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Earth's Formation - Kilauea Lava, Hawaii

Posted by
Don Smith (California, United States) on 13 September 2010 in Landscape & Rural.


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I recently flew back to the Big Island of Hawaii specifically to photograph the lava flows from the Kilauea Volcano entering the Pacific Ocean. I had been on the island in July and had posted some images of the lava as it slowly made its way towards the water, but felt my coverage was incomplete without images of the molten flow entering the ocean and in turn creating a new landmass.

To reach this lava by foot is dangerous and basically requires one to trespass onto private property. Not wanting to spend my time in a Hilo jail cell, I decided to try shooting the lava from the safe confines of a pontoon boat with fellow colleagues Mike Hall and Scott Schilling. This required a 4 am wakeup call (after getting to sleep at midnight), a 40-minute drive, and a 5 am departure which placed us at the flows 40 minutes prior to sunrise. I captured this image 15 minutes prior to posted sunrise time by handholding my Canon MKIV with a 70-200mmL lens at f/2.8. It did require an ISO of 1600 which allowed for a rather slow shutter speed of 1/320. I fortunately was sitting and was able to brace both of my elbows on one of the pontoons to act as a mini-tripod. As you can imagine, the swells were rolling the boat quite substantially and framing was difficult at best (thank goodness I took my motion sickness pills)!

We all felt that it was imperative to photograph prior to sunrise so we could capture the lava glowing. The steam you see rising from the ocean was due to the heated temperatures of the ocean water (between 90-100 degrees Fahrenheit) with pockets of boiling water reaching 130 degrees! I can remember thinking to myself, "I hope these pontoons don't melt!"

Our captain (Roy Carvalho, owner of Lava Roy's Ocean Adventure Tours) was fantastic and continually maneuvered us into prime shooting positions. One other larger tour boat was present and had no concerns of routinely cutting in front of us. Near sunrise, a series of explosions began to occur as steam pressure built up inside the individual lava tubes. Porous molten lava rocks would stream past on fire then float lazily on top of the water. I will be posting one of those images soon.

It was truly a surrealistic scene. This experience is just a snippet of how our planet was formed. I couldn't help but think to myself that this molten liquid originated from the earth's core. I was witnessing the creation of a landmass. Doesn't get much better than that!

Canon EOS-1D Mark IV 1/320 second F/2.8 ISO 1600 70 mm

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