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How To Shoot Lava With Photographer Bryan Lowry

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.

How To Shoot Lava With Photographer Bryan Lowry 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?

How To Shoot Lava With Photographer Bryan Lowry 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?

How To Shoot Lava With Photographer Bryan Lowry 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.

How To Shoot Lava With Photographer Bryan Lowry 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. How To Shoot Lava With Photographer Bryan LowryYou 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

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.

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