Is there ever a bad sunset in Hawaii? My preliminary investigation seems to indicate that the answer is probably no, but I think a definitive answer requires more research—a task for which I’m more than happy to volunteer (that’s just the kind of guy I am). As far as I can determine, most every day in Hawaii seems to include some combination of clouds and sunlight—enough clouds to make gorgeous skies, and enough sunlight to make spectacular color. In other words, a photographer’s paradise.
In case you missed it, I recently returned from Hawaii where I assisted Don Smith’s Kauai workshop. Each day we’d rise before the sun, head to some east-facing beach (either by car or simply by taking the 50 yard stroll to the beach behind our room), pick a composition, and wait for the inevitable show to begin. Color, shafts of light, rainbows–we saw it all, and while each was different, it was pretty difficult to say any one was better than any other. In the evening we’d repeat the process at a west-facing beach, then go to dinner. Not a bad gig.
Ke’e Beach is a sunset destination, literally the end of the road, a spectacular exclamation point punctuating Hawaii’s State Highway 560 on the northwest side of Kauai. Just beyond, accessible only by foot, water, or air, the sheer Nā Pali cliffs jut from the Pacific and disappear into the clouds. A coral reef protects the beach, calming the surf and creating an ideal environment for swimming, snorkeling, and fishing. Many visitors forego those activities in favor of simply sitting on the beach waiting for the sun to disappear.
This was the evening before the workshop began, my first visit here. Scanning the scene for composition options I decided frames including the bay and cliffs would require working around too many people, so I turned my attention the beautiful sky around the sun. As nice as the sky was, I still wanted something in the foreground for depth. The pristine sand was a good start, but wanting more I chose this flat rock outcrop as my foreground anchor. I set up my tripod close enough to the surf that an occasional wave would swirl about my ankles, etching ephemeral arcs in the sand. I went with my 17-40 lens, dialing it wide to exaggerate the beach and give the background an expansive feel.
While waiting for the sun to drop to the horizon I readied my graduated neutral density filters, set my camera to f16 to ensure a sunburst, and determined that ISO 200 would give me the shutter speed with just the right amount of motion blur. Next I played with compositions, deciding that (despite “rules” to the contrary), I wanted the horizon in the middle and the sun bullseyed. With everything ready, I was able just stand and enjoy the view.
When the sun popped from the clouds I started clicking, timing my exposures with the waves, some with the surf flat and others with of motion around the rock. After a few frames I’d adjust the composition, keeping the scene centered but playing with variations between horizontal, vertical, wide, and tight. I ended up with several I like, and who knows, maybe tomorrow I’ll decide I like the vertical version better.
Click an image for a closer look, and to view a slide show.