3 Tips for Photographing Lava & Kilauea Volcano

I grew up watching volcanic eruption videos instead of Sesame Street—both of my parents are geologists. With my father currently living in the Hawaiian Islands and his 30+ years experience dealing with volcanoes, it only made sense to go on an adventure to the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii.

I have always loved volcanoes and was excited to arrive in Hawaii and get some great photographs of lava. Thing was, I couldn’t seem to find any resources on how to actually get good photos of lava. Photographing lava is challenging not only because it can be dangerous, but also because it pushes the limits of a camera’s dynamic range—the range between glowing lava and black basalt. In addition, other landscapes were like shooting in any other rainforest, it's wet, so plan accordingly.

At first, we planned on doing a short story about the trip, but then it ended up being more of a location guide, which turned into an e-book since I wasn’t able to find any resources about photographing lava. This is an area where an e-book or guide is needed too—volcanoes are serious business and just because it's a national park, that doesn't mean it's always safe. As photographers we all want to get just a little bit closer and capture that epic image, but sometimes it's just not wise. Hopefully, my e-book Photographing Kilauea: A Photo Guide to Volcanoes National Park will help when photographing lava and volcanoes.

Here are three tips to get you started and help you make the most of your trip when photographing lava and volcanoes.

1.     Photographing Lava from Land

To reach lava flows by land, make sure you have a good pair of hiking boots because it can take some walking. Depending on the current flow locations, it is around six miles one-way if you leave from the end of Chain of Craters Road in Volcanoes National Park. If you take a guided tour from Kalapana, it is still more than two miles from the parking area. Once you reach the flows, I would recommend having lenses in the 24-200mm range so you can zoom in and get detail shots as well as wide angle landscape pictures.

photographing lava, Photographing Kilauea: A Photo Guide to Volcanoes National Park, Matthew Kuhns

2.     Photographing Lava from Sea

When the lava is entering the ocean, you definitely want to see it up close from a boat. It’s an amazing vantage point and really allows an immersive experience. A 70-200mm lens (full frame) is perfect and allows you to get nice detail images of the lava dripping into the ocean. With the moving boat and splashing waves, I found a shutter speed of at least 1/250 second desirable to freeze the action.

photographing lava, Photographing Kilauea: A Photo Guide to Volcanoes National Park, Matthew Kuhns

3.     Photographing Lava from Air

If you are able to take a helicopter tour on your trip, insist on the front passenger seat and try to get a doors-off tour. The views are breathtaking and give you a broader sense of the landscape than what you see from the sea or land. It was really exciting to be able to trace the flows back up toward the volcano and see the small breakout flows dotting the landscape. I used my 70-400mm (full frame) lens and set the shutter speed high to avoid vibration from the helicopter.

photographing lava, Photographing Kilauea: A Photo Guide to Volcanoes National Park, Matthew Kuhns

If you’re visiting Hawaii and have time to see Volcanoes National Park where the Kilauea Volcano is currently erupting, you definitely won’t want to leave your camera at home! Use these tips and get the e-book for 25% off with the discount code Pictureline25.

In the meantime, enjoy these other photos from beautiful Hawaii. Aloha!

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photographing lava, Photographing Kilauea: A Photo Guide to Volcanoes National Park, Matthew Kuhns

photographing lava, Photographing Kilauea: A Photo Guide to Volcanoes National Park, Matthew Kuhns

photographing lava, Photographing Kilauea: A Photo Guide to Volcanoes National Park, Matthew Kuhns

photographing lava, Photographing Kilauea: A Photo Guide to Volcanoes National Park, Matthew Kuhns

1 comment
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    Thank you for the tips. Much appreciated!

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