My trip to Hawaii - 2012

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This would be my third trip to Hawaii, however the first time to be completely dedicated to photography. 

Being born and raised in Arkansas, you can imagine the struggles I had pursuing Fine Art around here. Nothing against my hometown, but the limitation of captivating photography in Arkansas, is truly devastating for every serious international photographer. 

Art is not really respected here, so when I chose to give up law school and become a photographer, people immediately thought I was throwing my life away, drowning it down the drain. I, however, have never felt such freedom or pride in my life decision before. Photography quickly became my motivation, and my whole existence. 

Spending countless hours studying, researching every informative article I could get my hands on to become better and teach myself everything needed to pursue this life dream. 

I already had invested in a full frame Nikon D700 and the whole Nikon holy trinity lens collection. 

There was one problem though, funds to start traveling. 

So I became a commercial photographer for the sake of steady income to invest into travels. One of the most unfulfilling jobs without a personal purpose for me - however being my own boss was the selling point to endure dealing with realtors who really do not care about your knowledge nor your talent or skill, but mostly care about how cheap you can do it for "them" in order to hire you. 

Based on my previous experience in Hawaii and my connections I made on my last trip there, I realized it is a much better place to approach commercial photography, and a much better place to approach Fine Art. 

So I booked my flight, shipped my truck to Maui, rented an apartment and I was getting ready. 

A month before my journey, my wife contacted me for the very first time. A humble, yet awkward email, kinda obvious and not so obvious flirtatious - she totally got my attention. In a time where I had to focus on my personal career and life, where my journey as a photographer was just starting, I simply could not ignore her. A beautiful intelligent girl from Greece! My favorite country ever since I was old enough to read and understand philosophy, appreciate the complication and beauty of math, or obsess over greek mythology - she truly was too real to be true; and the craziest part, a lover of photography as well. The day before my flight, we were already talking about meeting up either in Hawaii or Arkansas. She was quite busy, so we postponed the visit until I would come back from Hawaii in December. 

Flight towards OGG airport was at 4am on a Tuesday. Excited to say the least. Christina was adding to my excitement every day. Someone who really understood what I was trying to do in my life - besides the support of my family - however she really understood everything I was thinking, doing or hoping for.

I started my journey by revisiting one of my favorite places on the island called Kaupo. 
Probably the least touristy area on Maui, with Hana on one side and civilization on the other - with no real reason to go there unless you’ve decided to make the full circle around the island. The narrow, winding, and damaged roads on the cliff-side also make it difficult to get to; but very worth it once you see the unique atmosphere and the hidden gems it contains.

Rainbows are famous throughout Maui for a reason…including looking up at the south face of Haleakalā, from one of the many gulches alongside Piilani Highway in Kaupo. 

Wild Monkeypod Trees (or is it Albizia?) scattered amongst the rolling hills of Kaupo and below the volcanic edifice of Haleakalā never cease to intrigue…

The view from the treacherously steep, narrow, and jagged roads near Kahakaloa on the northeast side of Maui, if one looks opposite from the ocean, is to me more reminiscent of rural Scotland than the tropical island it belongs to.

Back on the Kaupo side of the island, a single ray of light piercing the fog illuminates a small plateau above one of many gulches in the area...also raising the question again, is this a tropical island or Northern Europe?

Looking west from the base of Haleakalā, late into the afternoon of a rare overcast day on the island...could you tell that the Pacific Ocean lies just beyond this field?

Looking back towards Haleakalā, this could be just another humble field in Europe...if it weren’t for the gigantic lava rock.

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Continuing west; over hill and under tree - mountains reach down to the deep, calm blue of the Pacific.

The usual mix of bright sun and low clouds always makes for interesting light in the myriad layers of the West Maui Mountains, as seen here from Waihee Ridge on the extreme northwest side of the island.

The view from halfway up Haleakalā, looking across the waist of the hourglass filled with endless sugar cane, belies the scale of the West Maui Mountains.

A lone surfer unknowingly demonstrates the poetry of our own insignificance, surrounded by the grand scale and beauty of the natural world. .

A small family finds a perfectly secluded surf spot, far off the beaten path on the extreme west side of Maui near Kapalua - neighboring island Moloka’i rising faintly across the ocean in the distance.

To reach certain views, such as this one from Maui’s western shore, sometimes requires one to climb down treacherously craggy cliff-sides, dig toes into a crevice in the rock, and hang precipitously over the edge - not exactly a recommendation, but it seems extra pretty this way.

