Photographing Lava, Stars, Landscape and Wildlife at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

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When the lava is flowing into the ocean, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a sight to behold and when it's not quite reaching the water, it's still equally grand. While the red hot lava is unarguably one of the main draws to the park, there are plenty of other sights to be photographed. From the expansive landscapes to endangered wildlife there's enough to keep you shooting all day and well into the night.

Faint Milky Way Over The Kilauea Crater
A Faint Milky Way Over Kilauea. Image by Tiffany Mueller

Astrophotography
On my first visit to the park, I had my mind so locked in on photographing the lava at night, I didn't put much thought into looking up. But the stars were not going to be outdone by the always stunning Hawaiian sunset and suddenly I found the majority of my night shots were of the brilliant twinkling stars with the lava playing a just supporting role.
I would highly recommend any photographer visiting the park to plan their trip around a moon phase in which the moon is very small or doesn't rise until very late so it doesn't overpower the stars. You should be able to get some pretty interesting shots of the Milky Way and the crater head. Star trail enthusiasts will also have a heyday.

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Star Trails Over Kilauea
Star Trails Over Kilauea. Image by Tiffany Mueller

If you are doing night photography at the park, here's a helpful hint: Don't waste your time trying to photograph the crater from the Jaggar Museum. While it's a great and educational place to visit, there are usually throngs of visitors all wearing bright headlamps and waving flashlights around like they're training for the aircraft marshalling Olympics right in front of your lens so they can check out your camera at the precise moment you're in the middle of a 30 second exposure of what was going to be “the one you waited all night for.” Instead, walk down the Crater Rim Trail, which has a trail head at the Museum, a mile or so until you are far enough away to get some nice shots. It's also possible to drive to a more secluded spot on Crater Rim Drive if you spend enough time familiarizing yourself with the park during the day. It pays to scout a few locations to get prime night shots. Remember, be respectful and minimize your light pollution!
Birders & Wildlife Photographers
The wildlife that calls the lava flow home is one of the most diverse collections of all oceanic archipelagos. Birders may enjoy spending time photographing the park's three endangered species: the nene goose, the Hawaiian pretel, and the Hawaiian hawk. A native thrush species, as well as 23 endemic songbird species can also be found nesting here. You can also be on the lookout for the Kilaj pheasant.

Nene|Hakalau NWLR | 2014-01-24at10-53-448
Nene|Hkalau. Image by HarmonyPlanetEarth

Other wildlife in the park range from sea turtles, a perennial favorite of humans, which can sometimes be found laying on the rocky shoreline, to a native monarchs, to a species of bat that happens to be the park's only native mammal.
Landscapes
The park also boasts an expansive trail system which leads hikers through various terrain depending on which part of the park you are in. Many of the trails offer scenic overlooks, some are hidden a little better than the others but if you are looking for them, all kinds of landscape photography opportunities will arise.

Volcano Smoking In Under The Sen
Kilauea Throwing Off Some Steam. Image by Tiffany Mueller

Grab a map from the park ranger when you enter the park and do some exploring. Much of Volcanoes is accessible by vehicle for easy access to the trail heads. This is especially nice when carrying a lot of gear.
While You're There
Of course, you should see go see the lava. The molten variety is extremely photogenic and given the always changing nature of the flow, there's endless opportunity to create unique photographs of it with a little imagination.

The Advance
The Advance. Image by Nathan Van Arsdale

Before you pack bags and head to Hawaii, you might want to read this quick guide on how to safely photograph volcanic activity. It's chock full of helpful tips to keep you and your gear safe while exploring the park!

About the author

Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller is an adventurer and photographer based in Hawaii. When she's not climbing volcanoes or swimming with sharks, you can find her writing articles and running the official blog at PhotoBlog.

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