Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Scott Mead’s Hawaii landscapes show the depth of color, mood and drama of the islands’ stunning and wholly unique environment

Labels: Locations
This Article Features Photo Zoom
"The main thing that I've learned," continues Mead, "is that if you take the Hawaiian culture into your heart as you're out there, you're essentially a Kanaka Maoli in spirit, meaning a pure-blooded Hawaiian. The idea being that as long as your friends know that you're not here to take, you're here to also help to give, to preserve—believe me, you'll be such a big part of a huge ohana, or family, it's unbelievable. I can't tell you how many Hawaiian friends I've got, and a lot of it comes from them seeing me trying to help protect what we've got here."

Along with cultural sensitivity, Mead also has refined his understanding of the more tangible peculiarities of photographing the Hawaiian landscape. Namely, he has developed patience. Atmospheric conditions change fast, as does the evolving volcanic landscape, so Mead must know how to read the sky, the surf and the land to help make photographs that delve deeper than the surface.

"The atmospheric conditions here play a huge role," he says. "For one, we're a lot closer to the equator than a lot of the rest of the United States, so we're going to have a little more intense light. And the islands really aren't that big, so you do get a lot of salt spray up in the air, which is going to refract light a bit. The other thing is, with Kilauea, we have what's called 'vog.' It's basically smog being produced by the volcano itself. You've got all sorts of gases up in the air floating around, and that works as two different things. It will either work as a coloring filter, especially over on the Big Island—my gosh, you can get these incredible sunsets of the great red orb in the sky as the sun is going down—and it also helps in that it kind of acts as a neutral-density filter. It's able to help me especially with sunsets and water; I know I'm going to get a stop and a half, maybe even two stops of light reduction just from the vog."

Mead does some postprocessing, but prefers to work in-camera as much as possible. "I use Singh-Ray Galen Rowell ND filters," he says. Most of his work in Photoshop is confined to cleaning specks that accumulate because of salt spray, dust and dirt. Any lens change guarantees contamination on the sensor.
Vog plays a big part in Mead's landscapes, as do the sun, sky and clouds. The image he calls "Molokini Glow," for instance, is indicative of the various elements that come together at the shoreline to create powerful landscapes of water, earth and air.

"With all the purple," says Mead, "that was one of those incredible nights where you get just the right amount of vog up above the cloud layer, and it just turns that incredible purple. This is a good example of what I try to look for. You've got an incredible topography of lava rock underneath the water, and I'm trying to show the way that the water is being bumped and moved around. That was maybe an eighth of a second, and, literally, I'm walking around trying to look, see, feel exactly what's going on, watching how the light is working, and you come across an image like that, and it was just one of those incredible, magical nights."

Mead is able to have many magical nights photographing in Hawaii partly because the land is so well protected. Because space is at a premium, good stewardship has maintained largely untouched open areas. While photographers can't simply tread off the beaten path wherever they see fit, they do have an abundance of nature always within reach.

Scott Mead's Gear
• Canon EOS 5D Mark II
• Canon EF 16-35mm ƒ/2.8L II USM
• Canon EF 24-105mm ƒ/4L IS USM
• Canon EF 100-400mm ƒ/3.5-5.6L IS USM
• Canon EF 15mm ƒ/2.8 Fisheye
• Canon EF 50mm ƒ/2.5 Macro with Life-Size Converter EF
• Canon Extender EF 2x II
• Singh-Ray Galen Rowell Split ND filters
• Gitzo G2228 tripod
• Acratech GV2 ballhead
• Tamrac Expedition 9 pack
"There's a lot of open space available to people on all of the islands," Mead says. "You have a lot of government officials and cultural resource commissions where they know that the island itself can only support so much and there has to be a delicate balance. All of the shoreline is open to anybody. No one owns the shoreline at all, so if you wanted to, you could walk the entire circumference of any of the islands, and walk the shoreline and take photographs with no problem at all."

Adds Mead, "Here you're in the most remote land mass in the entire world; we're basically 3,000 miles away from any other land. There's no other island that's as isolated as we are, and to think that we have so much diversity for being so remote is just absolutely amazing. You can go to Costa Rica, Belize, you can go all over the world within the tropics and see some absolutely amazing things, but you still won't find the diversity that we have here. More importantly, you won't find the aloha spirit. That's huge. The people of Hawaii, their hearts are bigger than the world. That's one of the great things as a photographer—you're out there talking with these people, they're sharing the experiences of their ancestors, while you're actually looking at the scene you're working with. There's just so much here."

See more of Scott Mead's photographs at www.scottmeadphotography.com.


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