Light and shadows create fascinating, ever-changing moods for Hawaii photographers. // © 2017 Brian Ross
Feature image (above): From Kee Beach, the stately Napali Coast provides dramatic photo ops. // © 2017 Brian Ross
When most people think of Hawaii, they picture beautiful beaches, waterfalls and tropical rainforests. For Brian Ross, however, the destination’s most dynamic natural element is its light.
“For the photographer, the landscape becomes a canvas for the light to highlight, reveal or conceal in contrasting hues and tones,” said Ross, owner of Photo Safari Hawaii. “As the trade winds push the clouds across the sky, the interplay of shadows and light on the landscape is ever-changing.”
Ross runs one-day photography tours as well as multiday photo adventures. His latest book, “Introducing Light, the Zen of Photography,” is also offered as an interactive online course.
Here, Ross offers four of his favorite shooting spots around the Hawaiian Islands.
Bellows Beach, Oahu
On Oahu, I love to photograph the windward coast from Bellows Beach in Waimanalo. Stately ironwood pine trees cast long, dark shadows on the white sand, with naupaka shrubs and sea grape trees enlivening the landscape. The long beach yields to the shallow, multihued blue sea and is framed by a natural reef.
In the distance, the majestic Koolau mountain range meets the ocean. The triangular-shaped island known as Chinaman’s Hat and the unique curves of Rabbit Island can also be photographed from this location.
Throughout the day, horizontal layers of earth, sea and sky become the photographer’s creative canvas to focus on a unique interplay of the elements and natural light.
Kee Beach, Kauai
Kee Beach is on Kauai’s remote northwestern tip. From its auxiliary parking lot, there is a small, unmarked path that leads into an enchanting forest of tall trees dripping with vines. The light filtering through the rainforest canopy creates organic patterns on the foliage below. It’s a visual feast.
Where the forest gives way to the white-sand beach, a small river flows into the ocean. On occasion, an endangered Hawaiian monk seal can be found sunning on the sand.
As you round the point, you see the beginning of the magnificent Napali Coast. When the surf is high, the coast’s jagged, rocky cliffs are draped in a sea mist, which creates distinctive tones. At sunset, these tones become hues of golden light that are truly awe inspiring.
Pololu Lookout, Hawaii Island
On Hawaii Island’s northwest corner, this spot is one of my favorite locations to photograph the dramatic weather-worn prominences of Pololu Valley and Hamakua Coast. Each rocky point juts farther out into the sea in a progressively lighter tone, and each valley is filled with the haze of sea spray rising from the horizon.
From the overlook, the trail to the valley is steep and can be dangerous when it’s wet or windy. But even the first few 100 yards of the trail can offer breathtaking photography opportunities.
Native lauhala and hau trees grow along the trail into Pololu Valley, offering unique opportunities for dynamic compositions. Photographers can incorporate their silhouettes in the foreground as a natural frame to capture the expansive scenic coastline.
At about the 2,000-foot elevation of Haleakala volcano is the town of Kula, and a bit farther south is Ulupalakua. These upcountry vantage points provide views of Maui’s north and south shores, along with Lanai to the southwest and — on a clear day — part of Molokai to the northwest.
Photographers can see shadows of clouds forming dark patches over the green grasses of sugarcane in the central valley and on the contoured mountainside of the ancient volcano.
From this perspective, you’re standing almost at the level of the clouds or even a bit higher above the cloud line. It feels like the elements of earth, sea and sky are fixed in their vertical hierarchy. At the same time, they are indistinct and inseparable, blending into each other.