Every Friday I will be posting a Photo of the Week. Here I’ll be sharing the details on how I got the shot, where I was, and the backstory that went into it. I hope you find this enjoyable, and helpful in your own photography.
If you remember back in May of 2018, the Big Island of Hawaii was all over the news. “Eruptions” and “Lava Flows” blanketed news headlines for months. A normality there on the island, with its aptly named Lava National Park; however, this time the lava was flowing through neighborhoods and towns, outside the park. Even though the news made it seem like the entire island was engulfed in flames, we still decided to continue with our trip to the Big Island that we had planned months prior. And thankfully we did!
About halfway through the trip, we made our way to he National Guard protected areas where the lava pouring out of the ground. We couldn’t get close, but we tried. At this point on the trip, we were staying at this rundown “hotel” in Hilo when we decided to head up to see the view from Mauna Kea Observatory. Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in Hawaii at 13,803ft, and it’s actually a dormant volcano. Just below the summit, the observatory is positioned high above the clouds and with crystal clear views of the night sky year round. We hoped to pear into one of their many telescopes and see some incredible views of constellations and stars.
We drove up, only to find that we were one of a hundred other tourists who had the same idea on that night. Lines to view the telescopes were 50+ people long, winding all around the observatory. And even though we were in Hawaii, the temperatures were frigid. Our sun-tanned bodies were not ready for the ~40F temps at the observatory. We quickly gave up and headed back to our car in hopes to find a dark place to take some night photography.
We drove down the road a bit, pulling off onto the shoulder far from most car headlights that would overexpose our shots. I set up outside the car, with my tripod on the roof, while Courtney enjoyed the comfort of the warm car, shooting through the windshield. The pictures were turning out good, but not great. There was a full moon, which always throughs off the exposure when trying to shoot the stars. Having the aperture open to high results in too much moonlight entering the camera’s sensor, over exposing the shot. It’s a compromise, as is most photography, balancing exposure, ISO sensitivity, and shutter speed.
For a full, in-depth, instructions on how to shoot the stars or night photography, see this post I did titled: Getting The Shot: Shooting the Stars.
To add to the challenge, once the shots started coming out how I wanted, a car would drive past and their tail lights would blur shot or worse, overexpose it. But then I had an idea, rather than b!tch and complain about these cars, why not try to capture them. So I toned down the sensitivity to be ready for the bright, red tail lights, waited for the next car to come down the road, and click. I waited as the shutter stayed open. One, two, three… thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen.
When the photo appeared on the back of the display, boom, I knew I had something. I got a perfect streak of red and yellow from the car’s tail lights, the stars are visible in the night’s sky, the shoulder of volcano in the middle of the frame, and then I noticed something else in the background. A faint red glow off in the distance. At first I thought it was an effect of the red lights, blurring off a sign or something. I quickly checked back through the camera at past photos without a car in them. It was still there! Then it hit me.
I was capturing the glow of the lava flow in the night’s sky, emitting through the clouds. It wasn’t particularly visible with the naked eye, but over a 15sec shutter speed, you could see it clear as day! It was perfect timing, and a whole lot of luck! And that’s why this photo is my Photo of the Week!