Each year I go through all my photos and pick out my favorite 100. Selecting just 100 photos out of more than 135,000 shots is challenging. I am pulled by memories about taking a particular shot, the difficulty in capturing a particular image, a sense of connection to the subject, the "cuteness" factor, the "wow" factor, and a desire to end up with a set that is representative of the year all make it challenging because often I end up dropping photos that I'd really like to include. Beyond my normal marching arts photography, the year included participation in a weekly photography challenge run by Ricky Tims. The highlight of my year was a 10-day trip to Europe where I spent most days doing nothing but photography.
I added quite a bit of gear to my collection. Two new cameras: Nikon D500 and Sony a6300. The D500 arrived at the end of April just before TIA championships in Wildwood. I picked up the a6300 (with three lenses) primarily for my trip to Europe given its lighter weight and smaller size than the Nikon DSLRs. The D500 replaced the D7100 which I had converted to full-time Infrared (Super Color conversion by Life Pixel). I added three new lenses at the end of the year: Nikon 85mm f/1.4g, Nikon 20mm f/1.8g, and the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 which completes the "holy trinity" of Nikon 2.8 glass. I added the 10-24 as my other wide DX lens (Tokona 12-24) gave me hot spots with the infrared camera. The other new lens this year was the 70-200 f/4 which is smaller and lighter in weight than the f/2.8 version I normally use. I got that primarily for my trip to Europe for the Drum Corps Europe championships.
This blog will discuss some of my favorite photos from 2016 and try to give a sample of the range of activities which captured my attention this year.
Top 100 by Camera:
By Location: The top 100 were taken at 43 different locations, so most places had just 1 or 2 shots. Topping the chart were TIA Championships in Wildwood and MAIN Championships at South Brunswick with 8 shots each.
By ISO speed: 50 shots at ISO 3200 or higher, 14 between ISO 1600 and 2500, and 36 below ISO 1600.
Last year I participated in a weekly challenge with Ricky Tims that was geared toward photography, Photoshop and design instruction. This year graduates from that class continued a weekly challenge but without much instruction. We were given a theme and and a week to take and post a photo. Then the other participants in the group would offer some critique. Some of my favorite challenge themes included Long Exposure, Smoke, Found Alphabet, and Low Key.
I gained a new appreciation for Long Exposure and used that technique quite a bit outside the marching arts photography. The week of the Long Exposure challenge was February, so it was a cold night here in Philadelphia. Armed with my tripod, D810 and 24-130 lens I headed to South Street Bridge and the park along the Schuylkill River. While looking at some reflections of the buildings in the river, I noticed a helicopter and realized that if I could get setup quickly I could capture the light of its movement. The helicopter was heading to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
My daughter Amanda took a photography class in college this fall, so I took her with me on a few of the challenges. One of those was Found Alphabet where we went into Media and looked for objects that looked like the letters of our initials. We were both successful and also found the letters to spell Media. Amanda did a great job in her class and I was really proud to see her portfolio showcasing her work that included photos from a few times we went out shooting.
My favorite photo from the weekly challenges was the theme Smoke. I knew nothing about incense or photographing smoke. After doing a little research, I setup some incense in my office and gave it a shot. The first attempt was a dud but I gave another try a day or two later and came up with some exciting images, including this one which I called Smoke Dancers. This was the only image in the Top 100 where I used flash.
The indoor season begins in January and runs through the beginning of May. I was fortunate enough to shoot championships for four circuits: Mid-Atlantic Indoor Network (MAIN), Mid-Atlantic Percussion Society (MAPS), Tournament Indoor Association (TIA) and USBands. The indoor activity is a challenge to photograph. Often I'm battling poor gym lighting. The action moves quicker than the outside marching arts because you are so much closer. Plus I shoot hand held, where outside I use a monopod, so it is more physically demanding. I witnessed so many different performances, photographing over 300 different guards, drumlines, dance groups and twirlers.
Often the background in the indoor shots is distracting because there are signs and bleachers and sometimes random fans, but under the right conditions the background can be magical. TIA championships in Wildwood is one such venue because they put up black fabric. But sometimes the back stands can be populated with enough people and the performer is close enough to the camera and far enough from the back stands that all the pieces can come together. Here is one such photo taken at Ridley High School.
Philadelphia was a frequent destination for photography this year. I love the area near the Art Museum and the park along the Schuylkill and went there several times, including one outing with Amanda after she got her camera but before her class started. I also went to two special events at Franklin Square. One was the Chinese Lantern Festival. The other was the Holiday Lights. The lantern festival was a colorful display. I arrived early and did a pass through the park, planning my route for when the sun went down and the lights came on. I was particularly drawn to the large dragon that overlooked the beer garden. The location made getting good shots difficult, but I managed to get a few angles that I found interesting. I used this trip to meet the challenge theme Paper since these lanterns are made from silk which was the first type of luxury paper. Among my Top 100 photos was this shot of some of the colorful flowers.
My summer activities took me to 17 states this year, including three states I'd never been to before (KS, IA, MO) leaving just eight states left on my list of states to visit. The past few years I started my summer trip in California at Yosemite National Park. This year I decided to take a different route. I flew to Las Vegas and drove to Mammoth Lakes, California by way of Death Valley where it was a comfortable 118 degrees. I spent a lot of time hiking around the Mammoth Lakes region and then drove to Bodie National Park. On the way to Bodie, I stopped at Mono Lake on the way. Bodie is a ghost town. I spent several hours wandering around the town taking photos of all sorts of abandoned buildings and objects. I shot a lot of infrared images that day. Both Bodie and Mono Lake came highly recommended from one of my photographer friends, so it was great to get to those places. They did not disappoint. After leaving Bodie, I went to Lake Tahoe, my first visit there. One evening I went out for some sunset photography over the lake. I was disappointed by the lack of clouds, but waited out the light until the magical glow came from behind the mountains about a half hour after sunset.
