The Nimitz Byway

The Nimitz Byway

My first professional written article was published in the Star Advertiser Sunday, Nov. 24th.  On a trip to Texas last year, it dawned on me how Hawaii and Fredericksburg, Texas, a small town just west of Austin, north of San Antonio, are directly connected by a man who helped win the Pacific War against the Japanese.  So I wrote a travel piece on visiting this small town in Texas and the significance of one of the town’s greatest sons has in the history of Hawaii.

Chester Nimitz was born to a German pioneer’s family who help settled parts of Texas.  Nimitz rose to be the US Navy Admiral in charge of the Pacific Fleet after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  His role in the defeat of the Japanese is slightly overshadowed by the US Army’s Gen. Douglas MacArthur; but in Hawaii, Nimitz’s legacy is not forgotten.  Nimitz’s name lends itself to one of Oahu’s most important thoroughfares, Nimitz Highway, along with a nearby elementary school several businesses including a yoga studio and a BBQ joint, although those might be named for their proximity to the road, not the Admiral.  At the end of the war, upon returning to Hawaii, he was given a hero’s welcome and led a parade from the battlegrounds of Pearl Harbor to the Kingdom of Hawaii’s historic Iolani Palace.  The Admiral was named “Alii aimoku,” or supreme chief, by all the Hawaiian Orders in Hawaii – a rare feat for a haole from Fredericksburg, TX.  A war museum was established in his family’s old Fredricksburg hotel and the collection of WWII artifacts rivals Pearl Harbor’s historic museum.  The Nimitz Museum actually has the Japanese midget submarine that washed ashore on the beaches of Oahu after the  Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.  Quite a collection, indeed!

Please take a moment to read my first travel piece written as a professional “writer.”  I’ve never thought of myself as a writer yet I’ve written most of my adult life.  Here’s my first chance to prove I can.







I’ve been wanting to put this cover up since the beginning of November but life has gotten in the way.  Not the good life mind you but life.  It can really just come out of nowhere and really put you on a different path.

But back to the cover…

I don’t like to sing too many praises to myself at times but I must admit I am very impressed with my ikebana, or Japanese flower arrangement,  photo appearing on the cover of Halekulani Living, the resort’s in-house magazine.  One of the editors I work with seems to never give me the easy jobs.  She never hires me to snap photos of bikini girls or beautiful celebrities as she’s always throwing the hardest and most difficult subjects on my plate.  The jobs are usually obscure, never obvious or easy to capture.  Either she wants me to fail or she knows I can pull something out of nothing, as they say, and come up with something bordering on the fantastic.

If you could only imagine how this picture was taken and the little photoshop it took to make it sparkle, you’d be surprised.  Well, more than surprised.  I won’t say much more other than “damn, that’s a good shot!”


Thinking in past tense

Thinking in past tense

As I put life in perspective and my career on the right path, I randomly go through my archives for creativity and inspiration.  I came across an image from Tokyo taken in 2008.  Wanderlust in Tokyo overwhelms me.  Tokyo’s facade of neon noise easily cracks open allowing the curious to see Tokyoites grasping on to ancient beliefs.  Whether its for show or true understanding is not for me to say.  But Tokyo’s religion of consumerism reigns true.

This shot, taken right outside of Shinjuku St., if I recall, had a troupe of musicians playing flutes and banging tin drums for some reason or another.  I wasn’t sure but it wasn’t religious.  But this guy in a worn rice paddy had sat smoking a hand rolled cigar.  I don’t know what he was doing, why he was there or why I was there.  Wanderlust, a lack of language, and naivety can lead to some interesting images.





As our jet slipped over the dark Pacific Ocean, silvery moonlight fell upon the clouds casting shapeless shadows all across the sea.  Land seem to spring up as the jet continued making me feel as if we had never escaped the land.  Theroux described the Pacific Ocean “like outerspace…a sort of galaxy,” islands, like stars, dotting and endless sky.  And although I was only looking at shadows, I felt as if millions of uninhabited islands waited to be discovered, only to vanish as night turned away.

