Steel Trappings

Steel Guitar Festivals: A Photographer's Viewpoint

Steel Guitar Festivals: A Photographer's Viewpoint

October 21, 2018 • Don TouchiFestivals and Conventions

I was asked by Addison Ching if I could photograph the steel guitar festivals that HIMELE produces. I suppose, I could call myself a photographer since I owned a camera, so I said, "Yes."

I've never photographed events, particularly live entertainment, so I went on the internet to read up on what I was getting myself into. Carrying around a large camera and lens, I figured, wouldn't be enough because eventually, I would be expected to produce some images that were in focus

Here are some of the rules I've learned.

1. The photographer has to be invisible.

Alexis Tolentino Peering into Camera Lens
The photographer getting his shot
Photographer in shooting position
The photographer in shooting position

At events, everyone has a camera and many others are shooting videos. So to get my shots, I can't get in front of them and block their shots. So the photographer has to shoot with a long lens from afar and when forced to go in front, has to be athletic enough to stay low while moving into position and be able to stand back up without the need for a forklift.

2. Performers on stage like to hide behind their microphone so it's a game of hide and seek with the photographer. If the sound engineers leave unused equipment from prior acts on the stage like stands and extra microphones and stands, then it becomes a challenge. Particularly if one follows rule #1.

Paul Kim
Paul Kim at the Windward Mall festival
Masami Sato
Masami Sato at the Maui festival

3. Changing lights. If the event is held outdoors, then the lighting changes as the day goes on. So one must always be balancing the f stop, ISO and shutter speed for each shot. I'm not smart enough to think that fast so I use aperture preference (f stop) and then adjust the ISO as I shoot. The shutter speed is automatically adjusted by the camera. 90% of my shots are done this way.

As the event moves into the evening, then adjustments have to be made for stage lighting. Many sound engineers like to change the lighting colors during the performance so it becomes futile to adjust the white balance to go with the changing color.

What could become a problem is when the stage lights only cover part of the stage or have shadows within the light setup or shooting through an object, creating shadows in the image.

Next Gen at Maui Steel Guitar Festival
Uneven lighting at the Maui festival makes photography challenging

4. Sometimes, having great equipment can be a detriment. Particularly when shooting audience members who may not have stage makeup on. It'll show all the wrinkles and age spots. I will try to shoot those shots using a soft focus or blur the picture a bit so the flaws won't show up.

I use a large diffuser on my flash to also soften the lighting and the image as much as possible. If in a room and the ceiling is low, I bounce the diffused light off the ceiling. If there's a wall I will use the wall to bounce the light to soften things. If the image is against a wall, the flash has to be enough to light up the face, but subtle enough that a shadow isn't created on the back wall.

Toni Alvarico Brown
Toni Alvarico Brown
Maka Bento
Maka Bento

5. When shooting people, one has to always be aware of a minor child who may be in the shot. If they're out in public, it's normally not a problem. But HIMELE brings a program to various schools, so I always ask for photo releases. If I don't have that, then I won't shoot any audience shot. If they go up on stage, I may shoot that because it becomes a part of the show.

Students at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School
Students at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School

6. It's always good to get group shots so before I set up a shot, I change to a wide lens so I can be in front of all the people trying for a picture on their phone camera.

I try to tell a story with my images. Sometimes, I have the story in mind before I get a shot and sometimes it comes to me as I process the images.

Processing takes a lot of time. I spend time culling my images before I even begin the conversion to DNG. With this in mind, I use the camera with the lowest mega pixels. I bring three cameras. My pocket camera shoots 20 MP, one DSLR AT 30 MP and the backup at 50 MP. Processing at 50 MP is slow so I give up some quality to save myself time in processing.

Well, that's the life of a photographer at the HIMELE Steel Guitar Festivals. Thanks for visiting with me.

Ed. Note: Don Touchi is a member of HIMELE's Board of Directors and is HIMELE's Official Festival Photographer.



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Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival at Ka Makana Ali'i
February 16, 2019 - Ka Makana Ali'i Shopping Center, Kapolei

Kaua'i Steel Guitar Festival
March 1-2, 2019 - Courtyard Kaua'i at Coconut Beach, Kapa'a, Kaua'i
February 28-29, 2020 - Sheraton Hotel, Kapa'a, Kaua'i (same location, different name)
Maui Steel Guitar Camp
TBD - Maui site

Maui Steel Guitar Festival
April 12-13, 2019 - Outlets of Maui, Lahaina, Maui
April 14, 2019 - Queen Ka'ahumanu Center, Kahului, Maui

Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival at Windward Mall
June 8, 2019 - Windward Mall, Kaneohe

Royal Hawaiian Center Presents Waikiki Steel Guitar Week
July 15-20, 2019 - Royal Grove Stage, Royal Hawaiian Center, Waikiki
Monday-Thursday - Nightly Evening Performances
Friday-Saturday - Festival Ho'olaule'a Performances

AISGC Winchester Convention
July 18-20, 2019 - Winchester Towne Centre, Winchester, IN

Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival at Kahala Mall - Keiki Kine
August 17, 2019 - Kahala Mall, Honolulu

HSGA Ft. Collins Festival
September 17-19, 2019 - Hilton Fort Collins, Fort Collins, CO

Hawai'i Island Steel Guitar Festival
Due to a completion delay of the hotel renovation, the 2019 festival has been canceled.

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HIMELE is a Hawai'i non-profit corporation that supports music enrichment and education for people of all ages. Our purpose is to educate, promote, and perpetuate Hawaiian music, Hawaiian culture and Hawaiian musical instruments.