Wow, wow, wow…

Fire on High, Kilauea and Milky Way, Hawaii

Fire on High, Kilauea and Milky Way, Hawaii
Canon EOS-5D Mark III
15 seconds
ISO 3200
28 mm

In a life filled with special moments, a few in particular stand out for me. Near the top of that list would be my annual trip to Hawaii and more specifically, the opportunity to photograph the Milky Way above an active volcano. I do this enough that it’s no longer novel for me, but it’s always special, and each time I get vicarious joy seeing my group’s reaction. And no Kilauea shoot was more joyful than this night.

After photographing a nice sunset at the caldera, my workshop group hightailed it to the Kilauea Lodge in nearby Volcano for dinner and to wait for total darkness. The sky was mostly cloudy when we went inside, but I’ve done this enough now to know that the clouds surrounding Kilauea often clear once the sun goes down. Stepping outside after dinner, we were thrilled to see that the clouds had indeed departed, exposing a sky that some in the group said was filled with more stars than they’d ever seen. (Camera or not, I encourage each of you to get away from town late on a moonless night and spend some quality time with the sky.)

We started our night shoot at the Jaggar Museum overlook, which offers the closest view of the caldera. I got the group set up with their exposures and focus and we stayed until I knew everyone had at least one successful image. Its proximity to the caldera makes the Jaggar overlook the most crowded place to view Kilauea, so I quickly hustled the group to another spot a little farther back along the rim where I knew we could align the Milky Way with the glowing caldera. By that time a few clouds had started to move back in, but I reassured everyone that some clouds would add some character to the sky and reflect the color from the volcano. Little did we know….

Our second vantage point was completely empty, and the clouds couldn’t have been more perfect if I’d have commissioned them myself. For at least thirty minutes we photographed a jigsaw of cloud fragments drifting over the volcano, glowing like embers with the light of the churning lava but parting just enough to reveal the stars behind and frame the Milky Way.

Waiting fifteen to thirty seconds for an exposure to complete leaves lots of vacant time, which we managed to fill quite easily with laughter. Despite the hilarity, everyone managed to keep shooting until the cloud  pieces assembled and the Milky Way rotated away from the volcano’s glow. But not before everyone in the group had an assortment of images like this (and memories to match). Besides the amazing images, I think my greatest pleasure came from the spontaneous exclamations of joy (“Oh my God!”, “Wow! Wow! Wow!”) I heard from each workshop student when the first image popped up on their LCD.

And for those dubious minds who don’t believe this image is “real,” I can assure you that this is pretty much the way the scene appeared on everyone’s LCD (and I have a dozen witnesses with their own images to prove it). To our eyes the scene was darker, not nearly bright enough for our eyes to discern this much color in the clouds (but no less beautiful). But boosting exposure to bring out more stars in the Milky Way had the added benefit of enhancing the caldera’s glow reflected by the clouds.

Join me on the Big Island each September as I help my workshop group duplicate this amazing shot

A Big Island Gallery

Click an image for a closer look and slide show. Refresh the window to reorder the display.

16 Comments on “Wow, wow, wow…

  1. WOW! Not sure if I like last year’s no clouds or this years some clouds better.

    And thanks for the reminder that it is time to book a workshop.

  2. Yes wow is not enough!!!!….it is all about F8 and be there for sure. Since you are in Hawaii and we are headed to Maui in Late Oct any advice on making sure the camera and lens stay dry with all the moisture/humidity around….besides not going swimming with the camera. Thanks Gary for another wonderful shot and EXIF data

    • Thanks, Tom. I don’t really do much special for humidity in Hawaii beyond frequently monitoring my lenses/filters for fogging. I use a plastic garbage bag to protect the camera from rain when walking around or waiting with it on a tripod, and shield it with an umbrella when shooting. I dress in clothes that shed or wick moisture (swimsuit or running clothes–no cotton) so my umbrella can be dedicated to the camera. I always have a towel with me in case I need to dry my gear. I also wipe down my lenses and gear at least once a day if I’ve been shooting near the ocean–lenses in particular will get a film on the front element when exposed to ocean air.

  3. Pingback: Things You’ll Find Interesting September 7, 2012 | Chuq Von Rospach, Photographer and Author

  4. Pingback: And now for something completely different… « Eloquent Nature by Gary Hart

  5. Pingback: Glow in the dark « Eloquent Nature by Gary Hart

  6. Pingback: Seeing the trees for the forest | Eloquent Nature by Gary Hart

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: