Mar 102014
Lava from the Pu'u O'o eruption flowing into the ocean.

Lava from the Pu’u O’o eruption flowing into the ocean.

For a number of years I had the good fortune to live on the Big Island of Hawaii. The largest in size (but not population) of all the Hawaiian Islands, it also has the most diversity of climate and terrain. Within a few hours you can travel from palm-fringed tropical beaches to lush rainforest to arid desert to a live volcano and to the top of 13,796-foot Mauna Kea.

The Big Island is rich in opportunities for any kind of photography, but it is especially great for nature and landscape photographers. If you are planning or thinking of visiting the island of Hawaii, here are my recommendations for the top ten locations for nature and scenic landscape photography.

1. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – A live volcano!  The Kilauea volcano system has been active and erupting almost continuously for over 30 years. Viewing the fountaining lava from Pu’u O’o in the early stages of the eruption was one of the most amazing and spectacular things I have ever witnessed, as was viewing molten lava creating new land as it flows to the ocean. If by any chance there is an active flow while you are on the island, drop everything to go see it. In recent years, it is often possible to see the glow of molten lava in Halemaumau Crater. Best time to see and photograph Madame Pele’s magic is at dusk and dawn when the glow of the lava balances nicely with the ambient light. You can check on current volcanic activity on the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park website. For more detailed information, check the U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory website.

2. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – Thurston Lava Tube and Kilauea Iki Trails. Thurston Lava Tube is one of the most popular destinations within the Park, and with good reason. Not only can you walk through a lava tube, but the trail passes through an outstanding forest of native Hawaiian rainforest species. Tall tree ferns will probably grab your attention first, but look also for the bright red blossoms of the ʻōhiʻa lehua tree, and for the bright red apapane and i’iwi, two somewhat rare birds endemic to the Hawaiian rainforest. Kilauea Iki Trail is probably the best day hike in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. From the trailhead at the Thurston Lava Tube parking area, the path wanders through fern-ohia forest to the rim of Kilauea Iki, and then drops down to the crater floor. Look for steam rising from cracks in the barren lava as you cross the crater, and then climb back to the forested rim. I recommend visiting Thurston Lava Tube either early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the bus loads of other visitors that arrive every day.

pahoehoe lava flow

Pahoehoe lava, Chain of Craters Road.

3. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – Chain of Craters Road.  After visiting the Thurston Lava Tube area, head makai (towards the ocean) on Chain of Craters Road. The landscape soon changes from dense forest to barren, and relatively recent, lava flows. Stop at one of the several pullouts and viewpoints along the way and wander at bit looking for the wonderful textures and designs in the pahoehoe lava. Photos of the stark lava can be even more striking if you include the ferns and other plants that are the first to colonize lava flows. When the road drops down Holei Pali, look for the trail to Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs. An easy 1.4-mile round-trip walk leads past ancient inscriptions in an older lava flow. Just before where the road is closed by recent lava flows, look for Holei Sea Arch viewpoint. The light immediately after sunrise is beautiful in this part of the park.

Lobster Claw Heloconia

Lobster Claw Heliconia, Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden.

4. Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden.  If you’re a plant lover and like to photograph exotic flowers, you’ll probably want to spend several hours at Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. Located a few miles north of Hilo on the Hamakua Coast, the garden includes over 2000 species of plants in its beautiful 40-acre setting. The garden is very photographer friendly, and a lovely waterfall on Onomea Stream at the edge of the property is a nice bonus. Other gardens to visit on the Big Island include Nani Mau Gardens in Hilo, World Botanical Gardens further up the Hamakua Coast, and the Amy Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden south of Kailua-Kona town. 

Akaka Falls

Akaka Falls.

5. Akaka Falls State Park.  Of all the waterfalls in Hawaii, two on the Big Island are the most well-known, Rainbow Falls in Hilo and Akaka Falls on the Hamakua Coast. A short loop trail in Akaka Falls State Park leads to 442′ tall Akaka Falls, where the flow drops straight down over a lava cliff. The surrounding lush, green vegetation makes the view even more attractive. The trail to the falls also passes through a bamboo forest and gives a glimpse of 100′ tall Kahuna Falls. Due to the terrain, good viewing points for photographs of the falls are very limited, and like Thurston Lava Tube this place gets busloads of visitors every day, so try to be there either fairly early or late in the day. It’s more likely to be cloudy or overcast in the afternoon, the best kind of light for waterfall and forest photography. 

Mana Road view of Parker Ranch land

Pu’u on Parker Ranch, Mana Road.

6. Waimea – Mana Road.  The area surrounding the little town of Waimea is largely ranch country, including historic Parker Ranch, at one time the largest privately-owned cattle ranch in the United States. Follow Mana Road south of town for landscapes of rolling green pastures, perhaps paniolos (cowboys) on a round-up, and views from the lower slopes of Mauna Kea up to its summit. The road is good, solid gravel and dirt for the first few miles, beyond which it becomes a 4WD adventure as the road climbs the slopes of Mauna Kea and circles the eastern side of the mountain. 

7. Saddle Road.  It has never failed to amazed me that the winding and dangerously narrow Hana Highway is touted as one of the highlights of a visit to Maui, while visitors, and until recently, residents, were always warned to stay off Saddle Road on the Big Island. Granted, much of the road is narrow, there are some nasty curves and portions are frequently fog-shrouded, but with a modicum of care it’s not a bad drive and offers some very unique and beautiful scenery. Officially known as State Highway 200, Saddle Road crosses the lava landscape  between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. Those interested in native Hawaiian habitat and ecology will enjoy the rainforest on the Hilo side of the drive and Pu’u Huluhulu, a kipuka or island of forest surrounded by barren lava. Saddle Road is also the route to the observatories at the summit of Mauna Kea.

palm trees at sunset, Anaehoomalu Bay

‘Anaeho’omalu Bay Sunset

8. ‘Anaeho’omalu Bay.  The beach at Waikoloa Resort is the place to go for great sunset+palm trees photos. Tall cocopalms line the sandy beach at ‘Anaeho’omalu, the traditional Hawaiian name for this location. The most popular viewpoint is from the trail around the ancient Hawaiian fishpond that is just behind the beach. The fishpond can be part of your composition, and it makes an interesting subject in itself. Some of the best petroglyphs in Hawaii can be found along a trail near the Kings Shops at Waikoloa Resort.

9. Kona Coast Beach Parks. The Big Island may have fewer long stretches of sandy beach than the other main islands in Hawaii, but it does have some really beautiful little coves scattered around the perimeter of the island. Between Kailua-Kona town and the Kohala Coast resorts, most of the shoreline is barren lava, which at first glance may not be too attractive, but can be great for photos of blowholes and long exposure images of the tidal surge swirling around the jagged lava rocks. There are a couple of roads providing access to the coast at Kekaha Kai State Park, where you can walk the ancient Ala Kahakai Trail to visit several little bays. The area immediately south of Kahalu’u Beach Park at Keauhou is another excellent location for shooting the rugged lava coast at sunset.

Pu'uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park

Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park

10. Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park. In ancient Hawaii a person who broke sacred law could escape punishment if they could get to a pu’uhonua, a place of refuge. Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau is the largest and best preserved of these refuges in the islands, and the dedicated staff and volunteers at this National Park have done an incredible job of restoring and replicating Hale O Keawe heiau (temple) and the associated structures of this wonderful cultural site. For a number of years I lived not far from Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau and visited often. It has always been one of my most favorite places in all of Hawaii, both for its beauty and its cultural importance. Spend some quiet time here, wandering the pathways or contemplating the carved wooden ki’i figures and you will surely sense the mana, the spirit, of ancient Hawaii. The light is usually best on the ki’i and the heiau very early in the morning, but this is also an excellent location for sunset light.

Do you agree with my list of the best places on the Big Island for nature photographers?  What would you add?

As always, if you enjoy this post and find it informative, please share.

Mar 082014
Paradise Inn, Mount Rainier National Park, in winter.

Paradise Inn, Mount Rainier National Park.

If your photography plans include a trip to Mount Rainier National Park anytime in the next several months, you may encounter delays due to construction on Washington State Highway 706. Reconstruction and improvements to the section of the highway from the Nisqually Entrance, through Longmire, and up to the Paradise Meadows area began this month and work will continue through summer and into early autumn. Traveling on this section of the road Monday through Friday, you’ll need to allow an extra hour for your trip. There should be no delays on weekends and holidays. For more information about the project and an update on current conditions, check the Mount Rainier National Park website.

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Feb 182014

A photographer friend who purchased my Oregon and Washington guidebooks, and who knew that I lived in Hawaii for many years, recently asked for recommendations on the best places on the islands of Maui and Hawaii for landscape photography. Like most photographers visiting the Hawaiian Islands, my friend has a limited number of days for his vacation and won’t have time to run around the islands to all the locations shown in general interest visitor guides. Here are my suggestions for where to go on Maui for great scenic and nature photography. I’ll follow this up with separate post on my recommendations for the Big Island.

Wailua Falls, Kipahulu District, Hana Coast, Maui, Hawaii. (Greg Vaughn)

Wailua Falls, Kipahulu District, Hana Coast, Maui, Hawaii.

1.  Wailua Falls – The whole Hana Coast is a nature and travel photographer’s tropical paradise with dramatic coast views and numerous waterfalls tumbling over lava cliffs in verdant rainforest. This favorite photo spot is right next to the Hana Highway in the Kipahulu District, between Hana town and the ‘Oheo Gulch area of Haleakala National Park. Visit here in the afternoon when you’re more likely to find soft, overcast light. 

Sunrise and Alau Island, Hana, Maui, Hawaii. (Greg Vaughn)

Sunrise and Alau Island, Hana, Maui, Hawaii.

2. Koki Beach Park – Heading south from Hana town, turn makai (towards the coast) on Haneo’o Road, which also goes to Hamoa Beach. ‘Alau Island sits just offshore, and the jagged lava boulders along the shore make great subjects for long exposures with water flowing around them. This is a superb location for sunrise.

3. Pipiwai Trail – After visiting the pools and waterfalls at the ‘Ohe’o Gulch area of Haleakala National Park, leave your car at the Kipahulu Visitor Center and walk across the road to the trailhead. On the way to Waimoku Falls, this easy, 4-mile round-trip hike passes through a dense forest of tall bamboo. Bring your bathing suit for a dip in the pool at the base of the waterfall, and mosquito repellent for the hike through the forest. Plenty to keep you busy here for at least a whole afternoon.

Sunrise over Haleakala Crater; Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii. (Greg Vaughn)

Sunrise over Haleakala Crater; Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii.

4. Haleakala Summit – Yes, there is going to be a crowd at the summit overlook – experiencing sunrise from the top of Haleakala is practically required of all visitors to Maui. Most people stay right at the main official viewpoint but if you walk down Sliding Sands Trail even a few hundred yards you’ll probably be all by yourself and have the option of a much different photograph than the usual summit view.

Pu'u o Pele and Pu'u of Maui cinder cones in Haleakala Crater; Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii. (Greg Vaughn/© Greg Vaughn)

Pu’u o Pele and Pu’u of Maui cinder cones in Haleakala Crater; Haleakala National Park, Maui.

5. Kalahaku Overlook, Haleakala National Park – Drive to the summit parking lot at Haleakala then turn around and head back down the road for about a mile to the turn off for Kalahaku. This is a great alternative for sunrise, with far fewer visitors, and it also puts you in great position to photograph the pu’u (cinder cones) in the crater with dramatic early morning light.

6. ‘Iao Valley – With good reason, a visit to ‘Iao Valley has long been a staple of Maui tourism. The main attraction is ‘Iao Needle, a volcanic remnant that abruptly rises 1200′ above a stream bed. The state park here is also an important cultural site and contains a botanical garden. Overcast skies won’t work for ‘Iao Needle, so go for a sunny day or dramatic clouds; nearby mountains keep the needle in shadow early in the morning.

Raindrops on taro leaf; Hana Coast, Maui, Hawaii. (Greg Vaughn/© Greg Vaughn)

Raindrops on taro leaf, Maui, Hawaii.

7. Maui Nui Botanical Gardens – Not far from the aiport at Kahului, Maui Nui Botanical Garden works to preserve and showcase Maui’s native and culturally significant plants. This is a great place to learn about and photograph species that are unique to Hawaii, as well as those that were introduced by early Polynesian settlers of the islands.

8. Kula Botanical Gardens – There is no shortage of good photo ops in Upcountry Maui, the local term for the west-facing slopes of Haleakala. Little towns and settlements are scattered across a broad area of ranches, farms, and forest. Tropical flowers like anthuriums, protea, plumeria, heliconias and orchids are grown commerically, and some of the operations welcome visitors. Kula Botanical Garden is especially photographer friendly and features several acres of exotic and native Hawaiian flora. You’ll probably also want to point your lenses at the koi pond and the resident Nene geese.

