Island Sunrises and Sunsets


Island Sunrises_Cover

I don’t know what it is, but sunrises and sunsets in Hawaii are just different. Maybe it’s the ocean, the islands that invade the constant horizon and palm trees, but the rising and falling of our sun can have moments of spectacular transition in the islands.

Photography is all about the light – controlling the light, that is. Capturing the light of a sunrise or sunset can be challenging. It’s at that time of day that the speed of our Earth’s rotation can be appreciated. I always make sure I have my spot picked out and my initial camera settings ready. When the show begins there’s no time to make major changes. You have a plan and you stick to it.

On mornings especially, when the trades are calm the reflections off the ocean are dramatic. Reds, all ranges of orange, yellow and pinks abound. As a photographic recorder, you have to be dedicated to the task as the light and colors change rapidly. You pick a spot to shoot from, and you have to live with that location until the action is over. But not to worry, tomorrow will bring another display of atmospheric phenomenon.

As the year progresses the rising and setting points move from the north to the south and back again, and I have spots I like to plant myself, usually somewhere near water for the reflections. On Maui I habitually go to the windward beaches, anywhere from Kahului to Ho’okipa or near Maalaea or Kihei on the west. And then I’ll shoot at least a hundred shots of sunrises. The light changes so quickly, the clouds become screens of color, and

IMG_9476every few seconds a new character emerges onto the stage in the form of light, color and cloud shapes.

I use a monopod and my EF-S lenses give me some additional stability, but I still have to turn on my artificial horizon grid in the viewfinder and brace the camera. When shooting at a hard, consistent horizon line a small tilt can ruin an otherwise beautiful image. Although, I can compensate for an unnatural tilt in Lightroom, but I’m still old school and try to get it right in the original image.

Shutter speeds are typically slow in sunrise lighting conditions. For a sunrise I will generally start with an ISO of 600-800 or even higher as I want a long depth of field, but I’ll have to change it as the light increases. I want the best quality, but not too slow a shutter – and I always underexpose.




I can compensate for most anything in the processing. In the original of the image on the right the grass area and the people sitting at the Kona Inn were completely in shadow. But a little work in Lightroom brought back the detail and makes it a much better image.I didn’t want them to dominate over the colors of the sky and clouds, but it seemed a shame to not include the entire setting where the photo was taken.

Sunsets are just the opposite, but my eye is looking more for color and contrast in the late afternoon. There is so much to think about on the technical end, and final composition is usually the last item on the list.



















Up-country sunset
Up-country sunset












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