I have to admit that it was wonderful to get back in the water scuba diving during my recent South Pacific adventure. All the transitions and disruptions in my life the last few years simply did not leave me with any time to be able to dive. The last time I really dove was 4 years ago when I first visited Fiji. Fortunately, my recent trip to Vanuatu required me to fly through Fiji, so I planned a week of diving on the Rainbow Reef in the Somosomo Straits. This was an area that I had not visited during my previous trip, but had always heard fantastic things about. I flew up to Taveuni and stayed at a wonderful resort for 10 days. I ended up diving with another resort than where I was staying, but it all worked out. Over the course of 9 days of diving, I got to know a few sites exceptionally well and planned my subsequent dives around the ideal currents. The current was totally ripping when I created this image, so it was challenging to say the least. This is one of my favorite bommies which was covered in soft corals while being enveloped in clouds of colorful anthias.
I recently returned from an adventure that I had been dreaming about and attempting to do for over a decade. Years ago when I first started photographing lava, I learned about the Yasur Volcano located on remote Tanna Island in the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. It is not the easiest place to get to and the amenities won’t meet most people’s requirements, but it is an incredibly accessible and rewarding location to shoot. I spent a week working with a local chief which allowed me and my frequent travel partner Steve Levi special access to the volcano.
The first time we approached the crater rim via the relatively short but steep hike from the parking area, the deafening explosions and sulfur filled air overwhelmed my already excited senses. When I finally observed my first strombolian eruption, I began to question my sanity. I had heard stories about lava flying through the air and impacting way too close for comfort. Of course, one of the two times this happened to me was during my very first visit to the caldera. It was one of the most brief and horrifying moments of my life, but fortunately the lava landed safely to my left. At least I had gotten that experience out of the way.
Over the course of my week long exploration, I visited the volcano 9 times. Sometimes it was cloudy, sometimes it was clear. There were even a few times where it was raining so hard, that there was no point in even trying. I had a lot of 4am and 4pm starts with all of my best images created during the 30 minutes before the sun rose or after the sun set during the beautiful twilight light. The volcano exploded about every 5 minutes on average. I can not adequately describe the incredible experience of glimpsing and then being blasted with the shock wave while standing in this location with my camera set up on my tripod. I pushed my camera’s shutter button on every explosion, but it was the extraordinary large ones like this that allowed me to create my best images.
Last July, I lead two back-to-back expeditions in Southeast Alaska in search of humpback whales bubble net feeding. I co-lead these trips with my good friend and regular partner Tony Wu. I have been photographing the whales doing this exciting and dramatic behavior since 2007. Man, it really was a decade ago that I purchased my little C-Dory and set off for Alaska without a clue. After my initial struggles, I became very good at finding and photographing the whales while they are bubble feeding. Still, it is never easy to do. I often have to spend several days searching for them by covering hundreds of miles of shoreline combined with the nearly constant bad weather, but when I find them it is incredible! I am looking forward to returning to Alaska with Tony in July 2018. Who wants to join us?
Since moving to Kauai last year, I have been trying to allocate my time by doing only things that I like doing while spending time with people I enjoy being around. Seems pretty simple, right? So, when your oldest photo buddy starts pumping you for information about photographing wildflowers in Anza Borrego Desert State Park after a very wet winter, why not jump on a plane back to the mainland and join him? That is exactly what I did 2 weeks ago. I had been aware that California had a very wet winter and started reading about the predicted super bloom. Apparently, so did every one else, because even though we were only there for 3 days in the middle of the week, Borrego Springs was totally crazy packed with visitors. Fortunately, most other photographers aspire for the “best” light around noon time, which meant that the parking before sunrise was not a problem for us. I photographed this beautiful display of wildflowers near the visitor center on the one morning there were clouds in the sky.
