[fusebox_full_player featured_episode=”3″ social_twitter=”true” social_facebook=”true” social_linkedin=”true” social_email=”true” ]

Living and working in paradise isn’t just about sipping mai tai’s poolside. Bryan Murphy chats with Spencer Lee, a full-time student and professional photographer who is finding time for both passions. Learn how he’s doing it.

Spencer is a hard and dedicated worker. His humble approach towards his work and art is a great example of how to balance a busy workload and passion. If you have a busy work schedule, but you are trying to squeeze in your passion then listen to my chat with Spencer.

Towards the end of the episode, Spencer and I talk about his goal for wanted to get his website up. Within two weeks of our talk, he had the website up. Be sure to check it out below along with his proofs.

Hear how Spencer Lee is doing today in a recent episode of Hawaii’s Best.

Resources Mentioned in This Episode

Show Some Aloha!

  • Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one.
  • Subscribe on iTunes.

Listen on Google

apple podcasts badge

Listen on Spotify black

Spencer Lee 0:00

I would say, don't go out and buy the most expensive camera on the market because the photographer takes a picture, not the camera. So if you can't see compositionally, then all your photos expensively

Bryan Murphy 0:13

is a local photographer living on the island of La who and I can't wait for you to hear a little bit more about his story and how he got started with photography. And photography wasn't even on his radar and it's pretty cool what he's been able to do through his art, and you're going to hear more about his story and a little bit about his passion for nursing and how he balances taking these amazing photos and also having time to be a full time student. So stay tuned is gonna be a good one.

Hawaii's Best 0:50

Hello, how Welcome to Hawaii's Best podcasts, learn the stories behind Hawaii's Best experiences, influencers and businesses. Discover everything that makes Hawaii the Aloha state. And now your host, Brian Murphy.

Bryan Murphy 1:07

Well, welcome again to Hawaii's Best where we explore Hawaii's Best experiences, businesses and influencers and hear the story from the people behind them. Well, today we are spoiled to have Spencer Lee with us on episode three of Hawaii's Best, you're gonna want to stick around to the end of this episode because I'm going to be giving our social media challenge for the week. And also, why don't you go ahead and just take a minute right now and hit subscribe. That way it lets us know that you want more episodes and you want to hear more about some of the best experiences in Hawaii. So hit subscribe, and go ahead and share this episode with a few other people who love Hawaii. Well right now we're gonna go ahead and talk story with Spencer Lee

Spencer Hey, thank you so much for joining us. Today How are you doing?

Spencer Lee 2:01

Good. I'm Thanks. Thank you, Brian, for having me. So pleasure to be on here.

Bryan Murphy 2:05

Yeah, absolutely. You and I, we we kind of met virtually on Instagram. Yeah. And what caught my eye is is seen a lot of your photos being shared and shouted out by some very large travel accounts. And I just think that's really cool. Thank you, but how does how does that make you feel? And what's that? Like?

Spencer Lee 2:28

It's an honor to be honest, like, I'm just happy that people are finding, like appreciation for what I like to do. I'm not really doing anything to I guess, like, impress like, people. I mean, I guess I am but like, I'm just doing photography and posting it just because I love to do it and not really trying to make money off of it yet. I mean, that's the part of the not part of the reason why I started so it's, it's just awesome to see how people react to it and

How positive the reaction has been.

Bryan Murphy 3:02

Yeah, so tell me a little bit about how you started.

Spencer Lee 3:05

So, in high school, I played basketball, but if you've ever met me in person, you know, like, I'm the shortest person alive, like I'm five, five foot four. So the basketball career ended a little early. And basically, when basketball stops, then I still wanted to be around the game I still wanted to be involved with with the game of basketball. So, Kaiser High School where I graduated, there was a program called Kaiser sports news. It's kind of like a sports center, but just for Kaiser athletics. And so I started to become one of their like, main photographer, videographer people for football, basketball, any other major sports that needed to be covered at that time. And, you know, after I picked up the camera, then I was like always, you know, trying to figure out what Get the best picture how to use the light correctly. looking past the game, I would always also look at, you know, the amazing sunsets that were happening during the game. And I was like, Oh, you know, maybe I should just go to the bay when there's a game going on and shoot the sunset. And then that eventually led to me getting into more sunrises more adventures and going up in the mountains to get an amazing landscape and kind of just fell down the rabbit hole from there.

Bryan Murphy 4:29

So would you say you are self taught or

Spencer Lee 4:32

I would say that a lot of it is not self taught, even though like I haven't, like taken like, you know, like gone to formal photography school. I did take like two photography classes during high school, which taught me a little bit but it didn't really teach me much. It's kind of just like, take a picture and talk about it and like why it's good, and which is like, a good way to learn, but it didn't really teach me anything like about how to work my camera. Or compositionally, I just feel like it was. It didn't teach me much. So I don't really count that. But YouTube was like my main, my main form of education, I would I still watch to this day and like, go hard on the YouTube and like watch hours and just get so much into like, the technical aspect as well as like the compositional aspect and how to use lighting and what settings on the camera is like best for the situation like how do we read weather correctly and all that? And that's kind of just how I learned.

Bryan Murphy 5:32

I'm thinking for a lot of people who are listening right now. And maybe they have a passion for photography, or maybe they just want to capture some memories of their trip. What are some tips you would give somebody who is just picking up the camera? Maybe for the first time?

Spencer Lee 5:48

Yeah, I would say don't go out and buy the most expensive camera on the market because the photographer takes the picture, not the camera. So if you can't see it compositionally, then all your photos are going to be bad, regardless of what camera you use. So I would just say if you're just starting off getting interested in a call with your iPhone, or whatever smartphone that you have, that has a pretty decent camera, and work on, like, composition work on just pointing the camera in all sorts of directions to see and try and like learn about what looks best in a photograph. Because just because you see something with your eyes doesn't mean that it's a good photograph, you have to be able to compose it correctly. Making all the elements in the photograph work together cohesively to produce a pleasant image and if you feel like you know your your phone, you're doing a pretty good job and you're enjoying the whole process of learning how photography works and learning about lighting learning about again, composition, composition is king in everything in photography, then I would say you know, go and buy an entry level DSLR wireless camera and then just upgrade from there depending on how much more into it you're getting and, and yeah, how much what what suits your needs based off of that.

Bryan Murphy 7:10

I can imagine living on a wahoo and just being surrounded by the beautiful land and nature. Yeah. Is that something that you've always been drawn towards? Or has that been a passion recently?

Spencer Lee 7:24

I wouldn't say so as much as I am now. I mean, I guess you could say that I've always like had an appreciation for it. I would always be driving in my car looking at Oh, look, the sky looks really nice at sunset or low. Wow, look at those mountains, they look really amazing. But until you actually get out, like make an effort to go out and like go to the beach or go hiking and that's like a whole new different realm of possibilities that you can do like, week long hikes in the mountains or, you know, some insane stuff. It's just a whole entire new universe.

Bryan Murphy 7:58

Talk a little bit more about that. insane stuff what has been the craziest thing that you've ever done to get the shot?

Spencer Lee 8:04

I have a lot but so I'm not much of a camper so I don't like to any week long hikes even though that, you know that sounds awesome and fun but you know, I like going home sleeping in my bed. But I would say that like this past winter break, because during the winter the sun rises up so late that I'm you know, I wouldn't have much of an issue getting up early. So I would always just wake up and drive somewhere and or hike somewhere and then just shoot the sunrise throughout that morning where the light is good and then go back home and take a nap. So like that whole grind and that whole process of me just, you know, waking myself up at the crack of dawn and going out with friends. Maybe just by myself. That was probably like the most I guess like craziest thing I would do like I would not think that I'd be getting up every day for sunrise.

Bryan Murphy 8:57

What's going through your mind as you're shooting

Spencer Lee 8:59

guess most photographers would be like, Okay, how do I capture the same events, but then what's going through my mind is always like, Oh, this sunrise will look really good somewhere. It's like, oh, if I was in the top of that mountain, I was really good. And then it's always like, why did I do that? You know, then my mind gets, goes back to focus goes back to like, I just, like, look at it and see, okay, is what looks nice and try and like, focus in the attention of the photograph on that particular subject, whether it be the sky, the foreground, the grass, rocks, anything, focus my image and build an image around that. One subject.

Bryan Murphy 9:40

Comparing just really kills creativity and like, yeah, I should

Spencer Lee 9:44

be over there. It wastes so much time. Oh, no.

Bryan Murphy 9:49

Well, what is it like? Cuz I know there's a there's a lot of photographers wahoo and yeah, what is what does that community like?

Spencer Lee 10:00

I would say that I mean, I haven't like experienced communities elsewhere around the world, but I would definitely base off of like people who I've met traveling here. And like, I just feel like this community in Hawaii is really connected, like everybody knows each other. And like, if you don't know, somebody directly, then somebody that you do know knows about that person. And it's really, uh, what else I really like about is like, it's a really humble community. Nobody thinks that they're better than anybody else. We all are just here to have a good time to go out and experience the beauty of Hawaii and spend time with one another and just capture some great images and it's not. It's not a competition or anything.

Bryan Murphy 10:42

So you get out there and you shoot with other photographers as well. And yeah, definitely. How would you compare the different vibes as far as like the islands,

Spencer Lee 10:52

I would say that, you know, I haven't done a lot of traveling for inter Island travel. I've just kind of focused on spending my time here. But I have from the times that I have chocolate I've traveled to Maui a lot. What I really like about Maui is like just that down to earth kind of chill vibe like it's way more relaxed there even in like coffee or the big like the main city there. It's really just chill down to earth. You know, people don't really like care if you cut them off in traffic, you know, they're just happy people. On Oahu it's like a little bit more hectic a little bit you go got a lot of like crazy driver is like kind of like mean people here a little bit more like New York but not as bad as New York it's kind of like the New York of Hawaii and then Koi never been there as like a photographer to like shoot and stuff but from what I like, I guess like my interpretation is it's very scenic like and like chill like Maui where everyone's like, you know, whatever, like down to earth and like, but it's very, very scenic like way more scenic than the LA who

Bryan Murphy 11:58

is someone's coming to the island. Say for the first time, Spencer, what would you say? What advice would you give for someone who's coming for a visit? Now I know everyone's preferences are unique, but just in your opinion, what would you say?

Spencer Lee 12:13

are definitely interesting and then coys napali coast is like the the hot thing now I guess it's like you everybody has to go to like it sickens me that I can't go yet, but but I feel like if you're here for like, I would say more than a week or so or maybe even just a week, then oh, who's definitely like the place to go just because of, I feel like you can do so much more here. And there's so many different things you can do on Oahu. And if you are feeling like a little homesick, there's always like, you know, the main comfort foods and you're not like stuck in the country or anything like that. Yeah, wahoo just has so much so much to do. And maybe it's just because I live here because I know what to do here and like the many different opportunities that it has, but Yeah, from going out to the shore to go diving on the west side to surfing and Waikiki to just driving down the east coast of Oahu. Like, there's so much so much to do

Bryan Murphy 13:12

with your photography, what's kind of the driving vision behind that right now? Where do you hoping to see that in a few months or a couple years, I guess

Spencer Lee 13:21

my new year's resolution for like this year, which should manifest itself within a few months is to really start being more serious about selling prints and stuff. Because the main reason I'm going to be blatantly honest with you is like I'm broke. I'm a college student, you know, I gotta get paid somehow. That's going to be like, the main reason why I'm doing it. But then it's also to provide somebody with like a physical copy of my work so that they can actually see, you know, the small little details that you can miss on the phone screen. That you know, I really do. stress about when it comes to like, editing and stuff like I'll scroll down and I'll pixel pick out like every small little detail and like focus in on, on those kind of things.

Bryan Murphy 14:06

Tell me a little bit how you keep all this. I don't want to say balance because that's kind of a real balance doesn't really exist. Something has to give somewhere. Yeah. But you're in school. You're getting up, you know, for sunrises and you're you're spending this time editing and posting and wanting to build this business. How do you keep things prioritized or just kind of in perspective,

Spencer Lee 14:35

I'd first just say that my number one priority is always going to be nursing and school. I'm just getting through this nursing degree because as much as I hate, like, the schoolwork like homework and taking tests and all that I really enjoy the nursing profession. You know, I really enjoy helping people and making a difference and within their lives, they're in a hospital going through a really bad situation. I want to be that person that helps them get through it. So, school always has, you know, my my top priority but ya know, if you like how much you or other people know about nursing school is that like, it's almost like taking going to medical school but like for nurses to also to a lesser degree but it's still like really stressful and really, you can get really burnt out if you just overwork yourself. So I think that always being able to set time once you feel a little bit of burnout coming on to try and you know, just take a break, take your mind off the things by doing the photography aspects, you know, working on something else working, editing pictures or going out. It's always a good way to keep balance and I try my best to set time by itself just for that purpose. When it's school year, but when school is out then I'm going hard sunrise every morning. Yeah, editing till late at night and

yeah, and coffee is my best friend.

Bryan Murphy 16:06

Yeah. Maybe take us a little around the island a little bit like what are some of your favorite spots maybe for you to go and maybe recharge refresh or just out with friends.

Spencer Lee 16:17

I live in Hawaii Kai and so it's pretty central hub to have so much to do you can hike up Go Go ahead that's always a killer hike or hike up naama Bay or go to the actual normal day. That's always a good one. I really enjoy shooting over there just because it's gonna be so tucked in like you don't see anything like that. Ever, or I mean, very rarely pictures like that. So it's interesting. traveling up the coast, then the Waimanalo area, those beaches are just amazing. Like they're bluest water you'll ever see. With Rabbit Island in the back. It's one of the most unique sites. You'll see. Wahoo going Kalani Chi then the mokes is always good, then to Connie Oh, hey, with all the hiking spots like Stairway to Heaven, all the poly places and other trails that are unknown, but people still somehow find a way up to the top of the mountain. Just look at that whole cola mountain range is just absolutely insane. Yeah, going up further north than it's like kind of attack is always a good place to just whether you want to just shoot the islands or fly your drone around it or it's just an awesome area. And then going around the top of the, of the island then there's going to the shore depending on what you're in. So I'm not much of a surf photographer, so I haven't made my way up yet to catch those big waves but the big waves in the winter and just pristine water in the summer. It's crazy to see the, the sharp difference between the two during the seasons. And then west side. You know, the, just the unique landscape that's over there, and the water that's over there looks like you're definitely like on a different Island, unlike any other place, and then coming back around coming through town and Waikiki is always a good surf spot, good place to just, you know, relax, unwind, get something to eat.

Stuff like that. And then back in time.

Unknown Speaker 18:34


Bryan Murphy 18:36

What does aloha you know, it's, it's, it's used so, so much in so many different ways. But what does it mean? What does it mean to you?

Spencer Lee 18:47

aloha means love and debate that if you will, but that is like the gross and like, pure definition of that word and love itself in English can be manifested in many ways. It can be that close, intimate love that partners share one other that families share for one another that that's a lot that's love. It can also, I feel like aloha is even more powerful than the word love because we don't use the word love to describe strangers, you know, acquaintances and all that but a lot of that can transcend that. Roman, it's more like the you're allowed to express appreciation for somebody, even though you're not family, you're allowed to express that love to somebody else. Who's not blood related to you or close related to you. Um, so yeah, that's what I like to be like the best wine word. Right? Right.

Bryan Murphy 19:49

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. When when someone's coming to visit, maybe on a wahoo what are some things maybe just in your bank is everyone is Kind of different in this but what are some things for someone who's coming to cuz obviously Hawaii is part of us but it's such a whole other world, right well other cultures you know, what is something in your opinion for someone coming for vacation or visit? Like hey, let's not make sure we do that and like just maybe some etiquette What would you say to that?

Spencer Lee 20:28

I would say number one, like the most important thing is to clean up after yourself. Like it's so sad to see places like get trashed by people who are, I mean, not just like travelers and like tourists and all that but locals too, to just have like piles of trash all over the place and like it just makes everything less enjoyable. So whatever you bring to the beach up into the mountains, anywhere you go, you should always bring a plastic bag to pack your trash in. Just carry it out because you just gonna ruin the spots for not just yourself but everybody else. So just be respectful. You know, the ancient Hawaiians believed that they were never entitled to a specific spot and I believe that you shouldn't either. You're a guest in wherever you're going. So be respectful. If, if you aren't respectful, then you know the universe will find its way to be disrespectful back to you. So kind of just, you know, what comes around goes around. That's Yeah, that's just like my pet peeve.

Bryan Murphy 21:35

Yeah, so

Spencer Lee 21:38

really, that and like driving here is different than driving on the mainland. So the main thing is to, you know, don't be Don't be mean to other people, right? tribe like you're from the islands, I guess I would say like, you kind of just have to learn to drive like Hawaiian

Bryan Murphy 21:58

people usually drive The speed limit that's posted which is pretty wild. Yeah. Compared to mainland is like, it's just the suggested.

