How To Shoot Lava With Photographer Bryan Lowry

How To Shoot Lava With Photographer Bryan Lowry

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Bryan Lowry

During a recent trip to Hawai’i’s Big Island I was treated to a wonderful volcano tour thanks to KapohoKine Adventures.  We toured around a number of sites and had the great fortune to watch fresh lava from Kilauea pour into the sea.  The majesty of watching an island be built right before my eyes, and the mix of boiling lava churning with the blue of the sea, stayed with me long after I returned home.  To the point where I started seeking out the better lava photographers in order to purchase a photograph.  This is how I found Bryan Lowry on Twitter.

After touring his site, Lavapix.com, and purchasing one of his 8x10s that captured my interest, I wrote Bryan and asked if he would be available for an interview on his craft.  As you’ll see in the answers below, Bryan has been shooting lava for quite a while and has honed his technique after nearly two decades watching lava flows.  I thank him for taking the time to help others learn how to safely shoot this awesome natural phenomena.

You can catch up with Bryan on Twitter(lavapixcom), Facebook and his blog.  Last month Bryan also started donating 20% of his photo sale profits from his site to Easter Seals Hawaii.  Bryan has benefited greatly from Easter Seal’s help when he was younger and this is his way of showing his appreciation.  As he states in his blog, “you don’t get wealthy being an adventure/landscape photographer. Its being able to do something you love that is the payoff.”  More on his charitable efforts can be found here.

Q: How long have you been dedicated to your passion of lava photography?

A: Since my first hike at the lava flows in 1991. I’d always been into photography but, I didn’t get serious about it until I saw my first lava flow. Even then I never showed anyone my images for nearly 10 years.

It was and still is something I do because I enjoy it immensely. I’d have to say I live a very unusual life. Everything I do is based on the lava flow activity.

Q: What you consider work, most of us travel to Hawaii on vacation to enjoy.  What is the most important piece of information you’d give to tourists coming to the Big Island and wanting good photographs of lava in action?

A: Well this might sound obvious but, when people get to actually see or go near flowing lava they seem to forget all common sense. I mean this in a good way as it’s an incredible experience. Safety is the most important thing for tourists.

Kilauea’s lava flows can be really visitor friendly but there are dangers. Too many to list here in detail, so it’s basic things like stay out of closed areas. One might think the area looks safe but lava flow activity can change suddenly and closed areas are where this happens often. How does this relate to getting good photos? There are no good photos if you’re dead 🙂

Q: What’s something unique to lava photography that the amateur might want to think about before shooting?

A: Lighting changes every millisecond. It’s basically out of your control. Try not to use your flash on surface flows and no flash on ocean entry photos. Turn it off, it’s useless. Also, have lots of water. Twice as much as you’re uses to drinking.  The hot lava dehydrates you quickly. Wear closed toe shoes. People seemingly always show up with only sandals and let me tell you, the old cooled lava is like walking on shards of glass. Cheap gardening gloves are handy too.

Q: Is there any particular gear you’d suggest bringing on a trip to Hawai’i to help capture great lava photos?

A: A good sturdy tripod is essential. Rent one on the island if needed. Also rain gear. Even something simple like one of those plastic grocery bags to cover your camera is better then nothing.

All of my gear is in ziplock bags within my pack for added protection. Its usually windy with passing heavy rain most of the day or night.

Q: What’s your opinion of the boat trips that get you close to where the flows enter the sea?

A: While I’ve never been on the tour, I do know from seeing them from the ocean entry’s I visit, that they get you very close to the action. So close I can easily talk to the people on the boats from land. I would think its a great way for people to visit closed or difficult to access areas.

Bring your Dramamine. It is an open ocean in that area.

Q: Is there any way to predict a good day for shooting?

A: I monitor USGS charts, webcams and seismic meters daily but, generally no nothing concrete. Many longer hikes to areas that are out of sight can lead to nothing. That’s when I go exploring. You never know for sure what the weather will be like so I carry everything you could imagine.  Minimum 3 gallons of water for long hikes. Its hot during the day if it doesn’t rain. Even when it does the humidity drains you. In general my instincts of when to hike out have been really good. Pele has been good to me, too.

