A two-minute portrait with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stands for a portrait before a campaign event for fellow Democrat Kaniela Ing in Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S., August 9, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Garcia – RC1A8566A7F0

Late last week, local politician Kaniela Ing announced political wunderkind Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would be in Honolulu to stump for Ing’s campaign for Congress.

I approached Reuters News and asked to cover the event which they approved.  With the popularity of the social democrat in the media currently, I wanted to capture a portrait of AOC before the rally.

I reached out to her campaign people and arranged to two minute photo shoot. I knew I’d have to work quick and fast and wouldn’t have anyone really helping me.

For the lighting, I opted for a Profoto ring light powered by a Profoto 7B2 and would place her against a silk background stretched over my homemade 6×6 frame.  I don’t usually use a ring light because it can be a one trick pony but I figured I would have a tough time moving a light bank and stand around by myself.  So I stuffed my Canon 1Dx Mark II with my ever present 28-70mm 2.8 lens into the case with the pack and ring light prepared to move quickly.

The event was held inside a school cafeteria at a school near Waikiki.  I arrived early and looked for a place to set up.  Ing’s people were scrambling to set up the event and didn’t have much time for me.  At the last minute, I was told the meet and greet would be in a classroom upstairs from the cafeteria.  I grabbed my gear and rushed up to build my set.

As I ran up the stairs I ran straight into AOC.  She had just arrived and was looking for a bathroom.  I told her it was downstairs and she smiled politely and I went on to meet her crew and set up the studio.

When AOC returned from the bathroom, her hair was wet like she had run water through her locks. I felt she wasn’t photo ready but her appearance was youthful and it all seem to fit.   She didn’t carry herself like a rising political star and it wouldn’t be tough to imagine her running across campus to her next class.

We chit-chatted for a few minutes before I posed her in front of my background which was being held up by two of her aides.  I awkwardly told her that standing straight at me comes across like a mug shot so I pointed her feet and shoulders at an angle and I shot about 8 frames of her and that was that.

Afterwards, I covered the rally and got the usual pictures of politicians raging against the machine.

I almost gave up as I lost time and patience trying to get the portrait set up.  But I persevered was glad I captured something different of the rising political star.

Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez campaigns for fellow Democrat Kaniela Ing ahead of the Democratic Primary Election in Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S., August 9, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Garcia


The blue-green “see” from a different angle.

The blue-green

After living in Hawaii for sometime, its easy to forget about the beauty that surrounds us.  The blue-green sea, the white (eroding) sandy beaches, the food, the weather, the mountains…I can go on and on describing wonderful Hawaii.  So its always a challenge when clients ask for something slightly different for as an opening shot.

At any moment, somewhere somehow is snapping a picture, whether it is a family shot or professional shot, around Waikiki.  It is one of the most photographed pieces of real estate in the world.  There are thousands of professional pictures available on line and clients can easily pick a beautiful stock shot for pennies over a custom shot (uhhhh….for pennies—I digress!)  Why hire when there is so much available?  Because a custom shot gets you a unique, dare I say signature, vision from a professional photographer that no other client will have.

The Los Angeles Times asked me to shoot a full page image of Waikiki for their travel story illustrating a budget friendly vacation in Honolulu.  The editor sent along few images taken by the writer and wanted me to capture a similar feel.  My only parameters were to shoot from above, keep it vertical, and ensure I had a killer image at the end of the day.  Jobs like this really get me fired up because no amount of money really accounts for all the time and effort it takes in finding a shot as such.  But the outcome is completely worth the input.  I couldn’t imagine doing anything else as the challenge of my craft is not work, it is just an extension of my life.

The pictures taken by the writer were photographed from one of the better hotel balconies on the beach.  All the elements lined up and and made a pretty different view of Waikiki.  Oddly enough it seemed the picture wasn’t from one of the budget hotels in the story so my challenge was not to present my image as such.  The art direction was to capture Waikiki, not illustrate the story.

Fabulous views command big money and hotels rates are based on the amount of ocean and beach seen from the room.  I could easily have called up one of the beach front hotels and asked to shoot from a room but hotels tend not to help you unless the story relates directly to them.  I don’t have the budget to shoot from a rented hotel room and a helicopter view was not the perspective the client was after.

