Why I Love People Photography


The truth is, if you go back to your childhood days you’ll discover what you loved.

I was given my first camera at age 7 by my grandfather from Poland. It was a plastic Diana brand camera and I was smitten. I immediately started taking secret shots of my family. They frequently wouldn’t know I was photographing them.

I felt powerful catching them so candidly, their faces remarkably real.

And it was ultra fun! And to magically get the photographs returned in prints holding each one in my hot little hands to see and study was a miracle.

And now 5 decades later I’m still at it.

I started shooting professionally in 1981 in Palo Alto, California. It was a heady time to be in the center of Silicon Valley.

Apple Computer was exploding, Facebook was not even an idea, and Google was just getting financed by my next door neighbor.

Steve Job’s girlfriend lived across the street. He’d pick her up in a convertible and one time I got a picture of them kissing with my telephoto lens. One day I’ll publish it. He later married her.

When I think of Steve Jobs I see him kissing his future wife, not selling computers. 🙂

So yesterday I shot a family portrait at the ocean here on Kauai and it was so much fun that they had to remind me about getting paid.

I’m so grateful to do what I love. And this is after 29 years of being paid to take photographs. I’m still jazzed about it.

All 13 people yesterday were at ease with me immediately and ready to try my ideas and express their ideas too.

The thing is when I’m asked to take a milestone photograph of a family, I absolutely know that this is a historically magic moment in their lives. We won’t pass this way again, not quite like this. It’s bordering on the mystical as it makes me see how temporary our lives are.


It took me many years to learn how to photograph a child. I’ll save you the learning curve, here is the secret.

You wait until they relax into the moment and then you pounce and capture it fast. That’s how I got the first photograph of the girl in the tree above. I waited. 

I’m not all that patient but photographing people educates me on how to be patient. Perfect timing has to do with waiting and pouncing. You have to be fast to get that magical second when she won’t look that way again, this is her moment in the tree, and she’s happy.

No one told her to smile or pretend to be happy to get some ice cream, this was real.

You might only have one chance so you have to go for the gusto at the same time you’re waiting patiently.

It takes practice.

I remember the moment I realized that my finger snapped the photograph before my brain suggested it.

I was photographing a wedding at Stanford University and I was waiting for that perfect photo of the bride being walked down the aisle by her father.

I discovered that the magic moment is quite often before they take the first step down the aisle not while they are walking.

Dad and daughter looked at each other for a fleeting second. Boom, I got it.

They didn’t even know I took the photo they were so caught up in the moment before Dad would give her away. Love poured out of them and I was crying too. But crying doesn’t keep me from getting the shot, it only adds to it.

So my family wanted a fun ocean shot before going back to the mainland. I loved that the grown-ups were even more excited than the kids about it.


See more family photography here.

One thing I’m grateful for is the amazing people I’ve met from doing photography all these decades.

I’m still friends with many of the people I’ve photographed. Most of the 722 weddings I shot in Palo Alto, those couples are incredibly still together.

Shooting weddings renewed my faith in humanity. True love does happen.

And if you’re ever unsure of what you love to do, go back to your early days of childhood and remember what put a smile on your face.

Mary Bartnikowski, award-winning photographer, and author for 29 years has led programs at Apple, Intel, Stanford University and worldwide. She daily has her toes in sand, swims in the ocean, and laughs often. Join Mary for a private luxury retreat to learn photography and yoga on Kauai, details here.

#Kauai: Helicopter Tour

Absolutely the best thing I’ve done on Kauai!

I’ve lived on this magical island for 2 years. But this opened my eyes all the way to my toes.

Soaring over the plunging velvety emerald cliffs and mesmerizing turquoise waters was a jolt to my soul.

How could all this amazing enchantment be sparkling in the now moment and I’ve never seen it?

I fell more deeply in love with this 25 x 33 miles tiny island. But no, it’s not so tiny. The power of the landscape made me tingle for hours, it was like having a crush on a hunky man turn into true love.

I was floating. My eyes grew new nerve endings, I could see more clearly and my heart busted open in gratitude.

Wonder and awe guide my life now. And I’ve never been more grateful that I sold my belongings, explored the world, moved to an island, and decided to be happy.

You can change your life. It all starts with that whispering in your spirit that says, yes go that way or no that is not for you.

