Hawaii is so far west it might as well be east- just a couple hundred miles form the dateline- its like flying to tomorrow – almost.  Then again- despite the remote location in the middle of the pacific, a short 4-5 hour flight from California is enough to transport me to another world entirely.   A few years back America Samoa moved the date line to the other side of their county to increase tourism from Australia and New Zealand, etc.  Apparently Hawaii is considering something similar- that would be a bummer for us on the mainland.  This year marked the 5th trip my girlfriend and I have made to this amazing place and I was fortunate to do a lot of shooting.  Conditions could have been better – but they could have been much much worse.  All in all who is to complain, I’m not and we had a wonderful time as always- feeling blessed to be able to do such things.  If you live on the west coast and haven’t been – get yourself an Alaska Airlines credit card and go already, its damn cheap.

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Having not slept well for a couple nights prior to getting up extremely early the day of our departure – I found myself in a zombie like state by the time my first golden hour of the trip came around. Determined to play catch-up after years of ignoring this location- so unbelievably close to our apartment, I made the scramble down to the coast with little time to set up.  A fading swell was sending waves over the rocks inly intermittently, the sky was nice but I struggled to control the overall range while maintaining a good shutter speed.  Despite several series of bracketed exposures I ultimately made desperate use of the patch tool to borrow some sky on a single shot with best wave action.




After choosing to sleep in I made a second visit to this same area the following evening- a NNW swell had faded further- waves were fewer and further between with less wash than you would hope for but very once in a while a rouge set would come.  Cloudier skies made for easier control in the highlights, breaks in the clouds were sending shafts of light down into Hanalei Bay lighting up small showers moving across the waters and as usual, people checking out queens bath helped provide a sense of scale.

Two shots with only white balance adjustments to distinguish them.



and a little video of all that water moving around ..

This stretch of coast – with huge black volcanic rocks broken up by large smooth cracks – kind of look like teeth. The enormously powerful waves move impressive amounts of water around in terrifying ways- a dramatic sky can make this place look like something out of a lord of the rings movie .   If Mordor had a coast – I Imagine it to look something like this.  Without much wave action to concern myself with – It was safe to get lower and explore different compositions – These cracks are really interesting to work with.


It was nice to be able to work with different takes in this fascinating area.  The big bold scene one would hope for wasnt going to happen, but that allowed for shots that otherwise would be totally off limits,  When even modest waves wash over this area you don’t want to be anywhere near this lower shelf.  It can’t be overstated how dangerous and ridiculously powerful the wave action is here when its “on”. Kauai is the northern and western most of the big Hawaiian island- deep wave energy just slams into this island and unloads.  People die annually in this area – its no joke, but quite an impressive sight.  The largest swell I had all week was about 5-6 feet at 17seconds – pretty small as far as swells go,  but all that raw energy abruptly erupts along this north stretch of Kauai.  The water in this cove is easily 20 feet deep at normal tides.  When the waves move into it – the water level rises about 10 feet as it sloshes around.  Thats a lot of energy in a confined space !!


Water comes in from different directions here- the larger waves wash over the rocks completely but even the smaller and more consistent waves will move into this “cove” and erupt upwards like a boiling pot and push water up onto the rocks.

Below is a .3 seconds exposure timed to show the water boiling up. There is no “wave” just a massive displacement of water.


Another couple takes from a different position – looking more directly north here with a nice colorful glow in the sky.



One last shot, the fading sky allowed for great long exposure glow, but overall color wasn’t impressive.  On the California coast- this waterfall would probably be subjected to hordes of tourist and photographers alike on a daily basis. Here, on this tropical dreamscape- its a mere footnote. In hindsight I should have paid more attention here, I did consider getting down to the rocks below- which is doable but i just wasn’t feeling it while I was there.




Continuing my focus on playing catch-up, I got out for the first sunrise of my vacation with a return to this location – yet – again. After a particularly dark hike through the slippery “jungle”, with chickens/roosters, and huge frogs/toads the size of my foot absolutely everywhere , I made it out to the rocks.   The temperature is perfect at all times in Hawaii but its interesting how much the humidity increases once you get within a short distance of the water.

The full moon was still above the horizon when I shot this image about 15 minutes before official sunrise.


As the sun rose on the opposite side of the island some nice color started to show in the clouds. With the swell having dwindled, only a fairly strong trade-wind driven windswell was making waves.  Small but enough to give a little something to the foreground.  For this image I attempted to blend a few shots.  Im a complete amateur at blending and basically any Photoshop technique that requires something more than dodging and burning. I chose two frames of wave action for the foreground- taken seconds apart.  One had a little water in that bottom crack that I really liked, wave action was otherwise nearly identical in both.  For everything above the horizon I chose another image from a slightly different position taken a few moments later- when the color began to show up.


