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.
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!
“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.
Ok…maybe not the world. But it sure feels like it when standing on the top of Mauna Kea, the largest mountain in the world (top to bottom) and rising 13,800 ft above the ocean below. I could write for a long time about how I’ve been dreaming for 7 years of skiing this unique place and that finally getting to stand and witness snow in Hawai’i was all too brief but this photograph is more about how freaking cold I was!
Knowing to prepare for altitude is not problem. I ski bummed for 3 years in Utah. For this trip I brought many layers…which did the trick…except for the gloves which remained in my bag in the hotel the day of our 6 Day Big Island Workshop‘s trip up to the summit. Not the brightest of ideas. I will say that by the time we left that night temperatures were around 30F with gusts over 40mph (windchill estimates around 13F). Trying to work with a metal tripod, camera buttons and facing in to the wind certainly made for challenging conditions. Which means that I’m was quite excited when I saw the results of this exposure pop up on the back of the LCD screen. The pillar of light you see is called the Zodiacal Light. A phenomenon I saw for the first time in Death Valley last year. The quarter moon did the job of illuminating the rest of the scene.
An awesome experience for the Workshop and me as well. Can’t wait until we go back 🙂
Had a chance to shoot at Ke’e one last time in which this VERY temporary beach existed. In the 6+ years of living on Kauai I have never seen that much sand at the end of the summer at this spot. But perhaps I just hadn’t looked before. Either way this captivated me and spent a number of sunsets here. This being the most recent. As the sky was clear, again, my mind turns to twilight and that wonderful transition of light. The last bit of sunset fades away and gives way to the stars. Our visiting friend Venus (I think) made for quite a show as well!
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 🙂
Had the opportunity a couple of weeks ago during one of my signing trips to CA to do a quick run to Yosemite. And by quick I mean I was only in the park for 12hrs. It’s amazing, I’ve been able to be there 3 times in the last 12 months. Something I never even thought might happen. Of course my knowledge of the area is very cursory right now but I consider the time there some of my most productive. This particular evening I finally made the park entrance around 11pm. The moon had rose a couple of hours before and the valley was bathed in awesome, bright moonlight. I drove around a bit to get the feel for this new look and, not wanting anything too crazy of an adventure, decided to pick a location I hadn’t been to before. Of course…sitting outside the gate, at 1130pm, the only thing I could think of was being in the dark, by myself…with bears. I know I know they’re big scared ‘cats’ and run away, but when alone in the woods…eek. So after gathering up some courage and motivation via a friendly reminder I packed up my camera bag, put on my big boy pants and off I went down the trail. Ok…so to get a better picture of the scene imagine just a fair amount of dragging my feet on the ground and taking big heavy steps…to make noise of course. This way I dont startle anything that would want to make me a snack.
Down to the river, then using my headlamp to find the path along the banks. Weaving in and out of folliage, I come around the bend and BAM…what a reflection! So of course to work I go. Now walking and making noise is one thing, but standing still and quiet allows other things to possibly sneak up on me…so occasionally I let out a ‘yip’…you know…just to make them aware of my presence 🙂
Spending about an hour making as much as I could of the special light and reflection, the clouds danced across the sky continually making some truly awesome patterns. I finally decided it was time to pack up and get a few hours of sleep in the car before sunrise…so I could come right back here again.
Getting the images back home and seeing the results it makes all the darkness and creepy feelings with it….as long as I dont get eaten 😉
So many stories surrounding this image. Of which include; powering through a month-old knee injury, getting a bit lost and then un-lost, ‘no fall’ zone hiking, fellow hikers lending me their trekking pole for the night and spending hours alone in the dark in a cave to then hike out in the dark, alone. Of course returning with a successful image always makes those details worth while when the effort is rewarded. This location, on the edge of a cliff, tucked in to a cave, was used hundreds of years ago by the Anasazi Indians, though the details and usage are still unknown. Being as I was out there, with a very clear sky, my instinct turns to photographing the stars. It’s amazing how much light cameras can pick up nowadays. Watching the nocturnal transition from such a remote location, one cant help but be transported back to ancient times. Chills. And then for that very dark walk back to the car….
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 🙂