Listen to it, even if it doesn’t make sense. Logic is not final wisdom.

Would your friends and family tell you not to move to another country or convert a used shipping container into a home? I am considering this.

Don’t live anyone’s life but your own.

It’s enough to do that one thing in your life. Truly live what is in your heart.

Yes courage takes practice. But there’s no other time like right now to start practicing.

Kickstart your motivation here, in my new video on the beach in Poipu.

Mary Bartnikowski, is an author, award winning photographer, and speaker. She has led programs at Apple Computer, Stanford, Intel, and worldwide.

Stay in touch with Mary and get her free ebook, Secrets of Stunning Photographs.

Go with www.sunshinehelicopters.com

#Kauai: Java Kai


I’ve usually been one to avoid coffee stores and buying coffee drinks, but the other day when my friend Mary and I needed to get together I suggested we meet at Java Kai in Kapaa. Our girls had been encouraging me to go, and the meeting seemed the perfect excuse to give it a try.

It’s going to be a very, very long time (like until I receive another gift certificate) before I ever step into a Starbucks again now that I’ve been to Java Kai.

Art on the wall, from local artists, are for sale.
There’s loads of art to take in while you wait or have your drink, all from local artists, and all for sale.

This great coffee house is located in Kapaa’s Old Town area, and has an incredible menu of very tasty coffee drinks, and well as tea drinks and smoothies you won’t find elsewhere. Most coffee drinks are in the $4 to $5 range, but they are big! They also offer a splendid selection of pastries, breakfast sandwiches and lunch items (including vegan and gluten-free items – coconut-lime cupcakes were the vegan offering the day I was there). If it’s crowded (some times I’ve seen the line going right out the door), and you’re in a hurry, there’s a “secret window” in the back that supposedly goes faster. Like almost everywhere you visit on Kaua’i, the Java Kai staff is genuinely friendly and helpful.

WenYu and YaYu often stop for a coffee drink when they walk into town (yes, it’s within walking distance of our house!), and are working their way through the menu. Thai coffee, frozen hot chocolate, and Maui mocha (chocolate and coconut) are currently at the top of their favorites list. The day I was there with Mary I stuck with a boring, but very well-made soy latte and enjoyed every sip.  Any of their drinks can be made with soy, coconut or almond milk.

Sitting outside with our BIG coffee drinks
Sitting outside with our BIG coffee drinks

Although there’s plenty of seating inside, if the sun is shining I recommend the outdoor seating. Grab your coffee (and treat if you indulged), and head outside to watch the parade go by. Love Java Kai!

#Kauai: Power Places

Anini Beach, Kauai, photo, http://www.bartnikowski.com

Suddenly I was on Kauai. My toes tingled and my skin sparkled. 

My mouth dropped open in wonder and awe.

The power of this island surged up from the floor of my soul and out the top of my head. Happy I listened to that urge inside me to leave Hawaii Island and discover Kauai.

I’d been looking for this enchanted place in 32 countries and I never found it until now.

I knew I was home. 

I didn’t think I’d live in the USA again after traveling for 8 years worldwide. But when I found myself lying in the road after a brutal motorbike accident in Thailand, my heart whispered Hawaii.

So with 3 pieces of luggage I came home to the USA and landed in Honolulu, Hawaii not knowing a soul. I’ve never been more thrilled to see the Welcome to the United States of America sign in international arrivals. But this one had hula dancers on it.

Kauai happens to you. And your life is never the same. In the 18 months I’ve lived on this island I continue to discover new secrets that sing to my spirit, and when I visit a powerful place I love I am re-ignited with passion and purpose for my home.

Yesterday I went to Anini Beach in the above photo, and when I got there my heart busted open with gratitude. This is why I live here! Turquoise as far as the eye can see.

You’re dunked in killer beauty and pristine air. Swimming in diamond clear water that wild turtles love to be in!

This place heals you. My toothache disappeared. 

So I’m having dental surgery tomorrow. And I know in the depth of my being, at the core of my spirit that it kicked me into a greatly improved mindset to commune with turtles on Anini Beach.

Maybe I’ll go there right now to get another infusion of fairy dust, see my sea turtle friends, and soar to heaven and back without getting on a plane.

Speaking of that, I went on a helicopter ride and saw all my power places from the sky and it blew my brain cells out of my mind.

