Photo Safari – Hunting for Good Photography in Hawaii

December 15, 2011 6 Comments »

photo workshop big island hawaii

A turtle captured on my Photo Safari

A familiar diesel idle echoed through my ears as the big safari truck pulled up next to me and my little rental car. This truck was my transport to go on safari on the Big Island of Hawaii. However I wasn’t searching for wild game, instead I was searching for good photography.

Photo Safari Hawaii was immediately of interest to me when I started researching my trip to the Big Island. They offer private photo ecotours all over the Hawaiian Islands, creating a custom experience for each client. The Photo Safari guides are experts in their knowledge of the islands as well as photography of the islands. The tour provided an insiders guide to the best places to shoot, as well as fine art photography exercises to enhance your photography.

A Photo Workshop Refresher With a Local

Even though I have been doing photography for a while now, I always think it’s good to try to improve your skills and get refreshers. I get into bad habits, I get lazy, and I was hoping that this Photo Safari experience would help me brush up on my skills as well as take me to some hidden places on the island. I chose to do the Big Island Light Chaser ½ day tour.

photo workshop big island hawaii

Kohala Coast – chasing the light

Sean picked me up in the early afternoon and we went out to shoot the Kohala Coast and ‘catch’ sunset pictures. Sean clearly loved the Big Island, he came here 10 years prior from the mainland and had never been back! His love was evident also in the amount of knowledge he had about the Big Island. He rattled off stories and facts as I enjoyed the view and asked questions. It was nice to let someone else drive me for once and allow me to look for shots . The whole week I had been juggling the beauty of having complete control of my journey and being able to stop where-ever I saw a great shot, with having to watch the road and figure out where I was going!

Our first stop was the Pu’ukohola Heiau; a sacred rock structure peered out over the Kohala Coast. We stepped out of the truck and I secured my camera and lenses while Sean brought a little laminated notebook full of lessons to help me think about photography in different ways.

photo workshop big island hawaii

Kohala Coast

Sean and I had already talked about my experience as a photographer, but I told him that I wanted to experience the tour as his normal student would experience it. Typically their customers carried SLRs and were beginners or enthusiasts, but he did say that many clients also come with point and shoot cameras and more frequently there are people who simply show up with a mobile phone! He mainly focused on the beginning steps of photography and how we see and process light. It’s a great place to start when it comes to photography, as it’s important to understand the types of light and how our brain processes them.

We wandered along the paths and Sean provided a nice mix of history and photography information. He would ask questions about aspects of light and composition and then show examples from his book. Next he would challenge me to find examples of what we were speaking about and shoot them. We didn’t get into the nitty gritty of aperture and shutter speeds very much, yet I know we could have went there had I wanted to.

Ending with a Hawaii Sunset

We changed a bit of our itinerary based on the weather on the mountain; the heavy cloud cover made us stick to the coast for our sunset shots. We made 3 or 4 more stops after the Pu’ukohola Heiau; a mix of beaches and resorts to practice the various parts of composition. We ended on a secluded little stretch of beach where the sun glistened off the still tide pools; a perfect location for sunset. I thought to myself, I doubt I would have found this place on my own.

Big Island Beach

There’s plenty of inviting beaches along the Kohala Coast

Sean spotted a big sea turtle resting on the rocks so we went over as close as we possibly could to get the shot. He advised me on the lighting conditions and I was able to capture the big creature without disturbing it.

We stayed until the sun went down shooting away experimenting with different settings and angles. My light finally disappeared and therefore my photo paintbrush disappeared with it. I packed up my camera and Sean drove me back to my cottage. On the way back I was able to get some great advice on other places to visit for continued photography practice during my time on the Big Island.

photo workshop big island hawaii

Sunset on the Big Island

The Good:
• They pick you up anywhere on the island in a large, comfortable truck with plenty of room for equipment
• You get a ton of information about the island, the history, and the must see places.
• It did reinforce the basics of photography for me and really did get me to think about contrast and light more before I took the shot instead of just dealing with the situation in post –processing. I thought the exercises were effective at getting you grasp the concepts in a non-technical way.
• Even though my experience focused on basics of composition for beginners with light, contrast, lines, and points, the tour has the ability to be more advanced and cover aspects of more technical manual settings too.
• They have cameras you can use – but you do have to rent them as a separate charge. Same for underwater casings and any other specialized equipment.
• They operate on all of the islands and they offer multiday workshops with focus on underwater photography.

The Could Be Better:
• Since this is a half day tour, there is no real review process of what you shot and discussion of what worked and didn’t work. However that type of portfolio review is included in the longer workshop tours.
• The cost is prohibitive for a solo traveler – $550 for 4 hours. This is an investment in your skills, not just a fluff tour, and the price reflects it. The downside about the prices is that it is a private tour and therefore you can’t really be combined with other people if the truck isn’t full. However, if you are traveling with companions and you organize it as a group – then you can fit up to 5 people in the truck and then the cost is reasonable for such a tour. So the key is to find people to go with you and help reduce the cost!
• The website provides information about the tours, but you will likely really have to contact them personally to get additional info that you need regarding details of the tour and the photo instruction. I didn’t find the website very informative for the price of the tours.  On tours with higher price points, I do believe more information is better than less. In addition, there are not many images or reviews of the tours listed on the site. I personally think that a photography business like this should be showing off the great images that their clients have taken, but, what can I say, I’m picky about websites!

Would I recommend it?

I love this concept, especially for the islands of Hawaii where everywhere you look is begging to be photographed! The key is that it is a private tour – so it can be tailored to your needs, and that’s what you are paying for ultimately.
I would recommend this tour for the person who:
• Really wants to invest in learning about the basics of photography
• Someone who wants to learn how to get off of auto mode and start to learn about the more technical side of shooting
• Has a few companions that want to also learn about photography in order to bring down the cost a bit
• The super serious photographer who wants access to the best locations on the island but doesn’t have time to research them on their own.
• Someone interested specifically in underwater photography as they have a special workshop for underwater shooting

To get more information or to book a tour check out
Photo Safari Hawaii –

Disclosure: Photo Safari Hawaii hosted my ½ day Light Chaser tour. However, all of the opinions expressed here are my own – as you know how I love to speak my mind!

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