Caleb Jacobson Looks into
the Future of Mount St. Helens
Forty years after the most devastating volcanic eruption in U.S. history, the art, media and technology student at Portland Community College documents the blast zone and its possible future.
On May 18, 1980, a rare and striking image appeared on television screens around the world. It was Mount St. Helens in the state of Washington, spewing steam and debris into the sky. The largest volcanic eruption ever to occur in the history of the United States, the event caused death and destruction for miles around. In its aftermath, the volcano and the surrounding area it had devastated were designated a 110,000-acre U.S. national monument.
Forty years later, photographer Caleb Jacobson hiked into the mountains of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument to create another rare and striking image. It’s a vista that encompasses the now quiet peak of Mount St. Helens, Spirit Lake, a smaller mountain lake and a large swath of land that is now caught up in controversies over development. Jacobson scouted out the vantage point in advance on Google Earth. “I was very excited when I found it, because I’ve never really seen a photo of Mount St. Helens that includes all these elements,” he says. “It captures so much of what makes Mount St. Helens a special place.”
The image is part of his series documenting the national monument, which since 1980 has been protected and kept largely pristine for scientific research. It’s now being included in mining and road construction proposals, and Jacobson’s project aims to shed light on how the natural environment would be affected by that development.
Jacobson set out on his 17-mile hike to reach the remote location at 2:00 a.m. so that he could shoot at sunrise, carrying a FUJIFILM X-T4 mirrorless camera and XF16-55mm f2.8 LM WR lens. As one of Fujifilm’s 2020 Students of Storytelling, he chose that system with arduous mountaineering in mind. “The lightweight nature of the Fujifilm X Series system was the draw,” he says. “My previous setup was much heavier, and when I’m out hiking it makes a big difference to have a lightweight setup that I can travel with.”
He found the system ideal for capturing the beauty and fascinating details of a terrain that provides unique insights into how nature regenerates after a cataclysm. “I much prefer the electronic viewfinder over an optical one,” he says. “It shows the exact image that you’re going to be taking. That’s really helpful when I’m working with landscapes where there’s a lot of dynamic range and contrast, and I need to expose perfectly.” To bring out the vibrance of natural colors without distorting them, he often applies Fujifilm’s simulation presets when processing his Mount St. Helens images. “Provia and Astia are the two that I was mainly using, which are pretty straightforward, true colors. I just really liked the way they turned out with the colors of Mount St. Helens.”
A seasoned climber and outdoorsman, Jacobson has an eye on working with outdoor brands in the future. “But I also really enjoy conservation-style photography, like this project,” he says. “It’s an ongoing thing because both the mining and road development are very drawn out processes. So as those events keep unfolding, either for better or worse, I will definitely keep updating my project and adding images as I keep exploring Mount St. Helens.”
“The lightweight nature of the Fujifilm X Series system was the draw. My previous setup was much heavier,
and when I’m out hiking it makes a big difference to have a lightweight setup that I can travel with.”
ABOUT: Fujifilm created the Students of Storytelling contest to identify the next generation of U.S. storytellers, and to provide them with Fujifilm X Series or GFX System gear to bring their vision to life.
Visit the official Fujifilm Students of Storytelling site for more information about the complete program.
Follow @caleb.jacobson to stay up to date with Caleb Jacobson.
As a Fujifilm Student of Storytelling, Caleb Jacobson got advice from a team of mentors including photographer Laylah Amatullah Barrayn, Fujifilm experts Justin Stailey, Michael Bulbenko, Victor Ha and Christopher Gilbert, and Muse Storytelling pro Varina Hart Shaughnessy while working on his project. Here are some of the tips he found helpful.
Look for the beginning, middle
and end of your photo story when you’re creating images and selecting them for presentation.
Include different perspectives and angles in your photo story. Although Jacobson’s project was focused on landscape images, he also included some portraiture and landscape shots with people in them to show the perspective of environmental conservation workers and hikers.
Consider combining your images with other types of media to tell a story. Jacobson created animated graphics for his project to show potential mining and road development.
The biggest threat to the art of image making is the idea that it doesn’t take skill and effort. Keep creating with intention and purpose to counteract that.
Composition is as much about including important context to the story as it is about visual appeal.