Black and White Photo challenge – day 1

A good friend has challenged me to post one black and white image for 5 days in a row.  So here is the first image.   It is called Sanctuary. The portrait was created in Vavau’ Tonga, where swimming with whales is legal under permit.

Safe place for Mother whale to tend to her calf.

Safe place for Mother whale to tend to her calf.

We live in a color world.  When we look at B&W images we see the shades of grey.   This makes us think  and get in touch with our creative side.  Enjoy!

I am supposed to to challenge five photographers to post 5 B&W images, and am making a list.   Stay tuned.

Posted in art for decor, black and white photography, Decor, emotion, fine art photography, Gallery, guided photo tours, Island scenic | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Whale Tales

Over the years I have taken many people to swim with whales and  have many great memories and stories.  One of my favorites involved a Woman from New Zealand.   This  lady and her daughter were on a short holiday in Tonga, and it had been the mothers dream to see a whale underwater.   The problem was she could not swim and had great fear of being in water deeper than she could stand.  The lady was not one of my guests and was actually on another boat.

Mother and calf checking me out

Mother and calf checking me out

I had been in the water with my guest Elizabeth, and just got on the boat ready to return to port when a radio call came in from the other boat asking about our swim, and if by chance I would guide the mother and daughter on a swim.  I was happy to help and motored over to their boat to pick them up.  Once we had a chat I realized this was not going to be easy as the woman could not swim and so had never snorkeled before.

So I gave her a lesson on the mask and snorkel and put her in a life preserver.  We got int0  the water about 150 feet away from the whales, and I held both her and her daughters hand and slowly finned in the whales direction.  I did not have swim far as the whales came to us. Sadly, I don’t remember the woman’s name but, I do remember telling her that we were about to have encounter and that she could see better if she put her head in the water.

She was scared, but she faced her fear and did it.   The whales must have sensed how this woman was facing her fear in order to have the experience she had dreamed of, as they came close by and floated with us.   The encounter lasted about 15-20 minutes then whales slowly swan off.   Back on the boat this woman was in tears.  She had passed through her fear and was proud of herself for doing so. I remember her telling me how connected she now felt, and how wonderful it was to be alive.

I did not take a camera in the water as I was concerned for this woman’s safety.   I would have loved to create a picture of her with the whales as a life long memory, but, I was able though to get her a photo of the same whales as I had photographed them earlier.

Watching this woman concur her fear, and realize a life long goal was an incredible experience for me, as it was for Elizabeth who watched from the encounter from the boat.



Posted in bucket list adventure, Decor, Dive with a Photo Pro, emotion, Gallery, Island scenic, marine, photography workshops, Travel, whales | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Love living in Maui, but am unhappy that our island still burns sugar cane


This is the view from my house.  It looks like a brush fire but it is really a sugar cane field being burned.   The black ask from the flames travels with the wind and covers our cars, yards, parks, and play grounds.  The plastic PVC pipes and plastic ground cover melt and send their toxic fumes into our communities.   All I am saying is that it is time to say no to burning cane, and yes to better health for our aina.

Burning cane releases all kinds of toxins into the air

Burning cane releases all kinds of toxins into the air

Posted in children, health, Island scenic, maui, Maui community | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Me and the baby whale

A big thank you to Niels Frausing for creating and sending me this image.   It is not often I get to see a photograph of me with the whales.   This image was created about a month ago but the memory of the trip lives on.  I am so lucky to be able to lead groups to Tonga to experience these majestic mammals.

Image of me doing my thing

Image of me doing my thing

Posted in bucket list adventure, Decor, dive travel, Dive with a Photo Pro, emotion, guided photo tours, marine, photography workshops, tonga, Travel, underwater photography, Whale swimming, whales | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A bit about hard and soft graduated neutral density filters!

One common issue I encounter when creating landscape, seascape, and nature photography is that the foreground and background light levels are several f-stops apart.  This makes it hard for the camera to record what our eyes see.  The reason is the digital chips in our cameras have limitations and cannot record the entire range of highlights and shadows.

Range of highlights and shadows is hard to capture

Range of highlights and shadows is hard to capture

Neutral Density filters are used to control the light coming through the camera to the chip.  There are numerous brands and types of filters but the idea is that the diffusion lowers the amount of light entering so that the chip can record it.

