Extreme Kilauea Volcano Photography by Miles Morgan

The following is a guest post written by Oregon based photographer, Miles Morgan. A few days ago, I was introduced to a Telegraph article featuring intimate photos from the lip of the Kilauea volcano by Miles Morgan. I found Morgan’s photos to be absolutely stunning and captivating. I reached out to Morgan and asked him to share a few words and photos with the readers of Exploration: Hawaii. He kindly accepted.  

I’ve always been interested in volcanoes in general, (haven’t we all?) so when I picked up landscape photography in 2009 it didn’t take me long to conclude that it would make an excellent subject. My father got married high up on Mauna Loa, so later I wanted to go visit that spot and made my first trip to the Big Island. The ribbons of older flows that dominate the Kona side of the island astonished me. It was like driving on the moon. I’ve been back many times since, and it remains my favorite place on earth.

A lava self-portrait. Miles took this shot by himself using the self-timer on his camera. Getting this close to fresh lava is very dangerous. Photo by Miles Morgan.

The first thing step in getting these images was hiring a guide. In this respect, you can’t do any better than Bruce Omori and Tom Kuali’i of Extreme Expsoure, who I consider to be two of the finest lava shooters on the planet. Photographing the ocean entry is extremely dangerous. It is vital that signs of trouble are recognized and quickly reacted to. The lava on Kilauea flows rather slowly, so further up the slope, it can be viewed relatively safely, which is wonderful for the casual tourist. As you approach the edge of the “bench”, however, the dangers multiply exponentially. The platform you are shooting from is nothing more than recently cooled lava, formed atop eroding sands and subject to the constant pounding of the waves. Frequently, parts of the shelf break off and collapse into the ocean. At times, these collapses are measured in acres. If you happen to be on the shelf when it collapses, survival is pretty much impossible. As you traverse the flow to get to the best photographic angles, you frequently cross lava tubes where the crust has hardened only minutes or hours before, and you most certainly do not want to break through. The laws of physics and chemistry take over when the searing hot lava meets the ocean, the result of which is toxic gas, acid rain, and at times violent explosions. Getting the best pictures means getting as close as possible to this meeting point, where the conditions are rapidly changing and very scary.

Fresh lava surrounded by a hue of blue. Photo by Miles Morgan.

The general rule of thumb for landscape photography is to shoot at the edges of light, which usually occurs during the hour before and after sunrise or sunset. The flow on Kilauea is on the east side of the island, so dawn offers the very best light. Lava is perhaps the most difficult subject to photograph because of the extreme light levels. The camera can only record about 1/3 of the levels of brightness that the eye can see, so there is a very short window of opportunity to photograph the wonderful blues of pre-dawn light while still keeping the exposure of the lava in check. About an hour after sunrise, the height of the sun makes the light too harsh to make the best images.

There is something very special about seeing lava up close and in person. It almost feels like you are getting a behind-the-scenes peek at Mother Nature’s biggest secret. It is overwhelming on every sensory level. The extreme heat, the smell of sulphur, the sound of cooled lava crunching under foot, and the sight of the earth liquified combine to make an unforgettable, and addicting experience. A wonderful feeling of adventure accompanies the realization that you are walking on land that exists on no map, as it was created only weeks, days, hours, and minutes before.

For more information on Miles Morgan, please visit his website: Miles Morgan Photography.

For more information on the experienced guides that Miles Morgan used during his visit, please visit Extreme Exposure.

Lava Falls. Photo by Miles Morgan.

Lava Sunburst. Photo by Miles Morgan.

Lava Moon. Photo by Miles Morgan.

A boat gets close to the lava. Photo by Miles Morgan.

Lava by Daylight. Photo by Miles Morgan.

Bruce from Extreme Exposure checking out a rainbow. Photo by Miles Morgan.

A Hawaii Lava Wave. Photo by Miles Morgan.

Bruce from Extreme Exposure getting up close and personal with the lava. Photo by Miles Morgan.

All photographs by Miles Morgan.

For more information on Miles Morgan, please visit his website: Miles Morgan Photography.

For more information on the experienced guides that Miles Morgan used during his visit, please visit Extreme Exposure.

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Founder of Exploration: Hawaii. Adventure, Minimalism, Vinyl, Typography, and Coffee + Matcha. A single space after a period, please.