Why You Should Have Been at MPF ’11 Last Week

Blue Sky SunsetMy review of the 2011 Maui Photo Festival and Workshops.

This time last week, I was fighting exhaustion after waking up at 2am in the morning to make my way up the top of Haleakala for the sunrise as part of a Maui Photo Festival excursion. That exhaustion stuck with me for most of the four days of sessions and events. And I relished every minute of it!

The 2011 workshops was my return to Maui after attending the inaugural event back in ’09 (check out my ’09 review if you like). And after missing last year, it felt really great to be back at it again. But let’s get down to business with this review, shall we?

Here We Go

If you were following the blog here before the event last week, you may have already read my post on the sessions I was planning to take. If you’re new to the blog (Aloha, thanks for reading) or hadn’t seen the post yet, give it a quick look. For the most part, I was able to stick to those plans without my head exploding with knowledge.

As a returning MPF attendee, I already had a pretty good idea of what to expect and how to prepare myself ahead of time, which really paid off. There’s usually one or two tough choices you have to make about conflicting breakout sessions or whether you think you’ll need a break or not, so planning that all out in advance can help elevate some (not all) of that stress. And yes, breaks are key – I found out that the hard way the first year. Just like visiting the island of Maui, there’s not enough time to see everything the first time you visit, so don’t think you have to try. With these sessions, pick the ones that you’re interested in the most, and take a break to let it all absorb, to network with other photographers, and maybe go shoot a little on your own.

And lastly, don’t forget to shoot! Yeah, those early golden hour sessions are tough for us non-morning people, but that’s why you’re there. Shoot, shoot, and shoot!

Opening Reception

The first night was great for me – mostly because I met up with some of the photographers I met two years back and have been following along with on Facebook. I also got to shake a few hands of people I had only known online and was meeting for the first time face-to-face. That’s pretty neat.

The opening night presentation was mostly focused on some of the sealife and underwater photography of Jim Tierney & Michael Sweet. The whale shots are always my favorite, although my wife is also fond of the honu as well. It was interesting hearing about the underwater whale shots, since federal law prevents you from diving in the water with those magnificent creatures. The luck quotient of shooting blind like that sort of evens itself out when you’re able to spend weeks and months out on the water during whale season – a perk in itself that made me extremely jealous.

Day One Golden Hour

Behind the ScenesThe first golden hour shoot was for Natural Light Portraits with Judy Host and Lou Freeman. And right away, I was enlightened by a few points:

  • As a photographer, you’re not allowed to complain about waking up before sunrise to do a photo shoot – especially when you’re working with a model that has to get up even early than you and has to look gorgeous on top of it. Better suck it up.
  • I may very well be the master of “model blinking” portraits. Better start using that continuous drive mode.

Kidding aside, other than staking out my spot in the sand along with 20 other photographers, it was a fun shoot. It was also the first time I was shooting a model and not one of my family members or friends, so that had a different feel to it for me. Our model, Danielle, was a real trooper, and while I’m still going through some of the photos from that shoot, here are a few I can share with you now.

Beach Portrait

Portrait Close-Up

White Water Stroll

To wrap up my thoughts on the morning shoot, I have to say it was fun working with natural light again since I’ve been teaching myself studio lighting for the last month or two now. So having one less thing to worry about was good.

Thursday Keynote

The first keynote of the workshops was island photographer and artist Randy Jay Braun sharing his thoughts on the Art of Landscape. His analogy of ping-pong balls bouncing around in his head was rather intriguing, and a different take on my own situation – which is usually the too many plates spinning scenario. Anyway, it really made me considering the fact that I haven’t been putting enough focus or thought when going out and shooting landscapes. His three classifications of photographs caught my attention as well:

  • the “I was there” shot,
  • the “Oh, what a glorious sight” shot,
  • and the “OMG, I want to be right there, right now” shot.

That really put things in perspective for me, and has inspired me to retrospectively go back and look at some of the shots I feature at my Daily Maui Photo site, and review the correlation between the number of FB Likes and Comments, and retweets I get based on the classification I would give the photo.

The other part of his session that really opened my eyes was slides on emphasizing design over composition. He then proceeded to cover seven design principals and seven design elements, and then the ping pong ball analogy really started to make sense. But seeing how successful Randy has become and seeing photos of his gallery on Facebook – although I haven’t had the pleasure visiting it in person – you know he’s really on to something.

Well done, Randy.

Doors Off, Don’t Do Look Down

I had already posted on my Maui blog about how psyched I was about getting to fly doors off for the second time at this year’s event, so there wasn’t much sleep the night before. Flying with Stacy Pearsall and Andy Dunaway back in ’09 was a great experience, and prepping to go back up again was even better.

