Akaka Falls, Hilo, Hawaii, USA by John Freeman

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Picture Story

The Kolekole Stream runs through this valley and feeds one of the most picturesque waterfalls in Hawaii, Akaka falls drops 442 ft into the canyon cut into the black lava of ancient eruptions of Mauna Kea. Surrounded by rain forest receiving up to 300 inches of rain a year the foliage is spectacular. The amount of rain that the east side of the Big Island gets in the Hilo area makes photography particularly challenging. Having been rained out for our 2 previous visits to photograph Akaka Falls, my wife and I returned for a third time hoping to get a shoot of the falls.

Being a Gigapixel Wall Mural specialist, I need quite a bit of time to do my shoots. It was my desire to shoot an image that was at least 1 gigapixel or larger. It had been misting most of the afternoon but for the moment the rain and mist had stopped. I loaded my 40 lb. camera backpack and tripod on my back and proceeded to quickly hike to the best overlook for viewing the falls. The overcast provided very low, soft light but being my last chance to shoot this fall on this trip I went ahead and set up. I programmed my Gigapan Epic Pro V panoramic head to do an 80 shot (10 column x 8 row) set of images. Due to the low light I pushed the ISO up to 400 to allow a little faster shutter speeds. I personally tend to prefer shooting waterfalls without the totally "Milky" look one often sees in waterfall shoots. I like to retain some of detail of the falling water because I feel it looks more realistic. Using Expose to the Right to meter the white portion of the top of the falls to avoid blowing out the white water, I set my exposure and started shooting. Thankfully the mist held off for the most part and I was able to get the image. This is a reduction of the original image which when finished is 2.19 Giga-pixels, 41175 x 53200 pixels un-cropped, measuring 137" x 177" @ 300 PPI. Processing was done using Camera Raw to adjust levels, do lens correction, apply a touch of DeHaze filter (due to the mist) and save to tiff format for stitching. I stitched the images using Kolor Autopano Giga and did some minor post processing in Photoshop.

While Akaka Falls is likely in the portfolio of any photographer that has visited the Big Island, this photo may well be the largest, highest resolution photos ever taken of the falls at 11.4 ft. x 14.75 ft.


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