“Hawaii has the ability to bring people together in an environment of trust, positive energy, and warmth. Within this environment interactions occur that catalyze the beginnings of great things.” ~ Burt Lum
The journey of life is amazing. From thinking I’d never in my lifetime see Hawaii, to the serendipitous turn of events that led me there. Maui rejuvenated my soul—forever imprinting on my heart the spirit and soul of Aloha. On the heels of returning from my first adventure to Maui, I was already planning to return a month later for the Tropical Island Boot Camp for Creative Photography by photographer Randy Jay Braun.
I was given the opportunity to work as staff and teach a class on natural light portrait techniques, joining my dear friend Russell Brown and new friend Aubrey Hord. Russell Brown is the Senior Creative Director for Adobe and is best known for his quirky and iconic personality. He is the face of Adobe Photoshop and has a unique talent for teaching complicated techniques in an easy to understand and often fun way. Spending a week with Russell is a rare and extraordinary opportunity to learn from a master of creativity and Photoshop. I had never met Aubrey, but after reading about her career accomplishments, I was honored to be amongst these individuals.
Sweet Island Breezy by Nesian Nine seemed to play on the radio every morning on my first trip to Maui. I’d wake up just before sunrise, make a cup of coffee and drive to the beach, joining the locals as they rushed to work before the tourists woke up. Cool and breezy, quiet with the energy of the approaching sun. Memories that are forever embodied in that song. To this day, whenever I hear that song, I am taken back to that moment.
This trip was different. An opportunity to share my passion with a group of photographers and hang out on Maui, doing nothing but photography all day and all night. Something that would drive my wife crazy. But for me, it was a dream come true. No family, no phone calls, no emails… just a complete immersion into the creative process of photography.
Randy Jay Braun’s studio is located in Upcountry Maui, Makawao Town, to be specific. It’s a beautiful retail store filled with images and art that reflect Randy’s passion for Hawai’i and Hawaiian culture. From breathtaking scenics of beaches and waterfalls to iconic images of hula kahiko, the ancient Hawai’i dance that was performed before the influence of Western culture. Randy has spent decades walking the islands of Hawai’i and knows every inch of Maui. A week with him was a rare opportunity to gain access to hidden, off the beaten path locations— being placed in the right location, at the right time, for the perfect shot. The group of people who gathered for this workshop were eclectic and fascinating. Skill sets that ranged from beginner to seasoned workshop junkies. All of us united by a passion for photography and the opportunity to spend a week in paradise immersed in the spectacular beauty and spirit of Hawai’i.
It’s taken me a year to write about the workshop simply because of the impact that week had on my life. From the relationships that were forged to the overwhelming number of images I created. It was called Boot Camp because that’s literally the experience. All of us stayed in one building, a dorm at Seabury Hall, a private school in Makawao. I was literally up before dawn every morning, helping make preparations for the day. Every morning there were roosters crowing, the shuffle of flip flops on tile and the unmistakable sound of an old, wooden screen door squeaking open and slamming shut.
After breakfast, we’d all gather and make our lunches, slather on sun screen and make our way to vans. The itinerary was brutal and not for the weak of heart. Randy Jay Braun is a high energy person and was excited to share his love of Maui and photography. A demanding schedule for five days. Tropical Island Boot Camp Detailed Daily Itinerary. In fact, the schedule was also the bane of the workshop. Many times, we wanted to spend more time shooting, but we had a schedule to keep. Towards the end of the workshop, we all lovingly referred to the schedule as Randy’s Death March. We had classroom time with Russell and wonderful evening dinners. Nearly every night ended with us sitting in a circle sharing the experiences of the day well into the night. Morning always came too quickly.
At the last minute, Randy decided to include a native Hawaiian on staff. Someone who could teach us about the culture of the islands and answer any questions. As so often happens in life when you show up with purpose and intent, wonderful things happen. Mohalapua was the woman that showed up and easily became the highlight of the workshop. Focused, easy-going, loving, spiritual—Mohalapua embodied Hawai’i. Her laugh was infectious and always made you smile. I hugged her the first time I met her and we became fast and dear friends over the course of the week. Her teaching and influence were a big part of the life-changing aspect of this workshop for me. She was the heart and soul of the experience.
“One ‘ukulele and one soul can do a lot.” ~ Kindy Sproat
Mohalapua was our teacher, our guide and protector. She would pray for us daily for protection from evil spirits and safe passage through the forests and across sacred lands. I remember the day we hiked to the bamboo forest, above the Seven Sacred Pools on the road to Hana. The group spread out and Mohalapua and I were bringing up the rear, walking slowly, taking in the sound of the wind dancing in the bamboo. I asked her why she wasn’t taking any pictures. She said, “I haven’t been given permission yet”. That is how she walks through life, always aware and mindful of the spiritual element that eludes most of us who spend time being distracted by the noise of technology and a fast-paced life.
The joy of Mohalapua was evident when she’d unpack her handmade ukulele at night as we all gathered in our nightly circle. Randy let me use his ukulele and Mohalapua taught me a few chords. With my background as a musician, I quickly picked it up and together, we wrote a couple of songs that became a nightly ritual. All of us would go around and since a verse (Hawaiian rap, if you can imagine that) about the day’s journey. At times, I laughed so hard, I literally could not breathe. It was a healing release of joy.
When I reflect back on the experience, there are many memories that rise to the surface. The creative aspect of the workshop was not so much in the teaching, as it was in the inspiration to be creative. From Randy Jay Braun’s charismatic and inspiring passion to the workshop participants. We all learned from each other. In the end, we became Hanai Ohana (adopted family). The most important lesson for me was one of gratitude and respect for the journey of life that we all share. Being mindful and present in your life to the amazing opportunities that show up. As Mohalapua pointed out, everyone there was brought together for a reason. Those connections and relationships span a lifetime. But as wonderful as all of this was, the end of the week was grounded with the realization of the lives we’d all left behind racing upon us. Mohalapua said, bring it here, but don’t leave it here!
These pictures represent a huge departure from how I normally shot. From new techniques to subject matter. I discovered new post-processing techniques that have changed dramatically from a year ago. Constantly evolving as I find my way to realize the vision I felt when I stood there. There are literally thousands of images from that week on Maui. I could spend 5 years going through them and still not find all the beauty and meaning captured in those moments. Perhaps that is how it should be. A personal journey of an artist. A touchstone of life.
These images are not watermarked with any logos or text, but that does not mean they are free to use. Please ask first before using any photos on a personal website or any other non-commercial purpose. If you’d like to license any images for commercial purposes or would like to commission my services for a project, please contact me. Enjoy, be inspired, but please do not steal