A single raw file – with basic highlight/shadow adjustments.  Without my waves to work with, the focus was once again on this cove with the erupting water. I wanted an “interesting” foreground that maximized the color starting to show up on the mountains in the background. Getting higher up also required being further away and zooming doesn’t always work – here I felt it did not so I stayed low and got as close as I felt was safe.




Yet another sunrise – yet another visit to the same location- I wasn’t kidding about wanting to get a good shot from this place.  This time my pre-dawn tromp through the jungle was especially wet, having rained over night-  the trail was a mess and I nearly fell a few times.  Once again huge frogs were everywhere – one even leaped in front of my foot as I was running/sliding down the trail and the poor little guy got launched off into the jungle- Im sure it landed safely. While making my way across the lava shelf I heard the distinct sound of a baby crying off to my right against the cliffs.  As my heart skipped a beat and the hair on my neck started to lay back down a bird came flying out from the cliffs towards me and relieved itself in the process.  I took a few more steps and then – another crying baby sound, and another bird leaving its nest. This continued as I made my way to location and set up – turns out there is a colony of nesting wedge tailed shearwater birds in the cliffs – and they sound exactly like an infant crying.  totally freaked me out- My initial instinct was that someone left a child on the rocks- there are not many people- if any, hiking with newborns to such a location – before sunrise.

Much more color for this sunrise with scattered showers moving overhead. I watched this glowing shower cell as it approached my location- switching positions as it moved trying to line up compositions in my mind beforehand. There was a lull in waves happening, but this is “too low” on the shelf, exactly a place you don’t want be when a larger wave comes.  I was mostly just in danger of a camera shower – but having watched so many large waves here – It was pretty exciting to get down this far.




Waves were basically non-existent this morning. There have been good waves, good sunrises, and now good light, but never have all three lined up at one time.  This next composition would have been really nice the previous morning, but so it goes. I kept hoping for a good rouge set to come through while the clouds were glowing but it just never happened until Finally- after I was done and packing up – all the color gone and the am golden hour about over- that larger rogue set I was wanting came rolling through – I got my gear back out asap and grabbed a few shots…


Later in the evening we found ourselves at “Tunnels” enjoying the awesomeness that is North Shore Kauai.  Passing showers would sprinkle us with water now and then and the clouds were thickening as the day wore on.  I was kicking myself in the back of my mind for spending the first few sunsets at the same place – which actually looks at this location- If your not familiar with Kauai – look at the image below and then scroll back up and check out the background of any other image.  This beach offers a closer view of the same mountains. Without much wave action in the previous days I was starting to think I had wasted my efforts when I could have capturing the sunsets from here in stead. With the thickening skies I was getting a little nervous that the sunset would be muted.  Trying to find something interesting in the foreground that did not include a bunch of footprints on the otherwise golden sand beach. An outgoing tide was exposing more and more of the reef – I took an early shot and decided this would suffice if indeed the sky ignited later on.


About 30 minutes prior to sunset the heaviest rain of the day came down on us- sending most people scrambling for their cars- we waited it out from our site which had been set up under some trees-based on past experiences : ).   With rain still falling from the sky – the most incredibly intense and luminous glow erupted in the sky as the sun was wdippingbelow the horizon ….


No color or saturation adjustments needed here.  Just plain awesome. In traditional Hawaiian fashion, and in keeping with our experiences here.  the people on the beach in the distance are actually watching a wedding. In fact- we witnessed a wedding each and every day we were here, at least once a day, at different beaches.




