My Top Pictures of 2015

January 04, 2016  •  2 Comments

Each year I go through all my photos and pick out my favorite 100. Selecting just 100 out of 130,000 photos was a challenging but worthwhile exercise. Beyond my normal activities of photographing the marching arts, my photographic highlight this year was participating in a 52 week photography challenge and class with artist Ricky Tims. This gave me even more photo opportunities and a lot more instruction in art, composition, technique and Photoshop. My camera collection ended the same as it began - Nikon D810, D750 and D7100. But I sold some lenses and bought some new ones. My favorite new purchase was the Nikon 300mm f/4 E PF VR which is an awesome compact prime lens. The PF means Frensnel element, so it uses less glass, making it very light for that focal length. A close second was the Nikon 80-400mm AF-S VR which was great to use for a lot of daytime marching band shows. Both the Nikons replaced similar Tokina lenses in my collection. At the end of the year I added the new Nikon 24mm f/1.8G and had fun using it so far.

This blog post will discuss some of my favorite pictures from 2015 and try to give a sample of the range of activities which captured my attention.

Ricky Tims 52 Week Photography Challenge

My photographic highlight this year was participating in a weekly photography challenge taught by Ricky Tims. Ricky is best known in the quilt world but his talents include art, music, teaching and photography. The challenge was part camera technique, part art instruction, part Photoshop, and part composition. Each week Ricky would post a theme early Sunday morning and we would have until the following Sunday night to post one picture. Besides the theme, Ricky would post an instructional video and a PDF lesson. After the week was over, Ricky picked out 10-15 photos to critique.

Sometimes the themes were related to the technique and other times the themes were more topical. Some of my favorite themes were Composite Montage (blending a photo with a texture in Photoshop), Mirrored Image, Shutter Zoom, Panning, Elements (that was the week I was in Yosemite - perfect!), Old Paint (I visited Eastern State Penitentiary), The Story, and Experiment (where we learned about filters in Photoshop).

My panning photo was selected as the photo of the week. This was shot along Kelly Drive, near the Philadelphia Art Museum in early June.

005-Kelly Drive Bikers005-Kelly Drive BikersThis shot was taken along Kelly Drive in Philadelphia. This is the Fairmont Park area just North of the Art Museum. Saturday morning is a great time to find serious bicyclists in this part of town. (Challenge - Panning)

One of my favorite images from the class was my photo for the them The Road. I went to the Memorial Day Parade in Media PA and thought that I could get some shots of the bands, the crowd and other parade participants where the road was featured. I had some shots that I felt would work but nothing that was really exciting me. My daughter Amanda and a friend of hers were walking back to the car with me and I was still looking for that photo when I saw two men walking down the street, I quickly stopped and fired off a couple of shots. I imagined they'd known each other for a long time and have walked together on many roads in their younger days, roads far more dangerous than Media PA.

004-Companions on the Road004-Companions on the RoadTwo veterans walk down the road following the Media PA Memorial Day parade. I imagine they've known each other for a long time and have walked together on many roads in their younger days, roads far more dangerous than Media PA. One of the quaint features of Media is the trolley that runs down State Street. (Challenge - The Road)

For more about Ricky Tims see http://www.photoclassforyou.com/

Washington D.C.

For my birthday, which fell on St. Patrick's Day as it does every year, my wife joined me on a day trip to Washington D. C. The day was a perfect day, unseasonably warm and beautiful. We walked to most of the monuments and I did my best to get some good photos. We were in the Jefferson Memorial and I was waiting for people to get out of my way so that I could get a clear shot of the statue. Finally I had my shot when suddenly another photographer stepped into the frame and my photo went from ordinary to wonderful. I wish I had the presence of mind to go over to his parents and show them the photo.

001-Jefferson Memorial001-Jefferson MemorialI was waiting for the view to clear of visitors and started to take the shot when a young photographer entered my frame and made the picture way better.

Indoor Season

The indoor season began in January in Bedford PA and culminated at the TIA Championships in Wildwood the first weekend of May. I had the opportunity to shoot the championships for USBands, MAIN, MAPS and TIA. At the start of the season, I was in Bedford and decided to spend Saturday morning on a photo outing checking out several of the covered bridges in the area (one of those made my top 100). I also went to the Fight 93 Memorial in Stoystown. The indoor season is particularly fun because of the wide variety of performances. The activity includes color guard, drumlines, dancers, and twirlers performing shows in a gymnasium. The shows cover such a wide range of themes from the cute to the profound. You might hear Adele, a children's tale, or be inspired by someone's struggle with cancer, or you might see a show that ends with "Hands up don't shoot."

The drumline portion of the activity is the hardest to photograph. Normally I sit in the stands several rows up. This allows me to see everyone, but the photos often feel very ordinary. At times, I will station myself in the end zone which is a great perspective, but there are a whole lot of performers you can't ever capture, so it is a toss up as to what is best. At the USBands championships at Lehigh University, I had more flexibility to move around than normal and used that to my advantage when shooting Cadets Winter Percussion. From the end zone I was able to capture an interesting cymbal technique where the performer grasped the cymbal in her teeth and rolled around on the floor. It was riveting.

002-Cadets Winter Percussion002-Cadets Winter PercussionNot sure about this cymbal technique. The performer rolled around on the floor with the cymbal held with her teeth the whole time.

The indoor season ended in Wildwood NJ. Because it ran through Sunday, it overlapped with two photography challenges. The theme for the week I was there was Dreamscapes. This is where you take two photos, one in focus and one out of focus and then blend them in Photoshop. I as particularly pleased with this photo of the Wildwoods sign, something I shoot every year, but this was my favorite so far.

003-Wildwoods Dreamscape003-Wildwoods DreamscapeI've taken many boring and a number of intesting photos of The Wildwoods iconic symbol at the boardwalk in Wildwood NJ, but this might be my favorite of them all. This is a Golden Hour photo on a partly cloudy day. Two images, merged in Photoshop. Additional edits in Lightroom. (Challenge - Dreamscape)

The last day of Wildwood was the first day of the challenge Loved Ones. For that photo, I got the Penncrest drumline and color guard together for a group shot and then Photoshopped them into various backgrounds. I went into some detail about this challenge in another blog post http://photos.corpsreps.com/blog/2015/5/loved-ones-challenge.

Summer Travels

My summer activities took me to 12 states following the drum corps activity. Along the way I had other photographic opportunities, with a stop in Yosemite as the highlight. I had three days by myself in the park with a bunch of camera equipment (including my first time traveling with a tripod which I had with me about 60% of the time, including the shot below) and I explored several areas of the park, some new and some familiar. This is a view of Half Dome reflecting in a pool of water in Sentinel Meadow. I was standing in the rocky water to get this shot. Unlike Sentinel Bridge which is a photographer magnet at sunset, I had this location all to myself. This was one of the final shots from my visit. The week was particularly fun because the challenge theme was Elements, which are in abundance in Yosemite. All year long I worried about what the theme might be that week. I couldn't have asked for a better theme for the week.

006-Half Dome006-Half DomeI had three days by myself with a bunch of camera equipment (including my first time ever traveling with a tripod which I had with me about 60% of the time, including this shot) and I explored several areas of the park, some new and some familiar. This is a view of Half Dome reflecting in a pool of water in Sentinel Meadow. I was standing in the rocky water to get this shot. Unlike Sentinel Bridge which is a photographer magnet at sunset, I had this location all to myself. This was one of the final shots from my visit. (Challenge - The Elements)

This summer I also spent time in Boston on July 4 (the challenge theme that week was Celebration) and an evening in Oceanside CA (the theme was a "Redo" where we could redo any prior theme, so I focused on street photography).

Drum Corps and Marching Band

The drum corps season starts in the middle of June and ends Labor Day weekend. Marching band starts the week after Labor Day and goes through the middle of November. I shot every week except one when we had a church songwriting retreat. Many weeks I was able to connect with the challenge theme. For "The Story" I used a photo from Carolina Crown's show when the brass was under the red tarp (see my top 100 link at the end). For "Silhouette" I submitted a photo of Mandarins drum major Kelley Ho who was my personal favorite for Drum Major of the Year in DCI. For "Power of One" I submitted a photo of drum corps legend Richie Price playing the National Anthem. Labor Day weekend was another Redo week and I submitted a Golden Hour photo of Tuna from Govenaires with the Kodak building in the background.

My of my favorite corps to photograph this year was the Blue Devils. This shot was taken in Bristol RI. The lights on the trees in the background added some dramatic impact. The photo was initially published on the Drum Corps International website. It also appeared in an online newspaper in Minnesota.

007-Backlit Blue Devils007-Backlit Blue DevilsThe Blue Devils performing in Bristol RI with some lights brightly highlighting the trees in the background. This photos was picked up by a newspaper somewhere along the line this summer.

Toward the end of the drum corps season I "discovered" my 50mm prime that I always carry in my camera bag but almost never use. I started playing with putting the camera on the ground with that lens, setting a wide depth of field, prefocusing, and capturing the action. I had a lot of fun with this technique and used it through the marching band season. This is a shot of Dominion High School taken at the Herndon VA show in September.

008-Dominion High School008-Dominion High SchoolI took a lot of these low perspective photos during marching band season, particularly daytime shows when I could shoot with a smaller aperture. This was one of my favorites using this technique.

