25 Photos That Are Meaningful to Me

Hi, friends!

In celebration of my birthday week, I’m keeping the theme of “25” for my posts this week.

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been a freelance photographer for about six years now and back in 2014 I received my Bachelor of Science in Digital Photography. (If you want to see more of my photography and graphic design work, check out my portfolio: www.mjdadulla.com

Photography is something that I’ve been passionate about since I was a kid. Any time I had the chance to take a photo with someone’s camera, I’d take it without any question. My love for photography and other visual arts grew as I got older. In 2009, I received my first DSLR and I loved it. I began to take photos for fun, and after a year of playing around with my camera, I realized I could turn my hobby into my job.

Over the years I’ve taken thousands of photos, but there are some that hold a special place in my heart, not because of how good the final edits came out, but because of the story that goes with them. Today, I’m going to share some of those photos and stories with you!

Here are 25 photos that are meaningful to me:


1. Aloha Light Painting (June 2010)

It was just a random night that my friends decided to go fishing up in the North Shore. I brought my camera along just in case I wanted to capture whatever shenanigans we were getting ourselves into. After taking this photo, we all talked about posting it on Tumblr to see how many likes and reblogs it would get. Somehow it managed to get over 1,000 notes, which took all of us by surprise. There’s so many things I don’t like about this photo, but I keep it as a reminder of my five minutes of Tumblr fame, the five minutes that showed me how much others can enjoy a simple photo.


2. View from Tantalus (March 2011)

I took my first digital photography class in 2011 at one of the community colleges on O’ahu. One of the assignments was to take and edit a set of photos showing a similar theme, so I decided to take the drive to this viewpoint and go with the theme of “Views of the City.” I had just learned how to take and stitch panoramic photos together and this was one of the first ones I made. It was around this time that I decided I wanted to dig deeper into my love for photography.


3. Rhonda & Jr’s First Dance (September 2011)

Rhonda is my older cousin, but has been more like my older sister. Her and Jr have been together as long as I could remember. Their relationship is one of many that I looked up to, making me so happy that I was there to see them get married. This was the first photo I ever took at a wedding, and it’s definitely one I won’t ever forget.


4. Las Vegas Sign (October 2011)

In 2011, I moved to Las Vegas to go to school. Moving was tough, especially since I’m so close with my friends and family on O’ahu. After a few months, I told myself that I needed to go out and explore what Vegas had to offer instead of staying in my apartment and making myself more homesick. This photo was taken the first night me and my roommates went out as a group to explore the strip.


5. Christmas with Mama (December 2011)

It was the day after Christmas and I was leaving to go back to Vegas in a few days, so we went to visit my grandma in the hospital. I’ll never forget this day. We got to her room and my Aunty Helen was fixing my grandma’s hair because she wanted to take a few pictures. I set my camera on my tripod with my speedlite and took a few test shots. Each time the flash went off, my grandma would have the brightest smile. This was the last day I spent with her, she passed away a few months later while I was away at school. This photo will always remind me of my grandma’s smile, the smile that I miss the most.


6. Sunflower (November 2012)

At this point of my photography career, I really enjoyed taking photos of still life. I bought sunflowers randomly one day when I saw them at the store and decided to take a few photos. To get this shot, I used a black poster board and my little desk lamp as my light source. When showing this photo to my teachers, they asked what my lighting setup was in the studio and didn’t believe that I took this at home, with just a desk lamp. It was with this sunflower that I learned to make the best out of whatever I had.


7. Ardel (December 2012)


8. Wendy (December 2012)

These are two of my best friends on O’ahu. In December of 2012, they came to Vegas for vacation, giving me the chance to bring them into the studio. Being away from these two was one of the hardest things about going to school off-island, but having them visit and be a part of what I’ve learned was such a blessing.


9. Audi R8 from Exotics Racing Las Vegas (February 2013)

I had a field trip with my Location Photography class to the Las Vegas Speedway to photograph some of the cars at Exotic Racing. Growing up around my Uncle Dennis, I learned to love cars. Going to the speedway, seeing the cars, and having a chance to photograph them was an amazing opportunity. I never would have would have been able to do or see any of this if I chose a different major or even a different school.


10. Chelsea (February 2013)

This was the first time I got to work with a professional model. It was another field trip with my Location Photography class where we were split into different groups and assigned a model. It was challenging at first, especially because I was still a little shy and soft spoken at the time. Chelsea had such a bubbly personality that made everything so easy. Working with Chelsea helped me to learn how to lead and direct when I’m behind the camera.


11. Chelayn’s First Birthday Portrait (July 2013)

This little cutie is my niece, Chelayn, Rhonda and Jr’s (the couple in photo #3) daughter. Sadly, I wasn’t able to be there while Rhonda was pregnant or when she gave birth. When I finally had the chance to go home for summer vacation and met my niece, I was able to take her first birthday portraits and design everything for her first birthday party.


12. Chris (July 2013)

Chris was one of the first people I became friends with when moving to Vegas. We both lived in student housing and hung out during our breaks at school. In my Portraiture II class, we learned about different lighting styles and when learning about split lighting, I automatically knew I wanted to use Chris as my model. This photo was a test shot that turned out to be something I used in my final portfolio.


