A number of years ago, while traveling back home from a Polihale mission I had stopped over at the Waimea Pier on the west side of Kaua’i. At the time I had only photographed it 1 or 2 times and I generally like to scout and imagine places under different conditions. Doing some calculations I knew I wanted to return at night. Fast forward way longer than I imagined it would take, I had the opprotunity to get out for some photography and headed to a different location. As the sun set over there I realized that I was in the wrong place and remembered the spot I had imagined long ago. Getting there at dusk there were a number of images (another successful pier shot for another time), I was able to make and then waited for the sky to darken enough for the stars and Milky Way to be seen. This spot is extra tricky as it is right at the edge of town so the light polution becomes problematic pretty quickly. As the sky darkened the stars shown through. The camera’s sensitive settings allowing it to pick up the last little bit of twilight glow in the sky giving the scene a surreal look.
Funny how ideas happen. These days it’s been more about figuring out how the stars align, sometimes literally. Planned out an evening where I thought the celestial objects would be what I was hoping for. This required sleeping in my car for a couple of hours and then shooting, in what I thought would be the dark. For anyone that has been to Shipwrecks knows there is a large hotel just next to the beach. While my original idea didnt work out (will be going back to try again), I figured I would stick around and hope that the clouds would cooperate. After over an hour of playing cat and mouse I was able to get some shots off that showed the Milky Way blazing overhead. The light from the hotel actually helped illuminate the landscape. Truly amazing what happens while most of us are sleeping 🙂
It all began on a winter day. Ok, it was a Kauai winter day and we were at a friend’s birthday party dancing. But I was approached by a couple of friends who were getting married in May 2016 and asked if I could join them on this wedding adventure to Kalalau. Unknowing of my schedule I tentatively said yes, because well, Kalalau. I had actually only been to the beach once before about 6 years prior and was in desperate need to get back. Of course I didnt realize how much I would be working at the time but nonetheless, all in good time.
We arrived Friday morning and got things set up. And was pretty much in relax mode. Without having a day off in more time than I could remember I was now completely off the grid for 3 full days. That evening while laying in my tent I decided to check out my photo apps; The Photographer’s Ephemeris and StarWalk. I knew that summer season is better for viewing the Milky Way and had an inkling that it might be rising over the cathedrals. As for the moon and timing, that I needed to figured out. Doing some quick calculations it seemed that my window would be in the middle of the night so I set my alarm for 1am and went to bed. Hearing the phone go off and wanting to stay in bed are all too familiar feelings for most of us. I through on my sarong and grabbed my pack and walked (ok it was a pretty short walk) down to the beach. However this night it was not to be. Clouds. However I was able to see that my hunch was correct. Now to hopefully catch it. 2 more chances.
Next day was wedding day. Most of the day again, spent hanging out and relaxing. Per the expected forecast we had some clouds/rain start up around early afternoon and the mountains were pretty socked in. With the land/sea breeze regime in place I was expecting the weather to break around sunset…and right on queue as we headed out for the ceremony…blam! Here are some of the first edits from the wedding, but yes, the conditions were amazing! (story below photos)
We returned to camp after an amazing event (and photos) and had ourselves a merry little time that evening. This day however instead of going to bed and waking up again I stayed up until my window. As the night progressed and my time came to be our friendly little clouds decided to make an appearance again while I was shooting! Bastards. At least it was an eventful party (clearly I was the last still awake at this point). Off to bed. Strike 2.
Last day. More of the same. Clouds building up during the day, some slight rain. And clearing toward sunset. My window now pushed back until 3am. Alarm set. I poke my head out of the tent and see some stars. A good sign. I walk out enough to see over the cathedrals and there she is. Milky Way arcing right over. The moon getting close to the horizon gave a sunset/moonset feel to everything and I started to work quickly. Of course after 3 days of shooting, including a wedding, I had already finished one battery and was working on one bar on my 2nd and last one. As luck would have it. That is all I would need 🙂
It’s amazing how images to come to life. Sometimes they are the work of years of planning coinciding with perfect conditions. This very well may have been one of those photographs….had I actually knew what kind of conditions I was to expect this evening. After spending the afternoon and sunset exploring the southern coast of Maui in the La Perouse area and photographing down there I packed up and started the drive back north. As I made my way down the bumpy road the stars were absolutely blazing. With only a crescent moon hanging in the western sky I was still able to see the landscape but the Milky Way was clearly visible arcing all across the sky. I pulled over to the side of the road and took some images of the scene facing Haleakela. Of course at this point I realized my battery was hanging on to one bar. Uh oh. Change batteries. Dead. Crap. I forgot to charge everything after Burning Man. Back to the first battery and now with every exposure I’m worried about my evening ending early. Especially with night time images they take more power as the exposure times are around 25 seconds. I make sure to only take a few shots on the side of the road and continue up. Next stop Secrets beach.
