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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This past December, I attempted to photograph this spectacular location on the north shore of Kauai a half dozen times at sunrise. Most of the mornings that I visited the weather was uncooperative with pouring rain and strong winds. Fortunately, my best image which came from my first sunrise. Powerful storm waves crashed onto the rugged shoreline and washed over the lava rocks into the boiling surge cauldron as the sun illuminated the underside of the dramatic clouds. There was a ton of spray in the air, so I spent a lot of time just keeping my lens and grad filter dry. I would also like to point out to anyone that might ever consider visiting this spot that it is a very dicey location to photograph when the waves are big. I was vigilant against the larger wave sets and careful not to get knocked over by the surging waters as they completed my composition.
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 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.
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.