Sometimes it is appropriate to diffuse the entire scene and others just part of it.   A graduated neutral density filter only affects a portion of the image. For example when photographing a sunset at the beach you might find that the sky is 2 or 3 F-stops brighter than the beach. Using an equivalent strength filter with the diffusion in the right area will balance the exposure making it easier to record.

A hard graduated filter is best used in situations where the horizon line is definite like at the ocean.  A soft graduated neutral density filter is better for areas where the horizon line is less obvious, like when making photographs in the forest. The diffusion in the filter balances and allows the range of highlights and shadows to be recorded.

Using a 1 stop hard neutral density filter allowed me to bring the range of highlight and shadows more in balance

Using a 1 stop hard neutral density filter allowed me to bring the range of highlight and shadows more in balance

The image created in Iao Valley stream used a 2 stop graduated hard neutral density filter. The stream created an obvious horizon line.



using filters in the middle of the day

using filters in the middle of the day

In the bamboo forest a one stop soft graduated neutral density filter was used to manage the additional light coming through the tops of the trees.

soft grad filter helps manage light filtering through the top of image.

soft grad filter helps manage light filtering through the top of image.

003_Bamboo Forest_1.1



Posted in Decor, emotion, guided photo tours, guided photography tours, guided photogrpahy adventures, Island scenic, landscape photography, maui, maui photo safari, maui photo tour, maui photography workshop, Nature Photography, photography workshops, Travel | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Sunrise workshop along the road to Hana

Hurricane Ana came through two days ago. Luckily for us the storm veered off, and all we got was some well needed rain.  I was concerned that the storm would affect today’s photography workshop along the road to Hana but as it turned out it was a beautiful day.   The image below us created with a Lee 2 stop graduated neutral density filter. The West Maui mountains in the background were getting about 2 stops more light so the filter evened out the exposure.


Post sunrise views of Kahalui

Post sunrise views of Kahalui



Posted in Decor, photography workshops, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chef Sheldon Simeon of Maui

This is chef Sheldon.  He has become on the best known chefs on Maui.  He brings a local influence into his food, and creates dishes that are so delicious that you find yourself wanting to back for more.  If coming to Maui check out Star Noodle and Migrant Maui restaurant your taste buds will thank you!

Sheldon Simeon

Sheldon Simeon

Posted in Chef Sheldon, maui, maui restaurants, people portraiture, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Black and White sunrise along the north shore of Maui

We live in a color world.   Black and white photographs are all about the shades of grey.

We live in a color world. Black and white photographs are all about the shades of grey.

I know most people who get up before dawn in order to create a sunset landscape photograph do it in order to catch the morning light, and all the colors the suns light gently illuminating the scene.  I thought this time I would try something different and try to create a different mood by going black and white.

What do you think?


Posted in Decor, emotion, guided photo tours, guided photogrpahy adventures, landscape photography, Nikon, photography workshops, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Client review of recent photography workshop in Maui

I just received a Trip Adviser report on a recent photography workshop in Maui, and am so happy to read these comments.   I put a lot of effort into each workshop and its great to know that it is appreciated.  Thank you so much Sigal for this review.
Reviewed October 12, 2014 on Trip Advisor.
Master photographer and a natural teacher Douglas J Hoffman Maui Photo tour and workshop -outstanding experience”
5 of 5 stars
The quality of the experience and the value for what we spent I feel taking this photo tour really expanded my growth in Photography. The opportunity to learn one on one with a professional who is willing to share his passion, and actually internalizing the composition with some one Like Douglas Hoffman who has his master degree in photography is a tantalizing experience. Douglas is a natural teacher, passionate and has a great ability to communicate which made me feel very at ease learning from him. I would definitely recommend this photo tour and I would definitely do it again thank you so much Douglas Hoffman I feel my photography has improved a lot a lot.”
Sigal joined a recent tour and workshop and we created images at the Iao Valley, then moved south to Makena.  Some wonderful images were created that day.  Check out these images by Sigal.
Iao valley with ND filters

Iao valley with ND filters


Posted in Decor, Gallery, Island scenic, maui, maui photo safari, maui photo tour, maui photography workshop, photography workshops, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tonga Whale Swimming Adventures in 2015 and 2016

Whale in ParadiseMy first trip to Tonga to swim with whales was in 2006. Since then I have organized trips each season. Over the years I have developed relationships with the best boats, captains, and whale swim guides and learned a lot about whale behavior and whale photography. Just because it is legal to swim with whales in Tonga does not mean it is easy.  Whales are wild animals and not all of them are curious or open to human interaction.  To have an epic encounter all the elements have to come together including calm seas, clear water and  cooperative whales. This does not happen every day. That is why these trips are for 9 or 10 days.  My thinking is going to Tonga is a once in a lifetime event and it is worth it to do it right. A week just is not enough time.

