Am I the shadow?
The caster of the shadow?
Or, the light?
Who am I?
• • •
I am the shadow.
The caster of the shadow.
And, the light.
Am I the shadow?
The caster of the shadow?
Or, the light?
Who am I?
• • •
I am the shadow.
The caster of the shadow.
And, the light.
In my last post, I mentioned having a workshop on the next day with big waves – and it did not disappoint! Jackie and I had worked together the last two years and this year we decided to do a two day photo workshop, allowing us more time to get to some of the further out spots of Maui and the Hana side. The first day, Jaws was breaking BIG – like, 40+ feet – so after a quick sunrise shoot at Ho’okipa Point, we made our way down the road to Pe’ahi.
Over the course of the next 90 minutes, we both shot many frames of these incredible surfers riding these beautiful epic waves.
There we were on Shell Beach in Southern California’s “Jewel” – La Jolla. If you consider shorts, t-shirt and flip flops ideal attire, then the mid-August weather was just perfect. The sweet morning light was just beginning to show herself to those of us eager enough to be awake, which on this morning included myself and seven photography workshop participants who were joining me for one of my California workshops. Shell Beach seemed like an ideal location to take seven passionate photographers for a sunrise – it’s small and intimate, yet contains many elements that can be arranged well for a diverse style of seeing photographic compositions. It’s only as wide as a football field, yet both sides lead upward to steep cliffs that stretch out toward the sea, undercut with partial caves on the sides and a scattering of rocks throughout the beach, with a couple large rocks just offshore where pelicans and cormorants linger about. Having photographed this spot many times before, I knew good compositional arrangements could be made, but of course, it is also quite easy to include too much or too little and fall short of success as well. So, an ideal setting to place students – a place where they can make it work, or not, and then discuss the why’s and why not’s as to what is working and what is not working in real time.
THE BEING BEHIND Big Island, Hawaii 2013
It has been on my wishlist for quite a long time to view and photograph the lava flowing into the ocean on Hawaii’s Big Island, but for the past few years, the flow has not really been doing much. A couple of months ago, it finally broke through and is now providing surface activity and ocean entry where visitors can get close and witness this amazing spectacle. From the National Park side, it is a 6-8 mile hike each way across lava fields, which pretty much rules that option out. From the Kalapana side, it is approximately 2 miles hike each way, but this side is private property and there is a certain amount of state and landowner control, preventing people from simply walking in on their own to view the lava. So what is one to do? Here on Maui, I heard through the “coconut wireless” about a travel company called Poke-A-Stick Tours, that took people out to the lava. I called and spoke with Cheryl, owner/guide/host extraordinaire, and planned a couple of days with her afternoon sunset hikes out to the lava flow.
NEW EARTH Big Island, Hawaii 2013
It’s 4:30am. Crazy to think that I’ve already been awake for over an hour – not that I’m thinking, and not that I’m really awake! But here I am, at Isaac Hale State Park on the Big Island of Hawaii with 20 other walking zombies that look a lot like sleepy tourists, all anxious and curious by the adventure that awaits us.
Captain Shane Turpin and crew of two pull up alongside our gathered group of sleepwalkers in a big truck, towing an awkward looking passenger boat hitched on a trailer. After some curt dialogue about the what-and-what-not’s to our impending trip, we climb a ladder and board the boat. The driver then drives us down to the boat ramp, backs us in to the water, and before we know it, we are free from the trailer and moving out past the breakers into the dark sea.
I have my pack full of camera gear with two layers of water resistant protection at my feet. I’m wearing a fleece and and a raincoat, which keeps me warm in the surprisingly cool morning and does well enough keeping me dry against the waves that are continuously splashing and blowing into the boat and in my face. My shorts are soaked. I feel like a Navy Seal going out on a special night mission, but keep getting pulled back to reality by the chitter-chatter of over-talkative tourists. Isn’t O-dark-early a time for quiet? I wonder to myself, curious as to how some people can never be still and silent.
