As time permits, I offer my thoughts on some of the events I am able to photograph.

My Top Pictures of 2023

December 30, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

006-Panorama006-PanoramaThree frame panorama of the Arlington Guard

Each year since 2013, I reflect on my year by going through all my photos to pick out my favorite 100. 2023 involved some extensive travel, especially for June through September. I visited 21 states and Canada. The travels involved marching arts opportunities, work and general photography. I continued with my weekly photography challenges with the Ricky Tims critique group, finishing out my ninth straight year – 468 weekly challenges without missing a single one.  

This blog post will give an overview of my year of photography with a focus on my top 100 photos. I reviewed about 245,500 photos from the year to identify the best ones to tell the story of my year.

Equipment

I continued with the Sony mirrorless system. I picked up a few new lenses including a second 70-200 f/2.8 GMii to have as a backup. I also added the new Sony 20-70 f/4 and the updated Sony 16-35 f/2.8 GMii. I really wanted to get a good walk around zoom for my Alaska trip, so I bought the Tamron 28-200 which has the advantage of being a great performer for infrared photography. I also bought two non-Sony cameras and had them converted to full spectrum so I could get to know Nikon (Z5) and Canon (R) mirrorless systems a little better. 

Top 100 by the numbers

By Camera - Most of the photos were taken with the Sony A1. Five infrared shots were taken with my Sony AIV which was converted to full spectrum and six photos were taken with the Sony A7RV. One infrared photo was taken with the Canon R. 

By Lens - 13 lenses were used for the top 100. The lens with the most photos (24) was the Sony 400mm f/2.8 GM followed closely by the Sony 70-200 f/2.8 GMii (21). The only other lenses in double digits were the Sony 100-400 GM (19) and the Sony 200-600 (12). 

By Location - 32 locations are represented in the top 100. The location with the most (12) and only location in double digits was Hershey where I photographed the Tournament of Bands championships. Six photos in the top 100 were taken on my Alaska trip. 

Activity - 24 Indoor Guard/Drumline, 31 Drum Corps, 28 Marching Band, 3 at the Conowingo Dam and 3 from a photography workshop. The rest were general photography. 

 

Indoor Guard, Drumline, Dance and Twirlers

From mid-January through the first weekend in May, the regular weekend shows provided many opportunities to experience incredible performances. I had the pleasure of photographing championship events for Mid-Atlantic Percussion Society (MAPS), Mid-Atlantic Indoor Network (MAIN) and Tournament Indoor Association (TIA). The indoor season is the longest part of my year and includes a lot of variety and opportunities for individuals to really show their talents. 

One of my favorite photos was this shot of Natalie Tarman playing the role of Alice in AMP's amazing Wonderland themed presentation. The backdrops provided great photo opportunities all season long.

002-Alice in Wonderland (Natalie Tarman)002-Alice in Wonderland (Natalie Tarman)AMP World Guard
The athleticism exhibited by the performers provides opportunities to capture exciting action. I caught this flip from Kutztown Dance in both prelims and finals. 

024-Vertical024-VerticalKutztown Dance

Both MAPS and TIA have individual and ensemble events that allow even more ways for these talented musicians and dancers to be showcased. This is Reed Nocera from Old Bridge HS competing in individual snare drum at MAPS. Snare drum I&E provides an opportunity to really slow the shutter to highlight the stick movement. 

012-Fast Sticks012-Fast SticksReed Nocera - Old Bridge

Alaska

This summer afforded me the opportunity to visit my 49th state as I spent two weeks in Alaska. I flew to Anchorage and rented a car. My stops included Denali National Park, Fairbanks, Seward and Homer. The weather was chilly and damp, mostly overcast or light rain, throughout the trip except for a day in Denali. I booked several tours, all of which were excellent. 

  • Photo Tour from Anchorage to Whitter by Scott Stansbury (SSP Studio & Gallery). This was scheduled as a group tour but I was the only participant. Scott took me to a number of great locations. He was a wonderful tour guide and a fun person to spend a day with.
  • Photo Tour around Denali (outside the park) with Denali Photo Guides. As I was trying to decide on whether to do this tour, I saw that my good friend and fellow marching arts photographer Russ Tanakaya was in Alaska and just completed this same photo tour. His positive experience gave me confidence to book the tour. As it turned out, I ended up with Tyler Yates as my guide, the same person who led Russ's tour. Originally I was supposed to be with another guide but the other people who were supposed to be with me didn't show up, so they switched me to Tyler who had an empty seat in his vehicle. He was an excellent guide and provided me with some great feedback after the tour as I sent him some of my images. 
  • Tundra Wilderness Tour at Denali National Park. This was a last minute decision to do and so worthwhile. The park is closed to private vehicles at mile 16, so the only way to venture further into the park is by bus. We had a 4:40am report time for the bus. Fortunately, the pickup was at my hotel and I was still mostly on Eastern Time. We saw a lot of wildlife - bears, caribou, dall's sheep, ground squirrels, moose and Willow Ptarmigan the state bird of Alaska. 
  • Boat tour in Seward. There are two main companies that run boat tours in Seward. The boats are large and they book a lot of people. At the recommendation of a local guide, I went with a small company with a 22 passenger boat. Captain Tanya and the first mate at Seacor Tours couldn't have been more enthusiastic. We had 14 passengers. The boat made frequent stops as we saw a lot of marine wildlife - orcas, humpbacks, Dall's porpoise, sea otters, sea lions and puffins. It rained for the 6.5 hour whole trip, so the passengers spent our time in the cabin and would go out to the deck when the boat stopped. Our group had another Sony shooter also using the 100-400 lens. He was very curious about my ThinkTank Hydrophobia rain cover which did a great job of keeping my gear dry. 

I hoped to do a lot of infrared photography on the Alaska trip which was made more challenging by the generally cloudy skies. This is an 850nm panorama taken on my Denali Photo Guides excursion, about the only time I had really abundant sunshine. This photo worked well for our It was a Dark and Stormy Night challenge. 

029-It Was A Dark and Stormy Night029-It Was A Dark and Stormy NightIt was a dark and stormy night when Chris stumbled through an Arctic vortex into a surreal world of invisible light.

An infrared panaorama (850 nm) taken on a photography tour around the Mt Denali area. This photo was taken for a challenge called It was a dark and stormy night.

I only had two days in Homer and didn't schedule any tours. I stayed at Lands End Resort, which is on the very tip of Homer Spit. The spit is a 4.5-mile long piece of land jutting out into Kachemak Bay. This is a 590nm infrared shot of the Spit taken from Skyline Drive. 

032-Homer Spit032-Homer SpitAn infrared image of Homer Spit. I stayed in a hotel at the very tip. (590nm)

On the trip back, I spent two days in Seattle to avoid a red-eye flight through Chicago or a really early morning flight through Dallas. It also gave me a chance to work on my Alaska photos and to explore Tacoma where I did some street photography and caught a great view of Mount Rainier. 

