My Story: USA Young Landscape Photographer of the Year 2016

I was browsing DPReview one day and came across the banner for the USA Landscape Photographer of the Year entries. I thought it would be a good opportunity to enter, especially because there was a youth category. I entered 20 of my best images in various categories hoping that I would at least win one. I was very surprised to find that 15 of them were shortlisted for the final round of judging!

A month later I received an email saying that one of my photos won the My USA category. I was very happy to be recognized as the best in one of the categories. A few hours later, I received an email saying I was the winner of Young USA Landscape Photographer of the Year 2016! I was blown away, thinking to myself, did I really just win the competition? A phone call later and it was confirmed. I am truly delighted that my photo was chosen as the winner! See the competition results here.


Overall winning image for the youth competition. “Ocean Rush” ISO 100, F/11, 1 sec, Sony A6000 + Rokinon 12mm. This was captured on the Kona coast. A lava tube pushes water in and out creating a nice flow of water. I distinctly remember capturing this because it was Presidents Day 2016 and I met with a few local photographer here for sunset. This spot is particularly dangerous because the water rises in and out and you definitely don’t want to be in this position when a wave crashes in. A huge wave started coming in and we all ran for the hills! The wave crashed and created a giant splash, and I was only able to run so far before I braced myself for the worst. I protected my camera by turning my back towards the splash, but unfortunately another photographer lost his camera while running to safe ground. Watch how I processed this photo here.


My USA youth category winner. “Twister” ISO 500, F/2.8, 20 sec, Sony A7S + Rokinon 24mm. The active Halema’uma’u Crater spews out a bright glow and a raging plume. The steam vents below were filling Kilauea Iki Crater with a cloud of fog. This is the most spectacular view of the crater I’ve ever seen! The formation of the plume looked like a tornado, and I’ve never seen the steam vents in the crater below pump out this much steam into the crater.


My USA youth category highly commended. “Lava Crack” ISO 100, F/6.3, 1/80 sec, Sony A6000 + Sigma 30mm DN. I captured this during my second visit to the Kalapana lava flow before it hit the ocean. The active lava quickly cools to a flaky finish and soon starts to crack as a new lava breakout occurs. I captured the lava oozing out just as the brittle surface started to crack. The heat was very intense, but I made due by taking quick breaks in between photos.


Classic View youth category runner-up. “The First Sunrise” ISO 50, F/14, 1/4 sec, Sony A7S + 28-70mm. This was captured during the first sunrise that the lava had hit the ocean. For weeks, people were predicting when the lava flow would reach the ocean. The night before, I had heard that the lava was very close. I rushed out in the middle of the night to cycle the 4 miles and was greeted with a beautiful sunrise and amazing experience. These cliffs don’t look too big in the photo, but in reality, they are 30 ft+ and it was a lava waterfall coming down. Watch how I processed this photo here.


DPReview Special Award runner-up. “Half Dome Beach” ISO 100, F/11, 1 sec, Sony A6000 + Rokinon 12mm. I was in awe when I first set my eyes on this beach. I thought that the cinder cone looked like the iconic Half Dome in Yosemite. This place has many colors from the green sand, the blue water, to the red textures in the rocks. I set my camera on timelapse mode and hiked up that hill to enjoy the view.

I never would have thought my photography would win a competition when I first started. I picked up photography about 3 and a half years ago. I quickly found a passion for landscape photography after I captured a sunrise at the sea. I took inspiration from seeing photos on Flickr and other websites. I loved long exposures of the ocean and night sky. I read books and watched tutorials about photographing and processing to gain my knowledge. Today I have shaped my own style with inspiration from various photographers such as Michael Shainblum and Ted Gore.

Growing up on the Big Island of Hawaii, I’ve always had an appreciation for nature. My family would often go to the beach or go camping. I have a deeper appreciation for nature now more than I ever have. Photography has allowed me to capture the beauty I see through my eyes. My goal is to capture those moments of beauty in order to preserve, and present it with my own style.

Today I do all sorts of photography, from real estate, to portrait, to timelapse photography. I’m attending Hawaii Community College and will possibly major in business or computer science. Lately, I’ve been capturing the recent lava flow in Kalapana. It’s a whole other experience compared to photographing seascapes or the night sky. I hope to capture many more scenes around the world.

You can find me on social media here:
Instagram, Facebook, Flickr, Youtube

5 thoughts on “My Story: USA Young Landscape Photographer of the Year 2016”

  1. Congratulations!!, Very happy for you. Every photo you have in here are incredible.
    I have learnt a lot from your website and videos, Thanks for posting them.

  2. Raitea, Congratulations! You are amazing, a talented and obviously passionate photographer who truly captures the beauty of Hawaii. Please let me know if your print images are for sale, as I’ve purchased stuff from local photographers. You probably know Bruce Omori, whose “Volcanic Vortices” I bought. Me ke Aloha Pumehana, Doug Tom, Honoluu

  3. Whoops, I’m obviously a lolo. You have a terrific website which details the photos you have for sale and print size choices. Bad habit, looking with my mouth instead of my eyes. That’s why you’re the photographer. I’m especially impressed by some of your “Milky Way” photos. The panoramic one with a gentle hill in the right center and a glowing orange sky on the right is stunning. I also like the one with the two large rounded, smooth seashore boulders. Your other galleries are also impressive. You surely will be successful in your career. BTW, please be careful around the ocean and lava. I’m sure you respect the power of nature, but don’t get hurt trying to get the perfect shot. A wonderful guy I know fell off a hiking trail trying to get “the shot.”

    Regards, Doug


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