Palm Trunks of the Rich and Famous

Maybe it’s a personal thing, but I really like these shots I took of the hotels in Waikiki.  They’re geometric and I like the simplicity, but they don’t scream Hawaii.  To make up for it, here’s this:

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That is all.

Waikiki Beach Skyline

Waikiki is the epitome of Hawaii 5-0-style Hawaii.  The beach culture of the mid 20th century might have evolved a bit between then and now, but the beach is the same.  They’re even bringing back the series, so nostalgia runs high.

I can appreciate the beach and strolling the sand, but the encroaching high-rise hotels, some of them dating back directly to those glory days, make for some of my favorite pictures.

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Starting from the south (zoo, aquarium) end of the strip with Diamondhead at your back, the Aston Waikiki Beach is the first big hotel you see.  I love the scalloped balconies.

I got a bunch more.  Click for the jump.

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Swimming With The Turtles

Getting up close and personal with interesting bits of nature isn’t always easy.  As city folk, I’ve got cats, dogs, squirrels, crows, and if I see something like a raccoon, rat, or possum, that’s pretty exciting.  One of the reasons I like to travel is a chance to see something more unique.  I’d by lying if I say that Hawaii is one of my favorite places because of the animals – the beaches, warm weather, and implied relaxation don’t hurt.  At the same time, snorkeling is one of my favorite things to do out there and I like to bring my camera along.  Here’s my favorite shot from the last trip.

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Green Sea Turtles are endangered but fairly prevalent in Hawaii.  The islands are also the only place on earth that these guys actually come out of the water to bask in the sun.  Getting pictures underwater is a bit harder though.  Most of the time the are found in the super murky shallows eating algae off the rocks.  I finally managed to catch this one in deeper water in Shark’s Cove on the north shore of Oahu.

Underwater photography is a whole different bag of tricks – just like taking pictures of food, I only dabble.  First off, you need a camera.  Although some point and shoots these days are at least nominally waterproof, I prefer a specialized housing.  Canon wins by a country mile here, because they have for many years produced really nice waterproof housings for many of their point and shoot cameras that are, as these things go, pretty darn cheap.  Getting your camera underwater is just the first issue.  The second is you have to be able to actually use it.  Luckily here, your best bet is just throwing it in automatic mode – using the buttons through the housing is possible, but so cumbersome that you won’t want to do much.  Next you need good visibility.  I’ve taken pictures of turtles underwater before but most of them look like this:

The problem is that turtles and many other critters like it shallow, where sand and other muck is often in the water.  The farther you get from the shallows, usually the better.  Color fades fast at depth as well, so unless you get perfectly clear water, bright sunlight, and shallow depth, you have to play with the image after capture to try and make it look good.  People who are serious about this kind of thing buy monstrous rigs with huge flashes.  They generally scuba dive (so you can get very close to something and actually hold still, which you can’t do very well holding your breath) and well… before you take your first picture you’re out $10,000.  Not the kind of barrier to entry I’m interested in.  For now, get yourself a snorkel and mask, a cheap underwater camera and a place with good visibility and try your hand at it.

How Photoshop Won The Panorama War

When I started talking about panoramas, there was some question about how you might turn a few pictures into one.  You didn’t need a tripod, but it was strongly recommended.  A bubble level wouldn’t hurt too.  Care needed to be exercised.  Incantations were recited.  If you took a picture of water buffeted by the wind, god help you.  Back in the day, I used Panorama Factory.  It crashed a lot.  I spent hours mapping little dots from one picture to the next.

Starting with Photoshop CS4, Adobe changed all that.  There was a panorama tool built right in, and it had a magic setting called “Auto”.  With CS5 it got even better.  No matter what you throw at it, it blends, warps, and just works magic.  The pictures always look good.  Always.  Here is my latest:

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Like before, I’m posting my panoramas at twice the width of most of my pictures so you can see a little of the magic in there!

This is a shot from the end of highway 270 on the north shore of the big island of Hawaii.  Stretching out to the east is the Waipio Valley.  From this side, near Hawi, you can drive only so far, and then you can hike.  The beach below is only 20 or 30 minutes, but you can go a couple days farther if you’re stupid brave enough.  It’s a beautiful place with lazy cows, fields of waist-high grass and the odd taro patch.  It might not be obvious but this shot is a bit odd.  I’m standing on a hill, shooting down and panning the camera diagonally – sort of inland + underneath me.  In the past, this just wouldn’t work.  You’d have to map every point in the panorama by hand, and at the end of the day you’d have a distorted picture that would probably lead to a lot of rending of hair and kicking of computers.  With Photoshop CS5, you just hit go and wait.  I’d like to say I miss the old days when things were hard, but I don’t – at all.  Not only does this let you just take pictures and do what you want to do, but it means you can shoot hand-held and with lesser equipment and still have something serviceable come out the other side.  Adobe, this time, I love you.

Windmills of South Point

South Point in Hawaii is a pretty barren place.  I’m not gonna say “no man’s land” because it’s gorgeous, pastoral, and picturesque.  But when I posted the boat hoists, I did mention the wind – you’re not gonna miss the wind.  Most of the pictures of my wife involve her cupping her hands around her eyes to keep the blowing dust out.  Clearly, this wasn’t lost on some people:

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On the 12 mile road from belt road to the point, you pass several banks of windmills.  These are some of the older and smaller ones.  The missing blades and patina of rust makes it pretty clear that these aren’t newly installed as some recent jump to green energy.  These have been here.  There are some newer windmills you can’t get as close to.  They’re larger and look more modern.  These had more character.

Interestingly enough, I took a few HDRs of these.  When I was editing the pictures I put them together and really didn’t think they gained much from it.  A good note on HDR is that unless you have really dynamic lighting that has a lot of bright and dark spots in the same photograph, you don’t gain as much from it.  These shots do have some shadows and blown out spots, but I like this effect just as much.

The other important thing to point out is one item you just can’t do without in Hawaii, or anywhere else where you shoot a lot of sky and water – a polarizing filter.  In this modern world of digital cameras and Photoshop, most on-camera filters have fallen by the wayside.  You can do many things after the fact, but polarizing the image isn’t one of them.  A polarizing filter removes reflections from shiny objects, like metal and water.  This means if you want to see the fish in the water, you can.  It also means you can remove reflections of people from building windows.  At the same time, it can turn your blue sky into a much more intense blue.  The downside is that they eat some amount of your light, so I only use them in bright and sunny places.  When I go to Hawaii, the polarizer goes on and rarely comes off.  The blue sky in this picture really pops from the filter, not from what I did after the fact.

South Point Boat Hoists

South Point on the Big Island of Hawaii is a wind-blasted expanse of farmlands, windfarms, and dirt giving way to cliffs and ocean.  The southernmost point in the US, it was until recently one of two places on the island your rental car coverage wouldn’t allow you to go.  The road is fine now – I’m not sure if the rules have changed.  I have heard that the locals that fish from the cliffs may take some liberties with the possessions people leave in their cars when they hike to the beach, so we stayed close.  Against the backdrop of wind and waves, there are a bunch of these creaky old boat hoists.  I think the premise is that this is the shortest route from road to water, but you’d have to be pretty nuts to actually use one.  I wouldn’t put it past some of the folks hanging out down there.

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