While helping my friends in Leilani Estates on the Big Island, I experienced physical and emotional stress. Still, my own discomfort was insignificant compared to what the residents of Puna have to deal with as this tragedy unfolds. As the land is rendered uninhabitable, homes are being destroyed and lives are being upended. Only Pele knows what she wants to accomplish. Until seen from above, the scale of the destruction is impossible to fully comprehend. So, on my third and final afternoon, I hired a small plane to fly over the eruption. As we approached, I asked my pilot to concentrate on the most active lava fissures. I believe the USGS is currently naming these fissures 8 and 24. As we coordinated lining up this image, I had to pop open my window, ask my pilot to dip the aircraft’s wing, point my telephoto lens, and hope that what I photographed was in focus. Oh, and we both agreed that we would refrain from ever getting caught in the thermal updraft again.
I am not sure where to begin. This past week, I flew to the Big Island to help out some friends, and also to photograph the eruption in Leilani Estates. Pele’s display is an unfolding tragedy for the people of Puna. As such, I did not want to get in their way. However, once I was invited to join my Kona friends CJ Kale and Doug Perrine, I decided to go. Our plan was to get into the evacuation zone and assist Shane Turpin (who owns the lava boat) evacuate his homes and shop on Pohoiki Road. We spent 3 days packing and removing his stuff, all while lava slowly crept towards us like a slow motion train wreck. On our first night, we visited several lava fissures. These were erupting like fountains less than 1/2 mile away at the end of the road. I photographed this beautiful scene in the midst of the disaster. Sadly, the lava engulfed his properties the day after I left.
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 recently spent two nights photographing the Halemaʻumaʻu Crater in Volcanoes National Park. It had been several years since I last photographed lava, so it was like visiting an old friend. The first night, I was happy to share some conversation in the dark with my buddy CJ Kale, who also allowed me to borrow his Canon 24mm f1.4 lens. This image was from my second night shooting solo. It was amazing to observe the crater and the steam plume begin to glow red after the sun went down. I framed the crater with this ohia tree located near the Jaggar Museum.
I finally had the opportunity to photograph snow on the summit of Mauna Kea during my February visit to the Big Island of Hawaii. After over a decade of trying, it was nice to finally be able to experience being at the beach in the morning and then driving up to the snowy summit in the afternoon. I’ve visited the summit during previous trips. It is a straightforward drive, but getting out of the car and walking around at 13,796′ above sea level is the real challenge. From the highest drivable point, it is only a few hundred yards and slightly up hill to the true summit. I put on every piece of clothing that I brought to Hawaii, including, thankfully, my winter hat and set out from the parking lot about an hour before sunset. Each step in the snow was a challenge, but after a short time I was on the summit. I was immediately drawn to this wind sculpted ridge slightly south along the summit ridge, especially since it did not appear to have any footprints. Once I settled into place with my tripod, I waited for the golden light less than an hour later. I got cold, especially my hands. I noticed the sunlight was causing some glare spots on my image, so I held my hand on the side of the lens to block the direct light. It’s amazing how quickly the sun sets at the equator. I created this image with my Canon 5DmkII, Carl Zeiss 28mm f2 ZE lens, and 3-stop Soft Graduated Neutral Density filter. This image is a single-exposure which required a minimal amount of processing using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CS5.
The most important thing I teach my photography tour clients is how to anticipate a shot. Let’s use my new image of the fall colors on Mazama Ridge as an example of when to shoot. When I was at Mount Rainier National Park last Friday, the sky was clear blue without a single cloud on the horizon. I knew that the best image in these conditions would be when the angle of the sunlight was a few degrees above the horizon and still yellow or orange in color. Experience has taught me where the sun would go down, but I confirmed my guess by using my SunSeeker app on my iPhone. I wanted to shoot this scene as the sunset light settled into the trees and danced across the foliage in front of my camera. The tree shadows added some mystery to an otherwise beautiful but non-dramatic scene. This light only lasted for about 30 seconds before the foliage went into complete shade. I used my Carl Zeiss 35mm f2 ZE lens along with my Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer and 2-stop Hard Graduated Neutral Density filter to create this image using only 1 exposure which required minimal processing.