After living here for some time, I learned it is possible to enjoy Hawaii without blowing too much diñero and having a great time along with tourist who are taping out their credit cards.  I also know how to find the big dollar views without having to shell out big money for hotel rooms or fancy restaurants.  Sometimes just wandering around a big hotel looking like a tourist can help you gain access to views you might not be able to if you wandered in full camera regalia and reeked of the decisive moment.  Looking like a clueless tourist with a Best Buy camera bag will keep housekeepers and bell hops off your tail.

So without revealing too many tricks of my clandestine trade, I got into a hotel, shot down at the beach and made a marvellous shot.  I won’t reveal my location but a Waikiki sleuth might be able to pick it out based on what is in front of them.  Needless to say, the Times editor Tears for Fears (I’m feeling overly cheeky tonight!) over the images as she had a large variety  to choose.   In an email after the article published, she stated “everyone LOVED the photos.”

That kind of praise makes the hours and time put in completely worth it.  Again, it doesn’t take much to sea…err…see things from a different perspective.  I just awaken  my paradise slumber and look around.

Two versions, two languages.

Two versions, two languages.

Halekulani Living Magazine, the hotel’s in-house publication, published my spread on the beautiful Valley of the Temples in Kaneohe for their most recent issue.  The magazine is published both in English and Japanese hence I have two spreads in two languages published.  Its always impressive to see your work with unfamiliar text and scribbles.

Of course the top spread, my favorite, is the Japanese version while the other is the  more prominent English version.  I found my shot of the Rev. Hosen Fukuhara in the doorway graphically more appealing to me but the photo editor loved the idea of having the bokeh’d temple ceiling as the text page.  Its a hard edit to make but both spreads are fantastic.

The gaffer’s tape that saved the day!

The gaffer's tape that saved the day!

May 1 UPDATE:  SHE’S ONLY 10!!!!


As the last few bags spun around on the conveyor belt at Kona International, I got the sinking feeling my large Tenba duffel just wasn’t around the corner.  My Lightware case with the Profoto 7b, grids and dish came through and I rolled my Pelican with cameras with me as carry-on.  In the Pelican, I had my cameras, cards, lenses, and on camera flash so I was set but I knew without my duffel bag, I was sunk to pretty low depths.

In my duffel was an all-important C-stand with boom arm, flyaway sandbag, a few mafer clamps, softbox, umbrella, and a few other knick-knacks that make a quick afternoon shoot take place on the Big Island.  Without a stand, I had no real reasonable way to light my subject.  A law mag commissioned me to fly out for the afternoon to shoot a lawyer (imagine…me saying I shot a lawyer…folk hero status?) and I had scheduled to shoot the job at a beach near KOA.

Now imagine I have to light a portrait at sunset with no stand.  Impossible, indeed.  Truly impossible.  Without a c stand, how the hell am I going to hold up a Profoto head?

After a panic and heated discussion with Hawaiian Airlines customer service at the airport, they were certain the bag would be on the next flight arriving a little after five.  I had about an hour to stew and figure out a strategy to make this work.

My subject offered to pick me up from the airport saving me the hassle of having to rent a car but at that moment I was wishing I could have had that car to drive far away from my sunset nightmare.  She luckily was super understanding when I said Hawaiian Airlines lost my bag and quickly started to help me create solutions to my dilemma.

First thoughts aside from sheer panic…a broom and gaffer’s tape.  I figured I could tape a strobe head to a stick and have someone hold the light.  The lawyer had her 12-year-old daughter along on the shoot and I immediately commandeered to be a living light stand.  I have a solution.   I asked Margaret, my subject, if we could rush over to Home Depot and purchase a broom handle but she oddly had a had a telescopic broom handle in her work vehicle.  Shazam!  Her offices were like four minutes away  and zoomed down the highway to pick it up.  We got the stand and I “MacGuyver-ed” my 7B head to the stick.  The endless possibilities of gaffer’s tape!  In the back of my mind, I knew there was the overpriced Lighthaus Camera in Kona  but the sun was sinking quickly and I had a portrait to shoot.  And the time it would take for me to head into Kona and pick up a stand might have been the time lost in creating the portrait.