Man in surf at sunset on Kaanapali Beach at Hyatt Regency Resort, Maui, Hawaii. (Greg Vaughn)

Ka’anapali Beach sunset, Maui, Hawaii.

9. Ka’anapali Beach – The narrow strip of beach right in front of the Hyatt Regency Kaanapali Resort is one of my favorite locations for Maui sunsets. Nothing says the tropics like coconut palm trees hanging over a sandy beach, and mother nature puts on a show here most every night. With a wide composition, you can include Lanai Island on the horizon. Sunset not really happening tonight? Grab a mai tai at the beach bar and stick around for the twilight glow.

Palm trees and beach at dawn with Kahoolawe Island in distance; Kihei, Maui, Hawaii. (Greg Vaughn/© Greg Vaughn)

Palm trees and beach at dawn with Kahoolawe Island in distance; Kihei, Maui.

10. Kihei, Wailea & Makena Beaches – Just about any beach on the west side of Maui can be good for fiery sunsets. The quiet dawn light can also work very well here. The beaches on this part of the island, with the exception of Big Beach at Makena, are generally small sandy areas between ancient lava flows. Cocopalm trees have been planted along most of this coast, so it’s fairly easy to find a good composition with the palms either the main subject of your photo or used to frame the scene.

If you’ve been to Maui, you’re probably thinking, hey, what about this beach, and what about that waterfall?  Let me know your favorites by leaving a Comment.

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Feb 142014

Oregon became the 33rd of the United States on February 14th, 1859. To celebrate the day I’ve put up a little slideshow on my website with photographs that show some of the reasons that I love living here. Click on that link for a better, larger view of the photos.

If you’re an Oregon lover too, please share the show, and leave a Comment with your favorite thing about this great state.

Jan 282014

Central Oregon Visitors Guide cover

The Central Oregon Visitors Association chose one of my photos from Smith Rock State Park for the cover for this year’s Official Visitor Guide. Smith Rock is world famous as a rock climbing site – several of the popular routes are on the rock face on the right side of this photo. The state park is also a great place for hiking and for scenic landscape photography. This image also shows the Crooked River winding through the park and the view to distant Mount Jefferson through Asterisk Pass.

You can order a copy of the free visitors guide, or view it online, at the Central Oregon Visitors Association website.

Dec 172013

Covers of Photographing Oregon and Photographing Washington books

 Still looking for a Christmas present for a photographer friend, or maybe a little something for yourself? My travel guidebooks Photographing Oregon and Photographing Washington make excellent gifts. For nature and landscape photographers, they are a gift that will keep on giving for years to come, with excellent advice on where (and when) to go for the best nature photography opportunities in the Pacific Northwest.

From now until December 20th, I’m offering free shipping within the USA on both of these books, which amounts to about a 20% discount. The books will be shipped via USPS Priority Mail, so they should be delivered by December 24.

Here’s the deal: to get the discount, you’ll have to order the books here. When you add to the cart, it will include the normal shipping charge of $6.00.  This is a very short term sale, and changing the web page code to give the discount is a hassle, so what I’m doing instead is issuing you a $6.00 refund as soon as I receive your order.

Photographing Washington and Photographing Oregon are part of an award winning series of guides for photographers published by PhotoTripUSA. Both books get great reviews from those who have used them, and from those who buy them for friends and relatives. Click on the link and let me ship one or both to you at this special price.

Dec 052013
North Cascades Highway through Early Winters Valley with winter snow

North Cascades Highway through Early Winters Valley in winter.

As it does every year, the Washington State Department of Transportation has closed State Highway 20, commonly known as the North Cascades Highway. This incredibly scenic road is the most northerly route through the Cascade Mountains in the USA. Winter storms dump a lot of snow in this area, and there is a high danger of avalanches in several spots along the highway.

The road will stay closed until enough snow melts to lessen avalanche danger and make it possible for snow plows to safely clear the route. Most years, that is sometime in April, but it’s not unheard of for the road to be closed into May.

Many people don’t realize that only a portion of the highway is closed, and that it’s still possible to drive to some great places for access to North Cascades National Park and the Ross Lake National Recreation Area. The highway is gated just east of Diablo Dam and a few miles west of Winthrop in the Methow Valley, preventing access to the Washington Pass area at the crest of the Cascades.

On the western side of the Cascades, there’s no problem getting to the Rockport area to see and photograph one of the largest winter congregations of bald eagles in the lower 48 states. See my earlier blog post on viewing the bald eagles on the Skagit River.