Drum Corps

The focus of my summer drum corps was the All Age circuit Drum Corps Associates (DCA) and the Open Class division of Drum Corps International (DCI). While most of the DCA shows are in the Northeast, I traveled to the Midwest and South to see the DCA corps there who were competing in DCI shows. My season started in Connecticut, then to Ohio. From there, I went to Batavia NY for a Friends and Family event with White Sabers. On the way from Ohio to New York I cut through Canada to see a work colleague and make a stop at the Falls. The day after returning home from NY, I left for Minnesota for an employee dinner and a show the next night. I flew to Memphis and then drove through Mississippi, Alabama and reached Atlanta. I had three shows, two employee visits and a client visit along the way. The second week in August I drove to Indianapolis with my daughter Amanda for the DCI Championships. Amanda has been my regular DCI finals companion for most years since 2009. The last two years we decided that driving gave us more flexibility and is made easier because we can share the driving. The weekend after driving home on I-70 and the PA Turnpike, I made a return trip to Ohio with my wife Donna for a DCA show in Columbus. The season concluded in Rochester, NY, for the DCA Championships. 

My Year Word was Value, chosen in part to encourage me to take more black and white photos. The marching arts doesn't provide many opportunities to go monochrome because I'm either selling photos or providing them to publications and people expect color but I decided to go black and white for the DCI Open Class finals, since I saw all of those corps the day before in prelims. Because I shoot JPEG and not RAW, having my camera in monochrome mode means I see the show in black and white and there's no recovering the color. Five of these images made the top 100.  

051-Snare sextet051-Snare sextetRiver City Rhythm

The Open Class shows were so much fun this year. In addition to the five photos from finals, there are six other Open Class color images in the Top 100. The corps with the most photos in the top 100 is the Raiders with four including this photo from the end of their performance in Fairfield CT in July. 

038-Company Front038-Company FrontRaiders
 

Photography Summit

For the third year in a row, Ricky Tims hosted a photography summit in La Veta CO. Ricky runs the weekly challenge group I've participated in for the past nine years. The group includes people from all over the world. The summit gives us a chance for some to meet in person. For this year's summit, I offered to teach a class on infrared photography. I shipped out ten infrared cameras and a bunch of lenses and filters ahead of the trip. The equipment gave everyone the opportunity to try out infrared photography. The summit includes a scavenger hunt where we had different themes to find. I tried to do nearly all of mine in infrared. 

Being more comfortable in the city than the country, I'm often a little hesitant to drive to some of the recommended photo locations, so I never made the trip to Uptop CO in my previous two visits to La Veta. This year, I caught a ride with my friend Warren Lee. Uptop is considered a ghost town. Among the few structures there are this chapel. (Infrared 850nm)

068-Uptop Chapel068-Uptop ChapelA small chapel outside of La Veta CO - infrared 850nm

One of the highlights of the summit was a session on star trails by Warren Lee. Warren is an amazing astro photographer and very committed to his art. He held a few night sessions where we could give the trails a try, though we had a lot of clouds so it was challenging. I was pleased with my success. For this photo I took 62 thirty second exposures and stacked them in Photoshop, so that was a half hour of photos. 

069-Chris Maher - FavoriteStar TrailsStar trails on a cloudy night overlooking Daigre Reservoir

Marching Band

The dominant theme of the marching band season was rain and four rain photos made the Top 100. It seemed to rain nearly every Saturday. After the Photo Summit, I drove through Kansas to Oklahoma to visit a client. Then I drove to Texas to visit clients and caught a USBands show in the Houston area. That weekend every show back home was canceled due to the weather, so it was a good week to be in Texas although we had temperatures in the upper 90s.

After a stop in Austin to see another client, I returned home where I had two weekends with rainy shows. Despite the weather, the shows at MetLife Stadium and the Navy Marine Corps Stadium were held, even as other shows were canceled. The second half of October had dryer weather as the regional and state championships for USBands and Tournament of Bands took place. The last weekend in October I was in Connecticut for the USBands New England States Championships. The season closed out with a two day event in Hershey for the Tournament of Bands Atlantic Coast Championship. 

One week in October we had a challenge topic of Wet which was perfect as I had a very rainy show in Annapolis. I had my full rain suit on all day and my cameras were all covered in my ThinkTank Hydrophobia 3 covers. This is the photo I submitted for the challenge. 

077-Wet077-WetA string of rainy Saturdays in the Northeast made for some interesting marching band events. Many shows were canceled but some pushed through despite the weather. On the week we had Wet for a challenge I was assigned to a show in Annapolis MD and because it's a high profile event and the forecast was somewhat better than NJ or PA, we pushed through the weather and got the show in. Of course, I was the happiest person there since I had the perfect conditions for the challenge photo. I had my full rain suit on all day and my cameras were all covered in my Think Tank Hydrophobia 3 covers. I certainly could have taken a selfie for the challenge. It was a long day - 10 am to 7:30pm. Fortunately I only had a 20 minute drive to the hotel where I unpacked everything which is now strewn around the hotel room drying out.

The very next day I had a show in Deptford NJ and the weather was perfect. 

078-After the Storm078-After the StormHaddonfield Memorial the day after a really rainy Saturday

Value

As mentioned above, I chose the word Value for my year word. My weekly photography group always starts the year with a challenge to pick a “year word” which will define our year and to illustrate that with a photo. I chose Value for its applicability to many areas of my life. The word helped me focus on the people and things I value in my family, church, work and marching arts photography. The term Value in art refers to the darkness or lightness of the tones in an image. There's an expression that value does all the work but color gets the credit. I hoped that my year would include more black and white photography, including infrared 850nm which includes no visible light and, therefore, no color. Opportunities to focus on black and white photography were somewhat limited but for my birthday Donna and I went to the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton NJ and I shot in black and white. 

004-American Gothic004-American GothicDonna with the American Gothic farmers at the Grounds for Sculpture

The Top 100

So, those are some of the photos I took this year and a bit about this year's photography journey. You can see all of the Top 100 in the gallery.  
 

Favorite Photo

Our final photography challenge for the year was to pick our Favorite Photo. I narrowed the top 100 down to 20 candidates, but really I knew all along which photo I would select. One of my black and white marching arts photo opportunities happened at the WGI Regional in Bethlehem. I was not the official photographer and our weekly challenge topic was "Free For All" so we could submit any photo taken that week. I decided to shoot the show with one camera (in single shot mode - no bursting), one prime lens (135mm) and all black and white. I was really happy connecting with this moment. I cleaned up the background to remove distractions and convey the energy of the moment. 

