Working as a behind-the-scenes or “stills” photographer is an entirely different experience to most usual photography jobs. As traditional photographers we naturally tend to take charge of the creative direction. Shooting BTS requires you to work within different dynamics, not least of which involves being surrounded by other creatives, each with their own opinions and ideas.
Meet Ed Tsang, a veteran ʻŌlelo producer and volunteer. Ed got his start with ʻŌlelo in Basic Production Training as a representative of PMI (The Project Management Institute, Honolulu Chapter). While taking on various video production roles such as Producer, Camera Operator, and Editor for PMI, Ed soon came to terms with the reality that his true passion was still photography.
A shot by Ed of Production Services Manager Kekoa Graham setting up a light on the set of Island Focus.
For more than 2 years, Ed has been a regular volunteer crewmember of ʻŌlelo’s signature series, Island Focus, a half-hour monthly show hosted by Lyla Berg featuring exclusive interviews with community leaders about their passions, what’s new, and what impact they’ve made. As Island Focus’ official still photographer, Ed’s fundamental responsibilities include capturing shots of Lyla posing with each guest on set. Ed also captures candid photos of the activity occurring behind the scenes. This includes shots of the equipment being setup and operated, spontaneous team interactions, and breathtaking images of the unique locales featured in each episode.
A collection of some of Ed’s favorite shots taken on Island Focus.
Ed’s fantastic work on Island Focus garnered an invitation to cover the making of another ʻŌlelo signature production – Mele Aʻe. The high profile monthly music showcase, shot in ʻŌlelo’s Studio 1122, presented Ed the enjoyable challenge of capturing the spirit of local soloists, duos, and full bands performing their original songs on television.
“Mele A’e lends awareness to the diversity of musical genres and talents. I am always a live music aficionado and I never knew country blues, jazz, rock, and zydeco bands existed [in Hawaiʻi]. The performances exude passion and energy. What is also a treat is the off production moments and the musicians tool around, giving glimpses of their range. I always look forward to listening to host, Jake Shimabukuro, ‘warm up’ his ukulele by playing classical music. There is no better seat in the house to hear this!”
“There is a cadence to the video production,” Ed explains. “There are rehearsals, takes, and retakes. It might rain, a helicopter or jet buzzes overhead, or someone photobombs themselves in the set’s background. My visual intent is give the viewer a perspective of the show’s lifecycle. It is a photographic treasure hunt mission. I also seek to find the subject’s energy, to find the fun in people in what they say and do. Most images are candid, where I look for authenticity in the moment. I also seek to visually explain the artisanship that goes into ʻŌlelo Community Media’s professional video productions.”
Ed captures Jake Shimabukuro discussing notes with stage manager Scott Nordquist and camera operator Alex Miyamoto on the set of Mele Aʻe.
You can see Ed’s Island Focus and Mele Aʻe photography in each shows’ opening credits, in various marketing materials, and on all of ʻŌlelo’s online platforms whenever the shows are being promoted.
Any kind of photography takes a great amount of focus and skill. On these productions, Ed applies a unique philosophy to the art of capturing a moment. “In my opinion, ‘best’ photographs is a blend of the technical and aesthetic,” Ed reflects. “The best photographs adhere to the well-established visual language tenets in art. A compelling photograph integrates visual language elements in terms of the light, the color and tonality, the moment, the frame, and how the subject is treated. In matter of a blink, the photographer decides to select varying degrees of these elements to produce an expressive image.”
A collection of some of Ed’s favorite shots taken on Mele Aʻe.
The Technical Process
Hundreds if not thousands of images are captured by ED over a typical 7+ hour period. So, his equipment needs to be able to accommodate that. Ed uses full frame Digital Single Len Reflex (DSLR). He normally uses a 24-70mm and a 70-200mm lens, but also utilizes fast lenses if dominant bokeh is desired. A tripod, flash, and spare batteries are also on hand. Ed sometimes uses a smartphone camera on professional mode for particular scenarios. Of course, all of this gear is at the mercy of the production’s set lighting.
Ed’s DSLR images are captured in camera RAW format to avoid data loss from compressed formats like JPEG. This requires large capacity flash memory cards and a powering hard drive for editing. After the shoot, images are organized, tagged, reviewed, and ranked. The selected images are edited for color, tone, and framing and then exported to the highest quality sharable format via a cloud storage service. On average, Ed submits about 250 images to ʻŌlelo’s marketing department.
A candid shot of Lyla Berg in the green room preparing for an interview.
Despite all of this tedious work, Ed enjoys his time on set with the ʻŌlelo production team. He reminisces, “I remember my first photography field session at the Hoʻomaluhia Botanical Gardens at the base of the Koʻolau Range. A short cloud burst temporarily suspended the video production but afterwards left misty clouds hugging the cliffs.”
“I appreciated the opportunity to see our island history preserved at the Honolulu Fire Department, our military resilience and might at the Pacific Aviation and USS Bowfin museums. The Wakīkī Aquarium, Sea Life Park, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) facility at Ford Island all displayed our attention to the sea, aquatic life, and environment around our islands. I was fascinated with the ancient fish farming techniques at the Waikalua Loko Iʻa fishponds, the many species under our watch with the latest technologies. I appreciate that our humanity expressed in art and performing art is voiced at Hawaiʻi State Art Museum (HiSAM), Blaisdell Arena, Windward Community College Palikū Theater, Leeward Community College, and Downtown Art Center. These facilities offer insights to the diverse expressions Oʻahu has from students to professional artists. Island Focus illustrates the diversity and professionalism.”
However, Ed noted that the most memorable event for him was covering Island Focus’ 2019 holiday special at Washington Place. “I met four prominent and celebrated leaders, the governors of Hawai’i, both past and present with their spouses, at their historic place of residence. Quite an honor to take their portraits.”
Ed’s stills from the 2019 Island Focus holiday special featuring past and present Hawaiʻi governors and their spouses.
“Ed is one of the hardest working volunteers that I have had the pleasure of working with,” says Wes Akamine, Director of Operations and Project Management. “Ed is an amazing human being and dedicates himself to the task at hand.”
When asked why volunteering for ʻŌlelo is important, Ed had this to say:
“First and foremost, volunteering for ʻŌlelo is a fun experience. If it wasn’t, I would not be there. From ʻŌlelo staff to other volunteers, everyone is friendly and professional. After being a part of many video productions, I recognized the team for their cohesion. As a project manager in my previous professional life, having organizational alignment is the highest form of teamwork. Everyone knows their role, craft, the organization’s mission and vision, and actively working together for a better result every time. The crew roster is consistent with occasional rotations to help spread the knowledge and skills within ʻŌlelo. It is a wonderful working environment to be a part of.
Ed with ʻŌlelo’s Communications Specialist Dane Neves.
Volunteering at ʻŌlelo is like helping a friend with a skill, competency, and enthusiasm in photography. I feel my contributions provide value in that the images help to promote the episode on social media and website, deliver behind-the-scenes looks, and provide lasting memories for the guests and crew. The images offer a glimpse into the community, the host location, and ʻŌlelo volunteers and staff that made it possible.
Volunteering is an opportunity to showcase my skills in photography. If I were to apply for future work, these contributions are part of my resume. On a personal note, I feel I am part of a professional team with a worthwhile pursuit and many people to network with. The comradery is priceless. And finally, as ʻŌlelo’s 2019 Volunteer of the Year, I am also maintaining my mantle. Thank you, ʻŌlelo Community Media!”
Written by Dane Neves, Communications Specialist, ʻŌlelo Community Media