Hawaii is becoming an attractive destination for landscape photographers worldwide. From tropical rainforests and waterfalls to fields of lava, it’s not hard to understand why. Professional photographer Erez Marom recently spent two weeks exploring the Big Island, Maui and Kauai in which 6 of those days were focused on the lava fields.
Erez spent these days photographing from both a helicopter and boat but the most memorable moment might have been the melted drone he came back home with.
You’re an avid traveler and have been around the world, why did you choose Hawaii as your destination for your previous adventure?
Apart from traveling to guide workshops several months a year, I do my best to do as much private traveling and shooting as I can. When guiding tours, I must help the participants and can’t always take advantage of every situation, plus I guide only in places I have vast experience in, so I’m less enthusiastic about them in the first place.
My friend Daniel Haussmann and I had been debating where to travel for quite some time. Palawan (Philippines) was a leading candidate, but September-November isn’t a very good season, so we had to scratch that idea. Madagascar was another option but it fell through as well, for other reasons.
Daniel kept suggesting Hawaii, which I was reluctant to do, because of the huge distance, the flight prices and simply because I wasn’t entirely convinced it would be worth it. I knew lava was ever-changing and if we came all that way to get none, I’d be extremely disappointed. In the end, our love of both lava and helicopter shooting tipped the scales just enough to convince me to go for it.
Did you know that the lava would be this active or was some of it being lucky?
It was only after setting the dates and booking the flights that we learned the lava situation was looking pretty good, with strong inland surface flows. Thing is, I’m the luckiest photographer alive, no question about it, and whenever Daniel and I shoot together we get insane conditions. So in retrospect, it wasn’t so far-fetched that we’d get such craziness!
Your drone got quite a beating while photographing one of the lava fields. Can you tell us what happened and how you discovered that lava field?
Being responsible, not wanting to break any laws and wanting to use the drone made us hire a certified local guide, Erik. He was very knowledgeable about the current flows and led us to the best photography location quickly and safely. He also informed us that the flows we were going to shoot were outside the boundary of the national park, which made us jump with joy since it meant we could legally use the drone.
About an hour into the shoot I started hearing people shouting at me to look to the right – and I’ll be damned if I didn’t see a blood-red lava river simply burst out of the mountainside. It was unbelievable. The lava river was flowing down the mountain, diverging and converging again to form amazingly beautiful abstract shapes.
I used the drone to photograph it for quite some time when I started noticing a dark patch on the right side of the images. It appears that I was so enthusiastic I kept photographing closer and closer to the lava to get the compositions I wanted. When we got back to the apartment where we were staying, I had a closer look at the drone and to my disbelief, the plastic inside was molten and covered some of the lens – that was the source of the dark patch.
Needless to say, the shots were worth melting the camera!
There are many ways to see and experience the lava fields. What did you find best for photography and how were they different?
I would definitely recommend shooting the lava in all possible ways. It was a no-brainer for me since I came such a long distance to do it, but even if you live in North America, it’s still a long flight and an expensive travel to get to Hawaii and shoot lava, so best make good use of the opportunity.
I can’t really say there’s one best way to shoot the lava; each has advantages and disadvantages. Photographing from the ground is great since you have as much time as you want, you can go as close as you dare and you’re free to maneuver to get any composition you think of and is feasible. The downside is that it’s a long, 8km hike to get there. You have to carry all the gear including drone and its spare batteries, 3 liters of water and do all that under the scorching Hawaiian sun. My feet were blistered for a few days after doing the hike.
Shooting with a drone is awesome. When legal, you can feel relatively free and it’s safe to fly (as long as you mind the helicopters and fly responsibly) and by flying very close to the lava you get unique perspectives. The new DJI drones have half an hour of flight time, which is fantastic and allows for more careful composition and for more opportunities. The downside of that is that, well, there’s a chance that you’ll lose the drone or at least melt its camera…! Also, you’ll get nasty responses from people who accuse you of lying and claim that you’re droning in the national park but the rule is the more debate you get, the better your pictures are!
The boat is a different story altogether. You shoot at the ocean entry, which is several kilometers away from the shootable surface flows. I took the morning twilight sail, which proved wise since we had the chance to take night shots, twilight shots, and sunrise shots. The problem with the boat shoot is that you’re entirely dependent on the captain and that you can’t shoot at all times since the boat rotates to give everyone a chance to see the lava.
It’s also problematic if you’re prone to motion sickness (which I very much am). Luckily, after gulping a mega dose of pills, I didn’t get sick. All in all, I was very happy with the boat experience.
Finally, the helicopter. I just love photographing from them and this was no exception. We had a fantastic pilot who hovered motionlessly exactly where we asked. I got to take more aerial perspectives of the flows, and naturally, it was a fun, effortless experience. The downside, naturally, is the price.
What were the biggest challenges capturing this series of lava shots? Besides the melted drone!
I’d say the difficult part is staying concentrated and focused. There are so many shots to be taken, so many perspectives, so much to do. The Hawaiian sun sets very fast, especially so when you’re used to the long Arctic sunsets. The best light lasts only for minutes. It’s not easy making the right decision: what lens to use, what compositions to shoot, use the drone or the DSLR. It’s tough getting to the spot where you’re taking these shots, better make them count!