Snapshots of Hawaii

Photo Safari Hawaii helps clients bring the islands into focus By: Marty Wentzel
Hawaii’s diverse natural landscapes and settings provide an ideal backdrop for Photo Safari Hawaii tour participants to capture lasting memories and...
Hawaii’s diverse natural landscapes and settings provide an ideal backdrop for Photo Safari Hawaii tour participants to capture lasting memories and images. // © 2010 Brian Ross/Photo Safari Hawaii

The Details

Photo Safari Hawaii

Half-day trips start at $350 per vehicle; full-day excursions start at $850 per vehicle. Vehicles can carry up to six people. Commission: 15 percent.
Hawaii offers visitors such a wealth of activities that even the most creative travel agents sometimes have a hard time suggesting what to do first. For them, I offer this suggestion: Right off the bat, send your clients on a tour with Photo Safari Hawaii.

The brainchild of Brian Ross, Photo Safari Hawaii takes clients on off-the-beaten-path excursions to some of Hawaii’s most scenic spots around the islands and helps them capture the beauty of the 50th state in photographs. If visitors go on one of these outings at the beginning of their vacation, they can practice what they learned throughout their trip and create more meaningful and artistic photographic memories.

Ross, who led his first tour in 2008, said the birth of the company was a result of his desire to help visitors get creative while protecting the environment. Low-impact activities like photography help the islands thrive and remain healthy, he said. 

“By bringing out small groups of two to five people, we can make a connection with the environment while demonstrating reverence for the land,” said Ross. “We draw people into nature and create an experience through the lens of the camera without harming the landscape.”

More than just a scenic tour, Photo Safari Hawaii carries an educational component that clients can draw from throughout their vacation — and on future trips. During my outing, Ross explained how light affects the look of a place. He helped me examine shadows, patterns, lines, textures and taught me how to see my surroundings in an inspiring new way. At the end of our tour, Ross talked about famed nature artist Andy Goldsworthy, who assembles and photographs temporal works of art in the great outdoors. Each person created a Goldsworthy-style masterpiece using leaves, stones, sticks and other elements; then, we took pictures of our creations before they disappeared back into the landscape.

Participants can either use their own equipment or rent a camera from Ross. Be forewarned, however: the latter can lead to lens lust. I used one of his cameras and, by the end of the tour, I was ready to upgrade my own equipment.

Photo Safari Hawaii offers completely customizable trips on Maui, Oahu, Kauai and Hawaii’s Big Island.

“Kauai is our most popular island for tours, with the Big Island second in demand,” said Ross, “but every island has its own personality.”

Participants ride in raised four-wheel-drive vehicles that can meander off the road, taking clients to places they might not otherwise find on their own. Tour guides — all of whom have degrees in photography or design — talk about Hawaiian traditions and the history and culture of the surrounding locales.

On Maui, some of the most popular and striking spots for photo safaris include Honolua Bay near Kapalua, to the north; and Hana, on the east side of the island. On Kauai, a great place for sunrise photography is Mahalepu Beach, on the south side of the island. The dramatic landscapes of Kilauea volcano make for a unique photo excursion on Hawaii’s Big Island, while Oahu’s distinctive North Shore and jaw-dropping windward coastline are exceptionally picturesque settings. Tours can last a few hours, a full day or even two days, depending on the client’s interest.

Photo Safari Hawaii provides snacks and beverages for all clients. On full-day adventures, guides introduce them to Hawaii-specific food stops, like mom-and-pop eateries or food trucks, for a better flavor of the island. Along with leisure travelers, Ross sees his tours as a perfect activity for the corporate market.

“It’s a great ice breaker and networking tool,” he said. “Later, the group can gather for a culminating slide show of everyone’s work.”

About 50 percent of Ross’ clients are complete novices to photography, so his instruction is generally not very technical.

“While everyone on the tour does the same exercises and accepts the same challenges, everyone has a different vision and everyone gets a different result,” said Ross. “No matter what your skill level, it’s a fun way to explore the islands. It’s like going on a scavenger hunt to find extraordinary places to photograph from any which way.”
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