I just got back from another exciting week of photographing humpback whales on Maui with my whale watching friends. We had some fantastic encounters with the whales, but also a few days of stormy weather that forced us to return to the boat ramp early or skip boating all together. The upside is that I took advantage of the ugly conditions to do some landscape photography. I have been attempting to photograph this scene for at least 5 years, if not longer. It was a reward to finally have everything come together for this image. I love the dramatic sunset light in the clouds and on the water’s surface as the waves gently wash over the foreground rocks.
Recently, I had an old friend from Alaska come out to visit me on Kauai. She had not been actively shooting for a several years, so she hired me to teach her a private photography course in order to help her refresh her skills. It was a lot of fun and I am happy that I had the opportunity to work with her. While I have been traveling quite a bit this year, I continue to photograph Kauai as much as possible. Still, it is difficult to get up super early all the time, so her visit gave me the incentive to photograph sunrise every morning for a week. Since I moved here one year ago, I have seen a lot of rainbows, but not had a lot of success photographing them in a dramatic landscape setting. Fortunately, this spectacular rainbow appeared during one of our early morning shoots and persisted for 15 minutes. The lighting situation was ideal with me in the shade and the sunlight and rain across the valley so that my camera gear did not get hosed. Keeping my lens and filters dry during a downpour is the difference between creating an image and missing the shot. Aloha.
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.
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.
I have previously shared a number of sunrise images of Puu Pehe located on Lanai‘s south shore, but photographing this iconic location during a dramatic sunset has eluded me. The weather in this part of Hawaii tends to be some of the sunniest and driest of the entire state. This is great for tourists who come to enjoy beautiful Hulopoe Beach, but not so much for impressive landscape photography conditions. After dozens of attempts over many years of visiting Lanai, I was finally rewarded with this stunning image. Not only did the golden sunlight illuminate the rugged lava shoreline, but the sky was full of puffy, glowing clouds. I am also enamored with the beautiful, warm colors reflected on the wet sand.
Because I have photographed so many humpback whales breaching during my career, I have become very specific about the type of photograph that I am searching for. First off, I prefer to be very close to the surface of the ocean so that the cetacean emerges well above the horizon line. This is only possible while working from small boats. Secondly, the animal needs to breach pretty close by, because I use a medium telephoto lens. Thirdly, since I use such a short focal length, I like to line up the whale with a dramatic backdrop in order to give a better sense of place. In this case, I used the dramatic sidelight illuminating the north shore of Lanai with dark clouds in the sky above as my background. Finally, the direction and rotation of the breach are very important, and the further the leviathan comes out of the water the better. I love how in this photo the enormous whale is momentarily suspended above the waves with its back perfectly arched and its pectoral fin out to the side as water is being thrown off in all directions. Awesome!
This image was created along the drive down to the north shore of Lanai on the first day of my February visit. Though the main purpose for my trip was to photograph humpback whales breaching, I also photographed landscapes whenever I had the opportunity. I had arrived the night before and not yet assembled my inflatable boat to go out whale watching, but I still wanted to shoot the sunrise. I knew from my previous explorations of the island that there were large numbers of lava formations along the side of the road which would make an interesting foreground. As the sunrise approached, I parked, jumped out of the truck, and then bolted towards this prominent feature, barely setting up my camera in time to photograph this magical light briefly illuminating my subject as the clouds moved across the sky.
My recent visits to Lanai to photograph humpback whales breaching were among my most productive trips ever. I have dozens of new photos of this awe-inspiring behavior. This stunning moment of an adult whale almost completely out of the water was photographed in January on an especially calm day, as can be seen by the reflection of the whale on the surface of the ocean. I worked especially hard to keep my boat in position in order to line up the whale with the West Maui Mountains in the background. Normally, I prefer breaches at their apex, but my auto-focus was slightly off for the 2 frames before this one because I was zooming in tighter as it transpired. This behavior is so fleeting that it is always disappointing to lose any photos because they are soft. Fortunately, this one is razor sharp. It is also not that common to see an adult whale almost totally out of the water.
One of my favorite locations to photograph on Lanai is Keahiakawelo, which is more commonly known as the Garden of the Gods. This unique geological setting reminds me more of places in the Southwest than in Hawaii. It can easily be accessed by a 30 minute drive from Lanai City via four-wheel drive, as long as it has not recently been raining. During my January whale-watching trip, I took an afternoon off from the ocean in order to drive my travel companions out here to shoot the sunset. I composed this dramatic image as the clouds swirled overhead and the setting sun vividly illuminated the eroded boulders.