005-Free For All Challenge005-Free For All ChallengeWe had a "free for all" challenge, which meant we could take a photo of anything we wanted. I decided to put some limits on myself that I couldn't do normally since I was not the official photographer for the event. My limits were to put my 30 fps camera in single shot mode, shoot only in B&W (since it is mirrorless I basically watched the show in B&W which was a cool experience), and use one prime lens - the 135 f/1.8. I caught this shot pretty early in the event and it turned out to be my favorite. My year word is Value selected, in part, to encourage me to do more black and white photography, so this was the perfect opportunity.

2024?

As of now, I have no plans for any big trips, so it is unlikely I'll make it to Hawaii which is the last state I have to visit. I will continue with my marching arts photography. This year I will be the official photographer for three Winter Guard International (WGI) regionals. I will be at the Holland PA and Bethlehem PA guard regionals. I'll also be at the two day percussion regional in Toms River NJ. There is a chance that I'll mix things up a bit with the drum corps season and catch a few shows in California or maybe other places I haven't been to in a while. I am continuing with the Ricky Tims Critique Group for year number 10. The weekly photo challenges are a way of life now and motivate me to explore other kinds of photography and new locations. Donna will be starting with the first year challenge course and I hope we'll have a chance for some photo outings even though we'll have different challenge topics. I hope to do more infrared and black & white photography. 

 


My Top Pictures of 2022

December 31, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

091-Dark Shadows091-Dark ShadowsSouthern Regional

Each year since 2013, I reflect on my year by going through all my photos to pick out my favorite 100. 2022 turned out to involve very little photography travel but lots of marching arts opportunities. I continued with my weekly photography challenges with the Ricky Tims critique group, finishing out my eighth straight year – 416 weekly challenges without missing a single one.  

This blog post will give an overview of my year of photography with a focus on my top 100 photos. I reviewed about 296,900 photos from the year to identify the best ones to tell the story of my year.

Equipment

I continued with my Sony mirrorless camera system, though gear acquisition involved just one new lens and one new camera. The camera is the newest offering from Sony - A7RV - which features an advanced AI focus system. As I picked up the camera at the end of November, I've not had the opportunity to really put it though its paces. The lens was the updated Sony 24-70 f/2.8 GM which I've come to really enjoy. 

 

Top 100 By the Numbers

By Camera - nearly all the top 100 were taken with a Sony A1. Three were taken with the full spectrum A6600 and the rest with the two A1 cameras. 

Lenses - 14 lenses are represented in the top 100. The most popular lens was the 70-200 f/2.8 GM II having 25 photos with the 400 f/2.8 prime closely behind at 21. The only other lens in double digits was the 200-600. 

Locations - 37 different locations were represented in the top 100. 14 photos in Wildwood (for TIA Championships) and 10 photos in Indianapolis (DCI Finals) were the only locations in double digits. 

Activity - nearly all of the top 100 photos were from the marching arts activities as I did very little other photography this year. 29 were from the indoor guard/drumline/dance season, 40 were from drum corps and 23 were from marching band. I hardly even visited Longwood Gardens. I'm not sure where the year went but it certainly was filled with pageantry. 

 

Indoor Guard, Drumline, Dance and Twirlers

The indoor season included regular in-person competitions for the first time since the abrupt end to the 2020 season. From mid-January through the first weekend in May, the regular weekend shows provided many opportunities to experience incredible performances. I had the pleasure of photographing championship events for Mid-Atlantic Percussion Society (MAPS), Mid-Atlantic Indoor Network (MAIN) and Tournament Indoor Association (TIA). 

025-Oh it's the floor025-Oh it's the floorFast Forward Dance

 

Drum Corps

The two US drums corps circuits both resumed normal competitions. Unlike many years past, my summer season generally kept me close to home as I covered shows for Drum Corps Associates in PA, NJ and CT. I had some travel for DCI shows along with shows in PA, OH, MD, NJ and DE. I made one trip to MN and WI for a couple of DCI events along with DCI Championships in Indianapolis. One of the more thrilling moments was a real live marriage proposal at DCA championships. Cincinnati Tradition ended their final show with two members far back on a platform. I felt drawn to the scene and found this moment. I wasn't sure if it was real but when I asked a staff member, I was told it certainly was real. After posting the photo on Facebook, I was able to connect with the groom-to-be and give them a full set of engagement photos. 

071-A Proposal071-A ProposalCincinnati Tradition

Another special drum corps moment was capturing my friends Amanda and Enoch (who got married last year) dancing to Jazzmerelda with Caballeros Alumni. The corps director gave me a heads up about a "dancing bass drummer" so I was looking in the right area but didn't realize until I looked at the photos on the computer who was in the shot. It was great to catch them on the field together. 

036-Amanda and Enoch dancing to Jazzmerelda036-Amanda and Enoch dancing to JazzmereldaCaballeros Alumni

 

Summer Travels

This year my primary trip involved very little photography. Donna and I went on a 10 day road trip through the South to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. Our focus was visiting civil rights museums and cultural institutions in Atlanta and Montgomery. One of the highlights for me was seeing the newly opened Legacy Museum in Montgomery. I visited the old location a few years ago and did not realize they had built a new museum just across the street. Donna enjoyed spending time at the Emory University library in Atlanta where they had a special exhibit about Howard Thurman, someone she has been studying this year. The main photography on the trip was at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens which featured this Earth Goddess. 

030-Earth Goddess030-Earth GoddessAtlanta Botanical Garden

 

Photography Summit

At the end of September, I traveled to La Veta, CO to meet a group of my photographer friends for a four day summit with Ricky Tims. Many of these people have been part of the journey with me since 2015 and even more had joined along the way. This was our second summit and included a mix of people who attended in 2021 and others participating for the first time. We also had a number of educational presentations by members of the group as well as Ricky. We also enjoyed a wonderful presentation from professional photographer Andy Schwartz who I enjoyed getting to know over the course of the week. I presented a session on my Lightroom workflow which allows me to quickly navigate through thousands of photos after an event. Among the many highlights of the trip was a session on astrophotography by Warren Lee followed by an evening trip to photograph the Milky Way. The conditions were not as perfect as last year as we had significant cloud cover but I managed to get a night photography shot. I still have a lot to learn when it comes to astrophotography.  

079-Night Sky079-Night Sky

 

Marching Band

The marching band season was normal. I had shows every weekend, often two and sometimes three, along with some Friday night football games with Penncrest band. USBands sent me to Connecticut for the New England States Championships and to Texas for shows in Houston and at AT&T Stadium. I was able to do one show at MetLife Stadium, one of my favorite venues. I also covered the Tournament of Bands championships in Hershey along with local shows for both circuits throughout the fall. One of the unique shows on my schedule each year is a collegiate band festival in Allentown. There is nothing else like this in the country as far as I know. Up to 20 collegiate bands perform in exhibition each year. This year's festival started with some dreary weather and then the rain hit after just a few bands. Bands dealt with the elements in different ways. Some wore raincoats. Some did not use their plumes. Others had the woodwinds sing their parts so the instruments wouldn't be damaged. The rain adds a certain excitement to the photos, particularly when it bounces off timpani. 

