On an early pre-dawn morning in September 2010, I waited along with two other travel writers in the parking lot of the Hanalei Colony Resort on Kauai to meet Brian Ross, owner of Photo Safari Hawaii.
Right on time, Brian arrived and we climbed into his 4x4 SUV. As someone who takes thousands of photos each year in Hawaii, what followed was one of the most fun and indeed educational experiences I've had in Hawaii, but also one of the most difficult to describe.
I expected that what would happen over the next 4-5 hours would be that Brian would take us to a number of scenic locations that he had selected on Kauai's North Shore so that we could take some great photos. What I didn't expect was that our first stop would last almost two hours and that during those two hours we'd walk up and down a remote beach and learn the essence of how to take great photos. In retrospect, those two hours taught me more than I had learned on my own in over fifteen years of digital photography.
It was well before sunrise that we drove to a parking area in what is now Haena State Park and hiked through a dark wooded area once home to Taylor Camp. From 1969-1977 Taylor Camp was home to band of hippies, surfers and Vietnam veterans on land owned by Howard Taylor, brother of actress Elizabeth Taylor.
Our destination was a remote and beautiful stretch of beach. Our goal was to view what turned out to be an amazing sunrise, and experience how the rays of the rising sun affect how everything around you changes in appearance from moment to moment. That was only the beginning of our lessons.
In Their Own Words
Brian best describes his company's photography workshops on the Photo Safari Hawaii website.
"We introduce a Taoist approach to photographic composition, wherein the artist is encouraged to cultivate an awareness of the relationship of the elements, qualities of light as it conceals, reveals, and creates intricate patterns in nature, and a mindfulness his/her self as the creative artist...
As a context for understanding the artist's perspective, participants will be guided and encouraged to explore the dynamics of Visual Grammar in fine art photography exercises inspired by the teachings of Wassily Kandinsky of the Bauhaus School.
We will suggest participants be present and creative in these beautiful scenic spots, to admire their natural and ephemeral qualities, and create inspired photographic compositions, by experimenting and exploring through the lens of their camera."
Our Photography Workshop
We spent the first hour immediately following "chasing the light" and seeing how it changed everything around us from moment to moment. We learned how to utilize direct versus indirect light, points of light, horizontal and vertical lines, shadows and points of interest to take better photos.
We spent the next hour creating our own artistic photos utilizing the lessons we had learned. You can see some of my own photos in our Photo Safari Hawaii Photo Gallery. I'm hoping that a picture speaks better than my own explanation of the lessons we learned.
Brian is an excellent teacher whose 25-plus years of work has been exhibited at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum, the Broadway Gallery in NYC, & the Hui No’eau in Hawaii. He has photographed noble laureates: HH the Dalai Lama XIV, Nelson Mandela, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. On a personal level, I was delighted to hear that he did his undergraduate work at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, not far from my home.
Brian assured us that all of his other guides are just as good at what they do. He has to be a tough act to follow.
Following our stay at Haena State Park we made our way back past Hanalei town and up the cliffside to Kilauea for breakfast at the superb Kilauea Bakery. From there we made a brief stop at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge lookout and then made our way down into Hanalei Valley where we stopped at the taro fields to put some of what we had learned into action (or rather, more precisely, photos.)
Following our stop in Hanalei Valley it was back to Hanalei Colony Resort before noon after what turned out to be a much too short, but extremely fun and educational, experience.
If You Go
Fortunately, for those who want a longer experience, Photo Safari Hawaii offers a wife selection of photo ecotours on all six of the major Hawaiian Islands ranging from half-day tours to 5 and 10 Day Hawaii Photography Workshops. Details of all of these tours and pricing are available on the Photo Safari Hawaii website.
Beginning in 2013, Photo Safari Hawaii now offers Group Photography Workshops at the National Tropical Botanical Gardens on the southern shore of Kauai in the Allerton & McBryde Gardens.