Big Island photo project maps coastline on Web
By Karin Stanton
By Karin Stanton
KAILUA, KONA, Hawai'i — It started as a simple online advertising gimmick, but Brian Powers' aerial photography project grew into something quite different.
Powers, owner of Hawaiian Images Photography and Video, has photographed the entire coastline of the Big Island and posted the work on his Web site.
The site features more than 4,500 aerial photographs of the Big Island, but the highlight is the coastal pictorial, which serves as a photographic record of the changing coastline.
"Nobody has ever done it before as far as I know," said Powers, a professional photographer and former commercial pilot. "With the Internet and the ability to get on a computer and see every foot of the coast of the Big Island, well, that is pretty cool."
With the Big Island project complete, Powers has plans to start on the rest of the state, adding maps and photos to his Web site as he goes along.
His goal is to photograph the coastline of all the Hawaiian Islands and have the images online within two years.
"Completing the Hawai'i island site took over a year and a half," he said. "Now that I have a system in place, the other islands should be easier to capture and get online."
Chip Fletcher of the University of Hawai'i's School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology said he is aware of several similar projects sponsored by the government and the university. However, they have been smaller-scale and focused on specific areas.
For example, his school recently hired a company to conduct an aerial photographic survey as part of a coral reef research project in Kane'ohe Bay. Also, the federal government conducted aerial surveys of Kaua'i after Hurricane Iniki in 1992.
Fletcher said this is the first statewide venture he is aware of.
"It could be very useful," he said.
Powers said he heard of an environmentalist who shot the California coast and hoped to repeat the project in Hawai'i to promote his photography business.
"It's grown to be more of a resource than the advertising tool I envisioned," Powers said. "And preserving a snapshot of this island as it is right now was fascinating."
Powers flew his single-engine Piper Cherokee 160 at 500 feet, holding his Nikon D100 camera out the window and firing off pictures of the nearly 300 miles of coastline.
"It took some practice. You have to do two things really well: You have to be able to take good photos and be a good pilot," Powers said.
"You can't focus too much on either one."
Powers shot the entire coastline in five days in late 2004.
Powers worked with Puna computer consultant David Cooke, who found a way to embed the photos in a map of the Big Island.
Each of the 1,400 photos can be accessed by clicking on the corresponding point on the map.
It took 116 hours to size, number and place the photos perfectly on the map.
"It was all trial and error for us," he said. "I now know how to do this in my sleep."
After much tinkering and tweaking, Powers finally posted the map to his Web site about six weeks ago.
Possible uses could be for a visual tour guidebook, a tool for planners and government, a reference for schoolchildren, a historical record or just a way for people who wish to see the true beauty of Hawai'i from a whole new vantage point, he said.
"Imagine a Mainland bride whose wedding will be held on a beach and she has only a wedding coordinator's word that the beach she will be married on is as she expects it," he said. "Now she can see the beach for herself."