Tag Archives: Kauai

A Landscape Photographer in Hawaii: 21 Days, 21 Photos

Earlier this month I was in Kauai for a couple weeks and another seven days on the Big Island of Hawaii.  Although my wife had some silly expectation that I would spend all of my time with the family, I did manage to sneak out and take shot or two (actually, more like 15,322 of them…but who’s counting?)

Yes, yes, I took a lot of family shots…and my wife hasn’t divorced me (yet)..but you read this blog because of your interest in landscape photography, so here are some of my favorite (non-family) images from the trip:

1)   Kauai is my favorite of all the islands.  It isn’t as developed as Oahu or Maui, plus it must have been made on a day when God had just bought a new camera because it is blessed with an incredible variety of photographic riches.  For example, Waimea Canyon isn’t what you would expect to see on an exotic Pacific island…

Waimea Canyon, Kauai Kauai and Big Island Photo Locations

Arizona?…maybe Utah? Nope…Kauai

2) I’ve loved the old Wai’oli church from the first moment I saw it years ago.  Built back in 1912, it is quaint, cute and very, very green.  It gets photographed by every single tourist that drives up to the north side of Kauai so it is hard to capture a shot that hasn’t already been done a million times.   So I thought a night image with the Milky Way rising behind it might be a new twist on an old favorite.  I like the result.

Wai'oli Hui'ia Church in Hanalei, Kauai Kauai and Big Island Photo Locations

“Closer my God to Thee…”

3)  Then there is Hanalei Bay…which is simply postcard perfect.  The old pier makes a great foreground subject and the mountains in the background are breathtakingly riddled with waterfalls.  Although it may rain a lot on the north end of Kauai, the showers are brief and you are treated to rainbows as compensation.

Hanalei Bay with Pier under rainbow Kauai and Big Island Photo Locations

“Floatsam in Paradise” One definition of paradise might be tropical beach covered with coconuts and hibiscus blossoms under a glimmering morning rainbow

4)  I made a trip back to Hanalei early one morning to capture a bright Milky Way hanging over the bay:Hanalei Bay, Kauai under the Milky Way Kauai and Big Island Photo Locations

5) I was in heaven on the north shore of Kauai…dozens of incredible locations all within 20 minutes.  Queen’s Bath in Princeville, for example, is another beautiful spot.  This sunrise nicely lit up the sky and illuminated the twin waterfalls on the right side of the image.

Queen's Bath Kauai sunrise Kauai and Big Island Photo Locations

6)  Of all the beaches in Hawaii, Tunnels beach is my favorite for photography:

Kauai Photo locations

Don’t put away your camera during the day!

7)  The Hawaiian name for the pyramid-shaped mountain peak is Makana, which means “gift from heaven.”  It was called ‘ Bali Hai’ in the movie South Pacific but no matter what name you use, it is dramatic and beautiful.

Tunnels Beach, Kauai at sunset Kauai and Big Island Photo Locations

Gorgeous day or night…

8)  Tunnels may have been my favorite, but there are no shortage of beautiful beaches.  Some of them, like Moloaa Beach (see below) are small in size (a total of three parking spaces) but pack a huge visual impact.Kauai and Big Island Photo Locations

9) Others, like Anahola (below) are huge.  I was like a kid in a candy store.  Every morning at 4:30 I had to decide which beach to photograph…problems, problems, problems…Kauai and Big Island Photo Locations

10) 11) & 12)  The NaPali coast on Kauai’s northwestern shore might be the most dramatic meeting of mountains and ocean in the world.

Kauai and Big Island Photo Locations Kalepa Ridge

“Hanging Gardens”

I went on a couple hikes with my son and son-in-law to explore and photograph the area.  The first trek was on a trail called Kalepa Ridge.

 

Kalepa Ridge Trail, Kauai

“Almost Heaven”….apologies to John Denver

This wasn’t your average hike.  In some stretches the trail was only couple feet wide and fell away on both sides nearly straight down for over a thousand feet. But the views…my God!

Kauai and Big Island Photo Locations

“Cloud Walker” My son-in-law Scott leads the way on the knife-edge Kalepa Ridge.

13) The second hike we tackled was the Kalalau Trail.