45 minutes-to-an-hour later, we arrive at our destination – New Earth, in the form of hot molten lava flowing steadily into the Pacific Ocean, splendidly steaming and smoking and wonderfully beautiful. Captain Shane maneuvers the boat with effortless ease, to within yards of the lava. I feel the radiance on my face and legs, and within minutes, the glowing heat dries my wet shorts. The lava meets the sea at a number of different spots along a 1/4 mile stretch of coast. In some spots, the thick fiery substance slowly drops into the water, and in other spots it’s gushing, as if it is being pumped out of the earth. It is totally awesome to view this spectacle in the dark of night!
As wonderful as it is to the eyes, attempting to photograph hot molten lava in the dark of night from a moving boat in a rough sea, is completely futile. I practice patience and wait for the light of a coming sunrise to illuminate the scene while enjoying the moment – which to my delight, has proven to be so powerful of a scene that it has rendered some silence from the tourists. Amen!
Before too long, the light of day takes over the darkness and I am able to start working with the camera. The Captain slowly runs the boat parallel to the coast so the passengers on one side are able to view and photograph, then turns back the other way allowing the others the spectacular view. With this method, you are face to face with the amazing sight, or looking out to sea and the setting of a crescent moon. During the 5-minute periods of looking out to sea, I review my images and quickly adjust my settings to better capture this dynamic scene. In the end, there’s probably not more than 10 minutes of optimal light to shoot images while being face to face with the lava.
One aspect of concern is that half-a-dozen times, we are completely immersed in the gaseous fumes spewing out of the planet. Just 2 days ago, I was told by a guide while hiking into the lava flow on foot, “Don’t breathe that smoke and gas – it will kill you.” I also remember reading online in my research that it is very dangerous to breathe. Apparently, I am the only one on this boat that has been told this or read this in my research! The Captain obviously does not seem concerned, and every time we are immersed in smoke and gas, I am the only one aboard that responds by burying my face and eyes into a relatively protective cocoon I’ve formed inside my fleece and raincoat. On the occasion I peer out, my eyes burn and I quickly burrow back into my cocoon. These periods are fleeting, maybe 30-45 seconds at a time, and it’s easy enough to cover up, but it still leaves me wondering, how harmful is this? If not for me on this one-time experience, then for the Captain and his crew who do this multiple times daily?
Morning has broken, the sweet light is fading, and we make our final pass by the lava before heading back to our starting point. The seas are a little rougher now, but no one seems to mind much, buzzed with the high of a spectacular experience freshly emblazoned in heart and mind. To see Mother Nature creating more land, New Earth, right in front of my eyes…what an insanely incredible experience!
The photo workshop side of my business is growing all of the time and Maui Photo Expeditions has been a lot of fun so far. I am looking to expand some trips outside of Maui and would love to get over to the Big Island more, so will be actively planning group trips over there. In the meantime, if you are visiting the Big Island of Hawaii and would like to discuss a personalized one-on-one workshop like I provide here on Maui, please Contact Me. I am happy to island-hop over! See details to my Maui Photo Expeditions HERE.
During one of my Maui Photo Expeditions this week, while working with a cool couple from Orange County, our emphasis turned to the element of “time”. Of course, if you follow my work, you know this is my favorite aspect to photography – especially extending the exposure out to be quite long. Through the use of neutral density filters, or the time of day or night, you as the photographer can control whether your shutter speed is 1/250th of a second, or two minutes, and everything in-between. By using different exposure times, you create different effects and evoke different feels in your image, translating and communicating different messages. So first, get mindful as to how you’re feeling and what it is you want to communicate, simplify, and then determine what shutter speed will best translate what you are feeling.
With this photograph, I used a shutter of 1/2 second. Two minutes would have evoked a serene and peaceful feel, but I wanted the big winter surf to be the focal point and to evoke a sense of Mother Nature’s raw power. The final element that finishes this capture is the warm light from the setting sun, captured moments before it dipped below the horizon to end another beautiful day in paradise.