 

075-Timpani and Water075-Timpani and WaterPenn West California University of Pennsylvania

 

Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania

For years I've wanted to visit Pine Creek Gorge, otherwise known as the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. This year I had a Friday night drum corps show in Sheffield PA and a show the next day in Williamsport. Since Pine Creek Gorge is in the same general area of the state, I came up with a plan to spend a few days. I had a lot of overcast skies and lots of fog. I hoped to do more infrared photography but that is best with abundant sunlight. I did the best I could given the conditions. Unfortunately, it was about the only attempt at infrared photography this year. This photo of the gorge uses an IR Chrome filter. 

038-Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania038-Grand Canyon of PennsylvaniaWellsboro PA

 

Composites

Last year I did very few composites but for 2022 I spent a lot more time creating composites, with 13 making the top 100. Several of my composites became covers for Drum Corps World. The indoor guard season provides the most raw material and inspiration for composite work. The performers are so dynamic but with the typical gym background, the original photos often feel lacking. This composite from Ridgewood Indoor Guard uses components from the show including the oranges and the basket. 

011-Orange you glad011-Orange you gladRidgewood Guard

I have special galleries for my composites if you want to see them all, approximately 135 in all. Marching BandIndoor and Drum Corps

 

Explore

My weekly photography group always starts the year with a challenge to pick a “year word” which will define our year and to illustrate that with a photo. My word for 2022 was Explore. As you heard above, my year had very little new photography exploration but my hope for the year was broader than just visiting new parks. I hoped to explore new camera techniques, Photoshop techniques, the new Lightroom mask changes, and other post processing software I tend to buy and not use. After a year that included very little composite work, I wanted to get back to exploring those options and techniques. I wanted to bring a spirit of exploration to my company and church as well. Seeking out new ways to do things, looking in depth at what we're doing to see what a change could bring. 

Overall the word served me well. My main travel exploration was the 10 day anniversary trip with Donna. I enjoyed exploring with her, both places I'd been before and some that were new. As we were driving from Birmingham to Chattanooga, I ended up taking the wrong road and had gone quite a distance before I realized, so we had some unexpected exploration of northern Alabama. As we drove, we saw signs for the Ave Maria Grotto. Donna knew of the place from a Kate Campbell song. The road took us right to the grotto so we decided to stop. The grotto is home to the creative handiwork of Brother Joseph called A World in Miniature. These beautiful and detailed structures were built from stone, concrete and unwanted materials like broken plates, costume jewelry, tiles, beads, marbles and seashells. I left my camera in the car so I used my cell phone to capture some of the images. None of those photos made the top 100 nor did my three challenge photos which involved the year word theme. Here is one of the many parts of the grotto exhibit. 

Ave Maria Grotto-122452Ave Maria Grotto-122452

 

Favorite Photo

Our final photography challenge for the year was to pick our Favorite Photo. I narrowed the top 100 down to 14 candidates, but really I knew all along which photo I would select. The TOB Region 7 Championships started with rain and ended with a lot of rain. For some reason, Southern Regional Golden Ram Marching Band and I have a thing with rain. They really rise to the challenge of a rain performance and put so much emotion into the performance. They were the second to last group to perform and had some of the heaviest rain of the day. They put out an incredible performance and won their class. But more than the title, you can almost feel the emotion from this photo of the end of the show.  

I posted this photo to Facebook as soon as I got home and downloaded the photos. In that post I said "What a weekend. Senior night for Penncrest and two marching band shows. 12,500 photos, 52 bands, four sets of awards and the only photo I can remember taking is this one of Southern Regional. Southern Regional, rain and I seem to meet like this quite a bit." A Southern parent shared the photo and commented "Christopher Maher and Southern Regional High School Golden Ram marching band have a love affair with amazing runs and photos in the rain!!" One of my favorite photos was taken in 2017 of three snare drummers with Southern Regional in pouring rain at championships. They won their class that year as well.

This was a photo that I knew as soon as I took it that it was going to be special. Because the second half of the show had been pushed later with the hope of avoiding some of the earlier rain, Southern Regional not only had some of the heaviest rain, they also had the good fortune to be performing after dark, making the visual impact of the rain even greater. 

 

090-Reach for the Sky090-Reach for the SkySouthern Regional

The photo at the top of the blog post was a composite from images taken at this same show. The shadows were created from members of Southern Regional. The composite was created for a "Dark Shadows" challenge theme. The rain is the actual rain from the start of the final band's performance and the field under the stadium lights was taken just before awards, by which time the rain had slowed considerably.

One other thing to note about this rainy performance is that, despite using a good rain cover, my camera sustained moisture damage. I dried everything out after I got home but by then it was too late. I didn't realize the problem until the following Saturday when my camera wasn't focusing. It turned out that it was just the back focus button as half pressing the shutter could activate focus, so I was able to get through the rest of the season. But as a "back button focus" photographer, it was a challenge. Fortunately, I bought a "no fault" service contract from the camera store, so the $800 repair cost me nothing. I'll be looking into even better camera covers before the start of the drum corps season. 

 

The Top 100

So, those are some of the photos I took this year and a bit about this year's photography journey. You can see all of the Top 100 in the gallery.

 

2023?

After a year of limited photography travel, I am planning a trip to Alaska. This will mark my 49th state. All that is left is Hawaii. I will continue with my marching arts photography. I am continuing with the Ricky Tims Critique Group for year number 9. The weekly photo challenges are a way of life now and help get me to explore other kinds of photography and new locations. I hope to do more infrared and black & white photography. Even though I'll have a new year word, I hope that 2023 will include a lot of exploration. 


 


My Top Pictures of 2021

December 31, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

035-Lipan Point035-Lipan PointThis panorama of the Grand Canyon was taken from Lipan Point. Some of the Colorado River is visible at the bottom of the frame.

Each year since 2013, I go through all my photos and pick out my favorite 100. 2021 turned out to be a great year for photography, though with some significant adjustments to my normal schedule. I continued with my weekly photography challenges with the Ricky Tims critique group, finishing out my seventh straight year – 364 weekly challenges without missing a single one.  

This blog post will give an overview of my year of photography with a focus on my top 100 photos. I reviewed about 140,000 photos from the year to identify the best ones to tell the story of my year.

Equipment

I spent the year fully in the Sony ecosystem, having sold or put away my Nikon gear. I switched out some Sony gear and added new cameras and lenses. The A9 and A7Riii were sold. In their place I have two of the new flagship model A1. I still have the A7iii as a backup along with a full spectrum converted A6600. Lenses added in 2021 include Sony 35mm f/1.4 GM, Sony 400 f/2.8 GM, Sony 50mm f/1.2 GM, Sony 70-200 f/2.8ii GM, Sony 14mm f/1.8 GM, Tamron 70-180 f/2.8, Tamron 28-75 f/2.8 and Tamron 35-150 f/2-2.8. 

