“Life of the Land – the Birth of New Land” by Leslie Gleim

On May 3, 2018, fissures began opening along Kilauea Volcano’s East Rift Zone in Hawai’i resulting in its largest eruption in over 200 years. Twenty-two fissures created an eight-mile lava river that cut through the heart of the Leilani subdivision and coastal vacation homes. This resulted in the exodus and displacement of over 2,000 residents and the destruction of 700 homes, farms, and businesses. This newest transformation of the Hawai’i Island created 875 acres of new land with the lava ocean entries reconfiguring and extending the Hawai’i Island’s geographic size by a mile.

In 2017 when I had begun a body of aerial (via helicopter) work that was focused on documenting the impact of the anthropocene and climate change that was happening on the islands of Oahu and the Big Island. Bruce Omori, a well known Big Island aerial photographer, was working with me as a consultant. When the 2018 eruption began Bruce was diligently covering the events as they were happening on the Big Island. Because I had been working with Bruce I was able to fly with him on his media flights.

My first flight over the eruption zone was mid-May. During that flight we were on the scene when Fissure 16 broke through the ground. It was surreal to see the earth open up with lava spilling out of the ground in what was a lush pasture land. From that moment I felt compelled to document as much of the eruption as I could. Every two weeks for over 3 months I was flying to the Big Island to document the eruption. As the weeks unfolded, observing the sheer mass and intensity of the lava river as it advanced through subdivisions and farmlands was profound.

This particular photograph was taken in mid-July on what would be the last time I would see the lava river flowing, when I returned in August Fissure 8 had stopped flowing and the lava river had begun cooling.

On this particular day I flew with Bruce on his morning media flight and had lined up a charter flight for later in the day. During the morning flight I could see a slowing down of the lava river and wondered how much longer it would be flowing. I photographed this moment during the early morning flight. We were just approaching the eruption area and I could see Fissure 8 ablaze up stream. It was a moment that I would be encapsulated in my mind’s eye forever.

What do you think are the TWO most impactful features that make your image a good photograph? Don’t be shy!

The two key elements of this photograph is the point of view as it allows the viewer to get a sense of the scale and size of the lava river. The other key element is the historic nature of the event itself. The photograph allows for those who weren’t there to see and witness this moment in time.

If you would be able to make this photo once again, what would be the ONE thing you would like to do better or different?

During the course of the eruption we were restricted to staying at 3,000 altitude. Many times I had wished that we could fly at a lower altitude. Also in hindsight I wish I had taken even more photographs than I had.

Leslie Gleim shared this photograph in the FRAMES Facebook Group.


Leslie Gleim, Honolulu, Hawaii


Equipment and Settings

This photograph was taken with my backup camera which is a Leica Q with a 28mm fixed lens. My camera settings: 1/1000 sec at f/1.7.

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Comments (4):


    October 15, 2020 at 17:45

    Thank you, Leslie. Your description of this event is very interesting and your two thoughtful questions challenging and helpful. I’m enjoying your pictures posted on FRAMES so much.

  2. Mark Benham

    October 16, 2020 at 14:37

    Thank you for the story and picture. What a privilege to be able to witness nature at its most awesome, especially from above, and a reminder that, ultimately, nature is in charge, which I suppose it ironic given the way mankind is intent on destroying our planet.

  3. walter martin

    October 16, 2020 at 15:25

    Wonderful image and photograph. I realize that aerial photography can be at times a clumsy trapezes act . . . you handled the assignment well. Thanks for the insightful and dynamic image!

  4. JiÀhn Charlotte

    October 17, 2020 at 22:13

    Great capture. What an experience!


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