Don’t you love when you go out looking for something specific and wind up finding something totally unexpected along the way? That is exactly how I felt after capturing the photograph above one evening on Kauai.
I had spent three evenings at Ke’e beach waiting for the right sunset light to strike the island’s Na Pali coast. Na Pali is Hawaiian for “the cliffs,” and this coast is well named. It’s rugged mountain cliffs, swift rivers, waterfalls, and hanging valleys have kept this spectacular northwestern part of the Island wild and undeveloped.
One afternoon while exploring Ke’e beach, I encountered a series of rocky pools stretching far out into the tidal zone. I thought to myself that these pools would make a great reflecting foreground at sunset with the westward facing cliffs of Na Pali stretching into the distance.
Now after spending three nights wading around with my tripod waiting, I finally had that fleeting golden sunset light that I’d been waiting for. I found a pool that was just out of the tide’s reach and framed up the image you see to the right. I used a wide angle lens with a slow shutter speed and narrow aperture to keep the landscape sharp while blurring the moving waves to illustrate the pounding surf. I knew I had the image that I wanted.
That’s when the unexpected happened. As the sun rimmed down on the watery horizon, I looked behind me and saw the rain clouds out to sea starting to turn red. I quickly turned my attention directly into the backlit sunset. The exposure was really complicated and the light was changing fast. First I stacked two graduated neutral density filters to even out the foreground exposure with the brightness of the sky. Then I stopped down to drag the shutter and blur the surf beyond the pool my tripod and I were wading in.
I love the way this resultant image dramatizes blurred edges of the earth, sea and sky. It is one of my most popular prints and has run in national publications including Islands Magazine. The lesson? Never get so focused on a subject that you forget to look behind you.
Post Script: One of my favorite adventures on earth is to backpack the ancient Kalalau Trail down the Na Pali coast from Ke’e beach into the Kalalau Valley and back. This is not a trip to be taken lightly, but if you are are physically and mentally up to the challenge, the rewards are incredible.