The photo above shows the highway in the area of the big hairpin turn in Early Winters Valley just below Liberty Bell and the Early Winters Spires. It was taken from the overlook at Washington Pass, soon after an early winter storm but before the snow had accumulated enough to close the road.

For more information about State Highway 20, check the WSDOT website.  Some of the great locations for landscape and nature photography accessible via North Cascades Highway are detailed in my book Photographing Washington.

Dec 042013
Cabernet Sauvignon wine grapes on vine

Cabernet Sauvignon wine grapes on vine; Valley View Winery, southern Oregon.

Announcing my annual Holiday Sale: 20% off on all fine art photographic print orders. For the widest variety of print types and framing options, visit my gallery at FineArtAmerica. To get the discount, enter coupon code AYDTSH at checkout. Ordering from my collection at FineArtAmerica gives you the option of ordering print only, matted print, matted and framed print, canvas gallery wraps, prints on metal or acrylic, or even notecards.

Virtually every photograph on my website,, can be ordered as a print. Click on the “Buy” button on any image, select the “Prints” tab for prints on standard photographic paper, or select the “Products” tab for canvas gallery wrap prints. For images ordered via the online cart use coupon code HOL2013.

I’m also offering the 20% discount from the prices listed on for my personally-crafted custom archival prints.

If you find an image on my website that isn’t in my collection at FineArtAmerica, but you’d like to order from that site so that you can get the complete matted and framed package or one of their other options, let me know and I’ll upload the photo to FAA.

The sale price is good through December 31, 2013, but please order by December 15 if you want it delivered before Christmas.

Nov 282013
Hot air balloons ascending during Red Rock Balloon Rally

Red Rock Balloon Rally, Gallup, New Mexico.

The annual Red Rock Balloon Rally is the second largest balloon rally in the world, surpassed only by the much more famous Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. This rally has been held every year since 1981, and this year’s event, December 6-8, 2013, is expected to draw over 200 hot air balloons to Red Rock Park just outside of Gallup, New Mexico.

first balloons ascend at dawn from Red Rock Park

Dawn Patrol at Red Rock Park

One of the highlights of the rally is Dawn Patrol on Saturday morning. Pilots and their crews start inflating the balloons in the dark and begin their ascent just before sunrise. The balloons glow beautifully when the burners are fired up to fill the balloons with hot air.

Hot air balloon touching a sandstone canyon wall.

Hot air balloon touching a sandstone canyon wall.

The Red Rock Balloon Rally is especially great for photographers, not only because of the spectacular landscape of Red Rock Park, but also because there is easy access to the balloon launching area and to a variety of viewpoints. There is no admission charge for the event, and you might even be able to score a ride in one of the balloons. I had a thrilling ride aboard the balloon Aeolos, courtesy of pilot and owner Sam Tzamaloukas. Photographers need to note that space is extremely limited in the balloon baskets. You will not be able to bring a bag full of gear, and you won’t be able to move around much. My advice: one camera body with the widest lens you own and another body with a mid-range wide-to-tele zoom. Put a lens hood on each lens to prevent flare and to protect the lenses when they bang against the basket.

Here’s a link for more of my photos the Red Rock Balloon Rally.

Have you been to a hot air balloon festival?  Been up in a balloon?  On your bucket list?

Nov 062013
Ponytail Falls photograph from behind the waterfall

Ponytail Falls in the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

The current generation of digital camera sensors have an amazing dynamic range. Coupled with the latest versions of Photoshop and Lightroom, the available technology now gives photographers the ability to render contrasty scenes in a way that were next to impossible when shooting film. I was able to pull this image of Ponytail Falls in the Columbia River Gorge out of a single capture on a Nikon D600. No HDR apps, no time-consuming multiple frame blending.

The scene looking out from the alcove behind the waterfall had an extreme range of contrast, from the almost black rocks in the foreground to the bright light coming through the forest and the whitewater in the pool. I wouldn’t have even tried shooting such a contrasty scene with a transparency film like Velvia.

The very first time I shot with a pro-level DSLR, I was hooked on digital. My first captures showed me that I was no longer so constrained by the limitations of film. I finally had control of both contrast and color rendition. In the ten years I’ve been shooting digitally I’ve seen enormous improvements in image quality. And as we’ve all seen, photographers can now produce images that would have been impossible just a few years ago.

Do you think we’ll continue to see improvement on such a scale as the last decade?