Tonga is a wonderful destination but it lacks infrastructure and the level of service many international travels are used to.   There is only one domestic airline, International flights are not available everyday, the country has Sunday laws, and the quality of the whale watching boats varies greatly as do the mindset of the operators and captains.

Basically there are the boats that cater to general tourists that want to see whales.   These boats take as many as 12 people and are looking for whales they can put swimmers in the water with.  The quality of the encounter is not as important as the quantity of whale swims they can produce.   In other words if a whale swims by and the people see it that counts as a drop and they get back in the boat so four more people can get in the water and see the whales.   Many of these boats are Tongan vessels that are safe in protected waters but questionable in the outer areas or in harsh weather. The other kind of boat is a private charter vessel.   In this case their are fewer people on the boat, and the captain has the mindset of finding whales that might produce an extended interaction, and doing it in locations where the visibility is best.  These are the boats that produce the best results.



Next year I have put together two programs.  The first is in Vavau’ and is land based. The boat is a 27 foot cat design motorboat with two 15o Yamaha outboards. The second is on a 53 foot sailing catamaran. These trips are dedicated to creating photographs or video of the whale behavior we observe. The sailboat trip is full but there is still space on the land based adventure.

53 foot sailing boat called Wildlife

53 foot sailing boat called Wildlife

The goal is to find whales that are open to an extended mutual interaction. In other words were not looking for every whale, just the right whale(s). Some whales are doing their own thing and simply not interested in humans. We can tell by observing the whales behavior. When whales are seen acting in a manner the captain, whale swim guide, and I feel might produce an extended encounter we get in the water and swim until we see the whales. Once in view we stop swimming and start observing.  The whales know we are there, and if they like our behavior we will be rewarded with an incredible encounter. As the whales comfort zone increases they will come closer and closer and check out each swimmer.

Whale SwimmerIn 2016, I am planning three programs.  There will be two liveaboard charters, and a land based option. Each is for 10 days of whale swimming.  The adventures take place in mid August  through mid September 2016.  The liveabaord trips take four people on a vessel called Wildlife  I have worked with the owners for about 5 seasons and love how they run the boat. The boat is perfect for whale watching and swimming.

is it flying whale or a missle

Flying Whale

The land based adventure will be for a max of six people.  The plan as it is now is to go to Vavau’ and spend 12 nights and have 9 whale swim days. Sundays are no swim days.  Tonga has laws that prohibit land based operators from working on Sundays.  The boat is a 27 foot cat design motor boat with two 150 HP yamaha outboard engines. The accommodations are at a guest house or B&B style accommodation. Liveaboard boats seem to be ok working on Sundays because they are out of sight of the main harbor and towns.

There is a chance this trip could change venues as there might be a new option coming online next year.   I have been told that there are plans to build a safari style camp or a long house style lodge on one of the southern Namuku islands in the H’apai group. This area is remote and incredibly beautiful.   There are no other whale swim operators in the area and there are lots of whales.  These islands are just a 30 minute boat ride to the Kotu island group which is pristine and has plenty of whales. If the change happens it would include 12 nights and 10 whale swimming days.  There will be a change in price should this happen.

Getting to Tonga is not easy.  It takes time, requires long layovers, and patience.   There are not daily flights into and out of Tonga, so this means you may have to spend 2-3 days getting there.  This is why Tonga is not a mainstream travel destination.  But, it is worth the hassle. There is only one domestic airline called Real Tonga.   They dont fly on Sunday.  Their website is easy to use.  They allow 20 Kilos for check in and 5 kilos for carry on.   On my last trip I had two heavy carry on pieces and they charged me $40 each way.

If interested in these adventure please contact me by email at  If you know someone that might be interested please share this post.


Posted in bucket list adventure, dive travel, Dive with a Photo Pro, guided photo tours, Island scenic, photography workshops, tonga, Travel, whales | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment