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 douglashoffman007@ymail.com.  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

Swimming with Whales is one of lifes unforgetabel expereinces

This is Niels Frausing having fun.   Niels,  joined my most recent whale photography trip to Tonga. This was our first trip together and I have to say I hope it is not the last. We had a great time on the boat and even better in the water.   The images and video Niels created are fantastic.

This season I had three guests from Russia, for a charter prior to Niels.  I feel blessed to have clients from around the world  that share a love of life, nature, adventure, diving, family, and photography.  It is so refreshing to see that politics aside we are all one planet – one people.


Niels with a happy baby whale



Posted in bucket list adventure, Decor, dive travel, Dive with a Photo Pro, Gallery, guided photography tours, guided photogrpahy adventures, guided whale swimming adventures, humpback whales, incredible adventure, marine, Nature Photography, once in a life time, photo safari, photo tour and workshop, photography workshops, swim with whales, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sperm Whale Adventure in 2015

I just returned from swimming with Humpbacks in Tonga, and now I am planning a trip to Dominica to photograph Sperm Whales.    The exact date is not set yet but the trip will take place in early Dec 2015.  Sperm whales are bigger, dive deeper, and stay down longer than Humpbacks.  They also have teeth and use sonar to ping objects to see if they are possible food or even a threat.  Getting pinged is not painful but it is unnerving. I have done two Sperm Whale trips already and seen individual and pairs of whales.  My hope is to find some social groups.   I have seen images and heard stories from other photographers where they have seen Sperm Whale interactions with anywhere from 12-60 whales.  Now that is something I want to see.

Dominica has a permit process that allows a certain number of whale swim trips to occur each year.   In order to get a permit each person going has to be listed.  So there is a bit of rush to fill the boat.  If interested, let me know so we can talk about it.



Sperm Whale From Azores

Sperm Whale



Posted in bucket list adventure, dive travel, Dive with a Photo Pro, fear, marine, photography workshops, Travel, whales | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Images From Tonga

kai tending bar


This is Kai our bartender…… See him getting us a fresh beverage.  Kai also drove the dingy.

mark at workThis is Mark Strickland.  He is on the weight loss program. He is sitting in a 5 mm wet suit photographing breaches.  Now that is dedication.

markus Davids.webThis is Markus just prior to spilling coconut water down his shirt.


waving aloha

This is a playful whale that spent hours checking us out.  Such attitude in his dance.

tracks in the sand

I thought the island we were having happy hour was deserted but these tracks tell me otherwise.

Wonderful memories made in Tonga

Wonderful memories made in Tonga

Another island happy hour, this time with appropriate beverages..

I had a whale of a time…..

terry having a whale of time  This is Terry and her friend Itchy and mom Patches.   The names where changed to protect their true identity.


What a great time.  Thanks Terry, Dave, Markus, Neils, Mark, Dave Sheen Tris, Kai, and Dior!

Posted in bucket list adventure, dive travel, Dive with a Photo Pro, Island scenic, photography workshops, Travel, whales | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

2014 Tonga whale adventure reflections

I’ve been back in Maui for just a few days, and am still editing this years collection of photographs. This part of my work flow usually gets done while on location but this season the guests were too much fun and there were just too many good photographs to edit.

Sept 2-12 2014 group

Sept 2-12 2014 group

Indeed, having a lot of editing to do is a good problem as not every season enjoys several extended mutual interactions, clear water, great weather and sea conditions.  Usually there are several days of bad weather and visibility that are followed by several days of fair conditions. Then sometime in the middle, there are a few good days when everything just comes together.

This year the weather was incredible the entire time. Wind, sunlight, wave action, cloud coverage, and other elements of nature did not cause problems. We also had the right kind of boat, an experienced  captain, very good whale swimming guide, respectful, and courteous participants. All these factors came together to make this one of the best seasons ever.

I am so thankful and grateful that everyone had such a good time. So good in fact that now these people might be a bit spoiled when traveling in the future. Based on the success of this trip, they’re  expectations are going to be a bit high.   Take Olga for example… This was her first trip after getting certified as a diver, and she has never snorkeled before.  Where can she go next to top this?

Whale swimmer having time of her life

Whale swimmer having time of her life


This season all the whale watching, photography, and swimming took place from the yacht Wildlife, owned by Dave and Tris Sheen. The vessel is not a five star luxury boat, but rather an eco-friendly and comfortable boat.  There were not any candies on the pillow but each day we enjoyed incredible home cooked meals including delicious desserts.Rather than listen to the drone of loud engines, most of the time was spent sailing.  We only used motors during the whale swims.

