This behind-the-scenes project breakdown covers my recent video Kauai: Embracing the Journey. If you’ve already seen it, read on; if not, check it out!

Goals

Before we left for Kauai, my general goal was to document the trip in a way that was more creative than the typical vacation video: I didn’t want a montage of “hey look at me” clips, but rather to tell a story. Initially, the plan was to focus on one of the adventures we were planning: a trek deep into the rainforest via a series of long underground tunnels. Sounds cool, right?

But the weather, of course, didn’t cooperate.

Kauai Forecast

The forecast as we sat in the airport

Adaptation

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, our trip turned out to coincide with a serious of tremendous thunderstorms that were washing away roads, flooding rivers and shopping malls, and covering the beaches in driftwood. The idea of fording a (flooding) river to get to the trailhead, hiking along a poorly-marked path through the rainforest, and making our way through 1.5+ miles of former stream diversion tunnels in such weather suddenly seemed like it would be pushing our luck. Plan A was out.

After landing in Lihu’e (in the rain) we upgraded our car rental from a Ford Focus to a 4WD Jeep Wrangler, found the March Madness basketball games on TV, and set about coming up with a Plan B while the storms raged outside. Psychologically, we actually adapted quite well: rather than being bummed that the weather wasn’t cooperating with our tropical island vacation, we set out to enjoy the island as it was – rain, wind, and all.

It was actually about the second or third day, as I was photographing the dawn storm clouds from the beach (in a light rain, of course), that an idea struck me. There was a break in the clouds on the horizon, and the forecast called for the thunderstorms to be breaking up a bit, though continuing off-and-on; the weather was going to get better, though remain volatile.

Sunbeams and clouds over ocean

A break in the weather: hope on the horizon? At least a storyline idea for a video.

The phrase “from dark to light” popped into my head, and I had an inspiration: instead of making a video about a specific adventure, why not center the story around this transition from stormy weather to good (both physically and metaphorically)?

A New Perspective

Our story, in fact, was that we arrived on Kauai expecting one thing (sunny skies), and found another (stormy skies), but had a great time nonetheless. I decided to make that the basic storyline, and set out to start recording subjects and scenes I never would have before: muddy rain puddles, driftwood-strewn beaches, crashing storm waves – all those things that at first glance I might have found unattractive in trying to document the beauty of the Kauai, but at second glance helped tell the story.

Typically, when I’m in Nature Photography mode, my eyes seek out beautiful scenes and landscapes in an effort to communicate the beauty of my surroundings. Things like mud puddles don’t usually register. With this new storyline in mind, though, my head had to do a quick reset: I was now looking for a broader selection of images. I came up with an outline for a shot list, and tried to pay close attention while we were out and about to capture not just scenes that made us go “Ah!” but those that made us go “Oh!” or “Ugh!” as well.

My wife was a real trooper, sacrificing herself often to mud and rain to help me get the shot (though I think she secretly enjoyed it). That’s her slopping through the mud in bare feet, and yes, she got pretty wet at 0:52 (though the camera was safely in a waterproof case). 🙂

Video Gear

The equipment I used to record footage was pretty straightforward:

  • Nikon D7000
  • Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6
  • Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5
  • Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8
  • Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8
The still photos were shot with both the Nikon D7000 and a Nikon D300.

The Video Edit

Back on the Mainland, safe and dry in the office, the question was how to put it altogether. Holding on to that general idea of “dark to light,” I decided on a two-act structure: start out with dark and stormy footage, and then transition to light and fun footage. But because the ultimate message was “enjoying ourselves in spite of things” I included some stormy footage in the second act, as well, to make the point that it wasn’t just that the sun came out, but we adapted to the weather, as well.

For the dark and stormy footage, I tried to emphasize the mood by desaturating the clips and increasing the blues to give them a colder, less inviting feel. The remaining footage I edited to be as “normal” as possible, with a little boost in the color saturation.

To try and really make the point, I decided on a few voiceover spots, and came up with some really flowery, heavy-handed, and preachy text. My good friend Donovan, whom I enlisted to record the voiceover, fortunately reined me in with some solid editing suggestions.

The soundtrack had to emphasize the two sections, and after searching high and low, I found a couple of instrumental tracks from Tim McMorris (whose work I had used on a previous project) that seemed to work perfectly. I only used about half of the first track, but had to repeat the second track to make it long enough.

The only environmental sound in the video is of ocean waves, which I actually just recorded with my iPhone.

Lessons Learned

One of the obvious lessons was simply to be flexible, and adapt to the conditions you find yourself in. I had the luxury of changing my storyline; had I been tasked with getting the original story no matter what, I would have had to adapt in a different way, and find a way to make it work.

The project also opened my eyes to capturing footage that told a more complete story: not just the pretty scenes, but also the ones easily overlooked (think: mud puddles). Looking back, I would have liked to have a greater variety of footage to work with (hiking in the rain, sitting in the condo with the storm raging outside, or even just enjoying some shave ice on the beach). In fact, one of the big issues I ran into was simply not having enough time to capture all the video and stills I wanted. The balance I had to strike was one of getting all the shots I might want vs. actually enjoying the trip. This was not a professional assignment – my wife and I were on a “vacation” and I had best remember that.

And in case I started to forget, she was always there to remind me:

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