Chasing Light

In the mesmerizing world of photographer Michelle Mishina, visions of her island home captivate and enchant.

A person stands in front of a wall adorned with a collage of assorted photographs, facing away from the camera. They are surrounded by a creative workspace that includes photography equipment, an open book, a potted plant, and various personal items on a wooden table.
Text by
Rae Sojot
Images by
John Hook & Michelle Mishina
Styled by
Taylor Kondo
Hair and makeup by
Joanna Olvera Lee

As a young college student studying photography, Michelle Mishina hadn’t truly contemplated the importance of light, focusing instead on color and composition. Then one day, a professor held class in a darkened room, pitch black until he struck a match. From the glow of the tiny flame, the room slowly began to take form. Allowing their eyes to adjust, the professor spoke: “Without light, there is no photography. You need light to take a picture.”

It was a pivotal lesson for Mishina, one that continues to shape her approach two decades later. Today, light is an ineluctable draw for the O‘ahu-based photographer, serving as a guide, a beacon, a foil, a frame. “I’m always investigating light,” says Mishina, who sees beauty in its fleeting nature. “Light comes and goes so quickly and is never the same twice. Knowing this is a good way to remain present.” In chasing light, she’s able to find her shot.

On any given day, Mishina takes at least a handful of photos, even just iPhone shots of random objects or moments—the delicate curl of a flower petal, the silhouette of a friend in a passageway. Such compulsion to chronicle is born from her innate curiosity and captivation with the people and places that catch her eye. There’s a sense of duty too: “I think things deserve to be recorded,” Mishina says. “My motivation is to acknowledge and appreciate them for what they are.”

A person in a white shirt taking a photo of themselves in a round mirror, holding a camera, with a blurred background featuring a wall adorned with various framed pictures.
Mishina wears Acacia’s Ralu top in Pikake from the brand’s Summer 2024 collection, along with earrings and rings from M33Ms.
A person in a white blouse with a collar, standing in front of a bright window, holding a medium format camera at waist level. The individual has long dark hair styled in a top bun with a black object securing it, and they are wearing a bracelet on their right wrist.

Mishina was first exposed to photography through her father, who photographed their family with the many disposable cameras he kept scattered around their home. Eventually, she began bringing one along with her on evening dog walks to a lot overlooking Kealakekua Bay, where she would photograph the sunset. “They were literally just sunset pictures with no context, nothing—just sky,” she says. But they stirred something within her, inspiring her to hone the craft over the years. 

Even now as a professional photographer, Mishina experiences the same feelings of excitement at capturing the world around her. “Things are always changing, people are always changing, landscapes are always changing,” she says. “It’s really about simply being there.”

Sometimes, when framing a subject or a scene, Mishina has a keen sense that she will be getting a good shot. “In that moment you recognize that there’s a confluence of factors—light, movement, composition—and you know that there’s something really special there,” she says.

Mishina’s camera serves as a passport of sorts: “What I love about photography is the ability to go to places you wouldn’t normally get to go to or talk to people you wouldn’t normally get to talk to.” Mishina prizes this unique access, especially during portrait work, when subjects often feel the most vulnerable. “I think it’s rare for people to feel really seen or really listened to, and so I try to be present for them,” says Mishina, who makes a point of listening and asking questions to put her subjects at ease. “It’s less about the photo taken and more about forging a connection.”

A black and white photograph of a large, textured rock with lichen growth and dry grass at its base.
Back view of a person wearing a black jacket with a gray braided hair decorated with a flower crown and a yellow flower lei.
A person with tattoos on the arm wearing a floral print garment reaches out to hang photos on a wall filled with various pictures.
A person wearing a wide-brimmed hat and a blue sweatshirt is standing amidst dense shrubbery, reaching into the branches with their hands.
People enjoying a swim in clear turquoise waters, with a view of several individuals floating and swimming peacefully. One person in the foreground is seen swimming with arms outstretched gracefully.
A solitary figure stands on a grassy hill beside a tall, twisted tree with a cloudy, white sky in the background.
Two people sitting and one playing with a child on a picnic blanket amidst lush greenery with towering mountains in the background under a clear sky.
Sunlight filtering through dense tropical foliage with rays of light creating a mystical atmosphere.