CJ Travels 144 Miles Downstream by Row Boat in Alaska Because Upstream Would be Too Hard

CJ and our buddy, Gary Walthers, went on a completely remote river trip in 2019…down the Alask and Tatshenshini Rivers on the Momentum River Expedition. Gary is a First Nation citizen living in Canada…with a background as an elite skier, BMX biker and automobile dealership owner. Gary is, in my estimation, a wisdom warrior…and is working on a book about the ways of a wisdom warrior. He has been battling a physical condition that is quite serious…but never seems to slow him down. I have been delighted to see him out in the surf with us…way out on the active lava field and now rowing with CJ down a river so remote that I had never heard of it. They traveled 144 miles, camped along the river, took photos along the way and enjoyed nature in a way that few ever experience. Gary is a stud and he is a great consultant to us on our gallery and an even better friend.

For reasons that escape me at the moment, CJ felt it was a good idea to get up early and take photos at sunrise in an area that was probably filled with bears and other things that might eat you, sporting a pocket knife for protection. Attached are a few of those photos. Even odder…he felt it was a great idea to hop in the water and swim out to a small iceberg…like a long ways out and back. Photo proof attached.

Glad they both made it back safe and sound. Aloha.

Amanda Kale Becomes the Fourth Photographer for Lava Light Galleries

Not a big surprise that CJ has been able to interest his wife, Amanda, in photography…and then taught her how to use the camera to capture her own shots. She has been a member of our traveling team for as long as I can remember, but use to leave the photography to us. That has changed. She wanted in on the action. CJ pointed out that it is a meritocracy…you have to earn your way in. So…Amanda posted up these shots from a recent trip to Northern Arizona. Way to go Amanda and welcome to the gallery.


CJ Takes A Break From The Lava to Go Visit our Old Friend Nick Selway on a Photo Mission in Colorado and surrounding areas

Too many days on the lava cliff, lava boat and lava fields. CJ felt a need to photograph something completely different. So he called up his/our buddy, Nick and arranged to meet him in the Southwest. The photos he got are classics…from the Milky Way over the Maroon Bells in Colorado, to arches in Utah and desert scenes in Death Valley. By the time he returned, he was refreshed and ready to go hard photographing the eruption in Puna and helping friends and relatives there to evacuate their homes and save what they could from the destruction.

CJ on a Photo Mission…Make that Missions…to Mongolia.

CJ has gone on two photo missions to Mongolia…a long long trip from Kona. His first trip was with his/our friend, Bill McDowell in 2017. They met up with some of the champion eagle hunters in remote Mongolia and got to know their families and friends. Travel was, at times, difficult and accommodations and food were quite unlike those here in Kona…but CJ and Bill loved it and came home with some great photos…and stories.

CJs second visit to Mongolia was in 2018, accompanied by two fellow photographers. Together, they reunited with the families CJ met the year before, got to attend the marriage celebration of one of the young men and then headed off by vehicle to the Gobi Desert. Their journey to the Gobi took 12 hours each way…four of those hours each way were off road. Once they got to the Gobi, they had 24 hours to take their photographs, get a small amount of rest and then return to far west Mongolia. If you check out the photo of the vehicle they used to make this trip to the Gobi you will see that they did not have to go far to find a toilet…it was strapped to the top of the van. Leave no trace.

On CJs second trip, he brought prints from his first trip and gave them to those he had met the year before. Mr. Ardack is a championship eagle hunter and had just placed well in an important competition. He is also a devote Muslim and had just returned from his pilgrimage to Mecca. CJ was touched that Mr. Adrack was so moved by the photos that he held them up at the awards ceremony and then displayed them next to an important piece he had brought back with him from Mecca.

The photos depict the life in the gers (Mongolian tent), their transportation vehicle in Mongolia, a father/son/grandson…all eagle hunters, and Mr. Ardack on horseback with eagle and the Milky Way at night, a female eagle hunter and CJ…a want-to-be eagle hunter. Two trips of a lifetime for CJ and friends.

We Are Often Asked…How Close Can You Get to the Lava?

When you are in our gallery or looking at our lava shots online, you will see what appears to be some really close up shots of the 1600 F hot lava. So, customers often ask us…How close can you get to that lava? The answer…really really close. If the lava is pooling or advancing slowly, you can stand right next to it to get a shot. You can not stand there long…you may have to get your shot and quickly retreat…but you can get very close. It is a self regulating….the heat will let you know how close you can get. That heat is like nothing you have ever experienced…unless you have been close to lava. You will know when to move…I promise.

Is it safe to be close…depends. If it is pooling or very slow moving it is semi-safe to be close. I say semi because lava does tend to pop a bit and may fire off a burning cinder directly at your bare skin…and that will not kill you, but it is unpleasant as hell if it does manage to nail you.

