Addition by subtraction

Gary Hart Photography Hawaii Sunset

Sunset on the Rocks, Puna Coast, Hawaii
Canon EOS-5D Mark III
29 mm
8 seconds
ISO 200

In my previous blog post I mentioned that I lost a couple of my Hawaii locations to Hurricane Iselle. Not only was the loss no big deal, it proved a catalyst that jarred me from my rut and into more exploring.

This location was at first glance an exposed, twenty foot cliff above the Pacific with a great view up the Puna Coast, past palm trees and surf-battered, recently cooled lava. But, as with most spots, there’s a lot more if you take the time to look. Exploring the dense growth lining the coast here soon brought me to views of tiered, reflective pools. While getting these views required a little bushwhacking followed by some creative rock-hopping, I know if I were by myself, that’s where I’d have ended up. But when leading a group I need to be more careful—it’s one thing when I injure myself doing something stupid, and something entirely different to guide others into risky spots.

Each group is different when it comes to risk taking—in this case when I offered to guide the group toward the pools I’d found the previous day, only two followed, so I returned to the rock platform where everyone seemed quite content with the spectacular view—the rocks and pools will wait for another visit. And while everyone may have missed a few photo opportunities on the safety of our cliff, not only did we still get some great stuff, we were in close enough proximity that laughter abounded (all without missing a click, of course).

About twenty feet below us, large waves sent explosions of spray skyward; occasionally a perfect coincidence of wave and wind dusted the group with a fine mist that was more refreshing than soaking. Our view here was northeast, which meant the setting sun was more or less behind us. By this, our final sunset, everyone had started to understand why I say my favorite sunrise/sunset view is usually away from the sun. Not only is the light easier to manage in that direction, the Earth-shadow paints the post-sunset (or pre-sunrise) horizon with rich pink and blue hues that the camera can reveal long after they’ve faded to the eye.

The best views were straight up the coast, so I quickly decided a vertical composition was the way to go here. I experimented with different shutter speeds to vary the blur in the waves, but as the scene darkened, each blur became some variation of extreme motion blur. The other major variable in the scene was how wide to compose. With a large tree overhanging the rocks toward the back of the scene, including lots of foliage proved better than truncating everything but the protruding crown of that one tree.

I captured this frame about five minutes after sunset. Giving the scene enough light to bring out detail in the shaded, dark-green foliage without washing out the color in the sky, I employed a two-stop hard-transition Singh-Ray graduated neutral density filter. Instead of the standard GND horizontal orientation, I turned it vertically, aligning the transition with the coastline. To mask the transition, I vibrated the filter slightly left/right throughout the entire eight-second exposure. Smoothing the tones in Lightroom/Photoshop became quite simple, thanks to the GND at capture.

My periodic rounds during our shoot seemed to indicate that everyone was happy—this in spite of a couple of extreme drenchings at the hands of two large waves that far exceeded all that had preceded it to land squarely atop those on the southeast corner of our perch—but it wasn’t until someone exclaimed at the end of the shoot, “This is the best spot yet!” that I knew I’d found a keeper. My former (“lost”) locations were nice, but it was good to be nudged into remembering that unknown opportunities are usually just a little exploration away.

Upcoming Hawaii workshops

Maui Tropical Paradise (two nights in West Maui, two nights in Hana), March 2-6, 2015

Hawaii Big Island Volcanos and Waterfalls, September 14-18, 2015

A Hidden Hawaii Coast Gallery

Click an image for a larger view, and to enjoy the slide show

3 Comments on “Addition by subtraction

  1. Gary, how much do you charge for your 12×18 prints? Some of your recent Hawaii work (vertical) is stunning in very subtle ways — something I wouldn’t have noticed a few years back.

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