Even the local Sasquatch couldn’t resist getting into the act!

When I got a call to photograph a weekend ukulele seminar in Harrison Hot Springs, I couldn’t wait! I was looking forward to visiting a beautiful location and working with eager students while enjoying their music. On top of that, here was a photography assignment where I could bring my wife along.

A big hook for me was the fact that, as an elementary school teacher, I taught kids how to play the ukulele. I even still have mine! In the classroom, it was a highlight every time we pulled out the ukes to sing and strum together. 

James Hill, the lead teacher of the weekend, is a Langley boy who now lives with his musical wife in Nova Scotia. It wasn’t long till I realized what a huge following he has, and what a dedicated community of ukulele players there are around the world. He travels all over North America and beyond to teach, as well as authoring books, writing songs and offering online instruction. Click to listen to his Juno-nominated album for free!

Half of the 125 registrants at the sold out event came from the US, with the other half from all over Canada. They also came to party!

The weekend allowed for lots of free time to enjoy the hot springs, practice and jam in the hallways. It was a happy group of music makers who just couldn’t stop smiling and bouncing to the rhythms. 

man with ukulele.
Who says learning isn’t fun!
group of ukulele players.
The participants practiced in large groups and then broke off into smaller groups to extend their skills.
students laughing while they learn.
Between every song, the commentary was punctuated with good humour. Learning works so much better when you’re having fun!
two adults with ukuleles.
In the hallways, at the back of the class and in the rooms, people shared knowledge, tricks and tunes.
musician tunes her ukulele.
Tuning up!
musical t shirt
There was no shortage of ukulele t-shirts either!
four ukulele instructors
The four instructors seemed to have as much fun as the participants.
large group of ukulele players
Near the end of the weekend, the whole crowd gathered for a group photo. No shortage of smiles and enthusiasm from this group!
class photo with ukulele.
Blast from the past! Yes, that’s really me in 1983 with my grade 6 students. The ukulele was the thing that made us different.


About the photography

I love photographing events. It’s a stimulating challenge to be aware of what is going on around me, anticipate what is coming, and be ready and in position when it happens. There’s usually no rerun and I miss lots. I try to capture a blend of images: some that provide an overview, some that show individuals doing what they came to do and some detail shots. And, always attentive for something unexpected. It’s a story-telling process so it’s a natural that I’m always on the hunt for emotion.

There were a few challenges with this event. At the opening reception, the lighting was very, very low. For some photos, my ISO went to 51,200! That’s a pretty staggering number! What did they do in the film days when the ISO generally went up to a maximum of 800? On low light shots like this, I set my aperture and shutter speed manually. Then, I put the ISO on Auto. So, I know when I take the photo, I’ll have enough shutter speed to be sharp, and my aperture allows the maximum amount of light, letting the camera determine what ISO to use. The image below was shot at ISO 51,200, f/2.8 at 1/250 sec with a 70-200 mm lens. This is straight out of the camera, except for cropping. You would of course expect to see a little digital noise at this ISO and you do. But this shot, made on a Nikon D500, looks incredibly clean to me for such a high ISO.

Enjoying the party!
ISO 51,200, f/2.8 at 1/20 sec. Straight out of camera.

The other challenge had to do with the white balance. Normally, it’s very easy to shoot in Auto WB and then adjust in the computer. However, when there is mixed lighting, as there was at the hotel, it’s a challenge. The incandescent lights create an orange/yellow colour cast. When that is mixed with natural light coming from a window, it’s not so easy and takes longer to adjust. So, in my editing of the images, a fair bit of time was spent on correcting the white balance.

The first image below is straight out of camera, showing the daylight on the instructor’s back and the hotel lighting in the room. To complicate things, the walls were a yellowish tone which exaggerated the effect. 

The hotel lighting. combined with the dark carpet and the yellow walls, created yellow pictures. Notice the natural light from the window on the instructor’s back.
Adjusting the WB on this image took a few steps. The overall WB was adjusted globally. Then an adjustment brush was used to correct for the yellow cast on everything behind the front row.

One tool that is available to photographers is the ExpoDisc. Using that while on the job is supposed to solve these problems. I may give it a try.

If you made it this far, thanks for being here. If you’re interested in another event, shot in much lower light, click here.