This summer, I also visited Seattle after flying back and forth to Juneau. I enjoy being back in my old stomping grounds during the increasingly warm summers. Unfortunately, the downside to that nice weather is dry conditions in the Cascades that lead to forest fires and lots of smoke. I eventually pulled myself away from my prolonged SeaFair boating lifestyle to visit Mount Rainier National Park. Stephen Matera invited me to join him on a day trip and we decided to hike up to Spray Park to photograph wildflowers. Neither of us had been up there to shoot for who knows how long, so we thought it would be a great location to revisit. As we hiked up into the alpine meadows, we grew increasingly concerned that something was off. In places where we would normally anticipate seeing lush fields of wildflowers, we saw only brown, dried up plants. We scouted a number of locations and still could not find any significant displays to photograph. We discussed how this time of year should be the peak bloom, but only saw the odd signs of lupine, asters, and paintbrush hiding in the shade of trees. One particular meadow that in previous years had been remarkably productive for photos was just a tangle of nothing. I was resigned to not even take my camera out of my backpack, but kept scrambling around searching for anything to photograph. Eventually, I found this small display of avalanche lilies that made a strong foreground as the sunset illuminated Rainier’s icy summit. I had always wanted to create an image with these typically early season wildflowers and was lucky that there was almost no wind to move them around during my longish exposure.
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.
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.