Our military plane was bound for Midway Atoll, about 1250 miles west of Honolulu, for the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Midway.  The US military extended an invitation to fly media, veterans, and various personnel to the remote island to attend the memorial celebration.  We had to arrive before sunrise on Midway as the atoll is now a wildlife refuge.  Endangered albatrosses nest on Midway and a mid-air collision with a large adult could potentially cause major damage to an airplane .

The Battle of Midway is a historic David vs. Goliath struggle where a smaller, out-gunned and less experienced US navy took on the vastly superior Japanese and defeated them, thus thwarting their naval aggression in the Pacific and placing Japan in a defensive role the rest of World War II.  At the cost of hundreds of lives, the US sunk four Japanese aircraft carriers.  Much of the destruction caused within minutes when, by chance, Japanese pilots were caught rearming and refueling as US dive bombers attacked.  Three carriers were sunk almost immediately and a fourth one sunk the next day.  Historically, the Battle of Midway turned the tide and helped the US gain an advantage in the war.

Although Midway Atoll was regarded by the Japanese as a critical base to conquer, the Japanese only bombed the island but never landed troops.  Many US attack planes took off from the island but were quickly shot down by the more experienced Japanese aviators in their state-of-the-art fighter planes.  The memorial ceremony recognizes the significance of the battle and remembers those who died.

Because of the designation of the Northwest Hawaiian Island being a wildlife refuge,  we had to arrive and depart in darkness.   As we exited the plane, I noticed these oddly shaped shadows wiggling and moving all around the airport.  I couldn’t make out what my ears and nose were telling me but as the sun began to rise, I quickly noticed these shapes were actually gooney chicks.  THOUSANDS of albatrosses were everywhere.  Of course there were none on the runway but just about anywhere else there were thousands upon thousands.  It was absolutely amazing yet frightening at the same time.  I  felt as if I was on a Moreau-esque island where humans were cannibalized by giant, fluffy birds.  Only the birds knew the secret, and I, clearly did not.

Midway’s buildings spanned generations of architecture and structures.  From early 1900’s structures housing workers who laid trans-Pacific telegraph cable, historic war-time hangars and command posts, to post war dormitories buildings which housed military and civilians living on the small island.  Well known Detroit architect Albert Kahn also designed many of the officer’s homes on the islands lending an air of designed civility to the remote outpost in the Pacific.  However, its the feathered architecture the is the most noticeable as you wander the island.  These squawking, ill-tempered fledglings seem more gooney than bright, but have managed to outpace the more clever humans.

As the ceremony marks 70 years, only two Battle of Midway veterans were able to attend the ceremony.  Age and time take their toll on many of the vets and many believe World War II memorials will no longer have any veterans in attendance in the next few years.  The ceremony recognizes the land battle as well as the sea battle that played out just a few miles away from the atoll.  Midway was bombed and sustained heavy damage from Japanese attacks but the real fight was out in the sea.  The two vets, both who were 90-years-old, were stationed on the island and recalled, with clarity, their roles in the attacks.  One complained he wasn’t able to fire off his gun because they were ordered to be underground when the first wave of the Japanese attack occurred and the other nonagenarian counted more than 30 airplanes flying over his position.  Though he fiddled with the straps, he proudly wore his WWII dough boy helmet that kept him safe during the Japanese bombardment.

The military band played, the color guard marched, and tears flowed as the Star Spangled Banner played.  Speeches were given about valor, heroes, and those who gave their lives.  Flowers were laid and a final salute and Taps ended the recognition of a fight so long ago.  At the end of the memorial, the attendees, including a couple of dozen Thai workers who live and maintain the island, thanked the men for their sacrifices.  Both vets, along with two others who were on later stationed on Midway after the battle, stumbled with their emotions as they remembered their lives from so long ago.

Afterwards, we were allowed to explore the small island and found much of it was in disrepair and abandoned.  Not much you can do if a bunch of endangered feathered-friends have planted themselves in every nook and cranny.  More so, the island lacks the money to help restore this remote outpost.  No unwelcome visitors are allowed hence there is no outside tourist dollars to grease the economy.  There are no resorts, no dive companies, no Roberts tourists bus clogging the roads, no Hilo Hattie, no Starbucks, no fake natives dancing the hula.  It is most likely the atoll will continue to function with the help of the US government but its status as a wildlife refuge makes it a bit tough to maintain.    Only birds, the Thais, a Federal cop, and a bunch of volunteers cleaning the beaches of the world’s sea garbage.

The large runway on Midway is extremely vital to trans-pacific air travel as large jets can land on the atoll.  The importance of the trans-pacific runway was recognized in 2011 when a flight from HNL To Osaka was diverted to Midway after a major crack was noticed in the windshield of the cockpit.  Close to 400 people were onboard the Delta 747.  However, many who maintain the island are complaining about the condition of the seawall that protects the runway from strong winter waves.  Without proper federal funding, the runway could be in jeopardy.

Life on this remote place must be harsh but the people who work and call this place home clearly are not itching to leave.  A small convenience store selling food, beer, and other necessities is stocked from imported goods.  A bowling alley and movie house give some a way to avoid rock fever and I was told a few of the Thai workers formed a rock band and play Thai rock every so often.  I asked about satellite TV and oddly they get lots of Thai TV but when you’re out in the middle of nowhere, does the NYSE really matter?  There’s a bar overlooking a gorgeous sea and a restaurant with a rival view.  The Thais are in charge of the food and although they made a super mild curry with little spice (so the farang can eat it) the islanders are not wanting of a good time.

There is a beautiful white sand beach beach of pure white sands that words and pictures cannot clearly describe.  North Beach, as its called, is idyllic.  Perfect.  Few words could describe its colors and feel.  A beach people spend their lives trying to find.  I hate to use this word but it was pure paradise.  But to have this stunning beauty just isn’t enough at times.  Midway’s remoteness makes you feel as if you are lost in the middle of nowhere.

 But as our trip came to and end, I though of the story one of the veterans told as he talked about the struggles on the island during the war.  In full battle gear, the soldiers humped on the beautiful North beach, making  brilliantly white sand into sandbags to use as military fortifications.  With few breaks and little water, not to mention the sultry heat and sun, working in this tropical island was hell.  No one handed them a maitai and a beach chair.  Soldiering has a way of ruining a perfectly good paradise.  And as I wondered how tough life must have been, I began to think more of the young boys who had never seen a beach.  The young man who had never been on a ship.  Sailors who abandoned ship or of the aviators who were shot down and lost at sea.  I thought of both the Americans and the Japanese.  I thought about that sable blue water, that endless sea.  That blistering blue sky knowing they’d never be found.  Lost.

I recalled George Gay, a US pilot shot down during the attack on the Japanese carriers.  He survived the crash but as he floated in the Pacific for many hours, he was one of the sole witnesses to the great battle of the Pacific.  He watched two civil nations kill their best and the brightest, and mostly likely the bravest, that each had to offer.  I’ve seen clips of young Japanese sailors floating in the ocean after their ships sunk.  I wondered what their last words were…their last thoughts.

Like we landed, we escaped in darkness off Midway, avoiding the large albatross that now own the island.  As I looked down at the ocean as we flew back to Honolulu, I thought about all the lost souls who gave their lives to their country, whether they were willing or not, and whether they were doing it for the right reasons.  It isn’t the 19 year old swabby who’s creating the foreign policy but its always them who ends up in the brink.



I hate the Canon 5D Mark II.  I hated mine copy so much I sold mine within weeks of purchasing it.  Not because it busted while on assignment in Nara, Japan.  Not because it didn’t make some amazing shots because it did.  I hated it because of the handling.  I hated the feel of the body.  I hated the focus points.  I really hated the focal points.  But in reality, I hated it because to me, it wasn’t a 1D series camera.  I purchased it as a back up to my full frame Canon 1Ds Mark II body.  Canon’s 1Ds Mark III body didn’t match up to my expectations and I figured why bother doing an expensive upgrade when the gains were so little.  But I sadly found the 5D was a fancy toy that non professionals used, not something serious pros would consider as a primary camera. (Just another GWC uttered in disgust as a wannabe wandered over to work next to us with a 5D.)