Kauai and Big Island Photo Locations

Early morning view of NaPali coast from the Kalalau Trail

I had read that many consider this to be one of the premier trails in the United States, in fact quite a number of folks consider it to be the best in the country.  Kalalau certainly lived up to its reputation…an incredible hike.

14) The trail is 11 miles each way and although we weren’t able to secure one of the scare permits for the whole hike, we were able to do the 8 mile round trip trek to the 300′ tall Hanakapi’ai Falls:

Hanakp'ai Falls Kauai and Big Island Photo Locations

Ryan takes a well-earned break

15) After two weeks in Kauai, we hopped over to the Big Island of Hawaii.  I would have loved to have stayed in Kauai longer, but there is one thing the Big Island has that Kauai doesn’t.  LAVA!!!

Kauai and Big Island Photo Locations

Armageddon!

16) The Kilaeau volcano has been continously erupting since 1983 and photographing lava was certainly on the old bucket list!  We booked tickets on a boat that takes you out to where the lava pours into the ocean.  I booked this particular boat (LavaOne) because I had heard that it gets you close to the lava:

Kauai and Big Island Photo Locations

“Coming in Hot!”

17)   Well, it did….real close…like 20 feet away!  It was incredible to watch the lava pour into the ocean and explode on contact!

Kauai and Big Island Photo Locations

Lazy Lava River

18) I had two cameras with me and shot non-stop for the twenty minutes the captain kept the boat on station.  You could feel the heat sweep across you in waves…I had a blast!

19) Ryan and I made a run down to the southern tip of the island where 75′ tall cliffs rise starkly from the ocean.  Some of the local kids were showing off and diving into the clear Pacific.  This young man was particularly graceful:

Kauai and Big Island Photo Locations

Ten frame sequence of a Hawaiian Cliff Diver

Ryan gave it a try as well.  I would have done it too… but, well someone had to take the pictures;)

20) Ryan and I wanted to see more lava so the next evening we took the land route out to the ocean entry location.  At the end of the trail, a group of 50 or so folks had gathered in silence and watched the birth of new land as the sun fell.  I found it to be a peaceful, powerful and profoundly emotional experience.  After an hour or so we turned around and headed back in the darkness 5 miles to the car (fortunately, we had rented mountain bikes, so the trip back was a lot faster than hoofing it!)

photo locations on Kauai and the Big Island of Hawaii

“Midwife” A lone hiker is witness to Pele’s creation.

21) Of all the locations I had dreamed of shooting, the Kilaeau crater was at the top of the list.  It didn’t dissapoint.  I spent the better part of three nights photographing there.  Surprising, the view is a bit boring during the day, but at night the glow of the lava reflects off of the steam and low clouds and puts on quite a show.  The full moon was a bonus as well.

photo locations on Kauai and the Big Island of Hawaii

“Lunar Limelight” The moon was so bright it caused a wicked purple lens flare. Kinda looks like the Death Star firing its superlaser!

Not a bad shot to end this blog with.

I know this was a short article and not long on details.  I plan to write follow-up blogs about the spots I photographed in Hawaii but haven’t decided on which ones yet.  Let me know if a particular location interests you and I’ll select the next topic based upon the feedback I get.

Aloha!
Jeff

 

PS:  If you would like to see more of my photographs from Hawaii, just click on this link!   If you are specifically interesting in Milky Way photography in Hawaii, check out this article. Finally, if you really liked the shots of NaPali, you might want to see some aerial views I shot from a helicopter.

 

A Landscape Photographer in Hawaii:  21 Days, 21 Photos

Kauai and Big Island Hawaii Photo Locations

photo locations on Kauai and the Big Island of Hawaii

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Justifiable Extravagance: Kauai Helicopter Photo Tips

Flying in a helicopter is a rare and expensive extravagance.  Dropping $300-$600 for an hour’s entertainment might not be a big deal for CEOs or professional athletes, but for the rest of us, that amount of money leaves a big hole in the old budget.

Justifiable Extravagance: Kauai Helicopter Photo Tips

Anita and I with our chopper pilot. I think the Hawaiian hand gesture we are making means: “Look at us…We just spent a ton of money!”

And, truth be told, I’m a bit of a tightwad: (I can hear my kids laughing now as they say:  ”A bit of a tightwad?  Heck Dad, you make Ebenezer Scrooge look like a Saudi Sheik throwing money at a Vegas roulette wheel!”)  Be that as it may, I’ve long been fascinated by flight and aerial photography… so over the years I have occasionally coughed up the bucks for a chopper ride.

