Living in Hawaii has provided me with the opportunity to see an untold number of spectacular natural wonders. Of particular interest to me are the unpredictable and at times deadly volcanic eruptions that occur on the Big Island. The extraordinary continuous eruption and flow of lava that occurred in 2018 was one of those once in a lifetime opportunities I knew I could not miss.

Having photographed the “Firehose” lava stream in 2017, I had some experience shooting lava using a Canon DSLR. This year however, I had an A7R III on order which was set to arrive just as a few friends were coming in from the mainland to go on a lava boat tour. Prior to their arrival, I had some additional time to do aerial photography of the Leilani Estates region where Fissure 7 was extremely active. I spent two days flying over the fissure shooting the streams of lava pouring out at both sunrise and sunset.

After honing my skills with my trusty Canon setup, it was time to familiarize myself with the new-to-me mirrorless camera. The A7R III arrived the day before our lava boat tour was set to depart, but I hadn’t had much time to acquaint myself with it since our boat check-in would be at 3:30am the following morning. Alas, I arrived bright and early and we set out for an hour long commute to the ocean entry point, with arrival just before the sunrise. The pre-dawn glow of the lava was a familiar sight to me, but it was nonetheless exciting to hear everyone else’s reactions as few if any had ever seen lava in person before.

Compared to the volume I had seen at Fissure 7, the ocean entry flows on this morning were minimal. But just as a boat found out one week prior, lava can be very unpredictable. That sister vessel to ours had lava bombs cascading down both near and on top of their boat just after an underwater explosion at a nearby entry point, even causing minor injuries. Keeping this in mind I initially focused mostly on the entry points but ultimately decided that the flow was not substantial enough to extensively photograph. I decided to put the camera down and enjoy the scale of the experience. Sometimes as a photographer we tend to focus so much on what we see through the lens that we can easily forget what beautiful scenery we may find ourselves in.

After viewing the various flows, we started to head back to port just as the sun began to rise. The sun lit up the sky in a gorgeous swath of pink and orange, which inspired me to pick the camera back up and start shooting a few more frames. My timing could not have been more perfect, as right as I reached for the camera a child up front yelled out “dolphins!” I looked over my shoulder to see a small pod along the coast. I scrambled to dial in my settings as I knew they would quickly disappear but just as I had my camera ready they were nowhere to be found. I was disappointed as the boat turned back again towards the port as I wondered if the small pod would make another appearance.

I was in luck.

Right as we picked up a bit of speed the dolphins reappeared, jumping alongside the boat and I knew at this point I wasn’t going to miss the shot. I held down the shutter button until they were gone.

Midway through our return trip to port, we encountered a massive thunderstorm which soaked everyone and everything including my camera. I had it slightly protected using myself as a water shield, but this would be a test of the Sony’s weather sealing which I had not heard great things about.

Luckily once we made it back to the car I dried things off and had no issues whatsoever. Going through the images I was bummed at first because most of the images caught the tails and I had very few with an ideal looking jump. Towards the end of my frames however, I saw I had captured a perfect shot of the dolphins coming up and the sunrise colors in the clouds along with the lava glowing. It was everything I wanted in the image. 

I took a screenshot and sent it to a good friend who happens to be an acclaimed lava photographer and his reaction was superb. Apparently he had been trying to get this shot for 10 years. At that moment I knew I had something really special and I am thrilled to share this image with the world.