Kuhio Beach Hula: Capturing my favorite show, over the years, with my changing style

Kuhio Beach Hula Show - Honolulu, Hawaii

Kuhio Beach Hula Show – Honolulu, Hawaii

My end of summer photo essay on Hawaii last week reminded me of one of my favorites, the Sunset Torch Lighting and Hula Show at Kuhio Beach. It’s the perfect way to wrap-up a relaxing day on the beach.

Beyond the dancing and the music, the venue is perfectly positioned near the beach. With the sounds of the surf and the island breezes, look left and you can catch the last of the warm rays before blue hour. It’s a wonderful way to transition into the night. In an increasingly commercial and expensive place, this Hula show, located in the heart of Waikiki Beach, is free and open to the public. I highly recommended it either for photography or for just relaxing.

Kuhio Beach Hula Show - Honolulu, Hawaii

As my gear and photographic style have changed, I’ve captured the show in different ways. During my most recent visit in 2014, I shot primarily with the fixed lens, 35mm equivalent Fujifilm X100S. I find 35mm to be versatile and works nicely for documentation.

Kuhio Beach Hula Show - Honolulu, Hawaii
Kuhio Beach Hula Show - Honolulu, Hawaii

With the lightweight mirrorless setup, I moved freely around the venue and captured multiple angles. I think you get a real feel of the place as well as the mood. The style is in stark contrast to the way I used to shoot.

Hula Dancer, Waikiki Beach - Honolulu, Hawaii

In 2008, a couple of years after I got seriously into photography, I was enamored with shallow depth of field (DOF). I wanted my subjects sharp and the background, well blurred. The quest for shallow DOF is typical, I think, especially with people new to cameras with larger sensors. You hear it all the time on photography boards and on reviews. They talk about the desire for “Bokeh”, which by the way, is not the same as shallow DOF. I made this photograph with a 8MP Canon Rebel XT with a modest 28 to 135mm lens. It’s my favorite candid portrait of a Hula Dancer.

Hula Dancer, Waikiki Beach - Honolulu, Hawaii

Two years later, with my significantly upgraded equipment, I was convinced that I would create even more winners. I had my semi-pro Canon 7D, which I could machine gun to my heart’s content. I had my 70-200mm f4 L lens, that I could use to isolate my intended target.

A funny thing happened on the way to world, photographic domination. My images were mediocre at best. Sure, I had the shallow DOF and the background was a creamy blur, but so what. I lost all context to the environment. I took nearly 500 shots in rapid succession and not one really pleased me. This image was perhaps the best, which still did not match the subtle gesture of my favorite from 2 years prior.

Kuhio Beach Hula Show - Honolulu, Hawaii

Over the years, my gear changed and my style along with it. Or perhaps it’s the other way around. I no longer aspire to be the tactical weapon carrying photographer. Gone was the desire for big DSLR bodies with showy long white lenses. I more carefully compose my images and shoot less. Precision and stealth are the watch words, instead of spray and pray.

In 2014, In addition to my Fuji X100S, I had my small Olympus E-PM2 with kit lens. The 28mm to 84mm kit zoom gave me more flexibility. I could shoot video and zoom in for a bit more isolation, without losing context.

Kuhio Beach Hula Show - Honolulu, Hawaii

I could also go wider than with the X100S. I think this last photo sums up the entire event.

Without the large gear, I also enjoy my vacations more. I pack lighter and get less tired. I’m no longer that guy that stands out with the big camera. These are travel photos after all — visual keepsakes of my family’s activities.

It’s interesting to take stock of one’s changes. An evolution in style brought about by interest, experience, desire and gear. No doubt, there will be more changes in the future. Time will tell what they might be.

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8 thoughts on “Kuhio Beach Hula: Capturing my favorite show, over the years, with my changing style

  1. Great pictures. I am always interested to see what combination of cameras people use to handle every day situation ( i am a cheapo rebel+phone kind of guy, but always torn about moving to mirrorless). Your use of the X100 plus EPM2 seems to allow you great flexibility.

    Good thoughts on the “shallow DOF” phase ( I think I am in it right now). I will definitly reflect on that.

    1. The Rebel is still a perfectly good camera. You see that great portrait of that Hulu dancer was shot with one. It’s just crazy people like me that has so many cameras. But, as you know, beyond the photography, playing with lots of cameras is part of the fun for me.

  2. “Drums of the islands you’re beating in my heart
    You’re with me no matter where I roam
    If ever I wander if ever we’re apart
    I know that you will lead me home…”

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