But I really don’t have to say much about how awesome an opportunity this excursion is, since a few photos will tell the story for me:

Wall of Tears

Kahakuloa Point

Sheraton Maui Resort

Cartoon Whale

Aerial Incline

Sure, it’s a little pricey, but I’m hooked. If you do get the chance to shoot during this excursion in a future Maui Photo Festival, you won’t be disappointed. Just be sure to same me a seat, yah?

Day One Sunset Shoot

The official sunset golden hour session for the festival was a Maui Swimwear shoot on the beach. But if you’d like to hear and see more about that, you’ll have to find another review.

Instead, I was traveling with my own models – my wife and our 9 month old son – so I decided to do a sunset shoot of our own.

Baby Sunset Silhoutte

My Models

Sunset Fans

Remember what I said earlier about taking breaks, not trying to do every single session, and getting out to shoot, shoot, shoot. Well, I meant it.

These shots might not have been part of the festival curriculum, but don’t forget, you’re on the single most gorgeous island in the Pacific (in my opinion, anyway). Make sure you take a few minutes to stop and enjoy it!

Day Two Golden Hour – Rise and Shine

Friday was another early morning, and I this time it was really early. I was part of the brave crew that signed up to go to the Haleakala Summit as part of the true golden hour excursion. It was my third time making the early morning drive, so I was well prepared both mentally and physically. I think I came closest to guessing the temperature when we arrived at the summit, too. A chilly 42F. Altogether now…Brrrrr.

The first year I attended the workshop, there were about 10 or 11 of us and we were treated to a mini-bus and a local tour guide driving us up to the summit to shoot. This time around, we were split up into two vehicles – with Zane driving one group and Andy and Stacy leading the other. I was with the latter, and I have more to share on that in a moment. It had a different feel to it with not driving up with a tour company, but having someone like Zane and his 30 years on the island (I think that’s what he said) and a few other professional photographers joining us, I feel it was for the better.

Onto the photos. During the ’09 Haleakala sunrise shoot, I had my mind set on a self portrait that actually came out pretty well. If you were browsing the MPF website, seen some of the signs at the event, or even picked up an issue of Maui No Ka Oi magazine last summer, you might have even seen it already. Yup, that’s me up there.

How was I planning to top that?

Well, I had another great idea for a composite shot, but that required us to have made the drive all the way up to the top most summit lookout and arriving about 30 minutes earlier. Neither happened, so that visualization still only exists in my head. But despite that, being up that high for the sunrise and getting to capture such a great moment is always an event:

Sunrise Starburst

Starburst Crater

Crater Lookout

Again, if you get the chance to sign up for the Haleakala sunrise in a future festival – or if you go on your own on vacation – it’s a great experience. Even if you’ve seen it before, no two are ever alike.

The Drive Down the Volcano

Now, for that second part I alluded to about driving with Andy and Stacy during the sunrise excursion. The fourth passenger in our vehicle was Stacy’s sister, Meggen – a registered nurse. So what, you might be thinking. Well…

About 5 minutes after leaving the summit and heading back down, we got to drive through the clouds covering the road – something I hadn’t had to do in the previous two times on Haleakala. Very cool. About 2 turns after that, we ran into a minor traffic jam caused by a bicycle accident. Turns out there was a small group riding their bikes down from the summit when one of them took a spill and was pretty banged up. Lucky for him, he was (a) wearing a helmet, that saved his life, and (b) the fourth car behind him (ours) had a nurse in it.

It only took a few moments for one of the park rangers to drive down from the summit, address the scene, and get traffic flowing again. And while the other van that Zane was leading headed back, our group stayed behind with Meggen helping until the medical team could arrive. All told, the four of us were pulled over along the side of the road for about 45 minutes until help arrived.

Now, one could have understood getting a little frustrated and dwelling on what they were missing out on by being stuck on the mountain. But keep in mind, I was doing much better than the guy that cracked his helmet into two pieces, and (again) I was on Maui. Just being up that high on the volcano, looking down at the valley, breathing in the fresh, but chilly air, and not having to rush to another workshop session or race to my laptop to edit photos was a very welcome change of pace. At least for me, it was one of the put-things-in-perspective moments.

Shooting Photographing Children

Back at the workshops, it was time for me to attend another one of Judy Host’s sessions. This time, it was Photographing Children of All Ages.

Now, I don’t really see myself photographing children of all ages just yet, but seeing as our own little guy will eventually be all of the ages Judy covered in her workshop, I figured it was worth attending. The classroom portion of the session consisted of a slideshow of Judy’s favorite images and the thought process behind them, and the second half was going out and shooting a few volunteer children ourselves.

One of the things that Judy emphasized in her portraits was not having the children look like they were being posed. And in some cases, it was more of a matter of letting them do their own thing and just being there to capture the moment. That resonated with me because I have been trying to do a combination of both with our son, trying to get a few candid shots whenever I can.

