Lava by Land
Lava flow over Land
Another fantastic experience is hiking to the lava. As of the spring of 2013 it is actually more like a 2.5 mile walk than it is a hike, which makes this very accessible for those that are will to take the time.
Most lava hikes take advantage of either the sunrise or sunset timeframe. This allows you to witness the transition from red, obviously hot, lava during the daylight hours to glowing hot lava during twilight / dawn.
After a while walking through nothing but hardened black lava flow of varying ages, you are quite literally right on top of red hot flowing lava. If you were not with an experienced Kalapana lava guide this could easily end in disaster. So please, don't try this without one!
The first thing I noticed when I first saw the lava flowing over the land was the heat and speed. I was not surprised by the heat, but I was by the speed. This combination makes photography challenging. Not only is your subject quickly approaching you, but if it ever reaches you it will kill you; which is obviously not the desired outcome.
Most of my photographs of the lava flowing over land were taken with my 70-200mm f2.8 lens. This allowed me to keep a relatively safe distance, but still achieve the closeup and detail I was going for. As time went on I was able to swap out and take some 50mm and 18mm photographs. If I had it to do over again I would play around with some longer exposure photographs to really capture the motion of the lava over land. Luckily I was able to do this during the next stop on the hike, lava flowing into the ocean.
Lava flowing into the ocean.
For me, this was the highlight of the hike. Witnessing the intense battle of land and ocean during the twilight hour was magical. Between the ocean and lava there is so much motion to capture; and when this is combined with the lighting variation of sunset the results can be absolutely amazing.
The timing of the event is also critical. The change of lighting during the golden hour allows you to play around with longer exposures, and many other variations. But having the right tripod/gear was key.
You obviously need a tripod for this! I used the Gitzo Traveller 6x carbon with a Accra Swiss ball head, and I absolutely loved it. This gave me the flexibility to bop and move along the ridge-line without tearing down the tripod, and the stability to shoot at anywhere from 18 - 400mm lenses.
Speaking of lenses, this is where I was really able to have a lot of fun. I was able to play with the wide angle, and also the super zoom; each creating a really nice affect as you can see below.
If I had it to do over again, I would try not to get so mesmerized by the the scenery and look around for more viewpoints. Admittedly this is very easy to say in retrospect, as at the time I was concerned with falling off the cliff in to the ocean and accidentally stepping in to an active flow. Both very real and lethal dangers.
So I guess all in all I'm satisfied to come out in one piece and with the shots that were available. But I surely wouldn't turn down another opportunity to catch this again!