Night sky photography is not a fast-paced ‘sport.’ There is no game clock counting down the seconds before you have to pick up your tripod and move to the next location; no shot clock that says you must click the shutter NOW or miss the shot forever. In fact, photographing the milky way is usually a calm (if freezing cold…) experience.

Not so with Rogelio Bernal Andreo‘s recent trip to Hawai’i. In 27 days Rogelio captured hundreds of photos on each of the six Hawaiian islands, enough to put together a wonderful photo book and, more importantly, change his outlook on night sky photography forever.

We sat down with Rogelio to ask him about this crazy endeavor, and how it’s changed him for the better. See his answers and a selection of the best images from his photo book Hawai’i Nights below:

500PX: Tell us a little bit about you as a photographer. What draws you to nightscapes? What drew you to Hawaii specifically?

ROGELIO BERNAL ANDREO: I entered the world of photography through a rather technical and demanding door: deep sky astrophotography. It was only after a few years that I would find myself taking hours of exposure of some nebula, and in the meantime I would take quick nightscape of the area to kill time.

Before I knew it, I was spending more time traveling to remote areas with only my DSLR camera, lenses, and a tripod, than doing deep-sky astrophotography. I have not abandoned deep-sky imaging and I’m happy switching from one to the other depending on what I feel like doing.

About Hawaii — it’s all in the next answer 🙂

500PX: Can you tell me what the inspiration behind this project was? How did it come about? You mentioned earlier that it was initially a family trip, so was it entirely spontaneous?

ROGELIO: In July 2013 my family, wife, two kids, and I went to Kauai for a five day vacation. After a visit to Polihale Beach, as we were leaving, I turned back, looked around, and said “I need to come back here at night, I bet it’s amazing”. So I did, and it was beyond what I could have imagined.

Polihale is a place that can inspire, and at night it only becomes more magical. As I had the certainty that I should be also able to find other beaches and places in the island that would make a perfect stage for more amazing views of the night sky, it was right then that I decided to try creating a photographic documentary of the night sky in all of Hawai‘i. Less than a year later, we were on our way to Oahu to transform the project into reality.

500PX: There are over 100 total images in the Hawaii Nights collection (you say “it’s the largest collection of nightscapes from Hawaii on the Internet”), how did you keep each shot unique and fresh? It has to be tough!

ROGELIO: As timing was very limited — for example, we only stayed in Lanai two nights, and three nights in Molokai — not only was I at the mercy of the weather, but I also had no time for scouting. I had a list of sites and landmarks I wanted to visit, and all I could hope for was to get there and be able to find the pictures I wanted.

This actually turned out to be a good thing because the photos became much more spontaneous, driven by what I was seeing and feeling at each moment, rather than carefully staging each and every image. This also helped turn Hawai’i Nights from just a collection of photos into a story where photos and narrative constantly relate to each other and you can’t have one without the other.

For example, many people who have never seen a real Moonbow in their lives, look at Midnight Rainbow and don’t realize they’re seeing a rainbow in the middle of the night:

Also, the story behind Worth a Lifetime is so frantic that when you know it, you look at the image in a completely different way, it tells you so much more. Yes, it’s true that some of the most amazing photos are those that tell a story all by themselves, and I hope that many of my photos do transmit many of the feelings I had when taking them, but often times a photo also captures much more than what the image can tell us.

I, as a photographer, admire other people’s work, but I’m usually most interested in anything surrounding the photographs than just indulging my eyes with the view. Not many photographers add a (non-fictional) narrative to their work, but I like doing it.

500PX 27 days and nights is a relatively short time when you consider you took hundreds of photos on a total of 6 different islands! Can you describe the experience? What were the biggest challenges? What did you enjoy most?

ROGELIO: I’m out of words to describe the experience. It simply changed my life, both as a photographer and as a person (apologies for the cliche but it’s absolutely true).

My mind was so immersed into the adventure, the project, the mission… that hurdles did not matter to me, but there were in fact many challenges. Going out night after night non-stop for almost four weeks can take a toll in your body, especially when you’re constantly on the move.

I nearly killed myself hiking the Kalalau trail in Kaua’i at night, alone, and under a tropical rain. Once on top of Haleakala, under a severe tropical storm, the wind was so strong I swear it was raining upward, left, right and any other imaginable directions.