Following the drum corps activity took me all over the country and over to The Netherlands for the Drum Corps Europe championships. I shot for Drum Corps World and my website Corpsreps.com. My images were often displayed on the Drum Corps International website and used extensively in the Drum Corps Associates program book. Because I'm on the road so much over summer and trying to do a full time job along with dealing with all the photos, meeting my photography challenge can be daunting. Fortunately I was able to use drum corps photos for a number of weeks: Serenity (photo of an empty Rose Bowl), Low Key (photo of Blue Knights drum major), Circles (Phantom Regiment euphonium duet), Hat (a Blue Devils shako that was on the ground), Ouch! (the kill scene from the Genesis show), Shadows (Pacific Crest at Allentown), Doors (the door prop in Les Stentors show), Yellow (a guard shot from Buccaneers), and Past Prime (tambourine player in Hamburg Kingsmen Alumni) - 9 out of 10 weeks in a row.
There were several shows that were an absolute blast to photograph. I'm fortunate that I get to see many of these shows multiple times. This can lead to problems when picking my Top 100 because I often have multiple favorite photos of some performers and I try to limit to one per performer. One favorite performer this year was Clyde Forland III of the Madison Scouts. He played Judas in the show titled Judas, so he was hard to miss. I had three photos that I thought belonged in the top 100 so I decided to break my self-imposed rule and picked two of him.
DCI drum majors are often a show unto themselves and my Top 100 includes five drum major shots - Troopers, Cascades, Mandarins, Blue Stars and this one of my favorite DM this season Anna Quenemoen of the Oregon Crusaders.
The marching band season goes by quickly. Starting the week after Labor and ending mid-November, I missed a couple of weeks - one for a church songwriting retreat and one for my Europe trip. Otherwise, I shot every weekend, including many Sundays. One of the most enjoyable venues to shoot is MetLife Stadium. With professional quality light and championship level performances, the USBands Open Class championships is a highlight of my fall season. I often shoot wide for this event, trying to capture the MetLife signs and give a sense of how huge the place is while still capturing the bands performing. Here is South Brunswick High School (NJ).
One of the groups I was able to see several times was Pennsauken High School (NJ). Their creative show featured an airplane and various cloud themed backdrops that made it difficult to get good shots of the plane from field level. I kept at it until I found a good angle that did not have any obstacles (including judges). This was one of my favorites from the marching band season.
For years I've been wanting to attend the Drum Corps Europe championships and this year everything fell in place to make that happen. The DCE event is held in Kerkrade, The Netherlands each year on the last Saturday in September. Having only been to Europe once before (London and Paris in 2008), only speaking English, and traveling by myself, I was a bit apprehensive about the trip. Fortunately I found a great travel agent (Destination Europe) to help me with all of the logistics. I started the trip in London. I figured it would be best to start with someplace where I'd been before and where there would be no language barriers so I could get comfortable. I settled in quickly (I had to as I only had two days). From there I went to Amsterdam for two days and on to Kerkrade. Anyone who knows how I work over the summer (visiting clients that are located near the shows) will appreciate that I managed to arrange a work lunch about 10 minutes from the stadium in Kerkrade. After DCE, I took a train to Maastrict, one of the oldest cities in The Netherlands. From there I headed to Frankfurt and flew home after my two-night visit. All in all I had two nights in each location and spent the better part of seven days taking photos.
For the trip I brought the D500, the D7100 infrared and the Sony a6300. I had all three of my Sony lenses. I brought the Nikon 70-200 f/4 just for the DCE event. My other lenses were the 10-24 and 24-120. In each location I had a photo outing with each camera. I used the D500 with the 24-120 for all the night photography, doing a lot of long exposures with my camera (reasonably securely) positioned on whatever surface was nearby as I didn't want to deal with the weight and bulk of a tripod for the trip.
One of my favorite photos from the trip is this one of the Tower Bridge.
The final challenge for my photography critique group was to select our favorite photo from any we took in 2016, whether for the challenge or not. It is hard enough to narrow down a year of photography to 100 photos. Picking just one is nearly impossible. Any of the photos above, as well as others in my Top 100, could be good candidates for the top photo. After looking over the photos multiple times, I decided to go with this photo of the Crossmen guard toss. I only captured this once. Every other time I saw Crossmen I was involved with photographing something else and would tell myself to remember to get it the next time, only to be distracted once more. Or if I remembered, I'd miss it somehow. Finally everything came together in Allentown. Not only did I get the capture, but the sky was just awesome.
Here is a close up of Jenny.
So, there are a few of the photos I took this year. You can see the Top 100 photos here.
For 2017, I will be continuing with the Ricky Tims Critique Group. I hope that I'll be able to go out shooting with my daughter as she would like to continue growing in her photography. This year I had to skip the Collegiate Marching Band Festival for my Europe trip, but at this point I do not expect to return to DCE so I'll be able to photograph the college band event. I'll be photographing the same four indoor championships. I expect to be on the road most of the summer and stay local through the fall. I'm also planning on learning more about flash photography and hope to start an online class soon.