The flipside, however, was when we had the chance to shoot the volunteer family as part of the workshop, they were posing for the most part. A few photographers that submitted photos managed to get images of the children between poses, but I imagine there’s not much you can do for 25 photographers trying to shoot “candids” of three young sisters.

Switching Roles

In addition to the three young sisters that were modeling as part of Judy’s session, there was also a mother and her newborn daughter there to pose as well. In fact, it was actually one of our friends that we met back in ’09 and was also a photographer as well. In fact (again), she actually shot vacation portraits for my wife and I pack in ’09.

We had kept in touch on Facebook over the last two years, and there was a brief period that her and my wife were both pregnant at the same time. Since her daughter was born, we’d been admiring her adorable baby photos on Facebook, but this time I had the chance to photograph mama and baby myself.

Baby Shaka

I enjoyed the irony that I was shooting portraits of the photographer that took our portraits two years ago. Seeing that we were friends with her and her husband, and that she certainly knows her way around the digital darkroom, I put the raw images I shot during that session on a thumb drive and passed them on so she could keep and edit any of the ones she liked. Yet another reason why it’s so cool to meet and network with other photographers on Maui during these workshops – you might actually get to watch their children grow up. 🙂

It’s Hula Time

Now, onto the signature event of the Maui Photo Festival and Workshops – the Quintessential Hawaiian Photo Shoot: Hula on the Beach at Sunset led by none other than Randy Jay Braun. It was this same event back in ’09 where I first started my hand at shooting portraits, and honestly surprised myself a little at the time. I was a little excited about getting to do this session again, now that I had a little more experience with portraiture.

I don’t recall all the details from the ’09 session, but the shoot started at 5pm, which felt a little too early. For starters, the light is still pretty harsh that early in the evening, so to compensate, Randy and team brought all the dancers in the shade at the nearby beach park. That worked great for the lighting, but it also meant that all the photographers were crammed in and bumping shoulders (and random speedlights) at the same time. After about 5 minutes, I started to get a little turned off by the crowd and spotted another photographer that had already retreated further down the beach and was shooting the unusually large waves that were crashing along the shore.

Again, that’s another great thing about these workshops – if something isn’t working out for you, you can make it your own!

I spent about 20 minutes shooting and dodging the waves with Diane – who was attending the workshops from neighboring Oahu. It was very enjoyable to talk story with other photographers and building those relationships. Not something you really see advertised for workshops like this, but if you take a moment to introduce yourself and make a few new friends, you’ll certainly be rewarded for it.

Later in the hula shoot as the sun started to set, the groups started to break up and I did manage to get a few shots of my own. Here was the one I liked the most:

Old Hawaii

I think for only taking a handful of shots during the session, coming away with an image like that is definitely a victory.

Yet Another Maui Sunset

While the other photographers were framing their sunset shots with hula dancers during Randy’s session, I was off on my own looking to capture the sunset from a different perspective.

'Ohana Sunset

Sky Candy

Night Two Presentation – Maui No Ka Oi

Even though I had been up since 2am for the Haleakala excursion and hadn’t had the luxury of napping like my son had been doing, I still wanted to attend the Maui No Ka Oi magazine presentation to cap off the evening. After all, you can always sleep on the plane home, right?

It was pretty neat having the editor, art director, and one of the photographers from the magazine (of which we’ve been long time subscribers) there to talk to us. It was interesting to here some of the design aspects that the art director looks for when choosing images for covers and placement in articles and spreads. I was also extremely envious when the photographer in the presentation mentioned he had done over 100 helicopter shoots. Holy crap, I could only dream of having a job like that and the imagery that I could be collecting with even a fraction of those shoots.

All told, it was a nice end to the evening.

Day Three Golden Hour

If you’re still reading this by now, bless your heart. I really never imagined this post would get so long. Mahalo!

Anyway, one of the benefits of waking up to drive up the volcano is that no matter what time you wake up the following day, it still feels like sleeping in. 😛

That was the case when we headed down to the beach on Saturday at around 6am to shoot some action shots of local skim boarders riding those particularly large waves I mentioned earlier. There was only about 15 of us or so, and a lot of beach to share – which was refreshing. Also, the air was so cool and still that early, which felt good after all the hours out at sunset this trip.

At first, I started cranking up the shutter speed to get one of those freeze action shots of the young guy about 2 feet from his board, and that took all about 10 minutes to capture. After that, I started going for something along the lines of a motion blur shot by slowing down the shutter and tracking him across the water as I made the exposure. That took a little bit longer to master, but it was a fun pursuit.

After about a half hour, I had a few shots like the one below – this one being the better of them – and decided to quit while I was ahead and make my way back to the hotel for a little breakfast with the Mrs.

Wave Rider

Speaking of motion blur, it’s usually about this time where you start to feel like everything you’ve been attending so far has gone by way too fast and you can’t believe it all ends the next morning. There’s also that contest deadline looking at 8pm that day, and you notice the attendees break into two camps – the ones that start to frantically edit their shots and the ones that start to relax and take in the rest of the day’s session. Fortunately for me, I fell into that second category this year.