Yet, 5Ds were flying off the rental shelves at Hawaii Photo Rental.  Major photographers were using the camera to make amazing stuff.  TV shows and movies were being made with it.  I made a timeless shot in Kyoto with the camera.  The 5D Mark II can take some pretty amazing pictures and videos!

Maiko in Kyoto, Japan with a 5D MII

I know so many people who use it as their primary and love it.  There are thousands of photographers and cinematographers who use it and do amazing work with it. But for me, a rough-and-tumble kinda photographer who uses a t-shirt to clean his lenses, the 5D Mark II is and was a toy.  Mind you, so many pros, from White House photographers to travel-in-the-jungle photogs use and love it.

I didn’t.

Low and behold, Canon released the new Canon 5D Mark III with some major improvements.  As I’m faced with upgrading my 1Ds Mark II (this is a whole different story…the Mark II is amazing…at times it feels like there is enough flaws within technology that its like shooting film…you get organic-ism, not perfect-ism.)

So thanks to Josh and the crew at Hawaii Photo Rental, I had the chance to test drive and review the new Canon 5D Mark III for the shop. What made it more exciting was I was going to lunch with two amazing photogs, Eugene Tanner, AP and commercial guy, and Jamm Aquino, full time bad ass staffer at the Star Advertiser.  I pitched my review idea to Josh and he liked the idea that he’d here from three professional opinions on the newest Canon camera.

I picked it up from Austin and Natalie (and Christine) at Hawaii Photo Rental and immediately, I felt the camera was built a thousand times better than the 5D Mark II.  Natalie quickly pointed out how the flash card door was now lined with a piece of “leather” making it harder for the card door to slip open.  She, and Austin, noted the seals, feel, and design of the body stating Canon must have listened to pros and made major improvements.  The selection dial on the left of the body now has a lock to keep your settings in place.  That feature alone was one of the better and noticeable upgrades that can make it a winner.  The menus were updated and a bit complicated with numerous upgrades and features.

We rattled off the motor drive and it was fast for a prosumer camera.  Its about 4.5 frames a second?  Plenty of time to do moderate action.  But the greatest thing about the camera as the increased focus points.

The 61 focus points ROCKED.

Oh what joy to see a camera where you can actually find focal points throughout the frame.  The ability to move your focal points to almost any part of the camera gives the camera a major improvement in handling.  This was the main Achilles tendon of the camera for me…along with it just feeling like a toy.  The Mark II always reminded me of my first Canon digital camera, the 10D.  Just a prosumer camera off the shelf.

So I walked out with the camera and went to meet Jamm and Tanner for lunch over at Murphy’s Bar and Grill in downtown HNL.  We were having a late birthday lunch for Eugene but it was a celebration none the less as it was good cheer around.  We passed the camera around and all took pictures and made pro comments on the feel, style, and responsiveness of the Mark III…all over burgers, fish and chips, and a few adult beverages.

Kramer by Tanner.

Jamm, being a bit snobby in the use of in his gear, said immediately it was a GWC camera but after playing with it for a few minutes, he changed his tune.  I think all three of us are snobs with gear as we rely so much on our cameras to give us 110% all the time that its hard for us to “trust” a prosumer camera.  But again, we were quickly proved wrong.

The handling, structure and feel of the camera was reasonably good and beyond our expectations.  Eugene liked the fact the Mark III could easily fill the void a Canon Mark IV’ cropped sensor lacked.   But as we started to feel out the camera further, we three quickly noted several shortcomings and issues…all in reference to professional standards, conditions, and situations.  Immediately we all said the response was good but was it good enough, rather quick enough?  I stuck my Canon 35mm f1.4 lens on the body and took it for a spin down Ft. Street Mall.  I immediately felt it wasn’t responsive as a professional body.  Both Jamm and Tanner said roughly the same thing.  It doesn’t fire when you want it to.  Jamm pointed out it was probably a custom feature but we just felt it didn’t snap when you snapped.  Those instances when the decisive moment appears, you need a camera that will do what you tell it to do.