Attached is a photo of my beloved grand son, Nathan, …age ten at the time. He was under the direct supervision of several of the most experienced lava field people in the world and myself and Linda and his parents and sister. We put gloves on him and explained very carefully how we wanted him to approach the lava. He carefully put the pick into the liquid lava and found, much to his surprise, that it was not like water…it was very viscous…thick and sticky…difficult to pull the pick out once it was placed in the lava. He pulled out some lava and held it like that for about one second…before the heat was too much for him to bare. Why did we have him do this seemingly stupid stunt…we wanted everyone there to understand the nature of flowing lava. People on the lava field can get surrounded by flowing lava and might easily panic. If you understand the consistency of the lava, you can figure out how to get out of the dangerous situation…look for lava that has darkened and crusted over and the viscous nature of the lava beneath that surface is likely to support your quickly moving across it to safety. Not something you ever want to have to do…but if you are out there enough, you will get your opportunity to put this procedure into practice.

I think that hiking out to the lava flow…when it is flowing (it is not flowing at the time I am writing this post) is a life changing experience. You get to see nature creating new land. It is just plain remarkable to watch. I hiked my 85 year old parents out there to experience it. Hiked two of my grand kids out and my daughter and her husband. I hiked out the editor of my books…and he is about the same age as me…advanced. We’ve hiked out friends and relatives and people from a dozen different countries…all without incident. However, I have been badly hurt out there…gassed and cut up…and knocked out in a fall. CJ has had his ankle broken and is very lucky to even be alive after disappearing into a crack in the lava. We lost a good friend and much respected lava guide/photographer, Sean King…killed by gas on the lava flow. The difference in those times when people were hurt or when it is safe to take out a parent or grand child…the conditions and locations of the flow. I had to hike my parents maybe 50 yards to a stalled flow in a relatively flat area. The flow I hike my grand kids to was a bit more challenging, but it was not a rapidly moving situation and the weather was perfect.

When the surface lava returns and you decide you want to go out to see it…ask around before you go…and go with a guide, like John Tarson of Epic Lava. CJ, Nick and I were probably the last people to ever see a Japanese visitor that we told not to go out. He clearly understood us and went out on his own anyway…and he never returned. It is safe out there…sometimes. It is unsafe out there often. Know before you go.


Lava Light Lessons #31…How to Create That Blurred Background in a Photo

There are two standard ways to create that neat looking blurred background in a photo…by mistake or on purpose. Let’s focus on the “on purpose” one.

That blurred effect has a name..BOKEH…pronounced BOH-ka or about five other ways.

Bokeh is the way a lens renders out-of-focus light. I am attaching a photo of that effect at the bottom of this post. It can be used on purpose to put the subject of your photo as the undeniable focus of your entire photo…to spotlight your subject. Here is how you do it on purpose…

Some lenses are better than others at creating bokeh. My best lens for it is one I call the Pineapple…an 85mm Canon prime (prime meaning that it is not a zoom…it has only one focal length…85mm). I call the lens the Pineapple because it is a bit short and stout…and also kind of hard to handle. However, it produces sharply focused images and has the ability to beautifully blur the background. Try your inventory of lenses and see which one produces the best blur effect.

Open the lens as wide as it will go. That lets in a lot of light, but also reduces the depth of field as to what will be in focus. You want to be more at the f/1.8 to f/5.6 end of aperture opening rather than the f/18 to f/22 end of the aperture opening. Since the lens is wide open, you will probably have to shoot at a fast speed and low ISO to get the exposure right. In Manual and in bright daylight, try the widest aperture opening your lens allows (f/1.8 to f/5.6 is the normal range), set your speed at 1/500th of a second and ISO at 100. Take a shot and see what you got. If it is too bright, increase the speed until it is just right…and if it is too dark, decrease the speed until it is just right.

Learning to create background blur on purpose is a bit of an experiment. Digits are basically free. Use some and see what you get. In no time you will be getting those cool looking background shots on purpose. Good luck and aloha.

The attached shot was taken in bright sunlight…f/2.8 at 1/4000th of a second at ISO 320. I got a good portion of the bird in focus…the eye and face in perfect focus and the background a blur of color.

Lava Light Lessons #30…Mirror vs Mirrorless Cameras

Again with the disclosure…I am not a technician…go online for a full technical explanation.

I shoot both…and love both. I love the feel and capabilities of my Canon mirrored cameras…especially my Canon 5D Mark 4…a dream camera to operate. Along with that camera I own a virtual camera store of Canon and Sigma lenses for Canon that give me a complete suite of options for each photographic situation. I love Canon.

I also love Sony, especially my two mirrorless cameras from Sony…the a9 and the A7R4. Wow…are these good cameras. They are small. Easy to operate. Nearly silent. The sensors are large and robust…and the a7R4 may have the best sensor in the business…at least in the normal range of professional cameras.

CJ shoots Nikon…along with anything he can get his hands on. He has excellent Nikon equipment…a top of the line Nikon camera body and all the good lenses. He loves Nikon. His mirrorless choice at the moment is Sony.

My guess is that the future…maybe even the now…will be mirrorless. Canon, Nikon and Sony all have them. Sony seems to have a bit of a lead at the moment…but that changes quickly. They are all good.

