Travel and Editorial Photographer Susan Seubert shoots Honolulu for National Geographic Traveler

Aloha!  Last August I was assigned to photograph a story about Honolulu written by movie star/travel writer Andrew McCarthy.  This was such a fun assignment because so much of what we covered was active.  We explored places in Honolulu that are interesting and yet mostly eclipsed by Waikiki and hard core tourism, yet are part of the daily life of people who live in this sizable metropolis.  What comes to mind when thinking about Honolulu?  For me, it’s the oceanWaikiki beach is famous for it’s surfing, sand and sunbathing so that was part of our focus.  I doubt that many people choose Oahu for its hiking options, but Andrew opens the story discussing a jungle hike with soaring views of the city fronting the impossibly blue ocean.  We hiked, and photographed, the Makiki Valley trail which at one of it’s highest points terminates at a beautiful viewpoint, one I visited last year when photographing one of National Geographic Traveler’sTravelers of the Year.”  It’s a great experience to do this hike and although the trail has a good deal of elevation gain thanks to its location in the Ko’olau Mountain Range, the payoff is heading back down to the ocean for a cooling dip.  The trail is lined with beautiful ficus trees, wild ginger and lots of other beautiful plants.  It’s also shaded, so even if you go during the heat of the day, it’s not uncomfortably hot, unlike in other tropical locations like Thailand or Panama.

There is a great area that is starting to be developed in downtown Honolulu in an industrial zone of the city called Kaka’ao.  Boutique shops, like Paiko, and concept restaurants such as Taste, have started to appear in this unexpected area of the city.  There’s a wonderful coffeeshop/bookstore/art gallery called R and D that was featuring an interesting interactive installation piece while we were there.  Once a month, Kaka’ao has a night market where street artists, musicians and all manner of performers demonstrate their skills along side food carts, a main stage with myriad performances, and a skate ramp where kids can demonstrate their off the lip moves out of the water.  It’s great fun and there’s not a tourist in sight.

Shooting in and on the water has been a new experience for me as of late, and I enjoyed having an assignment where I could put my newly developed skills to work.  I had two shots in mind that required a water housing for this story.  One was shooting the famed outrigger canoe of Waikiki while riding waves in the ocean just off the beach with Diamond Head in the background, a classic view that I thought might make an energetic and historically significant image.  Another was photographing George Kam, the aloha ambassador for Quicksilver, a surf and surf clothing company.  Both of these images required me to be in the water to varying degrees.  I work with a splash housing installed with a Canon 7D with an 18-22mm lens.  There are all sorts of limitations when shooting with this setup because there’s not a lot of access to the camera controls and once you’re in the water, (unless you have an escort boat, which I didn’t), you’ve got the setup that you are stuck with.

How did you get that shot?

I’d like to discuss the opener of the story, which you can see online here.

The opener for National Geographic Traveler's Aloha Honolulu Story
The opening picture for National Geographic Traveler’s Aloha Honolulu Story

The opening image is of George Kam sitting in the center seat of a 3 man outrigger canoe.  The canoe is piloted by none other than Dale Hope and the front man is George’s brother, Kent, all amazing water-men. It was thrilling just being along for the ride.  When we set sail we had perfectly calm conditions, so I brought not only my camera in its housing, I also took along a 5D Mark III with a 24-105mm lens, just in case we might be in a situation where it was going to be safe for an unprotected camera.  That camera was secured in a dry bag that I could clip to the outrigger so that even if we dumped, it would stay dry and attached.  We spotted some dolphins, so headed out to sea, the three paddling and me riding on the netting that is between the canoe and the outrigger.  We fished for a bit and had our bait stolen, so we gave up on that and headed to where we might find some waves.  That’s when things got interesting.  I photographed George paddling and timed the shutter so that it coincided with his paddle moves in order for his face to be visible.  Dale is visible in the back where he steers, as is a seldom seen view of the Diamond Head crater.  The sun was very bright, so the best shots were when all things aligned: George had good light emphasizing his face and the vibrant colors of the outrigger and his clothes, some dynamic movement with the classic paddling technique and a sense of place, courtesy of the Honolulu skyline.  I did end up getting totally drenched as we hit a wave and together threw all of our weight back so that we wouldn’t tip the canoe.  It was a blast and all of my gear stayed safe and sound, thanks to a little bit of planning. Here are a few behind the scenes shots, to get a feel of what it was like to work on this component of the assignment.  Aloha and mahalo for visiting my blog!

Meeting with Dale Hope to discuss what our options for shooting would be that morning.
Meeting with Dale Hope to discuss what our options for shooting would be that morning.
Photo courtesy of George Kam - a little down time while enjoying the ride.
Photo courtesy of George Kam – a little down time while enjoying the ride.
Kent Kam taking us down the front of a wave
Kent Kam taking us down the front of a wave
Totally stoked to have a fully waterproof water housing
Totally stoked to have a fully waterproof water housing

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