Now the next issue was teaching a 12-year-old girl the basics of photography.  I mean how tough could it be as much of photo assisting is done by kids with about a much sense as a broomstick?  As a matter of fact, most photographers…well…that’s a story for another time.  So the kiddo sorta figured out directions but had as much interest in the lighting as I did in her friend’s text messages.  Failure.  Complete failure.  She, the poor darling, couldn’t hold the stick up at the right angle and surely didn’t have the patience to stand still for the time it would take to make the picture.  I asked her if she could do any longer but she shrugged her shoulders and when crab hunting amongst the lava rocks and ocean.   Slowly the voggy Kona sky was opening and the fireball of a sun began to burn through.

Dread.  So I started to pick up the broom stick myself and fire away a few test shots and it seemed to work decently well. I knew I would have to use an open dish sans grid as I could no way handle aiming with the left side of my body as well as shoot with a full size dslr on my right.  It wouldn’t be the portrait lighting I needed but it was going to be something.

I started looking around the near empty beach for a random beach goer to recruit into my photo shoot but alas, no one was around.  I asked where Margaret’s husband was and he luckily was around the corner coming to join us.  Solutions were happening but not as quickly as I would have liked them.  But out of the blue  my cell phone went off.  IT WAS HAWAIIAN AIRLINES!!!  They had my bag and it was at the airport. Margaret, me and the kid hopped in her Honda and sped off to KOA just in time to get the bag and get the job done.

I dodged a big bullet.  A really big one.  I quickly assembled the right stuff and got my picture shot.  The pictures came out fantastic and the sun gave up that fireball friendly flicker only a voggy Kona can deliver.  Hopefully the clients will be thrilled…and rightfully so considering the absolute panic that rang my ears for an hour plus after arriving.

Now what lesson do I take away with this as a photographer?  Not much.  There isn’t very much I can do if the airline’s misplaces my bag.  My broom stick magic would have worked but I didn’t have a reliable adult to act as a stand.  At least I had my Profoto set but what on earth would I have done if my powerful 1200ws light had gone missing?  Sure I had my Canon on camera flash I don’t care what strobists claim, a Canon/Nikon/Vivtar flash will never mimic a Profoto with modifier.  I know Joe McNally does magic with his small flash units but he has a dozen or more and really does some outrageous lighting schemes.  You can create really nice ambient flash portraits with ETTL but I’m set up with big powerful Profoto packs.  Maybe the ETTL is a little nice if not weaker than the Profoto but I don’t have the time or the expense to figure out how to spend a few thousand dollars and make McNally lighting.  Besides, my Profoto stuff was and will always be expensive.

I can’t carry a Profoto kit in my carry-on.  I can’t bring a big c stand in carry-on either.  I’m kinda stuck having to rely on the airline and TSA for me to get my gear to my location.  I really have to rethink my travel procedure and figure what I can carry on.  Manfrotto makes a tiny light stand that could be used in a pinch.  I could stick that into a carry-on messenger bag or laptop bag.  I put all my pocket wizards in my check-in but now I think I’ll always carry a few in my check in just in case.  And just maybe I have to figure out how to really make magic with an on camera flash.

In the end, I could have shot her with ambient light and made some fantastic images as well but the clients were expecting a certain look.  If I couldn’t deliver, I’m out of a client and a paycheck.

The true hero of the day is gaffer’s tape.  Don’t leave home without it.  Gaffer’s tape, that sickly, sticky, fabric wonder, saved me even if my bag showed up just in the nick of time.  I kept thinking as my 12-yr-old assistant (whom I quickly fired after I got my back) kept trying to wiggle away, hmmm…how long before the adhesive comes off her if I taped that broomstick to her hands?  Then taped her to the rocks?

Aulani Magazine

Aulani Magazine

A few weeks ago, I shot a great story on Paulette Kahakepuna, a Hawaiian lei maker who makes Lei Hulu, or feather leis, worn only by Hawaiian royalty.  Using mostly natural feathers and materials, Kahakepuna wove amazing leis and tales of her work and seeing some pieces she’s made, its easy to understand why some would be considered priceless.

You can see the story and magazine here starting pm page 16.  The link is to Oahu Publications on line magazine where you can page through the actual mag online.  Alternatively, you can stay at the Aluani, if you have the bucks.

I must say, I was super impressed the photo editor was able to pick out the first image as a cover.  It surprised me as I just didn’t expect it nor see it in my edit.  Clearly a nice piece of photo editing.