This past Friday, the second in a row, I woke up at 2:30am and drove down to Mount Rainier National Park to photograph wildflowers at sunrise. I have sold a lot of images of Mount Rainier over the years, so it is worth taking the time out of my busy travel schedule to do the quick round trip for just 1 hour of shooting. I parked my car at 5:15am and ran up the trail in about 20 minutes to my favorite flower meadows on Mazama Ridge. I’m always surprised that I never encounter any other photographers up there at sunrise, but I also only visit during the week to avoid the weekend crowds. For anyone still planning a trip to Rainier, the wildflowers are at their peak, however, I would not describe this year’s bloom as more than ordinary. I did not encounter any diverse fields of wildflowers and the clouds from the day before had vanished, but I still hoped to create a new unique image. All of my previous well-known photos of wildflowers at Mount Rainier were created using medium and large format film cameras. What a pain in the ass that was. With my large format camera in particular, I had to compose the image using a dark cloth, focusing loupe, and dark ground glass where the image was upside down and reversed, spot meter the scene, stop down to f32, place a Singh-Ray non-LB Warming Polarizer on the lens, position the grad filter correctly, and hope that the wind stopped blowing for a 10-30 second exposure because I was using Fuji Velvia 50 film rated at ISO 25 due to reciprocity failure. Still with me? Let me just state unequivocally that creating this image with my dSLR was a lot easier. I like this picture because of the soft warm light illuminating the lupine in the foreground.
Pictures don’t get any fresher than this! I woke up at 2:30am today and drove down to Mount Rainier National Park to photograph the wildflowers around Reflection Lake at sunrise. I have always wanted to photograph the mountain and reflection in the lake with rosy spireas in bloom, and today I finally timed it right. I was surprised by how many photographers were there for a Friday. I have gotten spoiled in Alaska not having to shoot around other people. A slight breeze or surfacing fish occasionally disturbed the reflection, so this is as close to perfect as it got. I am happy with what I created.
For those of you aspiring to photograph wildflowers at Mount Rainier this summer, I did a quick drive up to Paradise before driving back to Seattle, and can confirm that the wildflowers probably need 1-2 more weeks to peak. There are tons of paintbrush and other wildflowers along the side of the road, but the big fields of lupine are only just starting to bloom. I hope to get back down there late next week before I return to Alaska on August 23rd.
I was recently interviewed by the Gesellschaft Deutscher Tierfotografen (Society of German Nature Photographers). Previously interviewed photographers include Andy Rouse, George and Verena Popp, Norbert Rosing, and Kevin Schafer. My interview is currently featured in their triannual magazine Forum Naturfotografie. It spans 14 pages and showcases 12 of my favorite photographs. The double page opener is my image “East Pond Vent 1”, taken in Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii. You can view the entire article here, however, it is in German.
My image “Spray Park Wildflowers 1” is featured as the double page opener of the hiking feature in the June 2010 issue of Seattle Met. Spray Park is my favorite alpine location at Mount Rainier National Park and is the closest side of the mountain to my home in Seattle. During the brief summer hiking season, I depart my house in the early afternoon, drive for about 3 hours, and hike the 3 miles up to the wildflower meadows to photograph the sunset. It is both a blessing and a curse if the wind is not blowing, a blessing because the fields of lupine and paintbrush are not blowing around in the wind, but a curse because of the swarms of blood-thirsty mosquitoes that rival any that I have seen in Alaska or Canada. Spray Park is higher than Paradise on the south side of the mountain, so the wildflowers peak about 1 week later, typically mid-August. Based on the cold summer that we are having, I estimate that the wildflowers are going to be a little late this year, which is similar to the year that I created this image during the last week of August.