Top 100 By the Numbers

By Camera - nearly all the top 100 were taken with a Sony A1. Three were taken with the full spectrum A6600, two with the A7Riii (which I no longer have), one with the A7iii and one with a cheap action camera. 

Lenses - More than 20 lenses are represented in the top 100. The most popular lens was the 400 f/2.8 prime having 21 photos. The versatile 24-105 f/4 came close with 20. The 70-200 f/2.8 and 200-600 were the only other lenses in double digits at 12. 

Locations - 40 different locations were represented in the top 100. One quarter of the top 100 were taken in June while I was on a two week long photo trip. Nearly half (48) of the top 100 came from the fall marching band season. 

 

Indoor Guard and Drumline

The indoor guard and drumline season, much like the 2020 marching band season, involved video recordings for competitions. That allowed me time with different groups where I would spend a day photographing rehearsal and the video performance. It was nice getting to know some groups on a more intimate basis and to keep my head in the marching arts world. 

011-Evie Upside Down011-Evie Upside DownFlips are always fun to catch.

 

Drum Corps

The two US drums corps circuits took different approaches to 2021 but both had something resembling a season. DCI had a three week non-competitive tour ending with a three day celebration in Indianapolis. In order to keep the performers safe, outside photographers such as myself were restricted to the stands. I attended just two DCI shows - one in La Crosse WI and one day in Indianapolis. 

DCA had a competitive season but fully by video. My objective was to visit each of the competing corps during a video recording session. With 14 corps and 8 weeks, everything had to go perfectly which was a pretty high bar. I only missed two corps. One corps folded during the season before I got to visit. Another corps had to cancel due to a hurricane. There was one corps whose video recording time was rained out though I did spend hours with them during rehearsal. 

Certainly the best part of the 2021 drum corps season was getting to know each of the DCA organizations up close and personal. Not only was I there to photograph the corps, but I also conducted interviews and wrote articles for Drum Corps World about my visits. 

044-Toss and Catch044-Toss and CatchBushwackers guard rifles have a challenging toss and catch moment.

 

Summer Travels

With the summer drum corps season starting in July and vaccines opening up the world for seemingly safe travel, I took the opportunity to visit some national parks in June. My trip started and ended in Las Vegas. In between, I visited seven national parks and two state parks. You can read my trip blog Part 1 and Part 2 for more information about the trip which was all about photography. The photo at the top of the blog was taken at the Grand Canyon. 

Of all the national parks I visited, my favorite was Bryce Canyon. The scenery was unique and I was fortunate to be able to stay inside the park, plus the weather was great especially after the heat wave at the start of my trip. 

018-Hoodoos018-HoodoosA view of the hoodoos from Bryce Point.

 

Photography Summit

At the end of September, I traveled to La Veta, CO to meet a group of my photographer friends for a four day summit with Ricky Tims. Many of these people have been part of the journey with me since 2015 and even more had joined along the way. A few I had met in person before, but for most it was the first time meeting. The Summit including a dozen challenges that we had to accomplish around town or the surrounding area. We also had a number of educational presentations by members of the group as well as Ricky. Among the many highlights of the trip was a session on astrophotography by Warren Lee followed by an evening trip to photograph the Milky Way. Living in an urban/suburban area, I've never given much thought to astrophotography so it was really amazing to see this spectacular sight and to realize how much more the camera could see and capture. 

050-After Dark050-After DarkThe Milky Way shoot was a highlight of the Ricky Tims Photo Summit in LeVeta CO. This was my first time ever seeing or photographing the Milky Way. None of my shots were as in focus as I'd like but I was amazed by what the camera's sensor could capture. This one took some extra post processing effort but I liked that it included Jupiter. I'll have to find a way to try this again. Thanks Warren Lee for putting together this photo shoot!

 

Marching Band

The marching band season was almost normal. I had shows every weekend, often two and sometimes three. USBands moved their New England States Championships to two weekdays due to weather, so I added an extra trip to Connecticut. That made for a really crazy final 10 days of the season with 7 shows in 10 days and about 1,000 miles of driving. The most striking thing about the 2021 marching band season was the rain. With several rain events, it was difficult deciding which rain photos to include in the top 100. The rainiest event had to be the Penncrest Senior Night. Not only was the rain relentless but it was cold and windy. It was miserable and memorable. The band sat through the first half singing the stands tunes. For the field show, everyone sang their part except one snare drummer to help hold it all together. As is the tradition, the band stopped part way through the show so the seniors could come to the track, greet their family and be recognized. My primary job that night was to take the family photos. The rain and lens flares made for some dramatic shots.

I did almost no composite work this year and only one composite made it into the top 100. This is Penncrest's drum major Jacob Bartowski with the main image captured during the senior night performance. 

076-Leader of the Band076-Leader of the BandA composite of Penncrest's drum major Jacob Bartowski. The image in color and the other shots in the raincoat were from a very rainy band senior night. Jacob's twin brother is also in the band. The two of them, along with sister Mandy, are with their parents in the lower right.

 

For the Birds

Beyond the summer travels and marching arts, I found opportunities to try some bird photography. I am fortunate to live close to the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum. I visited this urban refuge several times and tried my hand at bird photography. I found it quite challenging. A few weeks later, I visited the Conowingo Dam in Darlington MD where bald eagles can often be found, particularly in March/April and November. I went for the first time on March 30, the day of my second COVID vaccine. I arrived before 7am and found a lot of cars in the lot with a bunch of photographers with big lenses lined up along a fence overlooking the river. This juvenile eagle had just grabbed a fish out of the river. 

004-Lunch Time004-Lunch TimeOn my first visit to the Conowingo Dam I found this juvenile eagle doing some fishing. Eagles typically do a quick visual check to make sure their meal is secure.

One exciting bird photography opportunity came at the beginning of my national park trip as I spent a morning photographing hummingbirds with my friend Warren Lee. I don't think I'd ever seen a hummingbird before, let alone tried to photograph one. All of these opportunities were fun, rewarding and frustrating. 

013-Hummingbird013-HummingbirdMy friend Warren Lee took me to Cornerstone Park in Henderson NV. This was the first time I'd seen a hummingbird. They move quickly and I didn't really have the right equipment but it was fun none-the-less.


New Things

The year included visits to many new locations but also an opportunity to try new things. Inspired by one of my photography challenges (Pins and Needles), I figured out how to use my Pluto Trigger in sound mode to capture an exploding water balloon. 

003-Pins and Needles003-Pins and NeedlesWater balloon exploding using a Pluto Trigger on sound mode. It took some work to get all of the pieces in place and adjust for sound sensitivity and the right delay. I attached a balloon to a boom stand with a clothespin, setup a bowl to catch the water, the trigger was attached to a flash, camera on a 10 second exposure and my cellphone connected to the trigger over Bluetooth. The cellphone captures the sound and tells the trigger to make the flash go.