It was good to be back in the tropical jungle! I was determined and motivated. It made this trip much easier having my truck here to move around and explore non touristy locations. Every time I had time after I was finished shooting resorts, I would head out to seek out epic locations. 

I hiked, and hiked, and hiked. The first lesson I learnt as a photographer: you really have to suffer a great amount of sunburn and soreness to find the perfect shot. When you're passionate enough though, it doesn't matter how much you carry in your backpack, how tired you are, or if you have eaten enough before a hike. It is worth it, every - time to take the long road.

I started my journey with re-visting Kaupo, probably the least touristy area on Maui, with Hana on one side and civilization on the other - with no real reason to go there unless you’ve decided to make the full circle around the island. The narrow, winding, and damaged roads on the cliff-side also make it difficult to get to; but very worth it once you see the unique atmosphere and the hidden gems it contains.

I actually remember spending a lot of time in Kaupo. Everything seemed so different than what they promote Hawaii to be. Everything was more than beaches and more than palm trees. It was more original, more local, more traditional. 

It was filled up with little ranches ran by local Hawaiians. This gate was mounted in between two lava rock walls. 

I did think it would make a good location for a self portrait to send Christina - however, I never did, but she did find it on her own after 5 years of marriage and sure enough it appears to be one of her favorites.  

I do feel proud of this portrait though; a local Hawaiian farmer that was very proud of one of his goats. Looking back, I wish I hadn't focused only in fine art, but had approached photojournalism as well. I met some very interesting people through my journey, but I didn't have time to spend on people photography. The landscapes were calling me. 

Wild Monkeypod Trees (or is it Albizia?) scattered amongst the rolling hills of Kaupo and below the volcanic edifice of Haleakalā never ceased to intrigue. 

Rainbows are famous throughout Maui for a reason…including looking up at the south face of Haleakalā, from one of the many gulches alongside Piilani Highway in Kaupo.

The shoreline below Kaupo on Maui’s southwestern edge is a place of stark contrasts; endless rolling fields next to the sea, a calm sea that belies the ominous thundering of the rocks, and a burning sky after sunset that already surrendered the land over to a cool dusk.

Ranging from the size of a basketball to that of a small sofa, these ocean-tumbled lava rocks are indeed massive yet far lighter than they appear. Treacherous to walk on, but if done carefully, one is surrounded by the hypnotic low frequency of rumbling rocks powered with the tide - pushed far up upon the bank, and wandering back down in just in time for the next wave.

On a recent photography lecture we gave, a student asked if we would still be photographers in 10 years. To answer that question, this is a photo from this photography mission nearly that long ago - and I don’t see this changing either. Here I stand atop Kahakuloa Head, on the remote west side of Maui - this was King Kahekili of the 1700’s favorite cliff-diving spot. He rock-climbed his way up this rugged 200 meter hill and leaped into the ocean below, but merely reaching the top was right-of-passage enough for me.

While dusk falls on my truck and the meandering Kaupo roads of the island’s east side, the face of Haleakalā gets to stand in the sun a bit longer - revealing it’s ancient texture in a way only harsh evening light can.

Traveling past Kahakuloa Head always provides this enigmatic view of the great rock’s face...just begging to be climbed. Only after reaching the summit did I realize this was the location for King Kahekili’s daily morning ritual of climbing and diving 200 meters into the ocean below - according to legend, all before breakfast.

You can’t deny the character of an old fence like this, separating Kahekili Highway from the endless layers of the West Maui Mountains. One also must remember there’s probably a reason why such a fence isn’t built to look inviting. Maui may be a tourist destination, but much of it’s land is the private home of those who actually live there. It may not seem like such a big offense to trespass - what’s a few footsteps over a boundary for an epic photo; you’re only doing it once after all - but for the person whose boundaries are crossed, there’s a tourist doing this “just once” every single day.

This is what most natural beaches in Hawaii look like - black sand from lava, because that’s what the islands are made of: lava. The white sand synonymous with fancy resorts is usually imported. This is also what my hair looks like after months of photography in the ocean spray - obviously, my Irish self is also imported.

A natural long exposure - no filter, just the calmness of dusk - can only attempt to convey the feeling of peace one has after watching the sun set from the cliffs on Maui’s western coast.

The Iao Valley Needle is actually the basaltic core of a volcano, raising up 1200 feet from the crater surrounding it. If geology isn’t your thing, in the 1700’s it was at the center of one of Hawaii’s most famous battles - damming the river with bodies and causing the water to flow red. If wartime history isn’t your thing, there’s always the mythology surrounding this stone as a critical part of the, let’s say...physiology...of the Hawaiian God of the Ocean.

