It's not "Aaron T." but Jim George, who tells me he took the pictures off his back deck from his home in Puyallup -- in November of 2004!
"My kids woke me up and told me I had to come look outside," he said.
He said he's seen his photograph since be passed around the internet for years, most times unattributed, mis-attributed, or just plain stolen.
"It's been really frustrating," he said, adding had he known, he would have watermarked the picture. He's even got a note on his Flickr page hoping people get the message: "IF YOU ARE GOING TO STEAL THIS IMAGE AND USE IT WITHOUT MY PERMISSION LIKE MANY HAVE, AT LEAST GIVE ME PROPER PHOTO CREDIT."
I told him I would help set the record straight and so here we are: If you ever see this photo online, it's by Jim George of Puyallup, taken November 20, 2004.
How to check the source of a photo
If you ever come upon a picture and want to check its source, it's actually fairly easy. If you go to images.google.com you can drag and drop a photo from the web site in question, or load the picture into the site and it'll show you where else it appears on the web. That's how I found Jim's picture on his Flickr account, and the fact he had two more from the same event helped authenticate it.
It doesn't bat 1.000 but can help with many photographs.
You can also try TinyEye.com
Photo also solves Snopes.com mystery
Now, there is a second, very similar photograph of the two-stacked clouds that have also made the Internet rounds. At first glance I thought this was the same picture but it's slightly different -- the cirrus clouds behind it are a little different and the trees are missing. (Jim confirmed it's not his photograph.) The Google Image trick didn't really work here because the photo is prolific and is on dozens of sites.
But the photo was the subject of a posting on Snopes.com that purports it was over Mt. St. Helens. Snopes wasn't sure, but used a cutout of St. Helens' peak to perhaps show it was the volcano. But George's photos prove it's from Mt. Rainier. (Update! Snopes has now updated their site to declare the photo is Mt. Rainier, using George's photo as proof!)
And in also another point that you can't always trust the internet, you'll find several erroneous references to this photo that it's not only Mt. St. Helens, but it's part of the 1980 eruption.
But if you were the original photographer who was out on that November day in 2004 -- somewhere near Puyallup it seems -- and can prove it's your photo, let me know and I'll help set the record straight!
UPDATE! The original Snopes photo might possibly belong to Ronald Lloyd, who emailed me after seeing this blog post. He says he had posted a few similar pictures on his MSN Spaces page way back when. This was taken from a Puyallup/South Hill gas station:
He says this might not exactly match the one on Snopes as he took a few pics that day and the originals are probably still buried on an old computer (remember this is 9 years ago) but he's going to see if he can find it.