Last summer, I flew my drone above Polihale Beach on Kauai but did not create the image that I was hoping for. When I returned in December to try again, I was pleased to experience the ideal conditions which lead to this photograph. Late in the afternoon, the wind was non-existent and the clouds boiled over the rugged cliffs of the Na Pali Coast. I prepared my hexacopter for its initial flight and was ready for takeoff when the sunlight began to penetrate beneath the clouds on the horizon. Though I flew as far as 300m offshore and as high as 100m in the air, this photo was created at about half that distance and elevation during my reconnaissance of the scene.
My most recent article “Nature by Drone” is published in this month’s issue of Popular Photography. In my article, I share what it takes to build and fly larger remote controlled multirotors that can lift cameras that are larger than a simple GoPro. My drone imagery is featured throughout the article, but there are also several images from other professional photographers who are incorporating drones into their work. I finish by discussing some of the legal and ethical considerations that every pilot needs to know before taking off. The double page opening image is an aerial that I created while flying my hexacopter over Puu Pehe on the south shore of Lanai last winter.
My regular readers are probably aware that over the past year I have been building and flying remote controlled hexacopters in order to create dramatic aerial photos. In this month’s issue of Outdoor Photographer, I share some of my advice from the lessons I have learned from flying a drone capable of lifting a larger camera. The opening images showcase one of my aerial images of Lumahai Beach on Kauai, as well as my previous Canon EOS M camera mounted on my gimbal beneath my Tarot 690S hexacopter. After my crash in early May, I rebuilt using a Tarot 680Pro frame and am now flying a Sony NEX 5 camera body. I hope that readers will enjoy my latest article and find inspiration from what I have have been doing.
The Waipio Valley is one of my favorite places on the Big Island, plus it is also where my wife and I got married. I photographed a sunrise here when we planned out wedding 13 years ago using a 35mm film camera and my very first attempt at using graduated neutral density filters. It is a nice enough image, but I have always wanted to return to try shooting this scene again during the summer months when the sun comes up as far to the north as it will, but it took me until this summer to finally have the opportunity. I drove from Kona over to the valley four mornings in a row well before sunrise. My friend Chris Hirata met me for three of those mornings and was kind enough to drive me down into the valley in his four wheel drive truck, but we got skunked due to a lot of rain. On my fourth and final morning, CJ Kale and Don Hurzeler picked me up and the three of us drove over together. We almost did not drive down because the weather looked grim, but at the last second I talked them into turning around. I got down to the beach just in time to set up as the light illuminated the cliff and suddenly this rainbow magically appeared. Incredible! After a few minutes of shooting, CJ walked over to where I was standing and I asked him if he got a nice shot of the rainbow? He said, “What rainbow?” Apparently he could not see it where he was standing back near the river behind me. I don’t think that he is ever going to let me live it down, but of course all in good fun. I am quite pleased with this image, especially since it was many years in the making.
It is difficult to adequately describe what it is like to visit the Kalalau Valley on Kauai. Most tourists only see this spectacular location from a boat or a helicopter, but they miss out on the authentic Kalalau experience by not camping on the beach or in the valley. I have been fortunate to be able to visit the Kalalau five times over the last 14 years, including four nights a little over a week ago. I tried to photograph this composition during my previous visit in May, but was thwarted by the afternoon clouds which obscured the ridges and blocked the sunlight. By returning again so soon, I was rewarded with the necessary conditions to create this dramatic image. I hope that viewers of this photo will take a few moments to appreciate the serene energy that is the Kalalau.
I am often asked what is my favorite location that I have photographed. This is a difficult question to answer, but one of the places that I would consider to be towards the top of my list would be the Na Pali Coast of Kauai. This otherworldly landscape with its 4000′ jagged ridges emerging from the tropical Pacific is simply breathtaking to behold. During my recent visit, I returned to the top of the island for the first time in almost a decade with my friends Patrick and Marcus. We set out to hike Kalepa Ridge before sunset. I would like to point out that this is not a trail for anyone who is afraid of heights, since much of the trail hugs the knife edged ridge which drops straight down into the Kalalau Valley. Towards the end of the trail, I discovered this ethereal composition and set up my camera to shoot sunset. For my effort, I was rewarded with golden light, dramatic clouds, and a deep sense of satisfaction to be able to spend time in such an amazing place.
I have just returned from a five week journey to Hawaii and Kauai. My priority during this trip was to spend time with my family rather than a photography adventure, but of course I did get out to do some shooting whenever possible. There were a variety of locations that I had always wanted to photograph during the summer months, including this dramatic waterfall at sunset near Queen’s Bath in Princeville. The sun only sets far enough to the north to backlight this waterfall as it plunges into the ocean at sunset for a few weeks each year. Around the summer solstice, the sun also sets behind the lava shoreline on the right side, thus eliminating any overpowering lens flare. I visited this location several days in a row before my efforts were rewarded with this dramatic combination of dark clouds and golden light. I should also point out that the ocean was incredibly calm, so it was safe for me to climb down into this alcove. This is not a location to spend time during much of the year.
I first visited Polihale Beach on the remote west side of Kauai in 2000 and last photographed it using my medium format Pentax 67 camera in 2003. It is a lovely beach on the dry side of the island, though, it is often overrun by 4wd vehicles. This makes it challenging to compose an image to say the least. During my recent visit, I was fortunate that it was the low season for tourism, so there were not that many people out there. Still, I had to get down very close to this sand berm in order to eliminate my fellow tourists and a few vehicles from my composition. I visited the beach two days in a row and on my second visit photographed this dramatic light against the cliffs of the Na Pali Coast with clouds billowing in the sky above.
I flew my hexacopter almost every day during my recent trip to Kauai, including at Kee Beach my last two sunsets. I have previously photographed the Na Pali Coast from the shoreline rocks on the far right of this image, but this time I flew my copter from the flat heiau hidden just above. Not only was this a perfect landing zone, but I had it all to myself. I find that it is much too distracting and dangerous to fly around people. I lucked out that there was almost no wind and the sun kept poking through the clouds to illuminate the scene. Dappled light underneath dark clouds is my favorite landscape photography situation. I digitally removed the tiny dots of people on the beach and snorkeling in the water, but also kept the original for my editorial clients.
During my most recent visit to Kauai, I was rewarded with this incredible sunset the very first night that I was on the island. I was especially lucky since this was the first time that I had ever tried to photograph Shipwreck Beach. Every once in a while I experience beginner’s luck, but more often I have to return to a location multiple times before I photograph a sky this colorful. During the summer months, the southern swell erodes the sand on the beach and reveals the lava rocks underneath, which I used as my foreground along with the wave action against the shore. As the sun sank beneath the western horizon, I anticipated that these clouds would not only light up, but also perfectly frame my overall composition. I was not disappointed.