I’ve enjoyed all of those flights…heck, its FUN to hover and zip around like a big hummingbird.  But strictly as a photographer, I found that the expense was rarely justified.  Why?  Four reasons:

1)  First of all, aerial photography has its own unique rules and techniques.  None of it is rocket science, but until I learned the  basics, my results were often disappointing  (I’ll write an in-depth article next week providing you with all you need to know about aerial photography so you don’t have to learn the hard way).

2)  Second, most helicopters are not well-suited for aerial photography.

  • Typical helicopters have large, curved windows which create wicked reflections/distortions in your shots.
  • Many of these choppers have 6 or more seats.  Which means that some seats are NOT by a window.  In other words, you can end up in a middle seat and be unable to get a decent shot the entire flight.
    • Some tour companies will tell you that their helicopter was designed for touring and ALL the seats are great.  Don’t believe it.
    • Since seats are assigned  based on your weight to ensure that the chopper has proper balance, most companies will NOT guarantee you a window seat.

3)  Third, flights are relatively short…so unless there is a lot of great stuff to photograph in a compact area, you can only get shots of one or two locations.  This this makes it really difficult for most photographers to justify the cost.

4)  Finally, the cheap-skate that lives somewhere in the back of my head would tell you that most of the locations flown over by helicopters are accessible via cheaper (but less fun) methods.

Well, now that I’ve burst your bubble about helicopter photography, let me tell you about the one exception I’ve found so far.  A flight that is so incredible that it is worth the money even if you don’t take your camera along (which is a heck of a statement for a photographer).  The location is the island of Kauai, the oldest and, in my opinion, the most photogenic of the Hawaiian islands

So, why is Kauai the exception?

Justifiable Extravagance: Kauai Helicopter Photo Tips

The legendary Na Pali: One of the most spectacular vistas on earth.

1)  The only way avoid the issues I described with typical choppers is to fly in a 4 seat helicopter that has removable doors.  These choppers are not commonly used by tour operators because they (understandably) want to maximize profits by taking as many paying customers as they can on each flight.

  • There are at least two tour operators on Kauai that use small 4 seat helicopters. Mauna Loa Helicopter flies the Robinson R44 and Jack Harter uses the Hughes 500).
  • Four seats mean that EVERY seat is a window seat
  • Both of these choppers have removable doors, which eliminates reflections & distortion (and makes for a much more exciting ride!)
  • Note: Some of the 6+ seater choppers do have sections of their windows that slide open.  That is better than nothing, but it pales in comparison to having the entire island at your feet (literally) in a doors-off aircraft.

2)  Kauai  has three world-class photographic subjects that you can easily reach during a typical one hour tour:

  • Incredible waterfalls (including the Wall of Tears on Mt Waialeala, the Five Sisters, Manawaiopuna Falls…aka Jurassic Falls),
  • Waimea Canyon, (the ‘Grand Canyon of the Pacific’) and
  • The Na Pali coast (the Pièce de résistance..totally breathtaking)
Justifiable Extravagance: Kauai Helicopter Photo Tips

Manawaiopuna Falls (seen in the movie Jurassic Park)

3)  Most of Kauai is inaccessible by road (the estimates range from 65-90%) and many of the most photogenic waterfalls are on private property, so you can only see them from the air.

  • You can hike Na Pali and Waimea Canyon.  However, Na Pali’s Kalalau Trail is a strenuous 22 mile round trip thatwillrequire two days.  Hikes in Waimea Canyon are less challenging.
    • Although both hikes offer good views, they aren’t incredible views like the ones you can see from a chopper.
  • There are small boat tours to Na Pali and I recommend them highly.  These tours are certainly cheaper than a helicopter and the photography can be very good. Again, just not quite as good.

Decisions, Decisions:

What time of day should you schedule your tour?

If your heart is set on Na Pali, then you will need to fly in the afternoon when the cliffs are illuminated by the sun.

If waterfalls are your primary focus, then mornings are usually best since many of them are shaded in the afternoon.  The air is usually calmer and clearer in the mornings as well.

