Photo Safari Hawaii
Story and (amateur) Images by Marcus Maraih - Editor. Follow Marcus Maraih on Google
"Dammit Jim I'm a writer not a photographer!" That's what I told myself after booking the Photo Safari Hawaii Oahu Photo Eco-Tour. While my name's not Jim* the rest of that statement is indeed true. Although, like many of you I too feel I have an eye for it and if given enough time and the right equipment they would one day compare my work to the likes of Steve McCurry or Clark Little.
I'm sure every photography workshop instructor in the world has heard that ("I have an eye for it") from neophytes signing up for their 5 day course. Except I didn't have 5 days. I had one four hour afternoon with guide Lisa Hornak of Brian Ross’s Photo Safari Hawaii. If they don't one day whisper my name in the same breath as McCurry or Little I can only blame my own self imposed time constraints of this most recent jaunt through the island. If they do indeed whisper my name accordingly, you can thank my guide for exercising patience and expert parental guidance as I fumbled to figure out the settings of my own camera before the sun set on my Oahu Light Chaser Half Day Photo Eco-Tour. Lisa is a ridiculously well traveled photo journalist that comes with both National Geographic cred and portfolio that includes celebrity shoots of the likes of George Clooney, Tom Hanks, and the Pope. No big deal.
I was swept up from my resort condo lobby right on schedule and into the comforts of a luxury SUV. After exchanging pleasantries with Lisa we made our way to the first stop as the hot midday sun blasted the climbing road towards the Bamboo Forest in Manoa. My first instinct (as a writer) was to snap as many photos along the way as possible, documenting each step so I could refer to the images as nothing more than notes to be ushered into words back at the hotel. But then I remembered why I was here. It's so very cliché to even entertain the whole "stop and smell the roses" concept but my guide told me to do so without saying a word. Pointing out the island's beauty and how the sun's digressing position altered the appearance of it all at every turn she expertly slipped in and out of her role as an eco-tour guide and a photography teacher, creating a perfect balance so that my restless nature never had the opportunity to express itself. Exiting the vehicle at our first stop Lisa dropped the Latin definition of photography on me "Photo is defined as ‘light’ and graph as ‘writing’ thus the act of photography is essentially ‘writing with light’". If this photo eco-tour didn't yet have me at "hello" it did now.
We entered the slippery mud caked path of the Manoa Valley rainforest. My instincts from an hour ago would have had my eyes to the ground to mind my step but already my guide's tutelage diverted my perspective to more pressing matters - the way the sun's rays punctured holes through the lush canopy above. We walked, gazing upwards, noting the way the moving light altered the earth tones of leafy green, khaki and brown when suddenly the first shoot of bamboo appeared, followed by another, then another, until I realized we were in the thick of it. Within the crisscrossed stacks of invasive (not endemic to the island) bamboo I had expected a more detailed lesson to begin. Instead I was instructed to pause our banter and absorb the scene on my own, taking in what I had learned thus far and interpret what I saw with ALL of my senses, and my camera. There was no awkward silence between me and my guide which up until this point exchanged dialogue faster than a Tarantino script, only a chirping forest and a succession of sweet shutter sounds as we both photographed lights and shadows.
At the second major point of interest, the Nu'uanu Pali Lookout, thick clouds awaited us as they normally do around this windward peak facing the Koolau mountain range. I began to see the Photo Safari Hawaii script unfold. By understanding the idiosyncratic nature of the weather as it applies to each part of the island, Photo Safari Hawaii naturally segues from scene to scene where they can impart their knowledge of capturing images against a backdrop of varying levels of natural light. What better collaboration can one find for a photo eco-tour than one that pairs dramatic landscapes with equally dramatic weather patterns while chasing the movement of the sun? Brilliant. While tour buses beside our parked vehicle directed their inhabitants to stand where King Kamehameha I "united" the Hawaiian Islands by tossing his adversaries from the ledge, we walked to less charted territory down the slope and continued the lesson there, where Kamehameha's opposers were already in mid-descent.
Reading my mind, or perhaps sharing my need for sustenance, Lisa treated us to a stop at Sweet Home Waiamanalo, an eclectic and sustainable cafe on Kalanianaole Highway that has a Guy Fieri's stamp of approval on the wall behind the counter. With a couple of absurdly refreshing iced teas in hand and a shared coconut mochi square we noted the sun as if it had one chastising brow raised, reminding us that it would soon be gone. Light Chaser half Day Photo Eco-Tour indeed. Off to our final stop - Dragon's Nostrils.
I had hiked up Makapu'u Point on many occasions while frequently noting the locals poking around the tide pools at the base of its black volcanic scaled slopes. I had assumed there was a trail down by the sea that led them there but when Lisa pulled me from the comfortable trail downward towards the sharp post-apocalyptic declivity I was elated. She had taken note of my experience with the area and repertoire for preferring off-the-grid adventure and customized the photo eco-tour on the spot. Happily exhausted at the base Lisa directed me to stand steady between two fissures punched into the pitch black surface and wait. As if Photo Safari Hawaii had some sort of time slot deal with whatever creature lay beneath the scorched earth's crust, a deep bellowing conch-like roar accompanied by warm jet streaming air shot through the pair of apertures on cue, lifting my t-shirt like up like Marilyn Monroe's dress in The Seven Year Itch. My new instinct to grab for a camera took over until I blushingly realized it was a fruitless endeavor. Lisa smiled understanding my attempt to capture the moment with a photograph even though it was a pure audio experience. Mission accomplished, she must have thought.
The sun's fall behind the Pacific Ocean almost beat us before we scrambled back to the purposed trail. On the way back to the SUV we revisited various core concepts of photography as it related to the past four hours. I immediately realized that what I learned most from the Photo Safari Tour was that I in fact did not learn, more than I did become conscious of every step that my mind's eye took when looking at a subject and all that surrounded it. When I now peered at Makapu'u's view of Koko Head Crater before the night sky stole it away, I no longer saw just Koko Head Crater. I saw how Kalanianaole highway drew a line towards it, how the distant residential lights of Hawaii Kai starlit the darkened base, and how the cacti only feet away from me placed the whole vision in perspective. Photo Safari Hawaii will admit its mission is to forever change the way their clientele considers a scene. They are guilty of accomplishing exactly that and participants are better for it.
As far as me, the writer, is concerned, I'm comfortable with the fact that I'm no McCurry or Little. It turns out us photographers and writers aren't so different after all. I write with letters and a keystroke and they write with a lights and a lens and the result is the same every time – a uniquely personal and completely subjective experience.
For more information about Photo Safari Hawaii and their customizable Oahu photo eco-tour packages please visit our Oahu activities page for Photo Safari Hawaii.
*re: Jim - trekkie reference
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