Last July, my daughter & I visited the Big Island of Hawaii for our annual scuba diving trip. The previous years, we had traveled to Indonesia, but clearly that was not happening last summer. She had never done any Kona diving, so it was a delight to share with her the famous manta ray dive (which we had all to ourselves), a blackwater night dive, and some beautiful shore dives. It was a lovely trip that created great memories for both of us. I also snuck in a few landscape photography jaunts to my favorite blowholes along the shoreline near the airport. I always enjoy the thrill of the bigger sets rolling in and then playing chicken with the exploding waves by not moving my camera in order to create an image like this. It also helps when the sky explodes with dramatic sunset colors.
My favorite yoga teacher and dear friend is camping in the Kalalau Valley the next few days to celebrate her birthday. This reminded me to share my dramatic sunset image I created the last time I backpacked in there in September 2019. I’ve been fortunate to visit this magnificent setting a half-dozen times over the past 20+ years. The Kalalau is a special, some would argue sacred, place located on the north shore of Kauai. In order to visit, I had to hike 12 miles along the rugged Na Pali Coast. It’s up and down, hot as heck, and in some spots quite treacherous. The trail can be intimidating, but I’ve never found the exposure to be a problem since I used to climb frozen waterfalls for fun. My photographer friend Stephen Matera flew out from Seattle to join me on this excursion. After camping for 4 days, this was my favorite image. I love how the sky briefly exploded with color as the sun sank below the horizon.
I created this image on my last whale watching trip to Maui with my photography friends in February 2020. It is actually one of my closest photo encounters that I have ever had with a humpback whale. All I did was lean over the engine and dip my underwater housing in the ocean as this whale swam right up to the stern of the boat. Perhaps I wasted a lot of time over the past 2 decades trying to swim with whales and never previously getting this close? Since I was shooting “blind” with a fisheye lens, I was fortunate that I did not clip this animal’s tail in at least one of my images in this burst series at 10fps. There is so much detail in this image and especially the whale’s eye, that I am currently featuring a higher-resolution version on my website’s homepage slideshow. Please check it out and let me know what you think?
Recently, my best buddy Tom visited me on Kauai. This was his third trip to the island and I wanted to show him some locations that he had not previously visited. One afternoon, we hopped in my truck and drove around to the other side of the island in order to go hiking in Kokee State Park. On the drive up, Waimea Canyon was pretty socked in with clouds. We continued on to the Kalalau Lookout and glimpsed dramatic views of the valley below as the clouds swirled around us. Deciding to take our chances, we grabbed our gear and hiked down the trail to my favorite viewpoint which is not for people who have a fear of heights. As the sun lowered towards the horizon, the clouds cleared out and this spectacular scene was revealed. I had photographed this same composition years ago and still love how it frames the landscape. Also, my five previous attempts to photograph the valley in 2019 were all thwarted by thick clouds, so I am happy that we got to experience this magical sunset together.
I have been intending to share this exciting news for a while. My photo of the Na Pali Coast at sunset is featured on the cover of the 2019 Sierra Club Wilderness calendar! This is the second time in 9 years that one of my images was chosen for the cover. I photographed this dramatic sunset during the first winter after I moved to Kauai. I have been photographing this location for almost 20 years and it is one of my favorites on the island. Unfortunately, due to the extraordinary rain and floods this past April, it is currently impossible for visitors to experience this stunning view until the road is repaired. I hope that when it eventually reopens that there will be some significant changes to the parking situation and limits on the number of daily visitors.
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.
The last month, I have been home on Kauai and had a lot of friends and family visiting. It has also been raining constantly, so I have not been attempting to do any photography. I was getting kinda antsy to shoot again, so on Sunday afternoon, I checked the satellite view and gambled that the weather was going to clear just in time for sunset. I threw my photo bag into the backseat of my truck and decided to drive out to Kee Beach for the first time in I-don’t-know-how-long. It was ugly when I arrived. Pouring rain. Lots of wind. Man, what the heck was I thinking? After staring longingly at the gray horizon, I skulked back to my truck, grabbed my towel, and meagerly dried off. Just as I was about to literally throw in the towel and drive home for dinner, I noticed a faint glimmer of sunshine peaking below the clouds. I grabbed my camera gear and walked down the beach in the still pouring rain. I could tell that the light was only going to get better, but the rain still wasn’t letting up. The next few minutes anxiously passed by and the rain finally began to taper off. I pulled out my camera and got everything set up just in time to catch this intense, but very brief lightshow.
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.