Justifiable Extravagance: Kauai Helicopter Photo Tips

At first I was disappointed when we flew into Waimea Canyon and saw that it was shrouded in fog….but the mist was actually a blessing

Waimea Canyon often gets pretty foggy/cloudy in the afternoon which washes out colors, but the clouds can make for dramatic photos (see above).

Personally, I was excited about Na Pali, so I flew in the afternoon.  Now, if I had won a Powerball, I would have taken a morning flight too, but…

What Lens?

Justifiable Extravagance: Kauai Helicopter Photo Tips

Nawiliwili Light Station. You will see this moments after leaving Lihue airport..

You are not allowed to change lenses while in flight (some silly concern about things flying out of the chopper and hitting the tail rotor), so you will want to have a full-range zoom lens on your camera.  On my full frame Nikon, I found that nearly all of my shots were between 28 and 135mm (if you have a cropped APS-C sensor camera, then the equivalent would be 18-84mm)  Since you will be shooting with a fast shutter speed, you will want to use the fastest zoom you have that covers this range.  (I have written a detailed  blog about aerial photography that provides details on your other settings and gear.  Click this link to see it.)

What time of the year?

The winter is best for waterfalls.  Kauai gets a lot of rain (Mt. Waialeale is sometimes referred to as the ‘wettest spot on earth’ with 461” per year!)  December thru March are the wettest…which has a dramatic impact on the waterfalls.  For example, the shot below on the left is of the ‘Wall of Tears’ taken during the winter, compare that to the same shot on the right I took in September.

Justifiable Extravagance: Kauai Helicopter Photo Tips

Each company offers a lot of different helicopter tours, which should I choose?

Nearly all the tours follow the same clockwise path around the island and follow a pretty rigid schedule with very little flexibility in what you will see and how long you will see it.  In other words, if all the waterfalls are covered by fog and not worth seeing but Na Pali is bathed in glorious sunshine, the pilot won’t spend less time at the waterfall and more at Na Pali.

However, there is at least one exception:  Mauna Loa Helicopters offers a “Photographer Tour”  With this option, you basically charter the chopper, so the pilot will go nearly wherever you want, spend more or less time at particular locations, swing back for a second pass, etc.   This was the best option for me.  Surprisingly, this tour isn’t significantly more expensive than the standard tours. The cost is $660 per hour.  So if two of you are going on the flight, it is only $110 more than paying $275 each for the standard island tour.  Heck, if you are already blowing over $500, then what’s another C-note, right? And if you have two friends with you, it is actually cheaper.  By the way, I don’t get any kind of compensation or free flights  from Mauna Loa or anyone else for that matter.

Weather

Justifiable Extravagance: Kauai Helicopter Photo Tips

Kahili Falls (one of the “Five Sisters”)

A significant number of flights get cancelled due to weather,  If you are going to be on Kauai for a few days, be sure that your flight is scheduled on your first day…so if there is a cancellation, you will be able to reschedule.

One other thing, even if the weather is great at the airport, there is a good chance that it won’t be perfect everywhere on the island.  On my flight, Waimea Canyon was socked in by fog, but the waterfalls and Na Pali were beautiful.  Be flexible.

Safety

I can’t avoid this topic.  After all, it seems like there are reports about a tourist chopper going down somewhere every six months or so.  While it is true that the accident record for private helicopters is higher than for commercial airline aviation, statically your chances of getting injured in a car accident on the way to the heliport are a lot worse than while in the air  But everyone has their own tolerance for risk and if you are uncomfortable flying you probably won’t enjoy this tour no matter what the numbers say.

Final thoughts

Personally, I thought this flight worth was every penny.  I got some incredible shots that simply couldn’t have taken any other way.  Additionally, the scenery was beautiful and the feeling of the wind zipping by the open doors was really quite a rush. If there is a Hawaiian trip in your future, a helicopter flight over Kauai should be on your itinerary!

And remember, photography is about more than just pretty pictures.

Jeff

Justifiable Extravagance: Kauai Helicopter Photo Tips

Is that a view or what? Afternoons are usually best for lighting at Na Pali….clouds often build up later in the day as well which can have dramatic results

Kauai Helicopter Photo Tips

Kauai Helicopter Photo Tips

 

Posted in Aerial Photography, Hawaii, Landscape Photography, Photo Tips and Guides Also tagged , , , |