The Quintessential Hawaiian Photo Shoot

December 2, 2009

Photo Tips, Portrait

Our goal with the first Maui Photo Festival & Workshops (MPF) was to make Maui as big a star as our presenting pros. Nowhere was that more evident than during the last shooting session of the five-day-long event: Maui fine-art photographer Randy Jay Braun’s “Quintessential Hawaiian Photo Shoot: Hula on the Beach at Sunset.”

Trained as a medical photographer, specializing in heart surgery documentation, Braun became a skilled technician. But it was the summer of 1983, when he worked with a group of Hawaiian children from Kamehameha Schools on Oahu, that changed his life. His breakthrough into the world of art came with his sepia-toned portfolio of traditional hula dancers. His hand-tinted images of the ancient dance seemed to speak from another time. His attention to detail is what sets his work apart.

Junior Keiki Hula

“For great results when shooting a ‘cultural’ portrait,” says Braun, “make sure that your subject is authentic and accurate according to that particular culture.” When photographing Hawaiian hula, Braun works with top-level dancers who are adorned with real and proper attire.

“I try to study a culture before jumping with my camera,” he adds, ensuring that proper protocol is followed.

“A plastic flower lei just doesn’t cut the mustard when shooting in Hawaii,” says Braun, “and a posed hula dancer always looks posed.”

For two hours on that September afternoon, the dancers danced, surrounded by a photographic swarm of more than 60 MPF attendees and presenters. Braun made sure that participants had enough technical information to make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime photo opp.


“My best images usually come on a beach just as the sun is hitting the water,” says Braun, “or even a few minutes after the sun is down.” He rarely uses flash or reflector, preferring to work only with the soft natural light.

“I love shooting with a 300 mm lens wide open,” he adds. After taking a spot-meter reading on the face of the dancer, Braun will set his camera to manual mode. As the light fades, Braun adjusts the ISO to leave the shutter speed at 1/125 or faster.

He typically shoots with continuous shutter, making bursts of images when he sees a particularly pleasing composition emerge from the scene.

“Timing is key,” he adds. “Syncing myself with the tempo of the particular dance is what can make the difference between capturing a good photo and a great photo.”

More of Braun’s images can be seen at To see images shot by MPF attendees, search “Maui Photo Festival” at

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- who has written 3 posts on The Digital Photo Experience.

Terrie Eliker is a photographer, writer and graphic artist based on the island of Maui. She is also creator and creative director of the Maui Photo Festival & Workshops. or

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