Commodore Barry Bridge

I've shot several drum corps shows at PPL Park, which sits right under the Commodore Barry Bridge and enjoyed getting shots with the bridge in the background. This year I used the bridge for several photo challenges. I found the area around the bridge a nice quiet place early in the morning. The bridge lights up beautifully with the morning sun. For the HDR (high dynamic range - technique for merging several photos when the range from dark to light is quite broad) challenge, I set out early to the bridge. I arrived just after sunrise and spent a good bit of time looking for shots that wouldn't have worked well as a single frame since the theme was HDR. Shooting into the sun seemed like something worth trying with this technique. I took 6 shots but only used 4 in the HDR processing.
 

009-Sunrise at the Commodore Barry009-Sunrise at the Commodore BarryI spent several outings for my weekly challenge exploring the Commodore Barry Bridge. I arrived just after sunrise and spent a good bit of time looking for shots that wouldn't have worked well as a single frame since the theme was HDR. Shooting into the sun seemed like something worth trying with this technique. I took 6 shots but only used 4 in the HDR processing. (Challenge - HDR)

Philadelphia

I went to Philadelphia for several of the challenges (Shutter Zoom, Golden Hour, Red, Old Paint, Text Overlay, Panning, Street Photography, and Silence) this year and discovered some wonderful areas I didn't know much about. For Shutter Zoom I went to the St. Patrick's Day parade. I discovered a wonderful park along the Schuylkill River when I went looking for a place for the Street Photography challenge. The Art Museum area was a favorite destination and the location for several challenges. This photo shows Boat House Row all decorated for Christmas and was a candidate for the Silence/Silent Night challenge.

010-Boathouse Row under Stars010-Boathouse Row under StarsBoathouse Row in Philadelphila with stars added using Topaz filters (Challenge - Silence)

Local Parks

One of the unexpected benefits of the challenge class was it got me to explore several area parks. I spent time in Ridley Creek Park, Glen Providence Park, Rose Tree Park, and Valley Forge National Park. I went to these places for the challenges Abandoned, Flowers, Autumn, Color Schemes, Decay, Silence and the bonus Winter Solstice challenge. This image is section of Ridley Creek running through Ridley Creek State Park in Delaware County PA. The day of the solstice was a very rainy day, though fortunately not too cold. I spent about 45 minutes walking along the creek taking photos. 

011-Winter Solstice Falls011-Winter Solstice FallsA section of Ridley Creek running through Ridley Creek State Park in Delware County PA. One of the things I've come to appreciate this year are all of the state and local parks in my area. The day of the solstice was a very rainy day, though fortunately not too cold. I spent about 45 minutes walking along the creek taking photos. I selected this photo to post because it is something I couldn't have done last year at this time. This is an HDR image. I knew that HDR was a thing but didn't know why or how it worked. (Challenge - Winter Solstice)

Grand Finale

For the final challenge of the year, I went to my local town to see what I could find. Other than the Memorial Day and Veterans Day parades, I had not spent much time in Media with my camera. The night I chose was a little rainy which added to the drama. One of the quaint things about Media PA is the trolley that runs through State Street. One of the great things about the town is our professional theater company. (The production of Billy Elliot was excellent.) I was pleased to capture both in this image. The artistic director for the theater saw the photo on Facebook and wants to use it for promotional materials.

012-Trolley012-TrolleyOne of the quaint things about Media PA is the trolley that runs through State Street. One of the great things about the town is our professional theater company. The production of Billy Elliot was excellent.

So that is just 12 of the 130,000 shutter clicks this year. You can view my top 100 photos at http://photos.corpsreps.com/p467127075.

Be sure to "like" the Corpsreps Facebook page to keep up to date on my summer drum corps activity and browse around the http://photos.corpsreps.com to see my other photos.

2016?

So what does 2016 hold for my photography? Well, to start I am going to do a second challenge with Ricky Tims. Many of us who did the first year will be continuing in a critique group. Ricky will issue the challenges, but we will not have the kind of instruction that we had in 2015. Our job will be to critique other photos from the group. It promises to be a fun time. We've already started with a special New Years challenge. The first real week is a challenge to create an abstract image from an automobile. Looking forward to the challenges and getting to better know the people in the class.

As for the rest, it should be a lot of the same - visiting old and new venues for the marching arts, hopefully improving and definitely being inspired by the creative energy of the thousands of performances I will get to witness.


Comments

2.Judith Putnam(non-registered)
Thanks for sharing Chris.
1.Alan Pototsky(non-registered)
Chris, I certainly have enjoyed your pictures over the years. The improvement is very noticeable. Personally, I prefer a natural, true to life color. I also love the way you capture the expressions of the musicians and performers. I am looking forward to another year of your awesome photos.
Your friend,
Alan
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