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New Photography: More Kauai Beaches

Kauai Beaches at sunrise Kauai Beach at Sunrise, East Shore
Fuji Velvia 50 film, Mamiya RZ67
Click Any Image for a Larger View

Continuing part 2 of my Kauai recap (see part 1 here), all of the photos in this post were taken on the same beach just outside my hotel on the eastern side of Kauai. As I stated in the previous post, Kauai beaches didn't end up being the recreational wonderlands I anticipated, but pair those trademark Kauai clouds with a good sunrise and I've got myself a photographer's paradise.

With the beach just outside our hotel and my internal clock still on LA time, waking up to photograph the rising sun was far from painful. And as I had hoped, the scattered cloud cover made from some vivid colors. One sunrise in particular was just stunning.

The only thing that was a real pain on these shoots was the sea spray. Now I'm no stranger to sea spray. I've photographed Orange County beaches countless times and I'm well familiar with the annoyance of salty mist settling on lenses and filters. But these waters were so damn choppy and the wind was so relentless that the sea spray all but ruined some of these photos. I had a hell of a time trying to keep my filters clean.

And speaking of filters, I utilized Lee hard-transition graduated neutral density filters in all of these photos. Some shots had 2 stops, some 3, some even 5. Early in the sunrise when the foreground was still in shadow, I needed some heavy filtration to darken the sky within range of the foreground. But as the sun worked its way up in the sky, the foreground saw some light and I was able to back the filters down to 2 or 3 stops.

The compositions here weren't anything new for me. I'd done almost identical compositions on my first couple days there, but the sky was so much more gorgeous in these shots that I really felt obligated to "redo" those same compositions with the new sky. Fuji Velvia medium format film rendered the colors beautifully. I utilized Velvia 100 and Velvia 50 films on this trip, alternating back and forth with each roll. Velvia 50 has a warmer color balance than Velvia 100 which made it perfect for the warm tones of sunrise. That's what I used in most of these shots. But Velvia 100 with its cooler tones and vivid greens worked well on the photos from the lush interior portions of the island. Both great films, but Velvia 100 is a little easier to work with.

This trip to Kauai was memorable, fun, and most of all, a learning experience. I learned that Kauai isn't the kind of island I expected it to be. Miles of white sandy beaches, gentle breezes, calm oceans, and warm waters...that's not Kauai. Kauai is a feast for the eyes. Kauai beaches are beautiful to look at, but few offer safe swimming or snorkeling. The Napali coast is a work of art, but you'll need a charted boat or a helicopter to get there. The north shore is lush and vibrant, but there aren't many places to get out and hike. The waterfalls are majestic, but some of the best of them are on private land. That's why I call Kauai "the island of inaccessibility." Charming towns, decent kayaking, interesting weather, and scenery that's simply unmatched anywhere else in the world. That's Kauai. But it doesn't offer the kind of beaches you see on those travel brochures with the good-looking middle-aged couple laying on lounge chairs on a white sand beach holding hands. I think that's more Maui's thing.

But hey, now I have an excuse to visit Maui again, so I can pit Maui vs Kauai in a death match of which island is better. For now, my conclusion is this: visit Kauai to drink in the gorgeous scenery, revel in the charming local vibe, see the sights, and kayak a river or two. But for that picturesque honeymoon type tropical vacation filled with relaxation, fruity drinks, perfect weather, and turquoise blue waters...you might want to try somewhere else.

Kauai Beaches at sunrise

Kauai Beaches at sunrise

Kauai Beaches at sunrise

Kauai Beaches at sunrise

Kauai Beaches at sunrise

Kauai Beaches at sunrise

Kauai Beaches at sunrise

Kauai Beaches at sunrise

Kauai Beaches at sunrise

New Photography: Kauai Beaches & Kokee State Park

Opaekaa Falls, KauaiOpaekaa Falls, Kauai
Mamiya RZ67, Fuji Velvia Film
Click Any Image for Larger View

I don't get to travel as much as I'd like to. Being self-employed means a lot of freedoms, but paid vacations isn't one of them. If I'm not in my Orange County office delivering private photography lessons or photography classes, then I'm not paying bills. But thankfully, the geographic flexibility of delivering my online photography courses recently helped make it possible for me to take a much-anticipated trip to Kauai, Hawaii this past month.