Being able to relax on Wildlife between swims was fantastic.  In past seasons guests had to put on wetsuits on and leave them on all day, but on this boat we were able to take them off  between swims.  I enjoyed freshly made hot coffee, tea, and home baked cookies, and cakes each day.  Now, that is service. Nothing beats hot freshly made coffee or tea after an hour long whale swim. Having a bathroom made everyone happy too.  It was incredible…..

53 foot sailing boat called Wildlife

For a small group of people dedicated to whale watching and swimming you could not ask for more.  The cabins were small but not cramped, the salon was well appointed and had room for all of our charging supplies.   The cockpit was where we ate our meals.  This is Stas from Russia finding some time for a nap.  Another reason I like this boat so much is there are many places to get out of the sun and stretch out.

Getting rest and relief from the sun

Getting rest and relief from the sun


While the seas wind were calm, the waters just off shore were a bit milky and not great for photography. Luckily for us the water clarity offshore was really good.  So, we worked the sea mounts, and outer passages.  On the second day we encountered Beauty, a large female without calf or escort swimming in clear water.  While alone, she had a certain bliss about her. Beauty would perform a undersea ballet to music only she could hear, but it was obvious she was dancing to her own beat.

Female whale enjoying quality time alone

Female whale enjoying quality time alone

On the fourth day our boat counted 9 different mother & calves. Sadly, it was a day where all the action took place on the surface as the whales were constantly tracking. This is a kind of behavior in which the whales do not settle and keep moving. That said there was some epic breaching and tail slapping going on and this created a lot of great photo opportunities.  In the image below I captured a fluke and will send it to the Tongan Fluke Collective where scientists are forming a database.  The goal is to assemble a collection of flukes to help scientists keep track of the whales in the region.

Baby whale having fun making splashes

Baby whale having fun making splashes

As a photographic group our goal is to have mutual interactions as opposed to fleeting glimpses of the whales. This means we don’t want to get in the water and simply have the whales swim by as they are doing their thing. So we did not jump in the water and swim with every group of whales we observed.

Terry and her whale friend

Terry and her whale friends

We were patient and looking for what could possibly be an extended interaction. This occurs when the whales are just as interested in us as we were of them.  So each time we observed a group of whales, Captain Dave and our guide Tris watched their behavior.  Only when both were in agreement that the whale behavior observed indicated the whales might be open to a mutual interaction, did the captain tell us to get ready for a swim.

About midway way through the adventure we encountered a mother and calf that seemed to accept our presence.  We began observing them before 8 AM and decided to get in the water a half hour later.  Four of us got in and swam about hundred meters.  At the point where we could see the whales we stopped swimming and started floating.  At the edge of our vision we could see the mother resting in about 30 feet of water and the calf was free to explore his world.  Little by little the young whale swam by each of us to check us out.  Once confidant we were not a threat he started to play.

Incredible show beneath the sea

Incredible show beneath the sea

Each breath cycle he would let mom know he was fine than swim up to us.  First he circled, then he did a variety of acrobatics and seemed to enjoy coming really close to the swimmers. His mom would rise up every 25-30 minutes to breath and check us out.  We must have passed the test because she repeated the same routine for hours, enabling us to rotate groups in and out of the water without having to move the boat to exchange swimmers.

Twice we pulled all the swimmers out of the water in order to allow the whales to rest, nurse, relax, and log and to our amazement they stayed with our boat. When we got back in the water the whales returned to their previous pattern of behavior where the mom rested and the baby was free to swim around. Everyone enjoyed watching the whale play.  In the late afternoon I noticed the baby whales circles around us were getting bigger and bigger.  So it seemed his curiosity started to fade so we decided it was time to say aloha. It was a magical day.


While we saw whales every day, we did not see the numbers of whales demonstrating behavior  indicating they were open to a mutual interaction. During a season with so many whale sightings, I expected more in-water interactions.  It has been my experience over 9 seasons that about 45% of the whales we observed seemed open to an encounter while this year the number was around 30-35%.  Some say it might have something to do with the phase of the moon or even the water temperature. I don’t know the real reason but would surely love to.

What I do know to be true is that it takes between 9 and 12 days on the water, in order for the elements to come together to have an epic day.  I am referring to the quality of light, wind, sea conditions, underwater visibility, and cooperative whales.   Wildlife photography takes time, and just because it is legal to swim with whales in Tonga, it is not easy. It requires patience, dedication, humor, and a bit of luck to have mutual interactions with whales that last for hours.  The longer the trip, the better the chances or this to occur.
As I continue to edit and process images from the trip I will make more posts.   Until then make the most of your days and remember to live your dream, not dream about life.





Posted in bucket list adventure, Decor, dive travel, Gallery, Island scenic, marine, photography workshops, Travel, whales | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment