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lava 5

The best time to see (and shoot) lava, at least in my humble opinion, is before sunrise or after sunset.  There’s a magic window right when it first starts getting light in the morning, or right as it’s about to turn completely dark in the evening, when the lava has an other-worldly glow, and you can still pick up detail in the foreground and in the sky…and in this case, in the ocean.

If you try to shoot in complete darkness, you can get pretty lava, but nothing else.  The lava is so bright that the rock and sky around it come out completely black and detail-less.  And if you shoot in daylight, the lava looks completely washed out.  In the above image, all but the biggest pretty orange bits scattered amid the black basalt would completely disappear.

It’s worth noting that in the tropics, twilight is brief year round.  The latitude on The Big Island is approximately 19 degrees North.  The vibrant sunsets that Hawai’i is famous for last but a few brief minutes, and darkness falls quickly.  Likewise, the optimal window for shooting lava, I found, is also extremely brief.  Depending on cloud cover, it can be less than five minutes!

lava 7

This endeavor involves planning ahead, but I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that “luck favors the prepared.”  If you want to shoot lava at dawn (my preference) at its current location (subject to change without warning!) you are either getting on a boat at 4:30 AM or beginning your hike by 4:00 AM.  And yes, I did both.  That was in order to get out to the flow by 5:45, in total darkness, because sunrise was at 6:45.

If you haven’t learned to set up your camera gear in the dark by now, this isn’t the time.  Practice beforehand.  Whether you’re pitching and rolling on a boat, or stumbling around an uneven lava field filled with deep cracks and razor-sharp rocks, it isn’t the time to drop a lens cap, let alone a lens or camera.

With a little planning, you can go out and get some really cool images…or should I say hot?

lava 6

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10 Comments

  1. Spectacular shots. Well worth the effort of early starts.

    • Hi BB,

      Thank you, I’m glad you like the images. Getting up at 2 AM set a new record for misery for this VERY non-morning person photographer, but I’m happy to say I have no regrets. I’d do it again in a heartbeat!

      RPRT Photo

  2. Fascinating stuff but the disclaimer “subject to change without warning” is a little disquieting when the subject is molten rock!

    • Hi James,

      The “subject to change without warning” refers to the fact that the lava flow can start or stop at any second, and in this case I was mostly concerned about it STOPPING after going to all the effort and expense of getting to it.

      I was less concerned about it starting in a new location or changing direction…within reason, of course!

      In another post I’ll elaborate more about the dangers of doing this kind of shooting, and the precautions one should take, lest any of my readers feel inclined to try this on their own…and I hope they do. I highly recommend it, and even for non-photographers it is something to witness up close and personal at least once in your lifetime, but, to paraphrase Clint Eastwood:

      “A got to know limitations!”

      RPRT Photo

      • There are so few places in the world where lava flows like this (most volcanoes are explosive and produce ash) so trying it myself is highly unlikely. I did spend a few days on Oahu nearly 25 years ago (stop over on a trip home from Australia) but never got onto the big island and I’m unlikely ever to go back.

        However I am looking forward to the next post as I really enjoy reading about other people’s exploits; adventure by proxy I call it.

  3. Stunning!

    • Thanks Charles. I’m glad you like these images. 🙂

      RPRT Photo

  4. Amazing images. Your patience and determination paid off. Well done.

    • Thanks Lizzie.

      Glad you like the images. I love it when I set myself up for a photographic challenge and Mother Nature delivers! 🙂

      RPRT Photo

  5. Looks good! 🙂

    RPRT Photo


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