Hawaiian photographer Kawika Singson’s epic body of work is a stunning celebration of Earth, life, water, and fire.
We caught up with Singson for an interview on his photography and the story behind his infamous burning lava photo.
Hillary Fox: What’s the story behind the portrait of you on fire on a lava flow?
Kawika Singson: I’ve put a lot of thought into a different and unique lava photo, then one night it came to me in a dream and I knew it was the shot that I needed to take.
It stayed in my head for several weeks, every time I ventured out to the lava flows, the conditions weren’t right for the shot. On this particular day, the conditions weren’t ideal for specific lava shots, but they were for my flaming tripod shot.
Fox: How did you get the shot?
Singson: Every time I hiked out to the flows I always carried two cameras and two tripods—one for taking the shot, and the other to be in the shot. I usually go alone but on this particular day my friend, Chris Hirata, hiked out with me.
I knew I couldn’t stand on the flow and wait till my stuff caught fire, it was way too hot for that, so I brought along some lighter fluid to get the flames going in an instant.
In my estimation, it was about 500°F where I was standing, and the gasses where intoxicating to the point where I couldn’t breathe. I did have a respirator but choose not to wear it for this shot. You can’t tell in the photo, but I’m actually holding my breath. The gases were that bad!
I finally hopped on the flow and Chris Hirata snapped several shots. I could tolerate the intense heat for only about ten seconds before I had to get off the lava.
Fox: Did the tripod survive? What about your shoes?
Singson: My tripod and shoes did survive—the shoes are not usable but I do still have them. I actually brought another pair of shoes along with me on that particular day in anticipation of my shoe going up in flames to the point of them not being usable.
Fox: It looks difficult and risky to photograph active lava. What advice do you have for other photographers?
Singson: Is it dangerous? Yup! You bet! It can be extremely dangerous!!! My advice to others… take lava photos, but don’t hop onto the lava flow like I did! I’ve lived on this volcanic island most of my life and hiked hundreds of hours on these lava flows.
Fox: Your underwater photography is so inspiring. What equipment do you use to photograph underwater?
Singson: I keep it very simple… I use my GoPro. Very easy, simple, hardly any moving parts. It’s a great little camera within my budget. Besides, if you know the capacity of your camera then you know what kinds of shots to go after and what kinds of shots that you’ll be wasting your time trying to take.
Fox: It seems you’d do almost anything to get the shot. Tell me, what’s your dream photography shoot, if you could photograph anywhere on Earth?
Singson: I actually don’t have a dream shot, just about every shot that I take is a dream shot whether it’s a tiny ant, dolphins swimming, gorgeous sunsets, amazing lava flows or waterfalls. I am very open-minded and I put things in perspective: I’m very grateful for each and every shot I take, good or bad.
I know I can’t go anywhere on earth to take photos so I’m very content with what I have and where I’m at, I’m not by any means a professional photographer, but I do have the eye for seeing that creative natural side of a potential photograph. That’s where I excel. My flaming Lava pic speaks for itself.
Fox: What inspires you?
Singson: Ever since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated with nature and being from the islands, being out in nature is, well… second nature for me.
Fox: What is your biggest challenge as a photographer?
Singson: For one, cameras are expensive! Beyond that, sometimes it seems like I get to the point of being obsessed with taking photos. I try to work as little as possible so I can spend more time taking photos, but then I have minimal income to pay my bills. So this whole ‘taking photos’ thing becomes a balancing act for me: taking photos (which makes me happy) and working which is eh! o.k. (I work in construction) So yeah! The biggest challenge is trying to balance things out between work and play.
Fox: What’s your best piece of advice to other photographers looking to capture striking scenes from nature?
Singson: Approach everything with an open mind. Try to visualize your shots! Don’t let your shots control you, you must control them. Don’t get stressed out over shots that didn’t work out. Photography is beautiful but not worth the stress, in my opinion. Always look for angles, lighting, shading, composition—for that’s what makes a photo stand out.
You can follow the adventures of Kawika Singson on his Facebook page.