From the beginning of my photography work, albeit somewhat recent, I had convinced myself that I would not be shooting portraits. The beauties in my viewfinder were always meant to be created by mother nature, and my efforts were to be spent capturing my memories of the paradises I’ve seen.
Yet, when I saw that one of the golden hour sessions at the Maui Photo Festival last month was for a private sunset hula session being led by Maui photographer Randy Jay Braun, I knew it was a very special opportunity and that I really needed to step out of my comfort zone to give it a shot.
At the time, I really did feel out of my element. Not that I was nervous or anything, as I really didn’t have to do any posing of the subject or any of those types of interactions. For the first maybe 30 minutes, I guess I was just set back by all the great, talented photographers instinctively shooting to my left and my right, knowing which shots they wanted and the proper settings to get them there.
And as I had somewhat left my shell socially, so to speak, with my fellow attendees at just about every other excursion or session, it was about this time that I sunk deep back into my own head. And while I was still one of dozens of photographers with cameras in hand, I had an isolated feeling.
As I moved from station to station, where different hula dancers were setup in different scenes and natural backgrounds, I wasn’t thinking 100% like a photographer at the time. Looking back, I can envision the creative wheels of all the other photographers around me making amazing portraits and photographs for their portfolios, but for me, it was different. Sort of spiritual, or about as spiritual as I get from time to time.
I guess one of the reasons I was drawn back was from the beauty of the hula itself. Most ordinary Hawaii visitors associate hula dancing with the typical luau they find at the nearest resort during their vacation. And they associate those luaus with the loud, exotic music, fire knife dancers, and Mai Tai’s.
But during our many trips to the islands, and our own desire to learn more about the culture and history of the Hawaiian people, my wife and I have found the hula to be much more meaningful than that. I think the true beauty and the majesty of the hula really struck me last year when we were lucky enough to see one our favorite Hawaiian music groups, HAPA, live in concert at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center.
Now, it wasn’t just a magical night because of the talented musicians and their music that we have come to cherish. My admiration for the true beauty of the hula that evening came courtesy of one Malia Petersen as she performed hula so eloquently and effortlessly to the music. I was captivated, to say the least. From that point on, my respect and appreciation for the hula, and the performers, has been so much greater.
The Photo Shoot
Getting back to the photo shoot at the Maui Photo Festival. I knew this was special because it was going to be that same type of beauty and majesty of the hula that I was given the unique chance to capture. I think that sort of stage kind of spooked me a little bit to, confidence-wise, since I dreaded the thought of having such an amazing opportunity only to let myself down because of my previous desire to only shoot landscapes and nature.
But alas, I was lured into stepping further out of my comfort zone. Perhaps it was because of the opportunity itself, yet there was still something magical about the beauty of the talented young ladies that volunteered their time and effort for us that evening. It was the way they performed their craft, demonstrating the dances and steps that they had learned and rehearsed for much of their young lives. The dances that have been passed down to them from so many generations before them, as it was one of the ways their ancestors gifted the legends and stories of the Hawaiian people onto their children.
And as beautiful as the dances were, it really struck me that they did all this without music. Not a single note or melody was being played, and yet the grace and beauty of the hula was so perfectly displayed. It was as if each girl was dancing to the music in her heart, and seeing how that came together when 2 or even all 8 of them held their poses and motions in total unison was incredible. Not to mention that they were doing all this with the chaos of no less than 8-12 cameras in front of them at any given time. Thinking back on it still gives me chills.
With being out of my norm shooting that evening, I wasn’t in a real hurry to dive into the virtual pile of images I captured from the sunset hula session. It wasn’t until just hours before I started writing this post, a full two weeks after the photo shoot, did I finally sit down and review what I took.
I already mentioned I wasn’t thinking 100% like a photographer at the time, and considering I don’t have a lot of practice photographing people, I really blew away the lowered expectations that I had for my results. They are by no means perfect, and like any artist or photographer, I can clearly see flaws and places for improvement, but given the circumstances, I am very proud of what I captured in those 90 minutes.
I’ve only processed and uploaded about half of my “keeper pile”, which I’ve shown here and are also viewable on my new Sunset Hula Session photoset on Flickr. I’ll likely be getting around to the remaining photos in the coming weeks or months, so it will be worth checking out again to see a few more when they’re up.
I realize this is quite a long post for only a handful of photos, but if photography is truly about telling a story, I was hoping to give the uninitiated a little bit of an introduction chapter before the photos themselves got their chance to speak. If anything, it gave me a chance to put into words the emotions and spirituality I felt that day, which is always good therapy in and of itself.
One last special “Mahalo Nui Loa” to Randy, the dancers, parents, and all the folks behind the entire Maui Photo Festival itself for such a special opportunity to capture images like these. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I could return home with such treasures to cherish and share with the world.
The entire experience was truly magical.