Long exposures of waves caressing the massive rocks and rugged cliffside of Maui’s west coast have such a calm atmosphere, that it’s hard to imagine the rugged nature of actually capturing the images against the severe wind and waves that make the water’s movement possible.

The best aspect of long exposure is revealing something that exists, but can’t be seen by the eye; massive waves crash against the craggy rocks every minute, but only by slowing down time and extending that moment can we realize the ethereal beauty created by them.

Layers upon layers of jagged volcanic edifice reach out into the turbulent ocean on Maui’s west side - the rock here seems so brittle that it breaks into geometrically sharp edges, rather than wearing down smoothly over time.

The key to shooting with a wide angle lens is getting as close as you can. The key to long exposure is active waves to provide movement in the frame. The key to logic is not being surprised with being soaking wet to the eyebrows for the long hike back.

Just a short walk down from where you are now lies Mala Ramp. It is no secret, you can actually go right up to it yourself. It was demolished by a hurricane in the 80's, but it's youth is misleading. Stretching out into the distance, it seems to call to a time much older. I was taken by this on a particularly stormy night in the harbor. Perched behind my camera and tripod, careful to hold the shutter still for what felt like hours. I was so wrapped up, I didn't even notice the huge wave approaching that would knock myself and my camera back into the shore. As serendipity would have it, that huge wave cut my camera off just in time for the perfect exposure.

Many have been lost in the toil of the Olivine Pools, but the significance of this breathtaking void is not to be lost on anyone. This was one of my favorite places to visit in Hawaii.

Although this photo may seem to be from an airplane, I was standing flat footed on the summit of Haleakalā. With the 10,000 foot elevation, dense ocean air, and trade winds to make it all happen - it’s an amazing experience to watch sunset from above the clouds.

The same sunset on Haleakalā - from the other side of the camera. Due to the aforementioned wind, my hair is also fluffier than the clouds.

Waters begin to calm as you round the northwest corner of Maui heading back towards Kapalua, with the one-lane road closely following the contours of the cliffside. Pick a spot along the way - any spot - and it’s not a bad spot to sit and reflect for a while.

See that little humanoid figure? That’s me. However, no matter how small I seem in this photo - one feels far smaller in such grand surroundings.

Cairns have been built all over the world, for all kinds of reasons, ever since prehistoric times. I stumbled across these next to the ocean, and decided to shoot them before the tide made them prehistory. That being said, cairns are not the native Hawaiian rock stacking (ahu) and many don’t take kindly to the practice (some consider it a form of graffiti) so it’s usually best to leave nature exactly as you found it.

I wasn't aware of the significant history behind the Huialoha Church as I noticed this scene on the backroad between Hana and Kaupo, but it's not hard to see why I ventured to capture it - while it has endured through many trials since it's creation in 1859, the presence of this area seems just as enigmatic as ever.

From the opposite side of the Huialoha Church, looking up towards the eastern slope of Haleakala. What could be more epic than such a tranquil spot of land, situated with an ancient volcano looming on one side and the endless blues of the Pacific on the other?

Climbing up Kahakuloa Head in Hawaii.

Great example of what you are before you're introduced to the greek cuisine. Other than that, it was extremely warm and unbearable.

Standing on a ridge in, well...Waihee Ridge. It’s a nice ridge.

One last ray of sunlight, piercing through a crack in Waihee Ridge, illuminates the valley before a very dark (but interesting) hike back.

Rolling mist and low clouds in the West Maui Mountains provide an incredible atmosphere; it may not be Kauai during the filming of Jurrasic Park, but that same iconic aesthetic is definitely present.

Great big valley carved out of the West Mountains...little bitty waterfall doing all the work.

Low clouds? Sharp peaks? Lush greens? Must be Iao Valley.

Honolua Bay is not a huge area, but what it lacks in size it makes up for with #1: epic jungle atmosphere to fulfill your Tarzan / Jungle Book / Fern Gully fantasies.

#2: gorgeous ocean views, right on the other side...beware of falling coconuts though.

#3: free roaming chickens, right next to the surf. That’s right. Surf Chickens.

Some of you have asked us on our Instagram which camera system I used for the Hawaii series. It dates back six years, when we were still shooting with the Nikon system. I was using the venerable D700 with the classic 14-24mm 2.8 and 70-200mm 2.8 lenses, as my preferred perspective was at both extremes. Looking back, it is so interesting to note the evolution in technique, equipment, and philosophy in the way I approach my work.