Flying Over Kalapaki Bay, Kauai, photo, http://www.bartnikowski.com

I was speechless and that is not an every day thing for me. You feel the radiance of cascading waterfalls, lush emerald green cliffs, and a beckoning bewilderingly blue coastline that delivers instant transformation and peace as you fly over this sacred rock in the middle of the ocean. You feel blessed.

It made me see that you can fly without your body, you just have to steep yourself in a powerful place that calls to you.

Surrender to what you loved as a child. Go see that place on the other side of the world that floats up in your heart when you’re dreaming. You’ll never be the same again. 

Next Post: the video of flying over Kauai in a helicopter.

Mary Bartnikowski, author of 4 books, award-winning photographer, and educator. She has led programs worldwide and at Apple, Stanford University, and Intel.

Join me on Kauai and Discover the Power Places of Kauai. Learn Photography with any Camera, Get Incredible Photos Guaranteed and Change Your Life, includes Luxury Accommodation.

Learn More Here.

I Don’t Think I Can Ever Quit This Place


Brett and I stopped at Starbucks on Monday to use the gift card we received for Christmas. As we sat outside in the sun to sip our drinks, I told Brett that I didn’t think I could ever leave Kaua’i; I love living here too much. He agreed and said he also couldn’t imagine ever living anywhere else. We both want to grow very, very old here.

After more than 18 months living on Kaua’i, here are some reasons why I love our island home so much, and why I never want to leave:lei_image

  1. Aloha everywhere, every day: Aloha is more than just a word for hello and good-bye; it’s an expression of genuine love, friendship and compassion that comes from the heart. We experience aloha here every day, from the smiles we receive at the store, when we ‘talk story’ with a neighbor or even when someone stops on the busy highway to let us make our turn. We are still very much malahini (newcomers), and yet we are constantly rewarded with kindness and friendship like we’ve received no place else.
  2. Life is slower here: When you live in a place this beautiful, there’s no reason to rush through the day. If something can wait until tomorrow, you let it wait. If someone is standing in the middle of the aisle at the market to look things over, you stand and wait until they’re ready to move. There’s just no reason to hurry. A relaxed life has made for a much happier me.
  3. Yes, the weather is wonderful: We’re currently in the middle of “sweater weather” now –  the last few evenings the temperature has dropped down to the lower 70s, and may even have gotten as low as 68°. We’re usually in the low 80s most of the year though. The sun shines almost every day, but even if it rains it’s still warm. There seems to be a brief hot, humid and miserable patch of weather during the late summer, but the trade winds eventually return and everything’s right again.kauai-beach-house
  4. It really is the Garden Island: Kaua’i is green. And lush. There are always flowers in bloom: plumeria, bougainvillea, heliconia, ginger, gardenias and many more. In the evenings you can sometimes smell the blossoms on the breeze. There is no gardening or farming ‘season’ because the growing season goes on year-round. I don’t think I will ever grow tired of palm trees.
  5. I see the ocean every day: It doesn’t matter whether I’m sitting on the beach, or walking along the rocky shore, or looking out at the distant horizon, or whether its color is deep blue, gray or turquoise: my soul fills with joy every time I see the ocean. 169013-181950885175613-135655-n_54_990x660_201406020156
  6. The mountains are pretty spectacular as well: Kauai’s mountains are green, lush and imposing. After a rain, you can sometimes count a string of up to six or seven beautiful, long waterfalls cascading down their fronts!
  7. Sunrise, sunset: Awe-inspiring sunrises, and jaw dropping sunsets. Need I say more?12010548_968048313236972_600587977843313006_o
  8. Kaua’i is just the right size: I’ve never felt trapped here, even though Kaua’i is just a very tiny speck of land surrounded by the largest ocean on the planet. The main highway around the island is only 58 miles long, give or take, and mostly just two lanes, but we rarely have to venture more than 10 miles either direction from our home; everything we need or use is close by. A trip to the north or south shores, or to the west side is an excursion, and it’s sometimes hard to believe I’m still on the same island because the micro-climates and cultural vibe in those places are different from the east side where we live. The population of Kaua’i is only around 65,000, almost like a small town. It never feels crowded here.
  9. Eating local is a breeze: The weekly farmers’ markets here are amazing. Every week, all year, there’s a bounty of fresh-picked fruits and vegetables available for sale. And they’re cheap. Neighbors and friends often bring you fruit or other produce from their yard or garden. Locally-raised beef is also readily available and affordable, as is locally produced goat cheese. There’s usually someone in the neighborhood or set up by the road selling (or giving away) fresh-caught fish.photo (9)
  10. Everything I need is available here: Or, if not, I can order it from Amazon Prime. Yes, the cost of living is higher here, but we planned for it before we moved and have adapted. I’ve yet to feel that I’m missing out on anything.