Last August, I visited Svalbard for the second time to photograph Arctic wildlife, especially polar bears. I was invited by my close friends to be the photography guide on their expedition. It was a fantastic opportunity and I got to make a number of new friends, but dang is Svalbard a long way from Kauai. The highlight of our trip was definitely the days we spent motoring around at 82°N searching for polar bears in the pack ice. Did I mention that it was cold? Like really cold, but not winter cold. I wonder how my body body is going to keep up with my ambitions now that I live in Hawaii? Anyway, we experienced some truly wonderful encounters with over a dozen bears. This is one of my favorite images as this polar bear jumped from one ice flow to another.
This past January, I visited the Big Island of Hawaii in order to photograph lava from the ongoing eruption of Kilauea Volcano. I had intended to fly over there since I moved to Kauai last summer, but settling into my new island life kept getting in the way. Fortunately, I waited until until the right time and was rewarded with several days of incredible viewing of the dramatic “firehose” at the Kamokuna ocean entry. I hiked out to the main lava viewing area with some fellow photographers several days in a row, but on my final day decided to try the famous lava boat and shoot from the water. I had always poo-pooed the boat with its 50 passengers, but am glad that my buddy insisted that we try it. This is one of my favorite images because the lava can clearly be seen dramatically pouring out of the cliff while the steam cloud glows orange in the pre-dawn light. It was the experience of a lifetime.
I photographed this scarlet macaw in flight while visiting Costa Rica for the second time last March. I have not shared any of these images until now due to a lot of things that happened around this time that lead to my family making our decision to move to Kauai. Out of thousands of mediocre to useless images that I shot, this one clearly stood out and is my personal favorite. I visited the Lookout Inn on the remote Osa Peninsula specifically to spend 3 days photographing scarlet macaws. These flying macaws were one of the most difficult subjects that I have ever photographed, mostly due to the intense heat and humidity. Each day, I spent from sunrise to sunset sitting on the deck attached to my room on top of the lodge waiting. This was the best vantage for being at treetop level for when the macaws would suddenly fly past and land on the top branches. I spent hours each day using my room as a blind while sweating to death. When I heard their distant call, I would grab my camera sitting next to me and spring into action. The whole moment only lasted a few seconds during which I tracked the birds with my long lens while furiously firing away.
It has been a year since I last shared any of my new images online. So many changes have taken place since my last post, but most importantly my family moved to Kauai. It has been a wonderful adventure, but not as simple as one might imagine. I won’t go into all the details, so let me just dive in with this delicious sunset from beautiful Lumahai Beach here on the north shore. I photographed this scene a few weeks ago after a long day of cleaning my office. As I often do, I kept checking the visible satellite view all afternoon and finally decided at the last minute to jump in my truck and chase the light. I had not been down to Lumahai for a few months, mostly because the sun sets too far to the south during the winter to shoot. However, now that the sun is setting more northerly again, I thought I would give it a try. I was running late, but have been to this beach many time over the years, so I knew exactly where to set up my tripod just as the light became amazing. This is the big advantage I now have of shooting in my “backyard” and waiting for ideal conditions. I love how the orange clouds lit up beneath the darker high clouds as the ocean waves boiled in the channel in front of me. Aloha.
During my recent visit to Maui to photograph humpback whales, I also put some effort into shooting landscapes. The weather was clear, blue sky for most of my trip, which is great for tourists, but not for landscape photos. I finally got lucky with some epic conditions the night that I took my buddy Patrick Kelley to this beautiful location. I have been to this spot, known as Secret Beach, many times over the years and several times this trip. It is located south of Makena and is a small and popular beach, especially for weddings, so it is always hard to get everyone out of the composition. (I digitally removed a couple that were sitting behind the rocks on the left.) The beautiful sunset light was brief, but dramatic, and I especially like the reflected light in the wet sand.
If anyone has flown on Alaska Airlines this month, you might have seen my polar bear mother and cub image and read my tips for creating better photos in the current issue of Alaska Beyond. The article features several of the Northwest’s top photographers offering advice about photography, so I was honored to be included. I have heard from a several people who have already read it, but I think that no one was more surprised and pleased than my parents when they saw it on their flight to Florida last week. You can read more about this photo here, in case you missed it.