Q: What are your favorite places to shoot, besides lava in action?

A: The more out of the way areas of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Very interesting and no people. Also, the ocean entry’s.

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Peter West Carey leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics - A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

  • interesting and good to know. i’m heading to costa rica towards the end of the year and scoping out several of the active volcanoes for shoots, so this was good information for me…also helpful info about the sandals. 🙂

  • ianne

    I love hawaii! Aloha everyone!

  • Karen D. Neid

    So glad that you have interviewed one of the most adventureous guys I know. Bryan is just so talented and devoted to the lava and Kilauea that the photos he takes mirrors the excitement and challenges he faces whenever he’s out there hiking and enjoying his art. He is a gifted photographer and has the patience and skills to “wait” for the best shot. I’d like to see more of his art being enjoyed by many others. Bryan’s always willing to stop and “talk shop” and share with those who are interested. Bryan is a most interesting person.

  • Well that sure is living the dream.

  • taabitha

    I sure wish this blog linked directly to the individual images in his website. I don’t have all day to wander thru the galleries trying to find a single image to get more information about it. 🙁

  • Hello
    Oh I have never seen such Lava photographs..Those are really excellent.I think its very hard to take good Lava photographs.It is also very interesting to read those questions and answers.Thank you very much for showing such amazing pictures.

  • Silverzz

    Nice article, but I don’t think I will ever be that close to some lava

  • Thanks you everyone for your comments. Navigating my website is really very easy. Most of these images are in the Fine Art gallery in the Volcano sub-gallery. Descriptions of the posted images in this article.
    1) Self portrait at the West Gap Pit on Puu Oo vent. Small spattering vent shot with ir remote.
    2) Lava lake churning in the East Pond vent inside of Puu Oo vent in the misty rain. My brother shielding his face from the heat and spatter.
    3) “Lava Cascades” lava flows into an old lava tube skylight. The blue tint is common in many lava flows.
    4) Littoral cone explosion and a fair weather waterspout and two tour boats at the Waikupanaha ocean entry.
    5) Small ocean entry at sunrise. Laeapuki ocean entry and a small black sand beach.
    6) Waikupanaha ocean entry and plume under the light of the full moon.
    3,4,5 and 6 are all available as fine art prints.
    Any and most all answers to questions can be found on the FAQ’s page under the Menu tab.
    Link to the Volcano Fine Art Gallery. http://lavapix.com/2/340dc/#/gallery/volcano/
    Aloha,
    Bryan

  • What a timely post. We’re off to Hawaii for a 7 day cruise and the 4th night out takes us on a night sail past Kilauea. We’re also planning a drive into Volcano National Park. Thanks for the tips.

  • Great article and some great shots!

    Here are some of my own lava shots – taken on the island of Tanna, Vanuatu. It was amazing but needless to say none of these were taken through the view finder, I just got it roughly right then simply rotated the camera on the tripod and hit the button when eruptions went off. I had to watch the sky to make sure I wasn’t going to get hit by anything!

    Shot 1
    Shot 2
    Shot 3

  • I will be traveling to Hawaii for the first time soon, and thinking about how to protect gear from the weather. I got a plastic cover for the camera, but still wondering how to protect things when I open the camera bag The tip about individual Zip-locs was great.

  • Wayne, A small umbrella helps too for the blowing rain. I prop it against my pack while its laying on the ground so I can access gear without soaking the inside of the pack. You might have it good since its been a very dry winter here.
    @Beth….There have been great views from the passing cruise ship in the past 2 wks….bring binoculars. Sometimes they are far off the coast.
    @Matt…Great shots!

  • @Beth…Forgot to mention a nice collection of my images can be viewed in Kona when you come ashore either at Krazy About Kona in the Kona Inn shopping center. Its an easy walk from the pier. And via a short bus ride Trudy’s Island Arts at the Kona International Market. Enjoy your trip.

  • Kathleen Mekailek

    i feel a field trip coming on! Wish there was more information such as which lenses and settings seem to work best because that could also help in shooting other types of activities such as fireworks, steam rising, etc.

