Tikis, Mirrorless Cameras, and Lightroom

Summer is winding down, so let’s take our shoes off, have a cocktail, and have some fun while talking about photography.

I attended an event last week called Tiki Oasis, which bills itself as “the biggest Tiki weekend in the universe.”   It was so much fun I thought I should share it with you.

Tiki people

If you’d like to see the photos before reading further, you can see the whole set here. (Well, at least the ones that are suitable to show in public).

Thousands of people from all over the planet converge on San Diego once a year for this event,  which sells out the entire Crowne Plaza Hotel, a fun, Polynesian-themed hotel that is conveniently a 5-minute Uber ride from my apartment.

I’ve always had a fascination with quirky mid-century Americana, especially Tiki bars, modern architecture, lounge music, and all the retro kitsch from that period.

This year’s theme at Tiki Oasis was “Yesterday’s Future Today,” exploring the intersection of the tiki culture that arose with Hawaii's statehood, and the simultaneous Space-Age craze that accompanied the rise of the space program.

These two forces combined to create some of the craziest, most beautiful, most ridiculous, and most enjoyable retro-modern art forms the world has ever seen.

I was born near the height of this craze, so I think it’s in my DNA.   When I had a house with a pool, many years ago, I had a genuine Hawaiian artist carve tikis for my pool deck.  I no longer have the pool, but I still have the tikis—here’s a photo of a small one on my balcony. (My ex-wife got the big one.)

 The god of Phil's Balcony

The god of Phil's Balcony

So given my love of mid-century American kitsch, I was delighted to find this event happening right in my backyard, and I had no problem persuading my photo-partner-in-crime Julie “Of course I’ll have another Mai Tai” Kremen to join me.

But Which Camera to Bring?

Hmmm...which would I rather carry?

It used to be so simple.  If I wanted to take photos, I took my DSLR.

But small cameras are getting better, and the DSLR seems to get heavier every year.

Of course, if this was a sporting event, I'd take the DSLR and telephoto lens.  There's still no substitute.

And if I were hired to shoot this event, I’d carry my standard Event Photography rig, which is currently:

The Event Photography Rig

  • Canon 5D Mark III
  • Canon 580EX II (or 430 EX II) Flash
  • LumiQuest 80/20 Pro-Max flash diffuser (just in case)
  • Spare Batteries, Memory Cards, etc

(For details on all this, see my Event Photography course).

But I’m not shooting this event professionally, I’m attending it.  

I want to have fun and travel light.  I’m wearing shorts and a Hawaiian shirt.  I’ve got a cocktail in one hand.

So, a small camera is in order.

But which one?  I currently have three options:

  • Fuji X100T
  • Olympus OMD-EM5
  • Sony Alpha a6000 (Julie’s)

The Decision Making Process

I’ve written before about the Fuji, the Olympus, and the Sony, so I won’t repeat all that here.  I’ll just summarize my decision-making process:

The Fuji X100T is the most compact and highest quality—but has the serious drawback of a fixed 35mm equivalent lens.  Can I get through the whole weekend “zooming with my feet?”  And am I willing to give up telephoto candid portraits, which are so much fun at events like this?  

The Olympus OMD-EM5 has the advantage of a 12-50mm (f/3.5-6.3) zoom lens—but two big drawbacks: That kit lens is not very fast, or very sharp.  And the flash is not built-in, but has to be mounted in a semi-fragile way on the hot shoe.   That sounds like trouble where drinking is involved.

The Sony Alpha a6000 is similar to the Olympus in having a 16-50mm kit zoom lens, which is not very fast or very sharp.  But the lens is more compact, which is a plus.  And it has a built-in flash.  And Julie has additional lenses: A fast f/1.8 35mm prime for low light; and an excellent 55-210mm telephoto for candid shots from my lounge chair. Drawback: Someone has to carry the bag with all those lenses.  Is Julie willing to carry it?  No.  Am I? No.  

Winner:  The Fuji X100T—for convenience, compactness, and the “I can hold a Mai Tai in one hand while shooting” factor.

So off we go.  A mere $6 Uber ride later, we find:

The photo-backdrop in the lobby of the Crowne Plaza Hotel sets the tone with a fusion of Hawaiian and Space-themed memorabilia.  Tikis and aliens.  That’s going to be a recurring theme this weekend.

