More than 900 entries poured in for our first Instagram contest, which we held to celebrate our 2016 award winners and hitting 200,000 followers on our account, @ForbesTravelGuide. Among the many excellent entries we found a winner to send to Vancouver for our 2016 Star Awards Ceremony from April 13 to 16.
L Lawson (@thelightrecord on Instagram) snapped the above winning photo, a mesmerizing view of the Napali Coast in Kauai. Formerly from Miami Beach, the new Los Angeles resident runs an online-based virtual yoga center and does client development for a Swiss watch company when he isn’t out taking photos.
After announcing his win, we chatted with Lawson to find out how he got the shot of the Kauai coast, what his favorite subjects to shoot are and his top travel destinations.
How did you feel upon learning that you had won our contest?
To be honest, I cried. I have been photographing since I was 9 years old, when I got my first 110 film camera, 14 when I got a Polaroid Instant.
I have worked professionally, on and off, since 2001, often struggling to figure out how to make it work financially while shooting things that I love. I felt so elated to finally be recognized for my work.
I studied fine arts and photography at Kean University in New Jersey. I studied with Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Matt Rainey from The Star-Ledger and I always believed that I could be great like him. I have never given up and this is one step closer to that dream.
What are your favorite things to shoot?
Above all, aerial photography has been a favorite of mine since I first shot from the sky when I was 21 years old. I generally arrange for an aerial shoot whenever possible, despite the funny fact that I almost always get a little woozy when I fly.
Otherwise, I have spent many years traveling to various sacred places around the world. I am drawn most to places that are deeply rooted in mysterious cultures and peoples.
My challenge is to connect to the location, as well as the people that inhabit that place. Then I work to capture both the “general” and the “specific” aspects of that locale. While most people see such places as tourist destinations, I see them as pilgrimage sites. My photographs are purely biographical in this regard.
What are your favorite travel destinations you’ve visited?
Peru is a top favorite for me. I have been there twice and have spent over two months discovering great magic there. Cuzco is one of the greatest cities on earth. Hawaii is so deeply set in my soul.
I also love, Denali, Jerusalem, Rishikesh and Egypt, particularly since I was accompanied by the great Egyptologist Emil Shaker, who provided us with exclusive access inside the Great Pyramid for hours at a time.
My bucket list includes Petra, Jordan; New Zealand; Turkey; South Africa; St. Petersburg; Amritsar, India; Yellowstone.
Tell me about your winning shot. How did you take it?
The winning photograph was the result of preparation. I was living on Kauai at the time and my downstairs neighbor worked for Jack Harter Helicopters. One day, they had a free seat and I had one hour to get to Lihue. Since I always have my camera ready to shoot and batteries charged, I grabbed by bag and made it over to the Jack Harter office.
While the opportunity was golden, I ended up in the middle seat on a flight with the doors and widows on. I always take doors-off flights for shooting, but again, this was a beautiful gesture from my lovely neighbor and I was determined to make the best of it.
Most of my shots were obstructed by other passengers or by the window frames. I managed to get just three really solid frames out of that experience. The winning shot was one of them.
The winning shot is looking north along the famed west side of Kauai known as the Napali Coast. It is a destination for adventure travelers who either hike the Kalalau Trail or kayak the rough sea to arrive at Kalalau Beach.
Have you ever been to Vancouver? What are you looking forward to shooting most in the city?
I have never been to Vancouver! I have not even begun to research what I would like to see and photograph. I have never seen a wild orca. That’s a dream of mine! My wife is looking into pricing for a doors-off helicopter shoot, and I am really hopeful that I can make that happen financially. I envision a shot of the city from the sky with those beautiful mountains in the background at sunset.
Ultimately, I want to shoot the city from the sky, ground and from the water. I feel that Vancouver presents itself well from all three perspectives. I also have a fascination with skyscrapers, so I’ll probably find the tallest building that I am allowed to visit and shoot from there as well.