Capturing Energy With Nani Welch Keli‘i‘ho‘omaluNani Welch Keliʻiʻhoʻomalu is a lifestyle and fashion photographer from Waimea, Hawaiʻi Island. The ocean has always served as a source of inspiration and energy for Nani, both in her work and in her personal life. She recently joined us on a trip to Tahiti, where she connected with new friends who share her passions, values, and love of the island lifestyle.
What do you try to convey through your photography?
Growing up in such a beautiful place, it’s hard to put into words what we get to experience here in Hawaiʻi. What I’m always trying to convey when I take a photo is the genuine essence of a subject. Something that you might not have the words to explain whether it’s a landscape, a person, or something dear to you.
There’s an energy to seeing a new place for the first time. How do you capture that?
Sometimes when visiting a new place I feel overwhelmed thinking of how I'm going to perfectly capture everything around me. Not just to show to others, but for memories to keep for myself. I initially try to take everything in with all of my senses before reaching for my camera. After sitting in the moment for a bit and observing, I feel a lot more equipped to document a space.
How do you capture the energy of a certain person?
I think it goes without saying that people will be their most authentic self when there isn’t a camera pointed at them. When taking photos, I try to create a space where it doesn’t feel like you’re being photographed at all. Sometimes that means snapping a photo during those in between moments when your subject doesn’t notice. And sometimes that means creating a space where even if I’m telling someone how to pose or where to move, they feel comfortable enough to have fun and let their guard down. That’s usually when I get my most genuine moments!
What makes living in a place like Hawai‘i or Tahiti so lively and unique?
Living in a place that’s so alive, your surroundings are constantly changing. The tides, the winds, even the landscapes. I think when you grow up somewhere like Hawaiʻi and even Tahiti, you’re taught at a young age how to read these things. The signs you point to for changing seasons, upcoming swells, and yearly storms. The connection we have with place is not only practical, but is deeply rooted in our culture. As Hawaiians as well as residents of Hawai’i, we share this unique collective experience that connects us to one another.
How does living near the ocean influence you and your work?
Growing up surrounded by water, it’s a given that some of your first memories come from the ocean. I grew up going with my dad and uncles to fish for our ʻohana, playing in the waves with my cousins, and camping during the summers on the beach. The ocean is a source of life for so many of us. Through the years, my relationship with the ocean has changed and grown. I love the water, the way it shifts and changes daily is so beautiful. That being said, I definitely have a healthy fear and deep respect for the power of the ocean. I never went outside of my comfort zone when I would go swimming with friends, I refused to hop on a surfboard, and I would be wary of diving a little too deep. Photography has helped me re-learn how to interact with the ocean. Where to sit while shooting surf, which direction the current pushes, rip tides, and just knowing my personal limit. Shooting in the ocean has definitely put me out of my comfort zone more times than I can count. But I always make sure to be with people that I feel safe with and who can teach me in crucial moments. These experiences have grown my love for the ocean and have taught me new skills and ways to enjoy the water.
Do you have any tips for new photographers on how to capture energy on camera?
Shoot, shoot, shoot! I learned photography through plenty of trial and error and the best advice I can give is to just keep shooting. The more you shoot, the more you learn what works, and what doesn’t. Once you get more comfortable behind the camera, you can start testing out different techniques and honing in on your own personal style. Everyone brings a different energy to what they shoot and that’s what’s so much fun about photography. You can be standing next to someone and take a photo of the exact same scene but no two photographers will see things exactly the same so the outcome will always be unique.
Did you find any similarities between the energy of life in Tahiti and Hawai‘i?
A place is made special by the people who live there. One of my favorite parts about traveling is seeing the culture of a new place. Tahiti is the first Pacific Island I’ve been to outside of Hawaiʻi. Growing up, we learn a lot about the cultures of Polynesia. How our traditions and languages might differ, but also how closely tied we are to one another. During this trip, it’s been so wonderful to see just how similar our homes are. You could feel the warm aloha that we have at home from so many we met during this trip. Our friends here in Tahiti taught us about the spaces they hold dear. How to duck dive under certain breaks, the names of different peaks, and even the similarities between our own languages. It was easy to see that we both have a deep and profound love for our ʻāina through the way we interact with our surroundings and the knowledge we hold and choose to share. There’s so much we weren’t able to see and do during our short week here and I’m already hoping to come back as soon as possible!