No one here cares what you look like or what you’re wearing. Age is respected. Your attitude is what matters most of all, not the house you live in or the car you drive. And, there is no place better to come home to than Kaua’i. Not just because it’s beautiful, but because I get to stay.

A Dirty Secret

photo (2)

No, that is not mold and mildew on our ceiling fan, although that’s what I thought when I first saw it (and freaked out). It’s just dust. Thankfully it was easily removed with a Swiffer cloth and the fan looks good as new.

Still, I feel like I have been fighting a losing battle recently with our house, trying to keep it clean. Last week the fans were clean; this weekend they all looked they had developed a terminal condition. The windows are dirty again, and we have been invaded by ants.

Ever since we moved here I have been surprised by how much and how fast dust and dirt accumulates. We live in semi-rural area, with lots of open fields, unpaved roads, animals, and so forth which I assume is the cause of all the dust we seem to get. It doesn’t help either that many of the screens in our windows are old, with small tears that allow more dust to enter the house.

This past week though there have been epic levels of dust. Our landlord was busy pruning five or six years of overgrowth from the trees and bushes in the back yard, and the more he cut and trimmed, the more dust he sent flying. I sweep a couple of times almost every day, and was appalled by what I was gathering off the floor. I’m hoping all the rain we received this past weekend washed the remaining dust and dirt off all the debris that still needs to be carted off, as well as what’s left on the plants and trees left standing. If not, I’m sure I will be dusting down our ceiling fans again in short order as well as stepping up my sweeping again.

Brett and I washed all the windows, inside and out, just a couple of months ago, but every time it storms here salt gets on the windows, coating them with a dull film. Our landlord has said he will take care of washing the exterior windows, although when that will be is anyone’s guess. It’s still depressing though to see all of our hard work from this past summer gone in such a short time.

The ant invasion seems to be a result of both the recent pruning in the yard and the rain. The ants’ nests have been disturbed and they are apparently looking for food and shelter, and have decided the best place to find it is in our house. They are relentless. I keep a very clean kitchen but there are ants all over everything, checking to see if I have slipped up or left anything behind or uncovered. When I open up my laptop there are always a couple of the little guys climbing around. They’re in the bathroom, on the windowsill of the bedroom, everywhere. Much as I detest the ants, I’m still undecided which is worse: this year’s invasion, or the plague of mosquitos and gnats we suffered through last year.

I will continue to fight the good fight and try to keep on top of the dirt that seems to accumulate so easily here. Who knew though that a little island out in the middle of nowhere could produce so much dust, or so many bugs (the salt I understand). Our dirty little secret is out!

An Unpleasant Surprise

move_cartoon-1I woke up this past Saturday with a knot in my stomach – I had been dreaming that our landlord had just told us he was raising our rent to an amount we couldn’t afford. Once I was awake enough to realize it was just a dream my stomach calmed down, but it turns out the dream was a foreshadowing: We learned yesterday that our landlord will be selling the house. It will probably be listed in early September.

I can’t say I am entirely surprised – he got divorced within the last year and we thought there might eventually be financial reverberations coming that involved the house. Our rent increased slightly this year, and while we were not entirely happy about it the house remained affordable, especially since all utilities are included in the rent.

Houses typically take a l-o-n-g time to sell here, and our lease has to be honored no matter when the house sells. Our landlord is giving us first refusal on buying the property, but we frankly can’t afford it. Even if we could we have no desire to deal with the maintenance this place requires, and have no interest in being landlords either.

Our lease allows us to stay through the end of next May, but after that there is no way to know if a new owner (assuming the house has sold) would maintain the current set up. The most likely scenario is that the rent will go up but will no longer include utilities. Our gut feeling is that we should start looking for a new place to live sooner rather than later.

