I have been photographing the Kilauea Volcano for over ten years and have been lucky to witness many incredible sights while visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. I have seen lava fountains spewing molten rock hundreds of feet into the air, rivers of lava flowing down the slopes of the lower east rift zone, and the glowing red lava lake at the Kilauea summit. In 2018, I even witnessed the historic Kilauea eruption that flattened much of the Leilani Estates subdivision in the Puna District on the Big Island. Places I cherished visiting, like Kapoho's Wai'opae tide pools, were completely covered in lava and gone forever.
Why Do People Live Near Volcanoes?
Living on a volcano comes with unexpected surprises that quickly remind you that you are living on a volcano. The Big Island's volcanos are not just a destructive force of nature. They are the reason the tropical islands of Hawaii exist. Hawaiians not only deal with volcanic events, but they also accept and embrace them as a part of their culture. Hawaiians honor the Goddess Of Fire, Madame Pele, even when they lose their properties or possessions. There is a saying in Hawaii that land is not owned, it's borrowed. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park welcomes close to a million tourists yearly who hope to safely witness Madame Pele's newest creations.
One night I was photographing the lava lake at Halema'uma'u crater on the summit of Kilauea. It was just another night on the summit of Kilauea. The glow from Halemau'uma'u crater bathed the area in warm red light from the lava lake below. I noticed something happening across the caldera. A moonbow was forming in the cold mist that was being illuminated by the bright moon setting. Moonbows are one of the most elusive and beautiful natural phenomena that you can witness. They are created when moonlight is refracted and reflected off water droplets in the air. Moonbows are usually very faint, but this one was exceptionally bright due to a large amount of water vapor in the air. I made a quick decision to compose a panoramic photo in hopes of capturing the moonbow and the glowing lava lake of Halemau'uma'u. This is a challenging photo because it requires a series of vertical shots. I also had to exposure blend the brightest parts of the volcano. I quickly took the shots I needed to complete the photo. Here is the panoramic image I was able to create from that night.
Day Two of Shooting Moonbows
I returned back to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park the next evening, hoping to have another opportunity to photograph moonbows again. The moon was to set around the same time and was nearly full. As long as enough moister was in the air, the conditions should be favorable to see and photograph moonbows again. But anyone who has spent enough time at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park knows that planning for specific weather conditions is unlikely.
When I arrived at the spot I wanted to shoot, there was no haze or mist in the caldera. It was a clear night. This is not ideal for seeing moonbows. If it were to remain clear, I would not have an opportunity to shoot moonbows again. I waited for a couple of hours, hoping for conditions to change. It was cold and windy. I had a pocket full of snacks and a thermos full of coffee that I nursed throughout the night. I was nearly ready to give up and head back to the car when I saw thick fog quickly blowing into the caldera. I knew I was not going to have much time to shoot before the entire caldera was engulfed in fog. Sure enough, the fog rolled in, and I could barely see anything. Interestingly enough, right in front of me was a vibrant moonbow that shot off the crater rim down onto the floor hundreds of feet below. It looked like I could reach out and touch the moonbow. I looked down to the crater floor to see if I could spot the pot of gold, then I remembered I was in Hawaii, not Ireland. But just as good, there was the main vent of the Kilauea volcano Halemau'uma'u glowing brightly. I composed my photo and ended up with this unique image. I really liked the warm/cool tones that divided the image. It had a yin and yang feel to it. I was really happy with it.
Day Three Of Shooting Moonbows
I was flying high after having two successful nights of photographing moonbows in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. So I thought, why not press my luck and go for one more. When I arrived, the moon was much higher in the sky than the previous nights. If the moon is too high in the sky, you will have to wait until its goes down to see any moonbows. It was another fairly hazy night at the park. Halemau'uma'u Crater was completely engulfed in the haze. So much that I could barely see the glow from the lava within the pit crater. Still, I had plenty of coffee and snacks to keep me comfortable for a little while, so I hung out for a little bit. The moon behind me was glowing brightly, so I knew there was a chance of seeing a moonbow. It didn't take long before I saw the moonbow emerge over the crater rim. But this night, I was blessed with a double moonbow and some nice atmospheric haze. I started shooting the landscape around the crater, capturing images of the moonbow and the stars. Because the moon was so high in the sky, the moonbow was very low compared to the previous nights. The lower the moon is, the higher the moonbow will be in the sky. After shooting for a short while, the weather worsened and blocked out the moonlight leaving me cold and in the dark. It was time to end my three days of shooting moonbows and head home. Here is the photo I captured that night.
Hawaii Fine Art Landscape And Nature Photography Prints And Workshops By Wade Morales
My images are available in museum-quality fine art prints and can be seen in my online galleries. I would like to invite you to view my other images of Hawaii here.
If you are a photographer visiting the Big Island and would like to shoot images like these, contact me to reserve a date for a personalized photography workshop or tour.