13. Anothen (August 2013)

This handsome kid is my nephew, Anothen. This was the first time I worked with studio lights on location. I was really nervous about this shoot because I was afraid Anothen wouldn’t want to smile or look at the camera since he didn’t know me that well. When I got to their house, I noticed that he had a lot of minion toys. I had him choose his favorites so he could hold them in a few photos, then the smiles kept on coming.


14. Jordon & Jaezyn (November 2013)

These two knuckleheads are my brother, Jordon, and his son, who is also my godson, Jaezyn. They lived in Utah at the time, and I always wanted to visit them, but never had the chance because I was so busy with school. Finally, for Thanksgiving break in 2013, I was able to go. On Thanksgiving Day, we went up to the mountains to play in the snow. I got to spend the weekend with my godson and my second family, I couldn’t have been more thankful.


15. Snow (November 2013)

This was before I headed back to Vegas from Utah. We spent the morning hanging out at the house, watching tv and playing board games, and in the afternoon we went out to see more snow. I love seeing snow, especially because I didn’t experience any “real winters” being born and raised on O’ahu. As the sun was starting to set, I took a moment to soak it all in. That Thanksgiving weekend was one of the best ever.


16. Bread (March 2014)

My love for photographing still life moved to food photography. In my Editorial Photography class, we were assigned to create a mock magazine cover with our own photo and layout. I didn’t know what I wanted to do for this assignment, but I knew that I wanted to do something different rather than the more common fashion magazine covers. I was inspired to do a food magazine cover while walking around the local bakery that was up the street from my apartment at the time. Others may think it’s boring, but I always seem to have the most fun when photographing food.


17. Life Cube Project (April 2014)

The Life Cube Project is something that connects art with community. The Life Cube itself is open for anyone to share art on. People had the chance to write their wishes on cards and put them into boxes, and after two months, the boxes were put into the Life Cube, then was set on fire. Having all the wishes lit up in flames metaphorically sent each wish out into the world. To get my final edit, I took a photo before the cube was set on fire and one when the flames were at their highest, and put them together. This was one of the most complex pieces that I did while I was in school, and it was something that made it to my final portfolio.
Learn more about The Life Cube Project here.


18. Talagan Crazy Hawaii Promo Shoot (April 2014)

Talagan Crazy is a local streetwear brand that I’ve always seen around. The owner was nice enough to let me team up with him to get a few shots to promo some of his designs. I’m all about supporting local companies, so this was a great opportunity that I am so thankful for.
Check out more of Talagan Crazy here.


19. Fashion Photography Demo (May 2014)

This was taken in the last class I needed to graduate, Fashion Photography. It was the last demo class we had, and we were lucky enough to have a model come in. I like to compare this to everything I took in the beginning of my photography career to remind myself of how far I’ve come and how much I’ve learned.


20. Team Bride (May 2014)

After graduating, I began working as a product photographer for a company that sold jewelry, phone cases, posters, and a bunch of other products. Me and the graphic designers were able to plan and stylize a bridal party themed shoot to promote the new bridal party jewelry that were being made. I loved my coworkers, which made this shoot extra fun.


21. Chaliah’s First Birthday Portrait (August 2015)

This little chubs is my niece, Chaliah, who is Chelayn’s younger sister. Just as with her older sister, I wasn’t there while Rhonda was pregnant with her or when she was born. I met Chaliah when I moved back to O’ahu. This time around, I did her first birthday portraits, designed everything for her party, AND I was able to attend her party.


22. Grandma Lourdes (October 2015)

My beautiful Grandma Lourdes. We went to the pumpkin patch as a family and walked over to the sunflowers. (If you didn’t notice yet, sunflowers are my favorite flower.) I took a few photos of my nieces and I saw how cute my grandma looked with her hat while looking at the sunflowers, so I had to ask her to pose for photo.


23. Tagalicud Family Holiday Portrait (November 2015)

My two best friends (photos #7 and #8) and their adorable daughter. Just like with both of my nieces, I wasn’t there while Wendy was pregnant or when she gave birth. It took Ariana a few months to warm up to me, but I’m happy it happened when it did. My shoot with this little family was one of my favorites so far.


24. The Block Brand Christmas Promo (December 2015)

The Block Brand is a local Vegas streetwear brand that is owned by two of my old coworkers. Like I said before, I’m all about supporting local brands, and it’s even more exciting to support this brand because I personally know the owners. I teamed up with them and did a few holiday themed shoots with their designs. It makes me happy to have met people who love and appreciate art the way I do, who I can support and also support me.
Check out more of The Block Brand here.


25. Take Heart: All That Remains (February 2016)

This photo… It makes my heart so full. When moving back home, I decided to volunteer at New Hope Leeward’s Epic High School Ministry. Over the span of just a few months, I got to learn and grow with these students and leaders. I took this group photo on the last day of their Take Heart camp. In three days, the spiritual growth I saw in the students and leaders left me at a loss for words. I love this ministry and I’m looking forward to see where God takes it.

Photos may be worth a thousand words, but the stories and memories that go with them are priceless.


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