Winter is my favorite time of the year on Maui. The weather is perfect, the whales are here in full force, and it’s the busy season! With that, I’ve been filling up my calendar and keeping very busy and working with many photographers through my Maui photography workshops (Maui Photo Expeditions). This weekend I had a full day one-on-one workshop with Jim, an IT-guy from Cali. As a PhD intellectual-thinking type, initially I was concerned. Could I get all techie for 10 hours? I wondered, worriedly. Thankfully, in our first half hour he expressed how he wasn’t looking to get techie, he was looking for assistance on the creative/artistic side of things. He was looking to me to assist him in activating that other side of the brain that’s not based in thinking, but in feeling. I could have hugged him! I mean, it’s not that I couldn’t talk about the technical/craft side-of-photography endlessly with a willing comrade, but I suppose I would rather not. I find the creative/artistic/feeling-based side-of-things much more interesting, and much more important toward creating more dynamic and expressive work. With the technical aspects – you learn it well enough to get past it in order to focus your attention on what is going to make your work more personal – mindfulness, presence, space. And where these topics may at times seem esoteric, especially (I imagine) to the “PhD intellectual-thinking type’s” out there, I strongly believe that it is not the topics of f-stops, depth-of-field, pixel pitch and the like that make images dynamic, but rather the depth-of-feeling, the mindfulness and presence felt through the image that the photographer is communicating, having made the work out of that state. This is the state out of which images that can move viewers are made, and it is this that I most like to focus on personally, and pass on to others.
Eliot Porter said, “The essential quality of a photograph is the emotional impact that it carries, which is a measure of the author’s success in translating into photographic terms his own emotional response to the subject.”
In preparing some of my thoughts before the workshop, I began with a question, and with a look at what I believe to be the foundation to all good work:
Why make photographs?
If you choose to make photographs, then it seems a valid question to look at – Why make photographs?
Whether it is conscious (yet) in you or not, as photographers, we make photographs to express and to communicate. Once that is acknowledged, then look at that question – What are we wanting to express? ~and~ What are we aiming to communicate? The more you look at this, the clearer it is seen. The clearer it is seen, the more personal and expressive the work. The more personal and expressive the work, the more dynamic it naturally becomes.
As a photographer, you look at things. You not only look at the world – at the skies and the seas and the forests and the fields and the cities, you look at your self too – at your thoughts and your feelings and your emotions and your tendencies and your habits. Being a photographer is being one who mindfully looks at things. Therefore, being a photographer is as much a personal inner journey, as it is a worldly outer journey. The more one looks at this, the more compelling the work becomes, and the more rewarding the process is.
It is with this mindset that I’d say that mindfully looking at things, or simply – Mindfulness, is the primary most important aspect that we can bring to our photography.
ABLAZE Maui, Hawaii
Here on Maui, we have had our fair share of amazing sunsets over the past few months, but it seems I’ve been in a bit of a shooting-slump and have watched most of them without camera in hand. It’s tough to watch stunning sweet light form in the sky without being out in a position to try and capture it photographically. The stirring inside murmurs to itself, “should be out shooting…could be getting a great shot…who couldn’t make this light work well…Wow! this light is friggin’ epic!…why aren’t I out shooting!?” Continue reading
I was heading out 4 or 5 nights a week into the dark cool evenings of the La Jolla night and photographing with little or no light. On this particular occasion, I was heading down the street and saw three divers having just loaded on all of their wetsuit and scuba gear, heading for the water’s edge. I was curious to see what I might be able to capture. Continue reading
It seems nearly every time I go out shooting, I find myself in a stunning location at the magic hour to enjoy the clouds passing by and the sounds of the ocean, and if I’m lucky, the chance to get a sweet shot in my camera. Continue reading