I almost got lost on the western shore of Moloka’i looking for an abandoned (some say haunted) resort. I drove the Hana Highway all the way to Kaupo (past Hana) and back six times in just a few days, at night, and most of them accompanied by a raging tropical storm and nothing to take a picture of — the last time after having slept less than 7 hours in the last 4 days…

As for what I enjoyed the most… Besides fulfilling an unbelievable dream, and living countless moments that were absolutely magical to limits I’m still trying to make sense of, the most precious thing that I took from this adventure was one important lesson I learned.

I learned that life is more enjoyable for me if, every once in a while, when I hesitate to do something I want to do because it sounds complicated, impractical or even crazy, to think, “what if the world were to end in exactly one year?” and see if that changes my answer. If it does, then go ahead and do it. Just be careful making life changing decisions, I am not responsible 😉

500PX: Did you know from the beginning that you wanted to turn the idea into a book?

ROGELIO: Yes I did; however, originally the idea was to produce just a photo book, with perhaps some captions for the photos and not much more. I really didn’t put much thought into what I was going to write.

But as I started typing and placing the images in the book template, all the hundreds of moments started pouring back into my brain in such detail, that I felt the best companion to the images was the story behind the entire adventure: what was in my head at any given moment, what was I seeing, feeling, and what I was capturing with the camera… The narrative was so compelling to me that suddenly I felt Hawaii Nights had to be a story told with both, images and words intervened.

People who have read the book have asked me if I took notes as I was going from one place to another, but despite the many details given in the book, I actually did not. As I was adding the photos to the book, everything was coming back to me in a heartbeat, crystal clear.

500PX: Can you tell us a bit about the process of turning the series into a book? It sounds like you decided to self-publish rather than go the publishing house route, why? And what did you learn?

ROGELIO: Hawai’i Nights was originally posted on Kickstarter, and when it got funded, I knew that the books the backers would receive would be books I would produce, as this was the easiest and safest way for me to keep control of what the backers would receive in terms of quality, handling, etc.

A good publisher can help easily with tasks that otherwise would be a huge undertaking for you, and it also takes a lot of responsibilities out of your hands, so now that all the backers have received their copy, I’m not against the idea of working with a publisher. Still, being able to hold in your hands a book you have produced entirely — it helps being top quality printing and binding — is a very nice feeling.

500PX: Be honest… do you have a favorite photo from the project? (Don’t worry, we won’t tell the others)

ROGELIO: I could list about 10-15 favorite photos with no particular one being the very best. There is, however, one photo that, while technically is not a great photo and visually is not the most appealing, it absolutely brings back to me all the feelings from this intense, yet rewarding adventure. It is also one of the last photos I took, hours before taking the last flight back home. There’s so many emotions behind this photo that the book devotes several pages staging and describing what happened right before, during and right after the photo was taken. I am talking about the photo I titled “Worth a Lifetime”:

500PX: Any fun, quirky, strange, or otherwise interesting story that sticks out from the 27-day race around Hawaii?

ROGELIO: In the whole trip, except for Kaua’i (Kaua’i was a family trip, ok? 😉 ), I went into the water to swim only once. Most of my relaxing/musing time was really under the stars.

Some trip stats:

  • Flights taken: 10
  • Cars rented: 10
  • Ferries taken: 3
  • Hotels: 7
  • Islands visited: 6
  • Nights I did NOT go out to shoot (resting!): 1 of 27
  • Hours I slept in the last 4 days of the trip: 7
  • Most # of nights in one island: 7 nights, Maui
  • Least # of nights: 2 nights, Lana’i
  • Beaches visited at night: over 35
  • Amount of caffeine consumed: I lost count

Okay I think I should stop 🙂

500PX: Any other details about the project you’d like to share?

ROGELIO: I just want to thank you for this opportunity to share my project with the entire 500px community (you don’t have to publish this, but feel free to do it if you like). There are definitely many small stories that can be told, and many of them are in the book, but I guess we have to stop at some point! 🙂

Talented photographers have this crazy habit of thanking US, when it’s us that want to thank them. Without their work, 500px would just be an empty shell, and the ISO blog wouldn’t exist. So thank YOU Rogelio for sharing some of the details behind this awesome project.

We’ve collected a few more of our favorites below, but if you want to see more, definitely check out Rogelio’s Hawai’i Nights Set or, better, yet, BUY THE BOOK!

If you’re a night sky photography lover, you won’t regret the purchase. We’ve gotten a sneak peek at it, and it’s chock full, not just of amazing imagery, but the stories behind those photos… obviously we’re quite passionate about that here at the ISO blog.

To see more of Rogelio’s work, follow him on 500px, visit his website, check him out on Facebook, and pick up the book either digitally ($27), in soft cover ($49), or hard cover ($65) by clicking here.