SHAWN'S BIG ISLAND OF HAWAII JOURNAL - DAY 1
After arriving in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii, I rented a Jeep and began my drive northeast. Although it was not featured in the episode, my first stop was the summit of Mauna Kea. From the base of the ocean to the summit, Mauna Kea is the world's tallest mountain. I ascended to almost 14,000 feet in elevation to where the air was cold and crisp. The elevation was immediately apparent as I began to find myself light-headed and out of breath. At the summit are a series of observatories. Mauna Kea is one of the best sites in the world for astronomical observation.
I continued my journey southeast to Hilo, the oldest town in the Hawaiian Islands. I stayed there for the night and prepared for a long day of photographing lava.
SHAWN'S BIG ISLAND OF HAWAII JOURNAL - DAY 2
The first day of our epic journey began in the little fishing village of Pāhoa.
I set out on a mission to find a fisherman that would be willing to take me by boat to where the lava was entering the ocean. This kind of dramatic lava flow is a rather rare occurrence and to get the opportunity to see it up close was a chance that I was not going to pass up.
After locating a couple of fishermen (and convincing them to take me out there by offering more than the proceeds of a full day of fishing), we set sail in the early morning under the cover of darkness.
The trip out to the ocean entry was nothing short of spectacular. The water was calm as the sun began to rise on the horizon. After about an hour we arrived at the ocean entry. Already you could feel the heat and hear the sound of the lava hitting the ocean, like splashes of water hitting a hot frying pan.
The boat's Captain, Kainoa, skillfully maneuvered the fishing boat in the choppy waters around the lava. Like any photographer passionate about what they are capturing, I kept saying "Closer! Closer!" and Kainoa continued to do what I was asking. At one point I dipped my hand into the ocean and the water was very warm. The ferocity of the ocean hitting the lava was incredibly intense and here I was, baring witness to an epic duel between two of Mother Nature's most powerful forces.
SPECS f/5.6, 1/250 second exposure, ISO 400, 100mm lens LOCATION 19.265564, -155.172647
After spending close to one hour with my eye pressed to the viewfinder of the camera, whilst trying to maintain balance on a rocking boat, I was feeling a little green, to say the least. I'm so glad that my vomiting over the side of the boat provided plenty of entertainment and laughs for Jan, our cinematographer, and our two fishermen friends!
While heading back to shore the fishermen asked if it would be OK to drop three lines into the water and try their luck at catching some fish. As anxious as I was to step back on to solid land, I was not going to pass up this opportunity. Roughly five minutes after sinking their lines into the water, all three rods, almost simultaneously, suddenly bent over and the reels started whizzing. Our Captain yelled at me to jump on one of the lines (this is a hard thing to do with any speed after spending an entire morning being sick). I began to reel in the line and after what felt like an hour, the fish was in sight. I managed to catch what turned out to be a 50 pound "wahoo." It was a proud morning to have captured both a massive fish and a collection of some great lava photographs.
SHAWN'S BIG ISLAND OF HAWAII JOURNAL - DAY 3
Talk about exhausted! I am definitely feeling the hurt after all of the trecking across the barren lava fields near the old evacuated and burned out town of Kalapana. On this day, rather than use a guide, I am feeling confident that I can navigate my way along the three hour hike to the active lava fields. Having admitted this, it's certainly not recommended as a good idea. Underground and invisible lava tubes can swallow an unsuspecting person into a pool of scalding magma in a heartbeat.
After reaching the surface flows of lava I was immediately greeted, once again, with the scorching heat. It seems incredible that even from 10 feet away, the heat emanating from the slow surface flows of lava is painful enough on the skin to prevent you from getting any closer.
For me, the biggest fear of shooting lava is the possibility of the wind shifting and sending deadly plumes of sulphur dioxide gas in my direction. On this particular day, exactly that happened. While scrambling to get my gas mask on, a couple of shallow breaths revealed the terrifying nature of sulphur dioxide gas. It feels like a thousand needles in your chest and forces you to gasp and cough in an effort to clear your lungs. I would highly recommend to anyone thinking of venturing out near an ocean lava entry that they carry an emergency gas mask with them. Or better yet - go with a guide.
After spending several hours carefully photographing the surface flows, the skies began to dim as dusk approached. For me, this was going to be the magic hour - the moment that I had come out here for. The beauty of dusk is that it provides some color in the sky while also allowing dimly-lit subjects (such as lava) to become brightly exposed.
I spent nearly an hour, carefully watching where I was placing my feet, capturing images of the stunningly beautiful surface flows. The heat was so intense that the rubber feet on my tripod literally melted into the earth. By the end of the shoot I had nothing but bare carbon fibre posts where the feet on my tripod had once been. But the way I look at it, sometimes you just have to do whatever it takes to get the shot. Pain is temporary, photographs are forever.
SPECS f/5.6, 30 second exposure, ISO 400, 24mm lens LOCATION 19.265564, -155.172647
SHAWN'S BIG ISLAND OF HAWAII JOURNAL - DAY 4
On this day I hired a guide by the name of Andrew to take me out across the lava fields to where the lava is pouring into the ocean.
Upon arrival I found a good vantage point that was as close to the ocean entry as possible. I setup my tripod and got ready for a long evening of shooting.
Throughout the course of daylight, through sunset and into dusk, I played around with various focal lengths, shutter speeds and white balances to capture different "looks." Some of my favorite images were shots taken with a slow shutter speed. This froze the fairly slow-moving lava in place while allowing the waves to become somewhat blurry to convey the motion.
SPECS f/8, 1/13 second exposure, ISO 50, 200mm lens LOCATION 19.324020, -155.028312
SPECS f/8, 1 second exposure, ISO 50, 300mm lens LOCATION 19.324020, -155.028312
Many thanks to our guides Andrew, Kainoa and Ikaika for keeping us safe and helping us to be in the right places at the right times.
I look forward to shooting in Hawaii with you again very soon...
SPECS f/8, 1/5 second exposure, ISO 100, 200mm lens
LOCATION 19.324020, -155.028312