Spencer Lee 22:08

Yeah. That's totally true. So then, yeah, like don't honk don't use your horn. It's we're in Hawaii. Right here. I'm like, what was your? You're not from here. You're having a really bad day.

Unknown Speaker 22:26

That's funny, man. Yeah. Okay. Well, hey, what's, what's next for you? What's next for me is just look out for that website. I guess,

Spencer Lee 22:37

to just see what can come of that, you know, just trying to add more, more internet presence for me. And just continuing to connect with other people in the community in the longer photography community. It's always amazing to go out with new people, meet new people find new perspectives, and just learned how to be a better not just a better photographer but a better person. Seeing how other people think. And learning from them.

Bryan Murphy 23:08

Well, Spencer, thanks so much for your time man. And yeah, thank

Spencer Lee 23:11

you for having me.

Bryan Murphy 23:13

Yeah, absolutely. People want to connect with you. How can they do that

Spencer Lee 23:16

as of right now you can follow me on Instagram at essentially a tweet Spencer with a C and not an asset the ends but does start with an Asana. It's confusing. But yeah, that's how you can find me.

Bryan Murphy 23:31

Okay, man, I am gonna hold you accountable to that website. Yeah.

Spencer Lee 23:35

I need to be how

to do anything delete and delete and delete and it'll come they will come I'm determined this year, by by summer it's going to happen.

Bryan Murphy 23:48

What are some other ways that photographers obviously selling the prints but what are some other ways that you as shorter from doing weddings, but what are what are some other ways that you can make a living doing or getting some side income.

Spencer Lee 24:04

I would say like senior portraits are big here, just because of how scenic it it is. So I've done a lot of senior portraits for friends and family and like, they referred me to like their friends and all that. So I and

Bryan Murphy 24:14

if you've done a wedding, I'm sorry, like, there's no

Spencer Lee 24:17

doubt at all. I've done a wedding to try and do a wedding like, Oh, can I shoot your wedding just to see what it's like, and I absolutely hated it. Not like wedding photographers like Madras, you but right, not my. Yeah, yeah, senior portraits are big here. And I would say everyone just does prints but like a lot of stocks.

Bryan Murphy 24:43


Spencer Lee 24:44

I know like a lot of people who make money off of just selling pictures that they take on stock websites, and it's not like immediate gratification sort of thing. Like you get paid right away. It's more like you take a specific picture and watch how that That picture builds in value over time. That's, I guess it's like a fun task that people like to do.

Bryan Murphy 25:07

Oh, cool, man. Well, thanks again for your time. And again, yeah, you got it. All right, man. We'll take care. You too. Well, I just want to thank Spencer again for his time and for coming on Hawaii's Best and if you enjoy today's interview with Spencer, go ahead and drop a comment below. And I'd love to hear what was your biggest takeaway from today's episode? For me it was a great reminder that even though Spencer lives in Hawaii, I think there's this perception that if you live in Hawaii, you know you're just sitting around on the beach, sipping mai Tai's hanging out at the resorts and that could be further from the truth and I think hearing a bit more of Spencer's story. It's amazing hearing how hard he works and how diligent he is in trying to find balance and all that he does. So That is an encouragement for me and I hope it is for you. As well as maybe there's a there's something that you're passionate about, that you're trying to find time to squeeze in the nooks and crannies of life. So I know we're all in different, different levels and just different experiences, whatever that passion is for you. I hope that you find time to explore and put some time into honing in on what really makes your heart beat fast. So, I hope you enjoy today's episode. And the social media shout out of the week is gonna be this so all you got to do is take a selfie of yourself listening to this episode, post on an Instagram and tag us at Hawaii's Best, hashtag Hawaii's Best. And we'll be looking out for that and we'll shout you out in one of our stories. So, until next time, be well Aloha.

Hawaii's Best 26:59

Thanks Listening to Hawaii's Best podcast. Stay up to date on future episodes be sure to hit the subscribe button and follow us on Instagram at Hawaii's

powered by

Bryan Murphy
Bryan Murphy

Bryan Murphy is the owner of Hawaii’s Best Travel and is a recognized authority on responsible travel to Hawaii. Combining years of on-ground experience with insights from the top-rated podcast, Hawaii’s Best, he connects with a broad online community, offering a richer, more responsible way to experience Hawaii.