Intimate Beauty

Gary Hart Photography: Raindrops, Indian Rhododendron in Lava Tree State Park, Hawaii

Raindrops, Indian Rhododendron, Lava Tree State Park, Hawaii
Sony α1
Sony 100-400 GM
ISO 400
f/5.6
1/100 second

One of my favorite things about Hawaii’s Big Island is the diversity of the photo opportunities—not just its variety of beautiful subjects, but also the opportunities to apply many different types of nature photography. Between Kilauea, the Milky Way, black sand beaches, rugged coastline, numerous waterfalls, and an entire nursery-worth of exotic flowers, I have no problem employing every lens in my bag on subjects near and far.

For example, while I can’t be much farther from my subject than I was for the Milky Way image in my last post, I can’t be much closer to my subject than I was to this raindrop laden flower in Lava Tree State Park near the Puna Coast. Ironically, to photograph the distant Milky Way, I used an extreme wide lens (Sony 14mm f/1.8 GM) that shrinks everything even more, while this pink Indian rhododendron, though only a few feet away, I photographed using my Sony 100-400 GM lens at 400mm, to get even closer.

Lava Tree State Park is a lush, peaceful 1/2 mile loop liberally decorated with a variety of exotic subjects. Though not necessarily spectacular, the trail’s colorful flowers, dense foliage, and ghostlike lava-encrusted trees, make it a workshop favorite. Better still, my groups are often the only people there.

Lava Tree’s abundant greenery sprinkled with vivid blooms create intimate scenes that I especially love photographing in Hawaii’s (frequent) overcast and rain. This year’s visit came on a very wet morning that had already caused my workshop group to sit in the cars for 30 minutes at our sunrise location, waiting for a downpour to ease (it did).

Lava Tree was the morning’s second stop, and it was obvious the rain that had delayed our sunrise shoot had only recently ended here. Rather than guide the group to a specific spot, I gave an orientation summarizing what to expect and offering suggestions for how to approach it, then set them free to wander (the best way to photograph here). Giving everyone a head-start, I slowly made my way along the trail, checking on each person as I encountered them. At each stop I found every exposed surface festooned with sparkling jewels of rain, creating a seemingly infinite number of compositions.

The pink flower (that I now believe to be a malabar melastome, also known as Indian rhododendron—correct me if I’m wrong) in this image caught my attention for the the way it stood out from its verdant surroundings. When I paused to look closer, I found that positioning myself just right let me frame the flower with a V of delicate fern fronds.

Working with my Sony α1, I went strait to my 100-400 GM and added a 15mm extension tube. Being able to zoom tight and focus close allowed me to eliminate nearby distractions, either banishing them to the world outside my frame, or blurring them until they softened into the background.

For me the world looks a lot different in a telephoto close-up, particularly using when extension tubes shrink my focus distance even more. Unlike larger landscapes, I often don’t have a clear idea of what my composition will look like until I actually see these close scenes in my viewfinder. Every image becomes a process of capture, refine, capture, repeat until I’m satisfied (or give up)—an approach that’s especially important in close-focus photography, when even the slightest shift of composition, focal length, or focus can completely change an image.

It took a handful of frames to land on this composition, but when I did, I knew I’d found something worth working on. Needing to keep track of my group, I didn’t spend as much time at this spot as I ordinarily would have, but I moved on pretty happy with what I had.

One thing I did try before leaving was a horizontal composition, but I didn’t like the way making the composition tight enough to eliminate background distractions (bright spots and dead ferns), also cut off the top of the framing ferns’ graceful arc—a dealbreaker.

Fortunately, just one pink flower in the background saved the day for my vertical composition. Without it, the top half of my frame would have been too empty. By simply including that little splash of color, even though the flower is very soft, was enough balance the frame.

The lesson of this image (and the gallery below, I should add), is that beauty is everywhere if we slow down and take the time to see it. As much as I like this little scene (I do), on this short walk I no doubt walked right past thousands of others that were just as beautiful. Next time…

Selective Focus || Join Me in Hawaii

Intimate Beauty

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