 

Receive

My weekly photography group always starts the year with a challenge to pick a “year word” which will define our year and to illustrate that with a photo. My word for 2021 was Receive and grew out of the Abbey of the Arts class I took in 2020 called Eyes of the Heart: Photography as Contemplative Practice. One of the ideas we learned was to think of photography as receiving images rather than taking pictures. I tried to bring that attitude to all of my photography this year. 

002-Gazebo at Night002-Gazebo at NightI wandered around the Longwood Gardens Christmas display one Monday night in the spirit of receiving images. As I was turning from what I thought was the last shot to start walking to the exit, I was suddenly struck by the lighting on the gazebo. This was the last shot of a wonderful night of receiving images.

 

Video and More

I continued creating videos for online church worship through the end of June after which the church began meeting in person. I was tasked with figuring out how to livestream. I spent a solid month researching options and finally settled upon a software platform called vMix and a PTZ (pan, tilt, zoom) camera. I was able to leverage some of what I learned in video production during the pandemic shutdown to making the livestreaming work. 

The church video work continued through the first six months of the year at the same pace as 2020. My family recorded four songs every other week and the band members submitted two videos every week. As I learned more about Premiere Pro, the quality of the productions improved and I tried incorporating my photos into some of the videos. Among my favorite videos of the year are:

Rain of Justice - music by Erin Maher, lyrics by Peter Graham

Jesus Passing By - my Palm Sunday song that incorporated video clips from members of the congregation submitted for last year's video which was accompanied by an existing audio recording of the song. This video showed the progress made in video editing over the past 12 months. 

Peace is Flowing Like a River - a traditional song incorporating my photos from Pennypack Park in New Jersey. I had the opportunity to visit there in between spending time with two indoor guard groups in April. 

Psalm 150 - a song I wrote over a decade ago. I incorporated a variety of photos (including a couple marching band or drum corps shots) and some of my photos of eagles from Conowingo Dam. I was pleased that I could find photos to represent each phrase of the song. 

 

Best Shot

Our final photography challenge for the year was to pick our Best Shot. After narrowing it down to eight candidates, I went with this shot of Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park. The hike to Mesa Arch was harder and longer than I expected. The return trip also posed challenges with finding my way back. But I did manage to see the arch with the red glow from the rising sun. This is a popular spot for photographers but I got here a little past the prime time and only had to contend with a few other tourists who very kindly stayed back so I could get my shot.

029-Mesa Arch029-Mesa ArchThe hike to Mesa Arch was harder and longer than I expected. The return trip also posed challenges with finding my way back. But I did manage to see the arch with the red glow from the rising sun. This is a popular spot for photographers but I got here a little past the prime time and only had to contend with a few other tourists who very kindly stayed back so I could get my shot.

 

The Top 100

So, those are some of the photos I took this year and a bit about this year's photography journey. You can see all of the Top 100 in the gallery.

 

2022?

A few months ago it seemed like 2022 would be pretty normal but then came Omicron driving up case numbers and threatening many activities. I hope to have a full indoor guard and drumline season. Will schools allow groups to come in their buildings? Will the groups be allowed to travel out of state? So much is unknown with the season ready to start in just a few weeks. Drum corps are planning for a normal season. I am continuing with the Ricky Tims Critique Group for year number 8. The weekly photo challenges are a way of life now and help get me to explore other kinds of photography and new locations. Hopefully there will be opportunities for travel to new places and experiment with photo and post processing techniques. 
 


June 2021 National Park Tour Part 2

July 06, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Arches National Park

I arrived in Moab Utah late in the afternoon on Thursday and decided to stay near the hotel rather then venture into the park. The drive and the goblins were enough of an adventure for the day. I was out early and in the park around 6:00am and drove straight to the end of the main road to Devil's Garden where there were three arches, all requiring a short hike. 

Devil's Garden

Devil's Garden-028Devil's Garden-028Devil's Garden

Tunnel Arch

Tunnel Arch-009Tunnel Arch-009Tunnel Arch

Pinetree Arch

Pinetree Arch-015Pinetree Arch-015Pinetree Arch

Landscape Arch

Landscape Arch-027Landscape Arch-027Landscape Arch

Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch might be the most famous arch in Utah as it appears on their license plate. There are two view points. I went to the much closer Lower Viewpoint but most of the crowd climbed up the hill to get a closer view from above. 

Delicate Arch-040Delicate Arch-040Delicate Arch

Panorama Point

Panorama Point-041Panorama Point-041Panorama Point

Balanced Rock

Balanced Rock-045Balanced Rock-045Balanced Rock

Windows and Turret Arch

I wasn't sure I was going to find a parking spot in this large lot, but someone pulled out and I set out to Turret first. When I got there a family was taking photos in the arch with their guide who was saying how great it was they had the arch to themselves. I patiently waited and eventually they cleared the area. 

A view of the North and South Windows.   Windows-051Windows-051Windows

The North Window Windows-055Windows-055Windows

Turret Arch Turret Arch-053Turret Arch-053Turret Arch

 

On the walk back to the parking lot, I came upon a couple from North Carolina who were Sony shooters. We talked cameras, gear and travel for a good 20 minutes. They were traveling by RV. 

Courthouse Towers

Courthouse Towers-059Courthouse Towers-059Courthouse Towers

More of my photos from Arches National Park can be viewed here

Dead Horse Point State Park

I signed up for a photography tour that was supposed to take me to some great locations in Moab for sunrise and then pick me up for an evening session. Unfortunately, the tour was canceled because the guide was sick and none of the other photographers were interested in an early morning assignment. The guide told me that if he went to bed soon, he'd probably be well enough to do the tour but I wasn't about to spend hours with a sick person in a car. So, I had to get myself to Dead Horse Point State Park (45 minute drive through dark and unfamiliar roads) for sunrise. 

I arrived, the first car in the lot, with a few cars behind me. The others, though, were interested in the eastern view of the sun. I was interested in the golden light on a western view, so I headed in the other direction and staked out a spot with my tripod. After about 45 minutes, I put the tripod in the car and did some more photography before leaving. 

Dead Horse Point-007Dead Horse Point-007Dead Horse Point Dead Horse Point-021Dead Horse Point-021Dead Horse Point

More of my photos from Dead Horse Point State Park can be viewed here

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands is very close to Dead Horse Point, so it was a quick drive to the park entrance. At this early hour (around 7:30) there was no line to enter and no one was even at the entry station. 

Mesa Arch

My first stop was Mesa Arch. The photography guide said that this arch gets a lot of traffic at sunrise but it will still be interesting light for a while after that and I managed to catch it with some good light and with few people around. The hike was about a mile with lots of elevation changes. 

Mesa Arch-002Mesa Arch-002Mesa Arch

Green River Overlook

Green River Overlook-021Green River Overlook-021Green River Overlook

Upheaval Dome

I hadn't researched this location, so I wasn't sure what to expect but the .6 mile round trip hike was harder than I was expecting but the views were amazing. 

Upheaval Dome-028Upheaval Dome-028Upheaval Dome

Grand View Point

The "Grand" in this name refers to the Grand River. 

Grand View Point-032Grand View Point-032Grand View Point

Orange Cliff Overlook

Orange Cliff Overlook-039Orange Cliff Overlook-039Orange Cliff Overlook

Buck Canyon Overlook

Buck Canyon Overlook-042Buck Canyon Overlook-042Buck Canyon Overlook

Shafer Canyon Viewpoint

My last stop was close to the visitor center. As I left around 11am, I saw a very long line of cars waiting to enter. I was glad to have gotten in early when there was no line at all. Again the benefits of staying on Eastern time were apparent.
Shafer Canyon Viewpoint-048Shafer Canyon Viewpoint-048Shafer Canyon Viewpoint

More of my photos from Canyonlands can be viewed here

 

Colorado River in Moab

I mostly kept to an East Coast schedule, so early morning photography was easy - not so much with the evenings. But I thought I should get out on Saturday night and do a short drive along a stretch of the Colorado River near Moab. This was a place the photography tour would have gone before heading to Arches for the evening. I just did the river and headed back to the hotel. Two things were interesting about this stretch of river. One is the presence of petroglyphs. The other is sections of walls that attract climbers. I was there mostly for the reflections in the river and the overall scenery. 

Colorado River-005Colorado River-005Colorado River Colorado River-014Colorado River-014Colorado River

More photos of this section of the Colorado River can be viewed here

Mesa Verde National Park

My original plan was to visit Antelope Canyon near Page Arizona but I discovered shortly before leaving home that it was closed due to COVID. I struggled looking for an alternative and happened to notice that Mesa Verde wasn't too far away in Southwest Colorado. The park came up in a couple of discussions I had with others during the trip, so I went to see what it was all about. 

The park documents many of the early inhabitants of the area and the evolution of their housing, starting from pit houses up to houses build into the cliffs. The park was more interesting than I anticipated and I spent hours there. 

When I first arrived, I stopped at the first viewpoint to get out, stretch my legs, and use the bathroom. I pulled behind another car and got out. I noticed they had a Philadelphia Eagles license plate frame and PA tags. They were from Delaware County (my county) and were driving a car back from Portland for one of their kids. These three guys had done a similar trip over 40 years ago and they were enjoying their time being on the road together. Because Mesa Verde is largely a one way road where you drive a bit, stop, get out, view the site, and return to your car, I stuck with them through a good portion of the morning before our paths separated. 

Here are some of my stops in the park. 

Montezuma Valley
Montezuma Valley-002Montezuma Valley-002Montezuma Valley Navajo Canyon
Navajo Canyon-006Navajo Canyon-006Navajo Canyon

Pit House

Pit Houses and Pueblos-016Pit Houses and Pueblos-016Pit Houses and Pueblos

Fire Temple

Fire Temple-033Fire Temple-033Fire Temple

Square Tower House

Square Tower House-012Square Tower House-012Square Tower House

Spruce Tree House

Spruce Tree House-052Spruce Tree House-052Spruce Tree House Cliff Palace

The most well known part of Mesa Verde. It is the largest cliff dwelling in North America. There were two different stops where this city could be seen. 

Cliff Palace-039Cliff Palace-039Cliff Palace

Sun Temple

Sun Temple-036Sun Temple-036Sun Temple

Park Point

Park Point-057Park Point-057Park Point

More photos from my visit to Mesa Verde National Park can be viewed here

Horseshoe Bend

I drove to Page AZ from Mesa Verde. It felt like the longest drive of the trip. At one point my rental car asked me if I wanted to take a break. I did but there wasn't anywhere to stop. Page was in my itinerary largely because of Antelope Canyon but the other attraction was Horseshoe Bend. I wished I had the motivation to have gone out for sunset but I did manage to get there for sunrise on Monday morning.

Precarious 

My photography challenge for the week was Precarious and I figured I'd find people in precarious situations standing too close to the edge at the Grand Canyon but I ended up going with this photo as my submission. Is she checking her email or taking a photo? Either way, she seems much more relaxed than I was seeing her on that cliff. 

Horseshoe Bend-001Horseshoe Bend-001Horseshoe Bend

Sunrise at the Bend

Here is the Colorado River bending as it moves though the area south of Page. 

Horseshoe Bend-010Horseshoe Bend-010Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend-005Horseshoe Bend-005Horseshoe Bend

More photos from sunrise at Horseshoe Bend can be viewed here

 

Grand Canyon National Park

I returned to my hotel after sunrise at Horseshoe Bend and left shortly thereafter to head to the Grand Canyon. I would be entering from the East entrance. My plan was to stop at all of the viewpoints along the way to Grand Canyon Village where I would be staying at Bright Angel Lodge for two nights. Day 1 I spent time at the different vistas along Desert View Drive. Day 2 I spent my time along the Hermit's Road vistas. In those two days, I was able to get a good sense of the South Rim. 

Desert View

Shortly after entering the park from the East entrance, I had my first view of the Grand Canyon at Desert View. It was grand. 

Desert View-004Desert View-004Desert View

Navajo Point

Navajo Point-010Navajo Point-010Navajo Point

Lipan Point

Lipan Point-016Lipan Point-016Lipan Point

Moran Point

Moran Point-028Moran Point-028Moran Point

Grandview Point

Grandview Point-034Grandview Point-034Grandview Point

Unnamed View Point

I found this view point but didn't see it with a name on the map or any signs but it was less populated than other stops, so I used the opportunity to get out the tripod for a self-portrait.

Unnamed Viewpoint-045Unnamed Viewpoint-045Unnamed Viewpoint

Duck on a Rock

At this stop, the signs said that the rock on the left resembles a duck and emphasized that these formations change slowly but if you were to come back in 50 years this might look like something else. 

Duck on a Rock-049Duck on a Rock-049Duck on a Rock

Sunset on the Rim Trail

After finishing up with the Desert Road vistas, I stopped at the Visitor Center and then drove to my hotel to check in. I stayed in Bright Angel Lodge in one of the Rim Cabins. My cabin was just feet from the Rim Trail. This made it very easy to get out for sunrise and sunset both days of my stay. 

Sunset-060Sunset-060Sunset

Sunrise at the Rim Trail

Sunrise-073Sunrise-073Sunrise

Trailview Overlook

After sunrise, I walked to the shuttle bus for Hermit's Road and took the bus west, getting out at many of the stops. The first was Trailview Overlook where you get a great view of the Bright Angel Trail that goes down into the canyon. 

Trailview Overlook-088Trailview Overlook-088Trailview Overlook

Powell Point

Powell Point-091Powell Point-091Powell Point

Hopi Point

Hopi Point-110Hopi Point-110Hopi Point

Mojave Point

Mojave Point provided a great view of the Colorado River rapids.