Some Older Comments

  • Bryan February 20, 2010 05:07 am

    @Beth...Forgot to mention a nice collection of my images can be viewed in Kona when you come ashore either at Krazy About Kona in the Kona Inn shopping center. Its an easy walk from the pier. And via a short bus ride Trudy's Island Arts at the Kona International Market. Enjoy your trip.

  • Bryan February 20, 2010 05:04 am

    Wayne, A small umbrella helps too for the blowing rain. I prop it against my pack while its laying on the ground so I can access gear without soaking the inside of the pack. You might have it good since its been a very dry winter here.
    @Beth....There have been great views from the passing cruise ship in the past 2 wks....bring binoculars. Sometimes they are far off the coast.
    @Matt...Great shots!

  • Wayne B February 19, 2010 02:45 pm

    I will be traveling to Hawaii for the first time soon, and thinking about how to protect gear from the weather. I got a plastic cover for the camera, but still wondering how to protect things when I open the camera bag The tip about individual Zip-locs was great.

  • Matt Lacey February 19, 2010 08:36 am

    Great article and some great shots!

    Here are some of my own lava shots - taken on the island of Tanna, Vanuatu. It was amazing but needless to say none of these were taken through the view finder, I just got it roughly right then simply rotated the camera on the tripod and hit the button when eruptions went off. I had to watch the sky to make sure I wasn't going to get hit by anything!

    Shot 1
    Shot 2
    Shot 3

  • Beth Miller February 19, 2010 07:49 am

    What a timely post. We're off to Hawaii for a 7 day cruise and the 4th night out takes us on a night sail past Kilauea. We're also planning a drive into Volcano National Park. Thanks for the tips.

  • Bryan February 16, 2010 02:12 pm

    Thanks you everyone for your comments. Navigating my website is really very easy. Most of these images are in the Fine Art gallery in the Volcano sub-gallery. Descriptions of the posted images in this article.
    1) Self portrait at the West Gap Pit on Puu Oo vent. Small spattering vent shot with ir remote.
    2) Lava lake churning in the East Pond vent inside of Puu Oo vent in the misty rain. My brother shielding his face from the heat and spatter.
    3) "Lava Cascades" lava flows into an old lava tube skylight. The blue tint is common in many lava flows.
    4) Littoral cone explosion and a fair weather waterspout and two tour boats at the Waikupanaha ocean entry.
    5) Small ocean entry at sunrise. Laeapuki ocean entry and a small black sand beach.
    6) Waikupanaha ocean entry and plume under the light of the full moon.
    3,4,5 and 6 are all available as fine art prints.
    Any and most all answers to questions can be found on the FAQ's page under the Menu tab.
    Link to the Volcano Fine Art Gallery. http://lavapix.com/2/340dc/#/gallery/volcano/
    Aloha,
    Bryan

  • Silverzz February 16, 2010 04:45 am

    Nice article, but I don't think I will ever be that close to some lava

  • m3 card February 15, 2010 09:38 pm

    Hello
    Oh I have never seen such Lava photographs..Those are really excellent.I think its very hard to take good Lava photographs.It is also very interesting to read those questions and answers.Thank you very much for showing such amazing pictures.

  • taabitha February 15, 2010 10:29 am

    I sure wish this blog linked directly to the individual images in his website. I don't have all day to wander thru the galleries trying to find a single image to get more information about it. :-(

  • Jonathan February 15, 2010 08:58 am

    Well that sure is living the dream.

  • Karen D. Neid February 15, 2010 08:11 am

    So glad that you have interviewed one of the most adventureous guys I know. Bryan is just so talented and devoted to the lava and Kilauea that the photos he takes mirrors the excitement and challenges he faces whenever he's out there hiking and enjoying his art. He is a gifted photographer and has the patience and skills to "wait" for the best shot. I'd like to see more of his art being enjoyed by many others. Bryan's always willing to stop and "talk shop" and share with those who are interested. Bryan is a most interesting person.

  • ianne February 15, 2010 07:27 am

    I love hawaii! Aloha everyone!

  • Carolyn Scott February 15, 2010 03:00 am

    interesting and good to know. i'm heading to costa rica towards the end of the year and scoping out several of the active volcanoes for shoots, so this was good information for me...also helpful info about the sandals. :)

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