I've been dying to visit Kauai for years. All the pictures I'd seen previously made it look like a photographer's paradise. So with my Mamiya RZ67 medium format camera and a bag full of Fuji Velvia film, my lovely lady and I set out to see the sights of this beautiful island.

Now I'll be honest, Kauai was not what I expected. I went in to this trip thinking it'll be a "drinking Mai-Tai's on white sand beaches and taking dips in the warm, calm waters of the Pacific" kind of a trip. Well, it wasn't. To be honest, I found Kauai beaches, although beautiful, to be a little bit of a letdown. But again, they're gorgeous, but they didn't seem to be real conducive to swimming and snorkeling. Sure, there's the beach at Poipu, but I can visit over-crowded, over-developed beaches here in Orange County.

The bottom line is that every beach we visited in Kauai was either pummeled with winds, plagued with riptides, or the waves were just way too powerful. Also, the water really wasn't that warm.

But again, don't get me wrong. The beaches were gorgeous. Just not the kind of Maui-sippin'-tropical-drinks kind of beaches we were looking for. I went in with the wrong expectations, that's all. And of course, upon our return, we had people telling us "oh well none of those beaches are good for swimming, but you didn't check out [insert some Kauai beach]!" Yeah, yeah...

Kauai is excellent for scenery, river kayaking, sightseeing and kayaking (all of which we did). The Napali coast alone should be on your bucket list. The waterfalls, Waimea Canyon, the lush north end of the island, the rivers...Kauai has stunning scenery. But my favorite aspect of the island was the weather. I love scattered cumulous clouds and I love rain. Kauai delivered both with gusto. Especially the clouds. Man-oh-man do I love the clouds in Kauai. You get tons of fair weather cumulous clouds. Those are those picturesque low-altitude puffy white clouds scattered throughout the deep blue sky. Just stunning for photographs - especially at sunrise and sunset.

The pictures here comprise the first couple days of our trip. I took the vast majority of my shots on the beach right outside our hotel on the eastern side of the island. Why? Well, because it was a 2-minute walk from my bed. No, but really...I didn't take too many photos on the north end or the south end because sunrise and sunset wouldn't work too well in those directions. Would have loved to shoot sunset on the west side of the island, but that's the Napali coast, which seemed all but inaccessible to us.

Every beach photo you see here is at sunrise. Truthfully, I don't feel that I'm breaking any ground with these compositions. Many of them are similar to each other and they certainly aren't anything unique from my previous beach work. But the skies and sand were simply too beautiful to not do these classic compositions.

Kauai Beaches at sunriseKauai Beaches, Eastern Shore, Sunrise

Kauai Beaches at sunrise

Kauai Beaches at sunrise

Sunrise in Kauai

B&W Beach at Sunrise

Kauai Beaches at Sunrise

But my favorite shots from the trip came at Kokee State Park on the western side of Kauai. We found a great little cascade pouring through the vibrant red-colored rock that reminded me of southern Utah. And at the very end of the road is an overlook that absolutely blew my mind. It's called Pu'u o Kila Lookout and it has a view overlooking Kalalau Valley that will take your breath away. Steep cliffs tower over the shores below like green skyscrapers. And this happens to be near one of the wettest spots on earth, Wai'ale'ale.

It was a real treat to photograph this valley in the light of the western sun.

Kalalau Valley from Pu'u o Kila Lookout, Kokee State Park, Kauai

Kalalau Valley from Pu'u o Kila Lookout, Kokee State Park, Kauai

Kalalau Valley from Pu'u o Kila Lookout, Kokee State Park, Kauai

Kalalau Valley from Pu'u o Kila Lookout, Kokee State Park, Kauai Sheets of rain over Kalalau Valley

Kokee State Park, Kauai

Waterfall in Kauai

Stay tuned for part 2 of this trip with more pictures from Kauai beaches!