A few months ago my dad asked me if I wanted to go to Hawaii for a week – well, who doesn’t want to go to Hawaii for a week?! My parents are both astronomers, and my mom makes frequent trips to the big island to go observing at Keck: the worlds second largest optical telescope. There are actually 2 ‘Kecks’, both 10 meters in diameter, and they can be used together as an interferometer (which simulates having one telescope with a diameter as large as the distance between the two individual telescopes through aperture synthesis). That was a long introduction just to say that Hawaii is actually a rather typical destination for them, but only occasionally do we make a family vacation out of it. This time we first spent a few days on the island of Maui.

click for larger view!

Sunrise on Haleakala, Maui

"Sliding Sands" ~ Sunrise on Haleakala, Maui
The Tech: Canon 5D2, 24-105mm, tripod
Exposure: iso 100, f/13, 1/4th & 1/8th
Processing: I blended a few different exposures using my finger to block the lens flare in different positions

One of the most popular scenic views to experience on Maui is sunrise from the top of Haleakala, a ‘volcano’ on the eastern side of the island. I figured there would be a crowd, but I had no idea how many bus loads of underdressed honeymooning tourists would show up wrapped in their hotel blankets at 4am. It was quite a spectacle, just to see that. Fortunately I managed to find a spot away from the crowd, and watched the sun rise over a sea of clouds in near silence from near the summit of the 10,000 foot peak. Haleakala is not actually a proper volcano – the ‘crater’ was formed by erosion, and was later populated with little volcanic cinder cones (most of which are outside of the view of my image above, though you can parts of some on the right).

I typically do my best to stay away from throngs of people like that, so I needed to even out the balance. That evening my parents dropped me off on the coast of southern Maui, from where I backpacked a few miles over an old Hawaiian trail through A’a’ lava to a quiet little beach that I had all to myself for the night. (A’a’ lava is the rough, sharp, and unpleasant kind of lava that makes you say ‘ahh! ah!’ when you walk on it, in contrast to the glossy smooth Pahoehoe lava of which I’ll share an image next time). As soon as I stumbled on this little black pebble beach (ocean polished lava) with perfectly distributed white coral pebbles (I only had to move one) I knew the image I wanted to make. It is a concept that I’ve tried to work with in the past, but I think this is the best attempt I’ve had yet. I set up my camera and waited for the stars to appear. As twilight descended I started seeing a strange cloud in the center of my composition, and a few minutes later it became clear that I had accidentally framed the Milky Way in the exact center of my composition – what a wonderful surprise! I could have of course predicted where and when I should expect to see the Milky Way using a variety of tools (a compass and working knowledge of the night sky, Stellarium, or Google Skymap), but there’s something particularly fun about serendipity.

click for larger view!

Milky Way on Maui

"Walking on Stars" ~ Milky Way, Maui
The Tech: Canon 5D2, Nikon 14-24mm, tripod
Exposure (beach): iso 200, f/18, 30 sec
Exposure (sea): iso 800, f/18, 8 sec
Exposure (stars): iso 3200, f/2.8, 15 sec
Processing: several exposures blended, taken 30 minutes apart. See text for more details.

I’ve seen some pretty fantastic night skies while wandering the deserts and backpacking in the Sierra, but never before had I seen stars quite like this. It was an incredibly therapeutic experience; just what I needed after that morning on Haleakala. In order to best capture the detail of the stars and Milky Way I borrowed some tricks from astronomical image processing, and took three shorter exposures which I later aligned by hand with the help of PTGui and averaged in Photoshop. This reduced the amount of star motion (yes after 15-20 seconds you will start to see star motion, even at 14mm!), as well as dramatically reducing the noise, allowing me to reveal the details of the Milky Way.

This is the first of three posts I will be making about my images from Hawaii – I hope you enjoy them!

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8 Comments to “Walking on Stars : Search for Solitude on Maui”

  1. Carl D says:

    Hey Floris

    This is great – that first image above is absolutely awesome.



  2. Boyan says:

    Hey Floris, I know what you mean when you describe the throngs of people who show up at 4am in flipflops and hotel blankets. However, if you walk half a mile down the crater (there actually is a poorly marked trail) it is complete solitude and a rather majestic experience complemented by a spectacular color display when light starts reflecting from the volcanic ash. Here is one of my better efforts at sunset and sunrise #1 and sunrise#2. The colors for the second one were unbelievable, I can only imagine what someone with much more talent such as yourself would have done under the circumstances. You can see the trail leading down into the crater, you do have to step somewhat off the trail to get to an image-worthy location. The only distraction there is the need to clone out the flashbulbs and lights from the observation deck in the upper right of the frame 🙂

  3. Thanks Carl and Boyan!

    Boyan – I did hike down into the crater after sunrise, I suppose next time I’ll have to head down before sunrise (or camp)!

  4. I’ve never been in Hawaii but it seems to be very rich in nature and a good place to enjoy nature photography.

    Greetings from Catalonia.

  5. Boyan says:

    Don’t know if the rangers check for campers or allow camping in the “crater”. I suppose it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. IMO the better views are near the top which is a 15 minute hike from the rim. As long as you have scouted the location in daylight there is no need to camp, it is an easy hike with a headlamp down the trail, then off the trail at your chosen location. Just make sure the shoes are throwaways, the will turn a beautiful earthy color from the volcanic ash, which is next to impossible to wash off after that.

  6. Boyan – you can get permits to camp in the crater (though I imagine there are some restrictions as to where). I prefer to camp near my location whenever possible, as I find the experience is more enjoyable that way 🙂

  7. Jose Viegas says:

    Hi Floris

    Again, great work. Your images always are an inspiration in search for improvement.


  8. […] is part 2 of 3 from my posts about Hawaii. Read part 1 here: Walking on Stars, and stayed tuned for part […]