After the Hawaii series, we will be presenting another old body of work from Greece; a time period when I became obsessed with stitching panoramas. In hindsight, creating 400+ megapixel images in this way was but a stepping stone to true large format photography; the tedium, complexity, and time factor of doing this with any movement in the scene isn’t a sustainable practice in my opinion. These were still produced with the Nikon system, although upgraded to the D800 when it came out. The Nodal Ninja M1 was the gimbal system of choice for the stitching process. I also moved to the Really Right Stuff TVC-45 beast of a tripod, instead of the decent but relatively cumbersome wooden Berlebach I used in Hawaii.

Re-visiting Mala during a beautiful sunset, watching the local kids fish off the end of the broken pier. Skies so often take up half of our image space and set the tone of the photo, it makes one wonder if a meteorology major might be in order?

Remember those sand toys that let you “paint” by mixing the different colors? This beach just off the Road to Hana is a really big version of that, shifting it’s pattern with every breaking wave.

It can be painful for an artist to look back at old work like this; knowing what could be done differently with better equipment and greater skill…however if that isn’t the case, where is one’s growth?

The West Maui Mountains, as seen from eye-level across the island's hourglass in upcountry Kula.

While reaching (once again) the summit of Kahakuloa Head, my camera totally fell out of my bag, rolled UP the cliff, and must have bounced on something to release the shutter - just imagine my surprise to find this in the stack of images from the day!

Sunset over the cliffs on Maui's western shore is a very peaceful experience...unless you're literally hanging over the edge of said cliff trying to capture it, that is.

This is a long exposure, so it looks much brighter than the near-darkness one experiences in person at night with a new moon and no other source of light on this side of the island - for instance, the person driving the car probably can’t see with only headlights just how perilously close to the cliff’s edge the Kahekili Highway tends to wander. I cannot express enough how much this trip taught me about photography through all my different experiments.

I'm a lover of panoramas, or wide frame formats; you can use them on landscapes, portraits, or even detail shots. They give a cinematic feel to them. This picture always presented death versus life, or evil versus good to me. Who wins, is how the individual decides for himself.

During my trip, I spent a lot of time next to the ocean contemplating about my future as a photographer, if there is a future, or if I would be stuck shooting hotels for a living while the Fine Art career slowly faded away in the background. In the meantime, I was thankful to all my worries to escape in confinement in one single email every evening to my wife, and wake up every morning with one single email back from her.

And sure enough, I was accepted into a Fine Art gallery. "Sargent's Fine Art Gallery" in Lahaina, close to Peter Lik's gallery. My excitement and happiness was immense! I could hardly believe it. I didn't even have a plethora of portfolio yet, but something was starting to move forward - a very big step was taken. 

My “Bamboo” print, as well as “Mala”, and “Olivine” sold numerous times as Limited Edition prints on my very first gallery showing in Hawaii, at a $2,000 price point.

I continued with a determined mind to photograph more exquisite locations. I didn't have much time left in Hawaii, so I tried to make the best out of the last days. I started stepping outside my comfort zone, hanging from dangerous cliff sides in order to get a shot. It was another form of freedom and maybe naivety to some, that was truly addicting and fulfilling. 

This is the last photo of my old series in Hawaii that I will be posting - plans are to go back next year with far superior equipment and a lot more knowledge. It was extremely interesting to go through those old files and realize how much things have changed; how much you can grow as a person and as a photographer within 6 fast years. I strongly recommend looking back to see for yourself just how far you’ve come; it is extremely educational - and motivating.

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My trip in Hawaii was over. It was more than I had hoped for it to be, and less than what I was planning to do in the future. It was a wonderful start for me, and I couldn't wait to work with my very first gallery, present my very first portfolio and see where all this takes me. However I was ready to fly back and meet my other half, and my now photography partner. 

 

If there is anything that I learnt from this trip; is that you never know where a journey might take you. You don't know how much you can achieve until you give everything you have and really work hard on it. Do not underestimate your talent or yourself; you can learn fast, fail fast, succeed fast - anything is possible, but you have to believe in yourself to do anything at all. I sold many limited edition prints at the Gallery's show opening, priced at $2,000 a piece - more than anything, it made me hopeful for the future, that is indeed possible. 

I have grown very much since then, so has my art and technique of shooting or editing; but it is also important to always look back and learn to correct yourself in every aspect. 

Until next time, 

 
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