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Hawaii Highlights | Travel

Photo tours help participants of any skill level snap beautiful shots

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    Tour guide Chris Couillard, left, assists tour participants adjust their camera settings and offer advice on the framing and composition of photos.
    Tour participants capture breathtaking shots of the sun setting over the water from a secret spot.
    The Ko‘olau mountains are a stunning backdrop to the sunrise and complete island tour.
    Turtles are commonly seen on Oahu Photography Tours' sunrise and complete island tours.

While people-watching on a bench in New York’s Central Park, Oahu Photography Tours owner and founder Alex Wilson noticed those around him taking photos of random things without any focus or direction. It was there on vacation that he thought it would be interesting to have someone take these visitors to iconic and well-known places in the city and teach them to wait for the right time and the right lighting at the right location.

Wilson, who had been a tour guide at Kualoa Ranch for about three years, decided to adapt this idea to his island home, and in mid-2011 Oahu Photography Tours was born.

Today, Oahu Photography Tours operates seven days a week with options like sunrise, sunset, complete island, Friday night lights, blue Hawaii, full moon, whale watching and private tours.

"We work quite a bit, but I wouldn’t really call it work," Wilson said. "I would call it coming out and having fun and helping people get good pictures."

Wilson, who grew up in Orlando, Fla., came to Hawaii on vacation in 2004 after serving in the Navy and decided to stay. His background in photography and tourism, and the fact there were no photo tours on Oahu, made it fairly easy to start the business.

"Everybody is encouraged to come on the tour, whether you’re a professional or amateur or don’t even have a camera, you can come on the tour with an iPhone, a Samsung phone, you can come with a point and shoot, you can come with an expensive DSLR," Wilson said.

He and tour guide Chris Couillard are experienced and available to help with camera settings, advice on composition, framing and much more.


(808) 679-1938

All skill levels and camera types welcome!
Space is limited and reservations are required.
Walking is involved on all tours.

All tours include:
Pickup & dropoff in Waikiki
Rain gear

Types of tours:
• Sunrise
• Sunset
• Complete island
• Friday night
• Blue Hawaii
• Full moon
• Whale watching
• Private

Oahu Photography Tours partners with Hawaii Camera for rental equipment, in case tour participants forget important equipment or want to try something new.

They also partner with Hawaii Photography Tours, which offers workshops, photography lessons, tours, and classes. For upcoming events, check

Sunrise and sunset tours run during the week, with the complete island and blue Hawaii tour happening on most weekends. Full moon tours run once or twice a month; Friday night light tours run weekly; and the whale watching tours are seasonal. Tours can last from three to 10 hours and prices vary from about $40 to $160.

Most tours, besides the full moon tour, make about six to 15 stops at iconic spots throughout Oahu, depending on the weather. Some popular spots include Sandy’s Beach, Kaneohe Bay, La’ie Point, the Ko’olau mountains, Makapu’u Lookout and Nuuanu Pali Road.

At each spot, Wilson and Couillard allow enough time for people to roam around and get great shots. A maximum of seven people are allowed on each tour, so the tour guide is able to pay attention to every individual.

Wilson is adamant about teaching tour participants that photography is all about patience; waiting for the right lighting and the right conditions.

"My goal for everyone is to get one good photograph at each place that we go and if they can walk away with six amazing shots from Hawaii that they can print out and send to people and just keep for themselves, I think that’s a very good value, a very good sentimental value and that way they can also see how beautiful this island is," Wilson said.

Wilson’s grandmother used to buy cameras for him, and his dad was also a photographer, so his own interest in photography began before he could even remember.

"It’s like a time capsule and that’s what really got me intrigued with photography," Wilson said. "I really enjoy the landscape because I always tell people on my tours: the only thing that you’re guaranteed, the only thing you know about today is that the sun’s going to come up and other than that you have no idea what’s going to go on out here, so it’s all surprise. You get to photograph nature just showing itself and it’s a neat experience."

Wilson took film photography classes in high school and took courses on digital photography at the University of Hawaii. He also became interested in the Hawaiian culture and took courses at Kapiolani Community College to gain a broader understanding and become a better tour guide.

What Wilson says really helped him was a hands-on program from the New York Institute of Photography. And as a tour guide he’s enhanced his photography skills by stepping back, helping people and seeing how everything works.

"You have this beautiful sunrise and everybody’s looking at the sunrise, while behind them they don’t even realize there’s a beautiful rainbow," Wilson said. "And being able to say ‘look behind you’ or ‘look here’ or ‘look there’ … it’s kind of fun, I’m like the voice in the back of people’s heads and it’s really helped me learn more about photography."

For Couillard, the skill didn’t come as naturally and early as it did for Wilson, but it has developed into a passion.

"Sometimes you hear a lot of photographers say, like they have this awesome origin story, like they were four years old and struck by lightning while they were holding a camera and now they’re this awesome photographer," Couillard said. "No, I started out when I was in my mid-teens. I was pretty bad. I didn’t have some awesome skill set. I just practiced and I had the support of my friends and family and that’s what got me where I am today."

Along with being a photographer and tour guide, Couillard — who grew up in Peru — is an environmental design student at the University of Hawaii. He sees a lot of himself in the people who come on the tours, which brings him back to the times when he was struggling to figure out what worked or how to bring out the best in a shot.

"There’s something about each one of these moments that these people have when they experience something new, when they have that epiphany, when they realize they can actually capture these amazing shots," Couillard said. "And these little moments that everyone experiences on these tours, that’s what keeps me going. It makes me so happy to realize that."

He strives to instill confidence in every tour participant.

"When they leave these tours I want them to feel like the camera in their hand, it’s not just something that’s holding them back, it’s something that’s empowering them. It’s a tool to create and make something truly amazing," Couillard said. "With a little practice, a little determination, you can take fantastic photos and that’s what I want people to come out with from these tours."

Although getting up at 4 a.m. to beat the sunrise isn’t easy for Wilson, the photographs that tour participants share with him afterward keep him inspired.

"I always tell people the main reason you come to Hawaii is because of what you’ve seen over the years — you’ve seen these beautiful videos, these beautiful photographs and you’re so inspired by the beauty of it," Wilson said. "Today we have so much easy access to camera equipment that’s fairly inexpensive and why not come out here with a local guide who knows where to go, knows how to get the right lighting and you, yourself, can get some great shots, great photographs that you can bring back home with you and keep as a keepsake."

In the future, Wilson hopes to incorporate other islands, different subjects and locations on Oahu to shoot, and to start a workshop or class to inspire people who have little knowledge of photography.

For more information on Oahu Photography Tours, visit or call 679-1938.

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