Photo of Burning Volcano Photographer: Real or Fake?

An image shows a photographer whose shoes and tripod are on fire as he takes a photo on an active volcano. Is the image real or fake?

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The image is real, but was staged.

Although many were convinced that the photo was likely a product of Photoshop, one of our readers helped us discover the true identity of the photographer and the story behind this photo.

The photographer is Kawika Singson of Hawaii. Singson didn’t spontaneously ignite while shooting lava, but conjured up the idea to pose for this photo. As he explains,

Always trying to be creative,I thought it would be pretty cool(hot!)to take a lava pic with my shoes and tripod on fire while photographing lava so that’s what I did that’s real lava real flames and it was really hot! I could stand the heat only for a few seconds.

Ironically, the photo made it to the “What’s Hot” section on Google Plus.


After this article was posted, the photographer and the photo were featured in First To Know. You can read the story, and see an additional photo from this occasion here. In the interview, Singson states that purpose of the photo wasn’t to mislead, but to have a cool Facebook cover photo, and that he was holding his breath while the photo was taken.

Bottom Line

The photo of a “burning photographer” on a volcano is real, but it was quickly staged by photographer Kawika Singson of Hawaii

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  • Timothy Campbell

    It is just conceivable that this is a genuine photo, though I note that the right-most leg of the tripod seems to hover just a bit. That part doesn’t look quite right to me.

    There are two reasons I say this COULD be a real photo. The foremost reason is having watched “Captain Slow” (James May) of the British TV show Top Gear drive a vehicle very close to a volcano in (I think) Iceland. His specially-prepared vehicle was getting pelted with rocks and it looked like his tires were on the verge of melting. He stayed at the closest spot for less than a minute, but that’s still a lot longer than I would have remained there.

    To watch some startling video of this, search YouTube with these keywords: top gear volcano challenge james may

    The other reason I think this COULD be real is that we can’t see what’s behind the fellow. He might be at the edge of a flow and can sprint backwards to (relative) safety.

    I wouldn’t tag this photo as “False” quite yet. I would, however, like to know who was taking the picture. It strikes me as unlikely there’s only ONE photo of this.

    • waffles

      All excellent points!

      It will be interesting to find the source and the story behind the photo, real or fake.

      • Timothy Campbell

        I searched for that picture and after it searched over 3.0864 billion images it reported no matches.

        Perhaps somebody will have better luck with another image locator web site. I’m not an expert on the subject.

        • waffles

          It is still elusive, but we’ll get it! Thanks for checking!

    • Andy

      What makes you say the rightmost tripod leg is hovering? It looks firmly planted enough to me … plus it’s completely engulfed in flames, so it’s kind of hard to tell anyway.

  • waffles

    Thank you for the info! We have updated the article.

  • bloomy

    Yeah guys it’s not fake, the photographer (only source used) even said so.

    • waffles

      Well, he’s an photographer with a large collection of volcano shots, and his post on Facebook pre-dates any other post we could find of the photo.

  • photog

    Not sure that there would be flames…pretty sure all those items on fire would melt rather than burst into flames. Might be a ‘real’ picture with him standing there, and hot as hell, yes, (been there), but I think the flames are an addition to the picture for sure.

  • Bob Walsh

    This “picture’ is an example of everything that is wrong with photography. Photo-shop is not photography and this actor is not on fire. From the looks of it the lava and clouds appear to be imposters as well.
    Not amused

  • Chris Hirata

    I am the photographer that was photographing the lava that day with Kawika Singson. This photo is real and I have the RAW images to prove it. To be honest I don’t even use photoshop, just Lightroom to touch up my shots.

    • waffles

      Thanks for the comment. I think a lot of people would like to hear more about this shot.

  • CrniZEC

    It’s fake.

    1. Aluminium can burn only on 1000+ Celsius. His tripod is on fire as the rubber on legs also. That means it’s not made from carbon because carbon can’t get on fire but it can melt on 3000 Celsius I think.

    2. Basically this “photographer” says that he was shooting on 1000+ Celsius for a few second. First, camera would be started to melt on 300+ celsius, and the time he would get there he would have destroyed bottom of his shoes, melted.

    3. When rubber on shoes burn it becomes black. His shoes are perfectly white.

    4. All flames are positioned on one perspective, on viewers side, unrealistic.

    5. Flames on tripods third leg and photographers second leg are not realistic.

    6. On such temperature he couldn’t stand not even 1 second. By time that would take for him to position his tripod and camera he his feet would explode because veins end is in feet, and if temperature gets higher then 50+ Celsius it’s already hard to breath because your body, lungs are expanding. This guy was breathing 1000+ Celsius air.

    You know what 100+ Celsius hot air do to human lungs?! They explode from inside out, as veins in human body. That’s why people when melting metal wear protective cloths. But hey, this guy is supermen.

    I wrote the same thing on National Geographic wall, they banned me for taking out the facts and showing that this photo is fake and that this photographer is full of it. Look his other photos, they are nothing special, he just used Photoshop to promote his work by saying it’s real. ;)

  • garryj

    The photo is real, but the flames are from a little bit of lighter fluid. Bear Grylls also used this trickery in his Kilauea episode. Check out the videos that exposed bear grylls as a phony in the videos from volcanochaser on youtube. Specifically check out the video Man vs Wild: Bear Grylls Survives Fake Lava in which volcanochaser walks on fresh lava without bursting into flames.

  • waffles

    I believe it has been established that the photo is real but was staged.

  • edward

    There is no way the shoes or tripod would catch fire like that. In fighting bush fires, I have walked on exceedingly hot ashes and you know in a matter of seconds when your standing somewhere you shouldn’t. My boots have melted doing this and if you don’t douse your foot in water quickly, the heat will damage your foot.
    Never has my shoe caught aflame like that, it just starts to melt. And if he is somewhere where it is so hot that just touching the surface causes a flame, there is no way he could stand anywhere near it.
    He has simply poured a bit of accelerant on his shoes and tripod to capture this photo.

  • waffles

    Thanks – we’ll add a link in the article above.