Normally Secrets is not so secret. There are weddings almost every day of the week and it’s a great spot to hide out and watch the clouds pass by. However, at night, it is a different story. As I walked down the path and to the shore and set up the waves were pounding pretty good. Lessons learned in the past means keeping my bag well above the high water line. Then approached. At this point I heard voices…what?! I looked around in the darkness. There were houses around so maybe it was there. Then again. Finally I noticed a couple tucked in the back corner of the beach near the wall enjoying the evening as well. Not even alone at night!
Of course the obviously difficult thing of shooting stars is that it’s freakin dark out! With the little bit of moonlight I was able to get my composition pretty close and fired off a test shot. Keeping one eye on the ocean to my right I spent the next half an our or so adjusting and trying again. With each shot worried my battery was going to kick out on me. After seeing this one pop up on the back of the camera I was pleasantly surprised. The little but of moonlight was enough to give enough color and definition to the landscape without hiding the blazing Milky Way.
Whew. On ward to my next stop where fingers were crossed I could get a few more shots before I had to call it quits. What an awesome night!
So this one has been in the archives since 2013. And it’s been a process to get right, and honestly is still not there. This is a very complicated 180 degree view from the rocks at Ke’e Beach showing our place in the Milky Way. As we sit, flying through the universe on the outside edge of the galaxy, this image gives me, maybe too much, sense of perspective. Looking out over the ocean as if space was just over there at the edge of the horizon. Venus along for the ride.
“The Space Between” (unreleased)
Twilight turns to darkness at the end of the road. The Na Pali Coast reflects in to a still Ke’e Beach lagoon as the stars and Milky Way make their presence known. Magical.
Here I am; sitting in LAX on a 8 hour layover headed back to Kauai. It’s here that for the first time since my photographic adventures over a week ago that I get to look over images from the trip. And in somewhat of an unusual turn I actually started at the beginning 🙂 Late September I found myself in the incredible little mountain town of Lake Placid, NY. A place that I visited fairly frequently as a kid and college ‘adult’ however it had been nearly 10 years since I had returned. Even more to the fact that I can never remember seeing fall color up there. Well…I was in for a treat. New England and the high peaks range are home to some of the most spectacular color displays in the US. Now, with only 4 days to shoot and a bit of memory loss from my childhood it was time to do some research. Which, on the first sunset of my session lead me to Mt. Jo. A relatively easy hike (about 1 mile with some decent elevation gain), it offers great bang-for-the-buck with views to some of the highest peaks in the Northeast. And this time of year…fields of color as far as the eye can see. 🙂
Arriving at the trailhead I aimed to get myself up to the top around 45min or so before sunset. Given that there were NO clouds i wasnt in much of a hurry as without them the sky is remarkably boring. But up we go. Making good time, about 20 min to the top, I was glad I brought layers. Not quite the same temperature as Kauai in September! A few other photographers were scattered about taking in the afternoon light while I bounced around the rock figuring out what I would do. Now, my normal train of thought is that if there are no clouds…shoot stars. So the plan was to wait until dark and then hike down with my headlamp (ALWAYS carry at least one in your bag).
As darkness fell the other people disappeared as well. Until it was just me. Much more of what I am used to when photographing 🙂 Of course being alone in the dark in the woods lets the mind wander…and I try my best to not be a wuss…but it’s bound to happen. :p Staying warm, 3 layers plus hat plus gloves, etc, sunset faded to twilight which gave way to the heavens above, and my goal for the evening. To my incredible surprise as it got darker I noticed a familiar streak across the sky. My old friend the Milky Way! No way. Directly in front of me right over the peak I was photographing. Well…wasnt going to let this go to waste. Managed to capture a few images as the light balanced out. Back down to the car in about 25 min with that feeling of ‘I hope I didnt screw that up’ it was a great way to start my week.
Now sitting in LAX…finally getting to review images I can say that am quite happy I was able to pull off something ‘on the fly’. More to share from the week and my apologies for the small size. The full resolution has some stunning detail 🙂
Admittedly I do not get out to shoot as much as I once did. While my production has slowed a bit the ideas that I have had and still come up with do not cease. On Monday night I had the opportunity to actually attempt one of these such ideas that could probably date back 1-2 years. After leaving aFeinberg Gallery Poipu I got in to my car after catching a quick bite, and while tired, the sky had actually cleared up from the rainy weather we had had over the last couple of days. Seeing as that I had my gear in the car the only thing left was to head out and give it a go.
