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The advancing lava flows and photographing panoramas for stitching

December 5, 2010

There is something humbling about standing next to lava flowing across the land. As it crackles announcing its advancement in a victorious way, the glow beneath the black bulge hints at the devastation this molten rock can cause.Yet watching new land being formed on the youngest of all the Hawaiian Islands is a memory I will not soon loose.

Red hot lava crackles as it flows. Image by Danielle Lancaster

One house sits spared from the flow, almost as if Pele has seen a reason to allow Peggy, the owner another day of reprieve and a house down the road with the for sale sign erected seems not to be gaining a lot of attention. Next door the twisted lava now has the land at least 8 metres higher than it was the day before.

A house for sale on the lava fields Image by Danielle Lancaster

Charred utensils covered in lava are just some of the reminders of human habitation.
Image by Danielle Lancaster

Nearby, the beach township of Kalapana was once an icon of Hawaii. It’s sweeping black sand beach fringed by swaying palm trees is still seen today plastered across postcards and tourist brochures beckoning you. The reality is Kalapana Beach is now covered in deep black lava with not a grain of sand in sight.

A tip for you when visiting these fields: keep an eye on your shoes – when they start to smoke it’s time to move.

Smokin’ Shoes Image by Danielle Lancaster

The coastal drive from Kalapana to Hilo is one of the most scenic I have done. To do the whole route a 4WD is required. Hilo itself I found an unimpressive town.

Our accommodation at the Hilo Hawaiian was well below standard for the price paid. My rating 3/10 and I would not bother booking here again. Polystyrene cups in my room, one serving of coffee for your stay, dirty and stained linen, a smell in the restaurant and bar that had me gagging were just a few of the points I disliked.

From Hilo we continued north to Honokaa, a small town based on plantations most now past, with a stop at the impressive 135 metre Akaka Falls. We stayed overnight at the Hotel Honokaa Club – budget accommodation but well worth the $40.00 US we paid for the night. Annelle our hostess had a great sense of humour. For Aussies the word Hotel does not necessary mean it serves alcohol, however the local patrons at the sports bar next door readily welcomed us Aussies and before long had us joining them swigging shots of Patrón tequila.

Thankfully our heads were fine the next morning for our adventure into the stunning Waipio Valley – Sacred Valley of the Kings and the revered home of Hawaii’s powerful rulers and once considered the centre of Hawaiian civilisation and politics.

The valley is surrounded by 610 metre high cliffs draped by waterfalls and finishes at a beautiful black sand beach. See wild horses and meet friendly locals who farm this fertile valley most continuing the ancient practice of kalo cultivation. Again hire a 4WD to do this drive – if you prefer to use you own horse power, this is a steep walk in and out (25% incline) so allow plenty of time.

Waipio Valley Image by Danielle Lancaster

The most common disappointment I heard from visitors while on the Big Island was not being able to capture the entire splendour in front of their eyes. A wide angle lens is a must here and if you don’t have one then consider shooting images for stitching later on.

A couple of tips for shooting images to stitch:

Take the images from the same point of view – a tripod is best to use. After you take each image recompose the image by moving the camera either vertically or horizontally no more than 70%. This should allow a 30% overlap. More overlap is better than less.

Don’t change the exposure between shots – this includes white balance and focus distance.

Avoid shooting images to stitch when your scene lighting is changing dramatically such as at sunset and sunrise.

Don’t include moving objects.
Most times it is best to take off your polarising filter or your image will look unnatural.

Shoot in RAW.

Landscapes in wide allow more of the scene we see with our own eyes to be captured.
Image by Danielle Lancaster

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