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Tag Archives: Lava

Molokai View

I’m back!  One of the reasons for my absence was another trip to Moloka’i.  A favorite place to visit and photograph, and it gets harder to leave every time I go.

This image was taken on the east side of the island, looking across the sea to Maui in the distance.  My trip was in early December, so I missed all the fabulous surf the islands experienced this month.  But then I also missed the huge crowds that flocked to the North Shore of O’ahu to watch the waves and those who ride them.

That’s a big part of why I love Moloka’i.  There are no crowds.  And there are plenty of views like this to feast your eyes on.

I’ll be back…


beach 3

Another image of a moonlit beach on The Big Island (Hawai’i).  This is the third in a series of four images.  Tomorrow I’ll explain how I found myself doing night photography at zero-dark-thirty on these beautiful shores…

abandoned house

Once upon a time–that time being about 40 years ago–a family lived in this house.  Now it’s being reclaimed by the jungle, and in 40 more years there will probably be little left on this site to show that it was once inhabited.  Untreated wood doesn’t last long in this climate, and as you can see, most of the paint has already weathered from the walls.

What does survive in this climate is rock.  Historically recent cement foundations, and much older lava rock foundations, are what remain after the rest of the structure disintegrates.

One day in the future, someone may walk along the road and notice a moss- and lichen-covered lava rock wall, almost completely camouflaged by vines and small trees.  And if they look past that wall with a keen eye, they may notice the remains of a house, perhaps some broken glass or a pile of rotten timbers or a few banged up metal pots, and realize that a family called this piece of land home…once upon a time.

lava surf

I watched these two little rivulets of lava keep pouring…and pouring…and pouring, despite the incessant surf that kept pounding against the base of the cliff.  As each wave struck, it obliterated my view of the lava, and buried the flow under several feet of water.  And each wave receded to show the lava persistently flowing, and the rock steaming from the latest impact of cool water.

I took a number of images of this little flow, varying the shutter speed to get different exposure lengths and therefore different amounts of blur in the water.  I focused on the lava and the rock above it, which is dark and stands out in sharp contrast to the white steam.  Because that area is the brightest and the sharpest, that’s where your eyes are drawn, and where they keep returning as they explore the rest of the image.

Interestingly, one “rule” of photography states that to have an interesting image, don’t center the subject.  I’m sure most of you have heard of the infamous “Rule of Thirds.”  But in this photo, even with the subject almost dead center, it’s far from being a static image.  There’s enough movement and variety in the water and steam surrounding the lava that I think it works quite well.

frozen lava

A very fast shutter speed (1/1,000th of a second!) freezes chunks of glowing lava in midair as they plunge towards the ocean.  The fast shutter also freezes the wave droplets as they hit the basalt cliff and fall back into the sea.

lava piles

Thick lava s-l-o-w-l-y oozes out of an opening in a cliff.  Gravity is inexorably pulling it towards the ocean below, but the lava takes its own sweet time.  It’s so viscous, sometimes big globs of it hang for several moments, seemingly suspended in mid-air, before slowly dripping and dropping down to the next landing zone.  In this lackadaisical manner, the lava lazily makes its way down to the sea.  It’s almost as if it knows the cool ocean water will quench its vibrantly glowing orange beauty on contact and instantly turn it into dull brown or black basalt rock, and it wants to remain in its lovely liquid state as long as possible.  Can you blame it?

lava shooter

If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m one of those nature photographers that normally abhors people.  Oh, I like them well enough to talk to, sit next to, and sometimes even to go out to dinner with–particularly if they pick up the tab!–but I usually don’t like them “contaminating” my outdoor images.  I didn’t come all the way to this lava flow to photograph people…I could’ve stayed home and done that.

But, one of the times that even diehard nature photographers will tolerate people in their images, and sometimes even put them there deliberately, is “to lend a sense of scale.”  That advice is given so often in photography brochures and classes that it’s become a cliché.  But a cliché becomes a cliché because it’s so often true:  sometimes it CAN be hard for someone looking at an image to tell just how big that rock/sequoia/wave is without a climber/hiker/surfer nearby.  People become handy little measuring devices.  Take the image above:  knowing the average man is about 6′ tall, you can guesstimate the height of the cliff he’s standing on to be about 35′-40’…

Which begs the next question:  why is he standing on the edge of a cliff next to molten lava and risking a likely fatal fall onto the jagged rocks or into the pounding surf below?

For the photo-op, silly!  Now if only that flowing lava would stop for a moment, he could get a good shot…

lava fall

Lava flows several feet below the surface, finds an opening midway up a cliff, slowly flows down the side of the cliff, and when it reaches an overhang, it gradually drips and falls to form a lava “puddle” below.  You can see from the shape of the puddled lava how viscous it is.  It flows so slowly, it reminds me of a certain ketchup ad…

It’s precisely the high viscosity and slow-moving quality of the lava on The Big Island that makes it often relatively safe to approach.  This image was taken from the ocean, however.  I don’t think I’d want to stand below a cliff with lava pouring out of it on land.  In fact, I’m darned certain I wouldn’t.

The one constant about a lava flow is that it’s always changing.  It starts and stops and changes direction, and the amount and speed of the flow can also change.

I felt relatively comfortable approaching slow-flowing lava on almost-flat terrain on land to within several feet.  Lava flowing from any height would be a completely different matter, however.

More lava shots tomorrow…

lava cliff

Multiple rivulets of lava cascade down the cliff and into the ocean below.  Jagged chunks of basalt, broken off the cliff face, lie scattered at its base.  Every time a wave hits the lava, it sends a huge plume of steam billowing skyward.  The ocean begins to erode the cliff literally the second it is formed.  The waves pound the cliff relentlessly, continuously…

In several thousand years, this may become a beautiful black sand beach.  But for now, it’s best to stay out of the water.  Not only are there falling rocks, strong surf and dangerous currents, but the water may be a bit warm for your liking in some spots…

lava wave

A wave smacks against a cliff where lava is flowing into the ocean, sending out a cloud of spray and steam that glows orange in the pre-dawn darkness.

Words fail me when I try to describe the magic of witnessing such a spectacle from only a few feet away, at sea level.  Intense, magical, primal, breathtaking, awesome, captivating, mesmerizing…and don’t let me forget beautiful!