For those not familiar with the area this is Spouting Horn. A hugely popular attraction during the day, especially in the summer months when the south swell is more predominant. The ocean gets forced through an old lava tube and sprays upwards like a geyser. Pretty spectacularly at times. Of course venturing down is never recommended. I spend a LOT of my time around the ocean photographing and have a healthy respect for what it can do. Then add in the night time aspect and all the more creepy. Especially since that as the horn spouts there is a huge whistling sound. But this startling noise comes from about 30yards away from the water! Watching one direction…noise from another. After watching for a number of minutes I decide we’re good to go and grab the gear. I carefully make my way to where my approximate shot is and watch the ocean some more. Getting accustomed to the sound and pattern of the waves. Then the tricky part. Composing, focusing and shooting in the dark.
Now one of the things that I had not realized when visualizing this image was that there were street lights all around, thus bathing the area in artificial light. Rats, was my first thought. I had wanted it dark so that I could light paint the scene together. I took a test shot to see if I had my composition down and the result was pretty crazy! The whole ground was glowing bright red….like a dragon’s lair. And, as predicted…the milky way BLAZING off the horizon up in to the sky. Now the next part; figure out a way to capture the splash properly. Over the next hour or so I spent rattling off 25 second exposures and playing with different lighting…all while waiting for the right wave to send the spray shooting upwards (but not getting blown too much to block the milky way!).
Finally, toward the end, and getting fairly tired, I decided to call it. Hoping that at least one of the shots I had captured would work out. After all it took me almost 2 years to even attempt this…and the wait was worth it :0
When I travel to shoot I need to research an area to get an idea for what to explore perhaps, and find other things along the way of course, but in doing so I try to extremely limit my exposure to other people’s photographs. Never do I want to be at a location and have a shot to replicate. Of course there are very oft photographed areas that I am sure to overlap, however if similarities occur this would most likely be by chance. Which I am ok with as my intention was pure.
Arriving at this southern Utah location I knew very little about what to find here, other than bizarre rock formations. Which could be said about much of southern UT 🙂 I took the late afternoon to wander around and explore what the area had to offer. Rock monoliths standing like goblins or some otherworldly creatures. As I came across this arch section the challenge became how would I photograph this place. And I moved on to find other rocks to photograph at sunset. The clearish skies did not lend themselves to good color but my default then becomes stars. Making my way back to this spot I moved back and forth trying to best compose the shapes in front of me and then the waiting game for the night sky to make it’s full appearance. During this course of events I took out my phone and checked the Sky Walk app to see what kind of sky I would be looking at. Fast forwarding to the morning I saw that the Milky Way would actually cross in to the gap! Well that settled it. I was going to set my alarm for 5am and come back here. Knowing it would be almost impossible to compose this shot in the dark, even with my headlamp, I marked the sand where the tripod legs were to be able to place it back at the weeee hours of the morn.
Dinner in the car and sleeping in the back of the truck…5am comes. I head out to my spot and set up. There’s the tail end of the Milky Way as expected though not the super vibrant section that was over my right shoulder. I ran around for about 30-45 min light-painting and shooting. Then finally deciding to try and capture other shots while the stars were still blazing (see: There Be Goblins). For whatever reason I decided to head back to the spot of the arch to just capture it one more time. Just in case. The faint light of dawn already starting to rub out the stars I ran around even faster. Finally settling on the fact the stars were gone to the daylight and off to find other compositions.
Weeks later, while going through the photographs it was clear. My choice to go back and reshoot the original idea was a good one. While the sky was not the blazing Milky Way I wanted the cool blue tones of twilight combined with the warmer light from my headlamp created a surreal scene. And even still, the Milky Way can be seen through the arching rocks. When it all comes together, even if different than planned, it makes all the early mornings worth while 🙂
After not returning back to my car from the previous night’s shooting until after 11pm I knew the morning was going to arrive too quickly. Packed my car and headed off for the 45 min drive to my next location, Arches National Park. For whatever reason I knew I should photograph Arches but internally I wasn’t overly excited. Of course this changed when I woke up in the parking lot about an hour before sunrise and saw the landscape before me. In a serendipitous offering the entire Milky Way was arching over the exact landscape I was walking toward. Brilliant! I got about 30ft from the car before my camera bag was already on the ground and camera being prepared for the first photograph of the day. While the sky still felt dark the slight glow of dawn was already apparent through the camera’s sensitive settings. With sunrise still over 45 min away I was amazed at what could be seen. Over on the far right was the distant glow from the town of Moab. I made a number of panoramas of the scene before me and then off to my intended destination for the morning. Now if every day could start like this… 🙂