Knocked kneed on Fort St. with the Mark III

Now, we really only had this new tool for a short time and can’t really speak with any major authority about the camera and its functions but the responsiveness was noticeable.  So it could have been the custom function in the menu.  Knocked kneed was out of focus.  I aimed, fired, and the camera didn’t catch it.  There are so many quirks that we are not accounting for (my lens being out of tune, the camera settings, my lack of precision to catch the focus properly…there are numerous things to ask before I judge this scenario) but I would have expected some reasonable sharpness on the girl.  Who knows.  On the elevator in my building, I tried to sneak a few frames of one of the maintenance girls in our building and shoved the camera in her face.  Wouldn’t fire.  Nada.  Again, I have to refer back to Jamm and the custom functions in the menu but alas, no book and no time to fuss with buttons.  I feel strongly that if you gotta mess too much with the menus, etc…then you can’t take a picture.  Fire away and deal with the after mass later.

Lunchtime Stella

The one noticeable and wonderful feature was the lack of noise in high iso.  25600 is ABSOLUTELY useable.  Why you, the average user, would need to hit this high is beyond me but its absolutely useable.  Butter as some would say…silky smooth as butter.  The above shot of the lunchtime Stella was shot at 2000 iso.  Clean.  Amazingly clean.  Like shooting at 640 0r 800 iso on an older body.  Just simply amazing a prosumer body is capturing files like this.

Padded elevator rising to 32nd at 2500 iso with the Mark III.

Now the issues we all agreed upon was the focusing and the buffer were not 1D series standards.  Does that matter?  Should any of our shortcoming decision force you to spend $6700 over $3500 for a little bit faster focus and longer buffer (think renting for at least $150/day versus doing a three day rental from Hawaii Photo Rental at $185)?  I think not.  Most of you who have been renting from Hawaii Photo Rental have probably used a 5D Mark II and know its a fantastic camera.  Whatever short coming I (we) found or you might have figured out shouldn’t discount it.  Now with the new Canon 5D Mark III, the game shifts drastically and you can now rent a semi pro camera that works as close as to a professional 1D standard as you can get.

Deep thoughts with Tanner by Jamm and a Mark IV.

In reality, the 5D Mark III is a super camera.  The fantasy world we live in in reference to long buffers, etc…also reflect a world where we sometimes don’t live.  90% of what I shoot could be done with an iPhone.  The camera, priced a little too high (a strong demand and possibly a lack of production due to tsunami damaged factories or last year’s Thailand flooding) but it is a camera well worth its weight.  To rent it is to see where you stand with it.  Jamm, Eugene, and I all felt it was a superb camera but lacked just a little bit to make it a professional grade body.  Now does it matter as I stated above?  To 99% of you GWCs who are going to use it to shoot your dog, family or friends, absolutely not.  To those of you who will rent to shoot a wedding or paid job?  Absolutely not (maybe if you are picky) but no way if you’ve done well shooting with a 5D Mark II.  For a picky pro, its a great tool and if you are a pro you will have to know your limitations like anything.  If you are shooting a sporting event and your timing and focus mean the difference between a paycheck or going home empty handed, you’ll have to know your limitations with the tool.  And again, its a tool.  You can’t shoot an elephant with a bb gun, but how often do you get the chance to shoot an elephant?  The high ISO range expands your horizons drastically.  You can literally shoot in the dark now with little notice.  I find that option fantastic.  What a great new tool.

To note, I didn’t process any of the raw files as my version of Photoshop isn’t upgraded to open the new Mark III files and I couldn’t be bothered to deal with downloading it at this moment.  But the damn jpgs files are so damn good, its almost as if you don’t even need to shoot raw.  The files are amazing.  This is a superb camera and well worth renting from Hawaii Photo Rental.

We three photographers did not do any technical testing.  This is just talk over beer (and a whiskey) over the use of cameras, handling, and whatnot.

I highly recommend renting this fantastic camera from Hawaii Photo Rental.  Its a really, really nice camera and its a huge improvement over the Mark II.  Well worth the rental fees.