I care about three things…the image a camera can produce, the ease of using that camera and how sturdy the camera is…can it handle normal weather/dust/sea spray. There are a few other things I consider…cost is important…service is important…the range of lenses and accessories available is important. In the early days, Sony produced it’s first mirrorless camera and I bought it just about the first day it was out. It produced great images…was a little bit expensive…was so poorly prepared for the realities of life that it would glitch if I even sneezed around it and HATED damp environments…and the little tiny buttons and knobs were very hard for me to use. I am sure that all the great brands had the same kind of learning curves. However, today…they all have it figured out…today’s mirrorless cameras WORK…and I love them.

In the early days of mirrorless cameras, all the existing lenses worked well with the new mirrorless cameras. However, as the sensor size grew and the mirrorless cameras became more refined, specialized lens developed to maximize the system capabilities. I can smell a trend a mile away…and here is that trend. It will not be too long before you will need whole new glass for your mirrorless cameras. By that I mean…you will wake up to an announcement that the next newest best ever model of the mirrorless camera brand you embrace will no longer work with your old lenses from that brand. Now, we are talking about serious upgrade expense.

I am in the photo business and advances in equipment mean opportunities for new sales for Linda, CJ and myself. We are prepared to make those equipment purchases when the time comes. You may not want to invest that kind of money in your personal camera/lens inventory. So…just keep my educated guess in mind as you start down the path of buying mirrorless vs mirrored cameras…the purchase of a mirrorless camera body may just be the start of a number of expensive purchases down the road.

One last thought…you can get excellent images from all kinds of cameras. What is going to make you a terrific photographer will NOT be the equipment…it will be your ability to figure out exposure, frame the shot and edit the image. I found an image this week that I took eight years ago on a camera that you would laugh at today…and re-edited it. It produced a wonderful image. Kind of reminded me of my golf game…I own every wedge ever produced or advertised on tv…all those wedges that will “Get you out of trouble”, “Cut five strokes off your game” or “Lower you handicap overnight”. My short game still sucks. Turns out it is not the equipment…it is the operator.

With all that said…please don’t buy cheap or off-brand cameras or lenses. Just stick with Canon, Sony, Nikon and Sigma for lenses…and you will find it almost impossible to make an equipment mistake. Not saying that other brands are not viable…I shot Olympus for years and loved them. Just saying that there is a reason that Canon, Sony and Nikon are leaders in camera equipment…their products work, they provide excellent service and you can buy them everywhere. Aloha.

Lava Light Lessons #29…Full Frame Sensors vs APS-C or Crop Sensors

I am not your guy for giving you a great technical explanation of something like full sensor vs crop sensor. Go online and look it up and you will find excellent explanations. And…both have their own advantages…but the Full Frame Sensor has more advantages.

I shoot only full frame sensors. Why? Because they provide an image that covers a bit more of the scene I am shooting and because those sensors are better at capturing the information needed to bring out detail in the shadows and elsewhere. The Full Frame Sensor is equivalent in size of scene captured to the old 35mm slide. The crop sensor will capture less of the scene.

Why do people even mess with crop sensor cameras? My guess is that they are trying to save money and, in some cases like the sometimes smaller size of the outfit. The biggest advantage to a crop sensor camera is that if you shoot a 70mm lens on that system, you will get the same magnification of the image as you would with a 100mm lens on a full frame system. So…you might think of it as a built in telephoto. The cost of that telephoto…you miss some of the scene.

Word of warning…some lenses do not work on both full sensor and crop sensor cameras. They may not fit properly on the camera body…although most do. They may vignette…leave black empty spaces in the four corners of the photo. Read up on what lens goes with what camera.

I use to shoot a Canon 7D Mark 2. It is an excellent camera and I chose it for wave photography only. It has an APS-C crop sensor. Why did I chose it…it fires at ten frames per second…a big advantage when doing wave photography. Why did I give it up…well, first I accidentally drowned it by hitting the bottom with my camera housing really hard, breaking the dome of the housing and letting sea water in to completely ruin my beautiful camera and lens. Second, I used my Canon 5D Mark 4 the next day as my backup…and found I much preferred the larger and more detailed images I got with that 8 frame per second full frame sensor camera. I decided to quit the crop sensors forever and I am glad I did. And…I am getting better and better at making up for the loss of those two frames per second. Heck, I have seen CJ get excellent shots, back in the day, with a full frame sensor camera that only shot 4 frames per second.

One other factor in my decision…and it may not be a factor you have to consider…Linda and I and CJ own photo galleries where we sell our images up to huge sizes. I think our largest standard image that we sell is about nine feet by twelve feet…now that is a big ass photo! The full frame sensor cameras are best, in my opinion, for producing images for large prints. My Sony a7R4 produces an image that captures 61MP with wonderful dynamic range…meaning I can edit it to bring things out of the shadows and sharpen detail…and end up with a file that can be blown up to a huge size and look absolutely sparkling. Most of you will not be doing that kind of printing…and may not need the capability to do it. It is just one more advantage of the full frame sensor camera.

My choice…full frame. Your choice…up to you…just understand the advantages and limitations to the choice you make. Aloha.