The Crowne Plaza has a beautiful, palm-filled courtyard full of tiki bars and Polynesian exotica

It’s a pool party!

The built-in flash on the Fuji is never going to compete with a speedlight, but it’s fine for creating fill light.  Here’s Julie with and without fill flash.   Now the party is getting started!

The poolside fashion show turned into some kind of dance party.

Until the dance party was terminated by a giant robot

Is that band wearing...yes! Star Trek uniforms!   

One great thing about the Fuji is the f/2.0 lens that can practically see in the dark.  Here’s a photo of a surf-guitar band playing in a hotel room with almost zero light.  Fuji still nailed it.  Exposure cranked up in Lightroom later.

And yes, that is a band playing in a hotel room.  Not a conference room, I’m talking about a guest room.  

“Room parties” are a big part of the draw at Tiki Oasis.  After the events of the day shut down, the room parties go all night.  All you need to do is: rent a suite, have all the furniture removed, get a liquor company to sponsor free drinks, hire a band—and you’ve got a party!  If you’ve never been in a hotel room with 100 people and a band playing at full volume, you haven’t lived.  We had to stuff toilet paper in our ears to avoid permanent hearing loss. 

Here are a few short video clips of some bands at Tiki Oasis:

One of the most enjoyable symposiums of the weekend was the Bartenders Battle in which local bartenders competed to make the best tropical drink.  The audience voted on each round by applause, and a panel of celebrity-bartender judges made the final determination.

Bartenders Battle Symposium.  Because the Fuji lens is so sharp, you can shoot from the back of the room and crop in later if needed.

Drinks being served to the audience at the Bartenders Battle

Winner of the Bartenders Battle, Anthony Schmidt of Fairweather, in San Diego. 

 No more tiki drinks for this guy.

No more tiki drinks for this guy.

A Lightroom Trick—and Some Lightroom Trouble

I had to spend several days out of town after this event, so I ended up downloading and editing the photos on my laptop while I was traveling.

Problem is, my main Lightroom catalog, the complete and up-to-date catalog, is on my desktop computer at home

I didn’t want to have to recreate that photo-editing work on the desktop when I got home, so I used the Catalog Import/Export method to move a mini-catalog of Tiki Oasis photos from my laptop to my desktop when I got home.  I have a free video in which I describe this in detail here: Video: Using Lightroom on Two Computers

Preparing to Export the folder as a Catalog

And it worked perfectly.  Almost.  

My laptop is so ancient that it cannot run Lightroom 6/CC, so it’s still running LR5.   My desktop is running LR6.  So during the Import of the mini-catalog into my desktop, Lightroom warned me:

"This catalog needs to be updated to the newer version? Do you want to update it automatically during the import?'

Naturally I said yes.  And it imported just fine.  All the photos are there.  The edits seem to be preserved.

But there was one bizarre glitch.

Every single photo had been randomly cropped.

Lightroom decided to crop every photo (see the gray area outside the crop boundary at right and bottom)

In each case, the crop removed about 30% of the photo, usually along the bottom and right edge (but not always).

Of course, cropping in Lightroom is non-destructive, so this was not a disaster.  But I had to go through, by hand, and manually re-crop over 300 photos.

This was, to say the least, a nuisance.  I spent much of the time shaking my head and saying “Really, Adobe?”

But in the end, after re-cropping them, I was able to quickly export the files from Lightroom and conveniently upload to my Squarespace gallery, which you can view here:

Tiki Oasis 2015 Photos (photos by Phil and Julie)

Now maybe this was a freaky one-time Lightroom problem, but if it's a bug, I don't know of any way to avoid it aside from simply avoiding moving a catalog from LR5 to LR6.  My long-term solution will be to get a new laptop that can run LR6.

I had a great time at this event, and I hope you enjoyed getting to vicariously go along with me.  Maybe I'll see you there next year.


Links to Things Mentioned in This in This Post

FujiFilm X100T

Olympus OMD-EM5

Sony Alpha a6000

Canon 5D Mark III

Tiki Oasis (come have a Mai Tai with me next year!)

A cool coffee table book by Shag, my favorite mid-century-celebrating artist

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