Creative Director: Elizabeth Spiridakis Olson
Director of Photography: Tara Guertin
Photographer: Kyle Johnson
How did you get those amazing aerial shots?
I ended up taking a helicopter tour of Kauai, knowing it would be the most amazing way to see and photograph the island from a unique perspective. I specifically found a company that offered a doorless chopper to get the best photos I could. The experience was incredible and terrifying at the same time. I honestly found that looking through my lens made it feel less “real” but every time I would set my camera down I started freaking out. The pilot gets down within the canyons and directly over the rocky cliffs or huge ocean swells. Its really a surreal way see the crazy diverse mix of landscapes on such a small island.
What was your approach to this shoot, did you have a shot list?
I approached this shoot similar to any editorial project I shoot. I definitely come in excited with some initial ideas and knowing the magazines specific needs. I always leave room however for exploration and spontaneous shots as well…Always turn down every road that looks interesting, dont hesitate to talk with locals, etc…
With this being a big feature, we definitely talked about the shoot a lot before hand and went into it with a Shot List. I had never been to Kauai previously. Being brand new to an area is always a great advantage for me photography wise. Everything is new and exciting and none of the little details get missed or overlooked. With a place this incredible I know there is bound to be almost too many good small details. I did try to stay within the vein of the story though. With it being a story for their Food Issue, the specific dishes had to be chosen and bringing any necessary lighting/plates/etc.. was also planned ahead of time. Shooting food at night almost always needs to be lit. I wanted to light it yet have it still feeling fitting to the story that was mostly shot outdoors & natural.
Did you know the writer on this project?
I have yet to meet Chris personally however he also wrote the one other travel story I have shot for AFAR earlier last year. After that story (about Oregon Coastal foragers) he reached out to me via email expressing he loved how the story turned out. We have corresponded a few times and I hope to collaborate with him again. I think my aesthetic is a good fit for his stories and we definitely have a mutual respect. I was stoked to find out he was writing the Kauai piece.
What sort of direction did you get from the magazine?
The creative director Elizabeth Spiridakis Olson & Photo Director Tara Guertin are both amazing people. AFAR does a great job of planning, producing and scheduling yet also letting the photographer find your own vision and tell the story as you see it and experience it. They both had great ideas going into the shoot on locations, aesthetic, and other details. Elizabeth actually joined me during the food shoots and helped with specific plate styling. Its great to collaborate with people who are just as passionate and whose aesthetics and curation I respect.
Whose idea was it to ride a bike off the pier?
Technically Jim was only diving off the pier…not riding a bike off of it but he did have damn good form. I might of mis-worded that about the bike. He rode his cruiser bike onto the pier and then dove off a few times for us. I was taking some more classic environmental
How was the food at Bar Acuda?
The food we had was awesome! You can really tell Jim uses the best local ingredients possible. Weekly trips to the farmers market/fish markets and sourcing as many things as he can that way. The islands climate can grow almost anything. As simple as it was the Local North Shore honeycomb with Humboldt Fog goat cheese and apple was one of my favorite things we tried. That honey smells and tastes like the islands flowers. I also have only good things to say about any of the sea food they serve. Seared Ono was especially memorable.
What made this story different from your other travel assignments?
This was a dream job! 100 percent. I have shot a lot of travel related stories around the Northwest where I live but I had never yet traveled somewhere so exotic and breathtaking for travel work. I think knowing it was a big feature and a huge opportunity pushed me to work harder than ever before. I was up before sunrise every day and really made the most of every minute on the island. Without sounding super cheesy, it really affirmed how much I love my job. Its a ton of work on a travel story. Running around hitting so many places but its always the most fun and exciting. Especially being somewhere you have never been and knowing the photos are going to accompany a great travel writers story. I don’t think I have ever been more excited to get home and scan through film/files than on this story.
How many shots did you get of the ocean before you got that beautiful opener?
Surprisingly not many. It was only our first morning of shooting..(we arrived the previous afternoon). My assistant Ron Harroll & I got up before dawn and just started driving around looking for interesting views and landscapes in the morning light. It wasn’t even a particularly scenic beach but we noticed the waves/water looked good in that light and we pulled over for a few quick shots. It ended up making a great opener.