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Photographing the Untamed Coast of Hawaii

Gold Coast

The magic of Hawaii, and the reason to keep returning time and time again, lies beyond the well-manicured resorts and pristine sandy beaches. The spirit of the land, or aina as the natives call it, is in the towering cliffs, lush rainforests, volcanic rock-strewn black sand beaches, deep canyons, lava-spouting volcanoes and tall mountains. Most visitors don’t see the incredible diversity Hawaii has to offer, but to those willing to explore, including dedicated photographers, it’s literally a paradise. I will show you only a small part of that incredible natural beauty here in two images of Big Island’s wild coast.

On two mornings during our exploration of the Island of Hawaii, my wife and I rose earlier than we usually do. The driving times on the Big Island are pretty long, especially when going to places that are a bit off the map such as Pololu and Waipio Valleys from Waikoloa, where we chose to stay.  On both occasions, we were well rewarded. As we hiked down a rocky steep path into Pololu Valley with flashlights, it had begun dawning but it seemed that sunrise would be obscured by dense clouds. However, the further we descended, the more magnificent the view had become. Sheer cliffs rose out of the Pacific, enveloped by the orange light of a dawn breaking through parting clouds, as the waves crashed ashore below us. We almost ran down, navigated the black volcanic rocks and set up quickly, leaving our belongings scattered behind us. The first image, “Gold Coast,” shows the sight that unfolded before our eyes that morning. When shooting, I contained the bright sun by stopping down to f/18 and bracketing exposures but in processing the image, purposely allowed overexposure in the favor of the dramatic effect.

Waipio Morning

Our second journey to Waipio, the Valley of the Kings, was just as memorable and even more spiritual. Following an even longer drive, we had descended down a 25% grade looping one-way road in pitch-black darkness, to find ourselves by a wild stretch of shoreline sandwiched between imposing cliffs. Markings of ancient burial sites told the story of the generations of kings and their families that had been buried just behind us. As “Waipio Morning” shows, early light fell on an impressive cliff considered holy by the natives as the departure point for souls of the deceased as they float down into the afterlife (each island has one such place). In making this photograph, every time I tried to get closer to the water to capture its motion, I found my gear soaked by violently crashing waves.  As in the image above, I used my trusty Sigma 8-16mm F4.5-5.6 DC HSM wide angle lens to encompass the entire scene. The seasoned photographers will notice that I used leading lines – in this case, the shape of the coastline – to direct the viewer’s eye into the distance.

I will bring you more from Hawaii in the post to come. Meanwhile, motivate yourself to explore the places you travel to – you will come away with a different impression than everyone else and chances are, you will be richly rewarded. Rise early, go to bed late. In the words of the great Galen Rowell: “You only get one sunrise and one sunset a day, and you only get so many days on the planet. A good photographer does the math and doesn’t waste either.”

Alex Filatov is an internationally published professional nature and city fine art photographer. More of his work may be found on his website.

Comments (1)
  1. Very beautiful photographs, I love Hawaii, this is a truly magical place, with its special air, charm, beauty …
    I really liked the quote at the end, there is something in it.

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