and steam was so thick that he couldn't see the crater. But every so often, a strong wind blew the clouds away, and he could see a 200-metre-high fountain of lava spouting out of the crater and fast-flowing, molten rivers of lava running down it (some of these would travel 10 kilometres, sweeping away everything in their path). As gusts of hot air buffeted the helicopter, Sergey worked fast, strapped to the open door. 'I just kept shooting, kept changing lenses and camera angles, knowing I had this one chance, hoping that I'd take one image that might do justice to what I was witnessing.' That was indeed his last chance. At 1am a new explosion happened, the ground rumbled, huge lava bombs threatened the campsite, and a heavy rain of ash and smoke made it impossible to take pictures. Says Sergey, 'I have been to many places and I have seen many extraordinary things, but witnessing the Plosky Tolbachik eruption deeply impressed me.'

Behind the lens

Sergey Gorshkov

Sergey Gorshkov


Sergey's early years were spent in a Siberian village, but it was in his 30s that he discovered photography as a way to re-engage with nature. He sold his business and took up photography, determined to record the richness of Russia's wilderness. He is widely published, has four books to his name and is a National Geographic contributor. He has been a regular winner since 2007.

Image details

  • Nikon D4
  • 16-35mm f4 lens
  • 1/40 sec at f8
  • Plosky Tolbachik, Kamchatka, Russia
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