Kauai has become our “happy place” and this year marked the 5th consecutive visit.   Originally a surprise gift for my 30th birthday, my girlfriend insisted I see one of the islands and I rather randomly chose Kauai.  Months later I found myself laying in bed the first night of our trip wondering what there was to take pictures of besides Waimea Canyon.  I was scrolling around google earth when an wonderful image made by Jerry Dodrill photography popped in my head, I had seen it years ago and it used to hang on the wall where I would have my prints made.  I thought Kauai had been mentioned as the location – so I went looking back at his page – as it turned Kauai was the indeed the island.   A bit of googling further landed me on Patrick Smith Photography where I conveniently found the location – no clues needed.  I was pretty stoked to go from having no clue what I would be photographing, which isn’t a bad position in itself,  but then to realize this amazing feature was only about a 15 minutes drive- stoked!  I headed out the next morning… and  have headed out many mornings since – every year we come here trying to get a decent shot.  Our trips have always been based on work schedules, etc as opposed to optimum conditions for photography. This year at least I made sure there would be a high tide coinciding with sunrise- which would occur on the last day. I decided to pay this spot a visit on each of the last three days at sunrise – with the tide rising closer to sunrise each day.  the first two days there was no ground swell to speak of -but near advisory level tradewind swell approaching 7 feet. As with queens bath I had some luck with waves – then luck with sky color – but never had really great water action happening with the sky. On the last morning a new NNW swell had arrived overnight- larger than forecast.  I read the Buoy report at 5 am and was stoked to see it had arrived bigger than expected. I was anxious to see if it would be enough to wrap into this spot.

My first of three attempts offered an incredible sunrise to witness and a really amazing moment to just take in, watching the sun come up out there on the rocks alone. Water was erupting out of the hole but never enough to really work – and no waves were coming over the rocks  – though the trade wind swell looked impressive – it just never worked. I decided to time my exposures to capture motion of the water boil – or “eruption” from out of the hole.


Late afternoon – decent showers were once again the theme of day – no complaints here.   We watched this light spill onto the waterfalls – lush from the ongoing showers passing by, and I had to swim back to shore and grab my camera.   Panoramas seemed necessary to show to how huge this scene is.




Our day ended at Kee’e Beach looking down the Na Pali coastline as the sun set.

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One last shot –  photographically this would be been a nice spot to shoot during peak color but people were crowded all over – the nice after glow worked well enough though.



Decent sky this morning at the Blowhole – but even less wave action than yesterday. We found ourselves once again at Tunnels Beach.  Swim – snorkel – rest- repeat was the order of the day.  I got around to photographing the gorgeous blue waters here – something I’ve really enjoyed in years past but never worked with.


clouds were increasing all day and moving towards the sun – a great set up, but by evening the clouds had thickened so much i wasn’t sure if we would have any light at all.  At the final moments of the day – a little light blessed us for a brief goodbye.








My last morning on this amazing rock in the middle of everywhere began once again at 5am- I was stoked to see the Buoy report 6.6feet @ 15seconds – larger than the 3 feet predicted.  I dont know why, but in the all the years I’ve been coming here and reading the AFD’s nothing has ever remained constant. No offense to the NWS, it must be a hard place to predict. Putting on yesterdays damp swimming shorts – water shoes – and microfiber shirt for a brief drive and then walk – down a muddy dirt road with rutted out pits a couple feet deep in places,  with the faint distant glow of a rising sun on the horizon.

the road to ruin.  its worse than it look, and there are rougher spots than this.  Local drive out here to fish and surf and sometimes sleep overnight in the cliffs above the water.  Ive also seen vacationers in their jeeps playing russian roulette with the rental car agreement trying to make it out this road- bad idea, its not a bad walk.


 I was really thrilled to see so many little clouds over the ocean as the light began to increase. They were moving west- left to right across this southern view at a pretty good clip. After only a couple minutes the blowhole erupted more than I expected – and I got really excited.


Here is a little video of the moment …


Just as the sun was coming up. A three frame panorama in portrait.


another three frame panorama – in landscape


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I have a hard time slowing down and doing one thing- I usually want to get as much as possible out of each opportunity. I started packing to leave at this point when the last image came up on my LCD.  It was glorious – staring into a viewfinder pointed towards the sun can zap your vision a bit.  I looked back into the camera and said ” whoa” – it was beautifully brilliant, clear light – with incredible color at the same time.  I knew I couldn’t manage to control the light at the horizon without stacking all my filters and suffering the consequences.  I decided to take one final quick panorama at the low end of the Histogram and hope for the best- bracketing images should have occurred to me but I was focussed on getting a panorama and then getting out of there.  With one more wave washing over – I made a quick haphazard pano, Quickly packed up and ran back to the car – heading on to queens bath. I wanted to see the new swell back at the place I had spent so much time testing compositions. I figured to be able to catch the end of Golden hour there- with the biggest waves of the trip.

Below is a very crude edit of said panorama from three vertical frames.  This should have been my best image of the trip but In my hyper focused haste – I did not realize the glare issues my filter was causing.  Maybe there is a photoshop whiz out there who can salvage this – but after hours of cloning-patching-and spot healing -I just can’t pull it off.  I decided to patch in some clouds to cover up the blown out sun – I also created a whole new cloud on the upper left – to balance the scene.


till next time