Volcanoes rock! Photographing Hawaii’s most famous hotspot
Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano started erupting in January 1983 and has remained continually active ever since. The amount of lava coming out of the vent varies greatly from day to day, which can flow all the way to the ocean, creating a great cloud of steam as the 2000 degree lava meets the cold sea water.
As the molten stream flows slowly downhill, red chunks of lava shoot up through the air from various openings in the earth. You can feel the heat from these small, glowing pieces of rock as they fly over your head.
You can borrow torches from the Park Services to wander near the lava flows in the dark. The most dramatic views are seen during the late afternoon and remain until after dark, when the red hot rocks glow. Avid visitors are drawn to stay until dawn.
Photographers may dare to set up their tripods, however, the ground is hot enough for the soles of your shoes to melt if you stay standing in the one spot for very long. Camera lenses can feel the heat too, becoming too hot to touch their metallic surfaces.
If you stay until dawn, you can snap visitors strolling past steam clouds at the water’s edge where lava enters the ocean.
Being around fresh molten lava is a seductive experience and it’s hard to tear yourself away. The Kilauea eruption may have been continuous for 28 years, but each visit is different. It is not always possible to obtain compelling images of the action; the lava may smoulder instead of flow. There is not always a large steam cloud at the interface with the ocean, and the red lava can be hidden below the surface of old, hardened lava.
As it turns out, the best photographs I’ve taken of Kilauea were on my very first visit in 1991. Despite various later efforts, I was never able to improve upon, or even equal, those initial images.
- words and pictures by Mark Newman
Visit www.hawaiianlavadaily.blogspot.com to find out what’s happening at Kilauea. Be sure to check with the National Park Service before you go to see what areas you can trek to and what’s restricted because, as Mark reiterates, conditions change frequently.
Check out these top ten volcanic hotspots from the Lonely Planet Images library:
Streetscapes, and how to photograph them
Tips on capturing sunrises and sunsets
How to bring your images to life through movement