Alau Island off the coast of Maui reminds me of the small rocky islands in the Great Barrier Reef. As creatures of the 21st century, we can’t help but rejoice to find a piece of land undeveloped and basking in its natural glory. How many places on the planet can we find like this?
Just before sunset, Alau Island was shrouded with a pastel pink and blue blanket of color. I set my Nikon D800 for a long exposure to smooth the waves, the bright surf reflected some of the pink tones as well. It was not long before this scene slipped into darkness, and the full moon rose to give the scene a completely different feeling. See Alau Island with a darkening sky and full moon rising in this earlier blog post.
Night photography that features the full moon is one of my favorite achievements. Add the lapping waves of the ocean and interesting landforms, and you can call that photo a personal favorite. All these elements came together for me at the end of a long day of photography on Maui.
That morning my alarm went off at 5 am, but we cancelled our 5:30 am departure for a sunrise shoot due to heavy rain all night continuing into the morning. Around 8 am, one of our workshop instructors knocked on my door. The other instructor had ventured out to scout road conditions and was stranded about an hour down the “Road to Hana” with a flat tire. Would I be willing to drive the route right away to pick him up? Of course!
Several hours later (around noon) with rain giving way to overcast sky, we hiked into a nearby state park, Wainapanapa, to do some photography. Later in the afternoon, we drove for an hour back the muddy, partially flooded, winding road to Hana — past the flat tire site — to the Haleakala State Park that features the “Seven Sacred Pools.” Then, we hiked a trail to a spectacular vantage point. Tired, yes. Sweaty, yes. Day is not over yet.
Just as the sun was setting, we arrived at our last location of the day: a little beach where you can see this volcanic mountain offshore “Alau Island” and enjoy some sun tinted clouds paint the sky before the scene disappeared into complete darkness. But this evening, there was something more. The full moon was rising opposite the sunset and near Alau island, while there was still some faint blue light in the sky.
I was ready with my equipment and techniques to capture a long exposure: my Really Right Stuff tripod and camera bracket on the Nikon D800 — necessary to make a long exposure. I knew I needed a long exposure in the very low light, and also that the long exposure would smooth the waves into a shimmering surface, accentuating the mood. I wanted the foreground to be dark, to show realistically the evening light. It was also important to me as a professional to hold back the bright light of the moon, to keep the highlights from blowing out. So, I hand held a graduated neutral density filter on the top edge of the frame.
I maintained the quality of the image by keeping the ISO at 100. I opened the lens up to f/ 2.8, and chose an exposure that allowed the foreground trees and rocks to go quite dark. With the help of the graduated filter, I held the dynamic range of the image well enough to capture this striking scene with one five-second exposure.
With this achievement, the week’s physical challenges all became worth it: the pre-dawn alarm clock, the heavy rain, the hot and humid hiking conditions, the muddy and sometimes precarious driving conditions. I was more than satisfied. I captured an image that exceeded my expectations.