In January 2017, My friend and fellow photographer Michael Shainblum and I visited Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii. By chance, we ended up timing our trip to Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island perfectly as a massive lava spout had just formed after a several month hiatus.

When we arrived, we visited Lava Light Galleries in Kona where we met up with our friend CJ Kale, an accomplished Volcano Photographer. CJ was kind enough to host us and share the experience of Kilauea Volcano. There’s no way  our trip would have been quite as fantastic without him.

(Thanks for keeping us safe and sharing the island with us, CJ!)

Explosions next to a lava spout at Kilauea Volcano at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

The following images were shot over the course of three treks out to the volcano. Each night, we would wake up at 3:00AM, drive out to Kilauea Volcano and hike to a viewpoint that put us just over a quarter mile away from the spout. As exhausted as we might have felt, we were filled with energy as we would watch explosions of freshly formed lava rock shoot high into the sky every few seconds.

Double rainbows form over a lava spout at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. (February, 2017)

One of my favorite moments on our trip was when two rainbows formed right over the lava spout. They ended up lasting for nearly ten minutes!  I really appreciated the juxtaposition of the dramatic explosions and peaceful rainbows. It was such an incredible moment to witness! I felt so lucky to be in the right place, at the right time with my camera.

I especially loved watching the newly formed lava rock shoot high into the sky and collide with the water creating splashes. This happened every few seconds but never got old to photograph!

Telephoto image of a lava Spout in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Because the safety of the viewing area so far away, I relied on telephoto lenses while photographing the lava. I used my Sony 70-200mm f/4 lens on my Sony A7Sii as well as a Sigma 150-600mm lens that CJ was kind enough to loan me.

Overall, I had mixed feelings about photographing the lava. Personally, I wish I focused on shooting more video because I felt that when it came to the images, there was a lack of much needed scale and context. When posting the volcano images on social media, I received quite a few comments about how the images looked like abstract paintings. I feel like it was very difficult to truly convey the extreme power and size of the lava spout and explosions.

On one morning, someone flew their drone towards the lava  providing an opportunity to show scale. Because of the compression of a telephoto lens, the drone in this photo is actually a lot further away from the action than it appears to be but I like it because it comes close to showing how massive the explosions are. I would like to make a note that in most cases, it’s illegal to fly a drone in National Parks.

drone at firehose hawaii volcanoes national park3-1
A lava spout and explosion viewed from a boat with Lava Ocean Tours at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Kilauea volcano

On our final afternoon, we took a boat ride out with Captain Shane Turpin of Lava Ocean Tours. On the boat, we were able to get much closer to where the lava poured into the ocean and photograph the lava spout using our wide angle lenses. Being within the hot steam and so close to the explosions was so exhilarating!

Lava pours into the ocean and causes massive explosions and lava rock to shoot into the air. Shot from a boat with Captain Shane Turpin of Lava ocean tours

I think that visiting Kilauea Volcano should be on everyone’s bucket list. When you visit, please be sure to do so safely. There are so many ways to hurt yourself or die when out near the lava spout so educate yourself before you go!

Thanks so much for taking a minute to read through this short photo essay. I feel so fortunate to have been able to experience and capture the lava tube and hope to visit again, soon!