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.
During my recent visit to Maui to photograph humpback whales, I also put some effort into shooting landscapes. The weather was clear, blue sky for most of my trip, which is great for tourists, but not for landscape photos. I finally got lucky with some epic conditions the night that I took my buddy Patrick Kelley to this beautiful location. I have been to this spot, known as Secret Beach, many times over the years and several times this trip. It is located south of Makena and is a small and popular beach, especially for weddings, so it is always hard to get everyone out of the composition. (I digitally removed a couple that were sitting behind the rocks on the left.) The beautiful sunset light was brief, but dramatic, and I especially like the reflected light in the wet sand.
Last week, I returned from my annual pilgrimage to Maui to photograph humpback whales. I spent 10 days chartering a boat with my good friends Robin & Stuart Westmorland and our buddy Ken Howard. We have been photographing whales together for over a decade from Hawaii to California up to Canada and Alaska. We call ourselves the F***ing Whale Crew. Anyone who has ever spent time around whales can probably appreciate how often we curse them for being uncooperative and unpredictable, thus the name of our small fellowship. Anyway, the wind and the whales were working against us most of this trip, however, we were rewarded with this impressive breach close to the boat on our last day. My buddy Patrick Kelley flew over from Kauai to join us that morning. It was his very first visit to Maui. He had basically been on Maui for about 2 hours before joining us to go out for our final day. After departing the Kihei boat ramp, we encountered a group of whales within 20 minutes. I have been fooled enough times over the years by whales who suddenly breach without my camera being ready, so I advised everyone to get their cameras out. I am pretty fast when I need to be, so my camera was out in a flash, but I am pretty sure that I heard Patrick’s lens click onto his camera body about 1/2 second before this whale suddenly flung itself out of the water. Talk about beginner’s luck. You are welcome PK! Once we calmed down from hooting and hollering at what we had just experienced, we realized how fortunate that we all were able to photograph this breathtaking moment.
My recent visits to Lanai to photograph humpback whales breaching were among my most productive trips ever. I have dozens of new photos of this awe-inspiring behavior. This stunning moment of an adult whale almost completely out of the water was photographed in January on an especially calm day, as can be seen by the reflection of the whale on the surface of the ocean. I worked especially hard to keep my boat in position in order to line up the whale with the West Maui Mountains in the background. Normally, I prefer breaches at their apex, but my auto-focus was slightly off for the 2 frames before this one because I was zooming in tighter as it transpired. This behavior is so fleeting that it is always disappointing to lose any photos because they are soft. Fortunately, this one is razor sharp. It is also not that common to see an adult whale almost totally out of the water.
Last year, I resolved to learn to build and fly remote controlled multirotor copters in order to create dramatic landscape images from a unique angle. It took me a little while longer than I had expected, but I am very happy with the types of photos that I am now creating. This aerial view of Makena Beach on Maui is a beautiful example of what is possible by merging this astonishing technology with my creative vision. Sure, I’ve seen aerial images of Makena over the years that were photographed from a small plane, but what is exciting to me is that I did both the flying and the photography myself. My hexacopter was hovering about 300m out and 100m up from where I took off when the setting sun briefly shined underneath the clouds to illuminate the entire scene. This is also my edited version of this photo, because I digitally removed the tiny dots of naked people on Little Beach.
I’ve been back home for a few weeks now and barely flown my hexacopter. The one day that I did fly, I was amazed at how much the cooler weather shortened my battery life, and thus flight times. When I flew over La Perouse Bay on Maui a few weeks ago, I was conservatively reaching 10 minutes each flight. This beautiful lava shoreline and reef image was created by flying over 400m out and 50m up from the parking lot at the end of the road. It takes my hexacopter less than a minute to reach this distance and altitude. I then hover it in place and move it around to experiment with different compositions. I was especially drawn to the X shape of the shoreline surrounded by the turquoise water.
During my recent trip to Maui, I visited beautiful Poolenalena Beach at sunset and created this dramatic image. Over the years, I have tried to photograph this location several times, so it was especially rewarding to finally see all the necessary elements come together, including the dramatic clouds and golden light. I don’t often have an audience around me when I am working this hard, but there was a small wedding going on just to the left of this scene. Hopefully, I was not too distracting for their ceremony as I constantly shifted my tripod with the incoming waves in order to photograph the reflection of the coconut palms on the wet sand. Several times, a larger wave washed over me. When this happened, I had to run back to my camera bag so that I could dry off my lens and filters and then immediately run back into the surf to continue shooting. I’ve got several variations of this image with varying light and colors, but this is my favorite.
I have visited this iconic beach located south of Makena on Maui several times over the years. Last January, I got lucky with this dramatic light during one of the mornings that I photographed it. There was a lot of rain the night before, which meant that there were still a lot of clouds in the sky at sunrise. As the sun rose in the east, this spectacular lightshow briefly lasted for only a few minutes as it stretched across the horizon over Kahoolawe. Anyone who has ever visited this picturesque spot knows that at sunset it is usually overrun by wedding photographers, but thankfully, I had the beach all to myself so I did not have to digitally remove a wedding party from the scene.
Since I am flying back to the Big Island of Hawaii tomorrow morning, I decided to share one of my new Maui images from my last visit to the islands in December. Most of my recent trips have been dedicated to wildlife, but that does not mean that I have forsaken landscapes. I photographed this dramatic sunset from a quiet beach just south of Wailea. I wasn’t confident that the sun would shine through this hole in the clouds on the horizon until the last possible second, but fortunately it did. I also timed my exposures to record the gentle wash of the waves over the lava rocks in the foreground. I created this image using my Canon 5DmkIII, Carl Zeiss 28mm f2 ZE lens, and Singh-Ray LB Warming polarizer with a 3-stop Reverse Graduated Neutral Density filter. I processed the RAW file using Aperture 3, Photoshop CS6, and applied Nik’s Dfine 2.0 filter to eliminate noise in the sky.
After spending 2 adventurous weeks in American Samoa at the beginning of December, I flew back to Hawaii to meet my family for our winter vacation. The first island that we visited was Lanai. I had camped at Manele Bay several years ago and had always wanted to return. It is a fantastic campground for anyone interested in visiting Lanai, but doesn’t feel up to spending the money to stay at the nearby Four Seasons resort. I spent most of my day relaxing at the beach, but set out to photograph the surreal landscape of the Garden of the Gods in the late afternoon. These unusual rock formations are located high in the center of the island down a winding 4wd road. This is one of my favorite images after several visits. Every afternoon, the clouds built up over the center of the island, but the horizon was mostly clear to the west. This weather combination allowed me to photograph this scene with dramatic light. I created this image with my Canon 5DmkII, Carl Zeiss 28mm f2 ZE lens, and 3-stop Hard Graduated Neutral Density filter. This image is a single-exposure which required a minimal amount of processing using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CS5.