Kilauea Lava Flow, Big Island - Hawai'i, USA

HOT! HOT! HOT! – Shooting Lava in Hawai’i

Jay and I visited the Big Island of Hawai’i  over the holiday season this year, and hiked out to see the lava for ourselves. This was, without question, the highlight of the trip. We spent a couple of hours photographing the lava on the first night, and we were so impressed that we returned for another go around the next day. Shooting the lava was a challenge as night got darker. Here’s what I recommend for getting great shots in a place like this…

1. Use a tripod. I used a long shutter speed for this shot. Without a tripod, it would have been a lot more difficult. We need sturdy tripods that can handle some seriously difficult conditions. We were working on incredibly rough ground – and it got awfully hot at times. The soles of my hiking boots show some obvious damage from the heat and rough ground – but my Induro CT113 tripod stood up to it beautifully. This is a great place to put on the metal spikes that some tripods come with. A little extra grip is a good thing out here. It can get windy by the sea, too – so a sturdy tripod is a must. We also recommend using a good ball head. I’m using Induro’s BHL1 ballhead, which has no trouble with my long, heavy lenses.

2. Give yourself time to figure out which lenses will work best – based upon the distances you are working with. I used a 70-200mm lens with a 1.4x converter. This gave me the length I need to capture lava far away – but also let me work with the flow right in front of me without having to change lenses. My photos from the second night are much better than those from the first night because I knew exactly what I wanted and how to get it.

3. I found that focusing on distant lava was difficult because of heat distortion. The solution was to focus on a cooler rock nearby or to focus manually.

4. Experiment with different shutter speeds. I liked the long shutter speed effect for this shot because it showed the smooth flow of the lava as it fell. For other photos, I preferred a fast shutter speed so that I could capture the incredible details in the cooling lava. The patterns were amazing. I’ll post some more photos soon!

If you are planning a trip to the Big Island, give Cheryl a call for her awesome Poke-A-Stick Guided Lava Tours. Please keep in mind that this is private land, and you can not go out there without a guide. As it says on her business card, this trip is “Not fo’ Wimps!” You can find all the information you need on Cheryl’s website at:


About Author Varina Patel

There is nothing more remarkable to me than the power of nature. It is both cataclysmic and subtle. Slow and continuous erosion by water and wind can create landscapes every bit as astonishing as those shaped by catastrophic events – and minuscule details can be as breathtaking as grand vistas that stretch from one horizon to the other. Nature is incredibly diverse. Burning desert sands and mossy riverbanks… Brilliant sunbeams and fading alpenglow… Silent snowfall and raging summer storms… Each offers a unique opportunity. I am irresistibly drawn to the challenge of finding my next photograph, and mastering the skills required to capture it effectively.

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