Portfolio Review, Classroom Style

Remember before when I said I was happy to be coming back and to know what to expect during these workshops? Well, the Portfolio Review session was no exception.

I found this session extremely helpful back in ’09, and certainly had it circled on my agenda for day 3. For me, it was not only helpful to have my images critiqued and receiving honest feedback from someone that does this for a living, but it was also extremely beneficial to see images from other photographers and hear those critiques as well. Classroom style, just like it sounds.

Another change this year was the photos I was submitting for the review. Back in ’09, it was a series of landscape shots I had taken over the years up to that point. This year, it was portraits of our young son over the last few months. I complete 180 from what I doing two years ago, and something I strongly wanted advice on.

I already posted the portfolio images I submitted in this post here, but reposting a few couldn’t hurt, right?


Big Smile

I wasn’t as nervous as I was in ’09, because I personally felt I had done a good job with the images I was sharing. There were a few things I knew I wanted to improve on, but hearing those tips re-enforced from a professional was great. Plus, I wanted to get an objective opinion on these shots, because the friends and family members I’ve shared these with are more concerned about how cute our son is rather than the shot itself. I guess I can’t blame them, he is pretty adorable.

Final Presentation – Personal Projects

Aside from those feelings of “I can’t believe this is the final presentation already,” I couldn’t have imagined a better final session than the Personal Projects presentation by Stacy Pearsall to close things out. Hearing her story behind the Veteran Portraits project not only put things into a different perspective, but also was eye opening on how doing something for yourself and others always has a chance of growing into something you couldn’t have imagined.

While I have had my own personal projects in the last year or so – none of which are well documented here at the site or of the magnitude of what Stacy is doing – it does have me thinking of different ways to keep me focused, keep me shooting, and looking for ways to help others all at the same time. Now, if you’re running a workshop like this one and at least one photographer is walking away from the final session with thoughts like that in their mind – you’re doing something right, for sure.

The Awards Ceremony

When all the sessions an workshops are all said and done, the final morning and the awards ceremony is always fairly laid back. Personally, I try not to dwell on the fact that it’s time to check out of the hotel in 2 hours and have to head back home, but more on seeing the great images from all the photographers shot this week, getting to see faces and new friends one last time, and reflecting on all the images I get to work with when I get home. Okay, that last one might seem daunting at times, but it helps you through those “I miss Maui” moments.

I certainly don’t envy the job of the judges for these types of contests when you have such talent all in one room and images from all sorts of a categories. I do like the fact they added an honorable mention award to the mix (don’t remember seeing that in ’09) for the different categories – no doubt a sign of how difficult their choices are to make. But at the end, they do come up with their favorites from the bunch, and they’ve already put them into a slideshow that I’m able to share below:

Final Thoughts

I imagine I don’t have to say much more than I have already, but it should be pretty clear that I’m a huge fan of these workshops. I admittedly haven’t attended too many other workshops to have a strong comparison to make, but I have visited Maui half a dozen times now, and when it comes to locations to shoot, I’m addicted to this lovely island. Getting to combine my passion for photography and my admiration of Maui is a perfect pair, and if you haven’t had the experience of seeing Maui for yourself, it’s well worth the trip.

There are so many people that put their heart and soul into this event all year round, and I’d love to name them all right here. But I’m going to save that for another post, since they really deserved to be called out separately and not at the end of a long review like this one.

As they say in Hawaii…
Mahalo Hui Loa, and A Hui Hou!

Which means…Thank you very much, and see you again soon!

And that’s really what sums up these workshops for me. I’m so grateful to be able to attend and I can’t ever wait for the next one to come around again.

And thank you for reading through this entire review, which I hope you have found helpful if you had not yet attended one of these workshops and are considering attending next year. If you were at this year’s event and wanted to share your own opinions, links, photos, you name it, please fire away at the comments below and on Facebook. The more feedback and suggestions, the better.

Aloha for now,
– Kris

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  1. Dawn Eshelman September 3, 2011 at 6:47 am #

    Very nice article!

    Not sure if I got to meet you or not…but have certainly enjoyed your images, and reading this review! Hope to see you next year!


  2. Andy Beal September 3, 2011 at 9:57 am #

    Awesome recap of a great event. It was great to finally meet you, Cindy, and Christian.

    Congrats again on winning the best Aerial shot!

  3. Mike Neal September 3, 2011 at 11:38 am #

    Yeah Kris, nice seeing you and your lovely family this year. Great review, love your “take” on Maui. See ya in cyberspace and next time you’re here 🙂

  4. Danny Ta September 3, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

    After reading the whole review, I definitely need to make the trip back next year, for sure!!!

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