However, after crunching a lot of numbers yesterday evening, Brett and I think it’s time to consider buying rather than renting.

We have decided to contact a realtor next week and find out just what we can afford and what’s available. With WenYu heading off to college next year and YaYu following in just two more after that, we won’t be needing as much space as we do now, and a small condo would give Brett and I someplace solid to live as we grow older. We wouldn’t have to worry about external maintenance (just those HOA fees!), and we wouldn’t have to worry about the rent going up or the house being sold out from under us. Owning our own place would allow us to consider things like house swaps and such when we travel, something we can’t do in a rental. Finally, moving to a smaller place would also give us an opportunity to downsize a bit more.

Still, all of us are feeling very, very sad right now because we genuinely love this house, and honestly thought (hoped) we could live here for several years. It’s been a perfect home for us in every way as we have settled in and made Kaua’i our home. The location is wonderful, the views from our windows beautiful. We have known all along though that having to move was always a possibility, but we just didn’t think it would happen so quickly.

Stay tuned for future developments!


Stormy Day

Kaua’i is still beautiful even when the weather is less than perfect.

We caught quite a bit of rain and wind in our part of the island last weekend from a passing tropical storm that was breaking up, but on Saturday WenYu and YaYu were able to go for a run on the eastside bicycle path during a break between downpours. YaYu took her camera along and took these pictures of the stormy day as they headed back to the car.11227587_1599574730306125_1322247909598744055_o 11539038_1599574763639455_4354701194074009150_o 11539091_1599574656972799_1821099819412361323_o 11713944_1599574810306117_2082714226503905874_o 11710002_1599574680306130_8434361981590897928_o11722503_1599574766972788_1551720673670074056_o11699079_1599574806972784_8237202751691877244_o

At the Farmers’ Market

Brett and I always look forward to our weekly trip to the Kapaa Farmers’ Market, held every Wednesday afternoon from 3:00 to 5:00. We always try to get there about 15 or so minutes before it opens so that we can check out what everyone has. Brett and I talk beforehand about things we’re looking for, and what we think we can get with our weekly budget of $30, and then do our best to see if it’s available that week.

After we’ve done our scouting Brett heads to one end of the market and I head the other way to wait for the opening whistle to blow. You are not allowed to touch any of the produce before the opening whistle, and vendors are supposed to keep everything covered, so sometimes it’s hard to know what each vendor has although you can ask. We meet up somewhere in the middle after we’re both done with our part of the shopping, and if we have any money left we look around together to see if anything else catches our eye, or if someone has a good price on something the girls like. We’ve both had to shop the market a couple of times on our own, and let’s just say it’s a much, much easier task with two people.

photo (10)

Vendors setting up the market – you can see that the produce hasn’t been covered yet. There will be crowds around each of the stalls by the time the opening whistle is blown. Year-round it always seems to be very sunny and hot at the market, although a couple of weeks ago we got caught in a downpour and got soaked.

photo (12)

Ripe pineapples for sale, ranging in price from $2 to $7. The local ones are super sweet, and low acid.

photo (9)

Mangoes ($1 each) and avocados ($3 each).

photo (7)

A box full of lilikoi (passionfruit), 3 for $1. The ugly, wrinkly ones are the ripest and the best.

photo (6)

Limes are plentiful again. So were avocados this week. Last week it was all we could do to find even one.

photo (4)

Big, juicy, cheap papayas.

photo (5)

Luscious, huge mangoes. These beauties were $4 and $5 each.


Bright red Hawaiian ginger flowers, $2 per stem.

It looks from these photos that all that was available was fruit and flowers, but there were plenty of vegetables available too. I just couldn’t get in close enough to take pictures because of the crowds at those stalls.

And, here’s what we bought:


  • 2 giant cucumbers: $2.00
  • 2 bunches of bananas: $4.50
  • 1 pineapple: $3.00
  • 1 bunch bok choy: $2.00
  • 1 container cherry tomatoes: $3.00
  • 1 bunch kale: $2.00
  • 1 pound lychee: $3.00
  • 3 limes: $1.00
  • 1 daikon radish: $1.00
  • 6 starfruit: $2.00
  • 1 bunch organic broccoli: $3.00

Total: $26.50

We got everything we wanted and then some – a very good shopping trip!