Shimabukuro came on stage to an enthusiastic crowd response. Smiling, he thanked everyone for coming out and introduced the first song. And when he played, alone on the stage, he took a step back and over to the side of the stage away from me. That’s where he played, putting himself just beyond the upright pole and mic. With rare exception, every shot I would have taken from that angle would have the awful metal pole in front of him to one degree or another. I hoped it was just the first song and that he’d move around more, but it wasn’t.
During the second song, he crossed over and played to my side of the stage. I think he may have even looked at me once, so maybe he knew what was going on, but then he returned to the other side and stayed there, better lit and playing to the larger side of the venue.
So after the third song, I made my break. While the crowd cheered, I did all the “Excuse Me”s I had to in order to get across the busy dining room, where everyone had filled most of the space to watch the show. I’m 6’4” and carrying a camera bag. It’s not easy for me to maneuver through there, but I knew I had to if I wanted to save the night.
More pictures and descriptions after the break:
The other photographer who was there, Chris, had moved from the side of the stage to directly in front of it, in the gap between the front tables and the stage. He was crouched down there, shooting up. So I went to the side of the stage and basically did the same, just to stay out of people’s line of sight. And, hey, dramatic up angle! Shimabukuro isn’t a tall guy, so the angle would help lengthen him out a bit, too. People seem to like that.
It brought up the whole “Which Lens?” thing again, though. Now I was REALLY missing my 50mm, which would have been perfect from where I sat, maybe six feet away. I did alternate back and forth a bit, but I stuck mostly with the 28mm lens, and tried for full length shots. I had to be careful, because there was so much stuff now in frame. A strip of colored lights across the stage could be distracting. A power cable near the front of the stage features in a lot of my shots. The speaker monitors can’t help but show up in the bottom left hand corner of a lot of shots.
Let me backtrack for a second and explain the kinds of pictures I go for. I’m either shooting close up, or something with negative space in it. In a way, my photography is very design-oriented. Maybe it’s just good composition. I don’t know. But if I have a picture of a guy standing alone on stage and looking out, I want to make sure he has something to look out into. Nothing’s more distracting than the artist looking out at — the edge of the frame a hair in front of his nose. So if I’m taking a portrait-oriented shot and he’s looking to the left, I want to push him far to the right so there’s some blank space in front him.
One of the problems with shooting from the side of the stage at a ukulele player is that the instrument keeps bobbing in front of his face. I had to move up far enough to angle the frets far enough to the right to get a clean shot at his face, or move back far around to keep the ukulele in front of his face. I did a little bobbing and weaving during the night, but it was worth it.
There’s never a perfect angle, because we’re shooting at moving targets. The perfect shot disappears every thirty seconds, not to reappear, perhaps, for minutes. You can try to get a feel for how the artist moves, and if you know the songs you might be able to predict specific moments, but if the ukulele play decides to rock out to the right when you’re on the left, there’s nothing you can do about it. C’est la vie.
Next up: The story of the end of the concert, and something I’m pretty sure will never happen to me at a concert again. Ever.