The Journal

Surf-keen photographer shares her dream life

Alana Spencer lives what many would deem a dream life. As a photographer living on the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii, she spends her days taking photographs, hopping into the ocean, collaborating with her husband on their beach towel line Slowtide, and traveling to various cities across the globe – she’s currently in California to work with one of her best friends, pro surfer Sage Erickson on tour.

It’s an incredible feat for someone who is still very much in the early stages of her career as a photographer. But it’s also indicative of an almost sage-like ability to determine what is most important in her life – flexibility, quality of life, collaboration and doing her own thing.

For Alana, the key to creating your dream life is to start with what comes naturally. “Ask yourself, when you're at your happiest, what are you doing?” she suggests. “More often than not, it’s something that is already part of your day that you can grow on your own.”

A Journal Image
Photograph by Alana Spencer
A Journal Image
Alana at home in Oahu, Hawaii

Balancing client work, travel and personal projects means even a dream job is not without its ups and downs. “It's definitely something every person in the creative field experiences – when it rains, it pours. You can be super busy one month, then the next month it's pretty quiet.”

But, doing her own thing and having a schedule that allows her to travel makes Alana sure it’s the right lifestyle for her. “I feel pretty fortunate that I can pretty much work from just about anywhere. I'm big on quality of life. If you’re getting paid a little less, but you're happier... it's worth it.”

In sharing the realities of living ‘the dream life’, Alana implicitly encourages us to think about the lifestyle we dream of, and what kind of routine would help us achieve it.

“Ask yourself, when you're at your happiest, what are you doing? More often than not, it’s something that is already part of your day that you can grow on your own.”

A day in the life


I'm not an early bird, so I'll wake up around 9 on average and start my day with coffee if I’m on the road, or apple cider vinegar, hot water, honey and lemon if I’m at home in Hawaii.

Then I'll get straight onto the computer and go through emails before making a task list for the day – whether it's editing photos, getting ready for an upcoming shoot or planning travel... Some people like making notes on their phone but I have to write on paper so I can physically cross things off. Even if it’s as simple as getting back to someone on email, I’ll write it down.

A Journal Image
Alana writes a morning list
A Journal Image
Photograph by Alana Spencer


For lunch I love making açaí bowls. You blend up the berries like a thick smoothie. Then add toppings like granola, honey and fresh fruit. They're pretty big in Hawaii.

The early afternoon is my favorite time of day to shoot. If the waves are good, I'll try and link up with someone to shoot them surfing. If not, I’ll do a shoot that is more lifestyle-focused.

What drives me is the anticipation – what kind of shots am I going to get that day? I've also started to shoot film a little bit more this past year and that is even more of a surprise.

Of course, some days I have to watch the sunset through my office window. If I get to shoot in the afternoon, I'll come home, rinse off, then dump all the photos on the computer and if it's not too late I'll just start editing right away. The quicker I start editing a shoot the better, because it starts to pile up. If I don't get out to shoot in the afternoon, I at least try to go for a jog on the beach.


My husband is also really busy and his routine is quite different to mine, so we'll always try to eat dinner together. Then I usually stay up late, working. I feel most productive in the late afternoons and evenings, so I feel alright about sleeping in a little longer in the morning.

I’ll probably head to bed at about 11pm, but sometimes it could be as late as two in the morning. I’ll put on my headphones, pick a good playlist and get into a groove. If I'm feeling a little sleepy, a podcast is also a good thing to just switch up the noise.

The little things that matter


As terrible as it is, I always have my phone on me. I try to keep Instagram fairly updated because it's essentially my portfolio and I've got quite a few jobs through my feed.


I've been loving Bellroy’s All-Conditions Phone Pocket. It’s the perfect size for a few cards, my phone, and the pile of receipts I accumulate during work-related travel. Because I'm around the ocean so much, it's cool to know it's going to keep my goods safe and dry.

Camera gear

When I’m on the go I love taking film shots with my Leica Mini Zoom point-and-shoot camera. It's got a little flash and it's like a super good camera for when going to events or parties.

I mainly shoot client work with a Canon 5D Mark IV and I put it in a custom-built fiberglass housing when I’m shooting in the water.

A Journal Image
Alana's well travelled All-Conditions Phone Pocket for #thisismybellroy

Check out Alana on Instagram: @coconutcomradery

Interview by Madeleine Dore. Photos courtesy of Alana Spencer.

More from the Journal