Mojave Point-117Mojave Point-117Mojave Point

Hermit's Rest

The final stop on the shuttle route is Hermit's Rest. A storm was starting to brew off in the distance. 

Hermit's Rest-130Hermit's Rest-130Hermit's Rest

Hermit's Rest-135Hermit's Rest-135Hermit's Rest

Pima Point

I skipped Pima Point on the way going West since it was a stop where I could catch a but going East, so I hiked the mile from Hermit's Road to Pima Point, noticing how much the storm was picking up intensity. We never did get any rain on the South Rim but there was some lightning off in the distance. 

Pima Point-142Pima Point-142Pima Point

Rim Trail

With my cabin right near the Rim Trail, I spent a lot of time along the trail. I ran into a couple of other Sony users both of whom had the 12-24 f/4 lens and were really enjoying the ultra wide view. It made me question my decision not to bring my 12-24 f/2.8 GM lens. One of the things that surprised me was the extent to which there were often clouds, which are really helpful shooting wide landscapes. From checking the weather before I left, it seemed skies were going to be clear the whole trip. But there were plenty of places where zooming in gave me the composition I was seeking. 

Rim Trail-145Rim Trail-145Rim Trail

The Final Morning

My last morning at the Grand Canyon started with waking before 4am, so getting out for an early 5:15am sunrise was easy. I walked further down the Rim Trail than the previous morning. I was going to grab breakfast at the Maswik Lodge but there was a long line when I got there so I hit the road to the next destination. 

Sunrise-164Sunrise-164Sunrise

More of my photos from the Grand Canyon National Park can be viewed here

Hoover Dam

My route back to Las Vegas was going to take me right past the Hoover Dam, so I thought a stop would be worthwhile. The weather was not great - very overcast and a little rainy - so I was surprised by the large number of people visiting. The dam was very interesting. Not everything was open due to COVID but I toured the visitor center which included a movie and a slide show. Getting a good photo of the dam was a challenge but I was able to stitch two photos together to get the whole dam in one picture. 

Hoover Dam-007Hoover Dam-007Hoover Dam

More photos from the Hoover Dam, including shots of Lake Mead, can be viewed here

Las Vegas

I arrived back in Las Vegas in time for my 8pm Eastern call with Drum Corps Associates staff. In the call I mentioned where I was and found out one of the people on the call lived in Henderson, so I met up with Pat Bocker, her husband and a friend for lunch the next day. My only photography that day was getting out on The Strip for some street photography early Thursday morning. This photo shows my hotel (Planet Hollywood) right across from the Aria where I stayed on my last trip to the Las Vegas Strip for a conference. 

The Strip-021The Strip-021The Strip

Additional photos from my morning on The Strip can be viewed here

Leaving Las Vegas

The flight home was uneventful and pleasant. The trip was great but it was good to be heading home. I'm grateful for the people I met along the trip, particularly since I was traveling alone while most people were part of a couple or group.  It was nice to have some people to talk with particularly during long waits in line. I'm grateful for the opportunity to see so many wonderous sights and to receive these images. I'm grateful for a company that was able to carry on without me for two weeks, so work took up a very limited amount of my time. Finally, I'm beyond grateful for my wife Donna for encouraging me in taking this trip and for spending hours on the phone and Zoom talking about my adventure. 

 


June 2021 National Park Tour Part 1

July 06, 2021  •  1 Comment

Hopi Point-102Hopi Point-102Hopi Point With a delayed start to the summer drum corps season and being fully vaccinated, I took the opportunity to do some traveling in June 2021 that would take me to 7 national parks along with 2 state parks and other locations. It took some planning to figure out a trip that made sense but it all came together really well.

Gear

Since photography was at the core of the trip, the first thing to figure out was what gear to bring. I hoped that my new Sony 14mm f/1.8 lens would arrive in time, but alas shipping was delayed. Here is what was in my camera backpack. 

Cameras - Sony A1 and Sony A6600 converted to full spectrum. I used both cameras extensively, though the A1 did the bulk of the work. I used the A6600 when I wanted to shoot infrared or where I wanted to lighten the load. I also brought along an Akaso Brave 4 action camera which I used for one particular hike and as a dash cam. 

Full Frame Lenses

  • Sony 24-105 f/4 G - This was my most used lens as it has a very versatile focal length. About half my shots were taken with this lens.
  • Sony 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 G - The next most used lens, this was great for when I needed the extra reach. It worked well with both bodies. 
  • Sony 35mm f/1.4 GM - I like shooting with prime lenses, so this was useful but not truly necessary. I thought having a fast lens with a 1.4 aperture would be helpful. 
  • Sony 20mm f/1.8 G - I could have left this home. The few times I used it, I could have just as easily used other gear.

ASP-C (crop) Lenses

  • Sony 18-105 f/4 G - this is my primary lens for infrared photography. It's never quite as wide as I'd like but it performs well with no hot spots.
  • Sony 10-18 f/4 - this little lens was my widest lens. While I used it primarily on the A6600 there was one occasion where I used the A1 in crop mode. 

Other Gear

  • Extra batteries and memory cards
  • Remote trigger - I brought both the wired and wireless versions but only used the wired since I also could control my camera with the mobile app on my phone. 
  • Camera strap
  • Tripod mounting plate
  • Tripod

Trip Summary

I flew to Las Vegas on July 18. After a day there, I went to Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Goblin Valley State Park, Arches National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park, Canyonlands National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, Horseshoe Bend, Grand Canyon (South Rim) National Park and back to Las Vegas with a stop at the Hoover Dam. I flew home on July 2. Most stays were one or two nights so the trip moved along rapidly. 

Las Vegas Part 1

I arrived at my Las Vegas hotel later than planned due to flight delays, baggage claim delays and a very long line for the rental car shuttle bus. Getting in about 11:30pm (2:30am as far as my body was concerned) was tough but I had a 4:45am plan with a friend for some early morning photography. My friend Warren Lee was wide awake and waiting for me as I came out of the hotel. I've known Warren for a few years as we've both participated in the Ricky Time Photo Critique Group but we had never met in person. He drove us to Cornerstone Park in nearby Henderson for sunrise and the opportunity to photograph hummingbirds among other critters. From there, we went to the 180-acre botanical garden Springs Preserve where we were focused on flowers since that was our photography challenge topic for the week. 

Hummingbirds

Here is my very first attempt at photographing a hummingbird. Given that I only had a 300mm lens and the tiny size of these birds, I felt fortunate to have a few successful shots. It's only in the past year that I've even done much bird photography. I can see the appeal but it's tough work. 

Cornerstone Park-005Cornerstone Park-005Cornerstone Park

My settings were all wrong for this shot as my shutter was only 1/320. As the light improved, I increased my shutter to 1/4000 and got these shots.

Cornerstone Park-030Cornerstone Park-030Cornerstone Park

Cornerstone Park-031Cornerstone Park-031Cornerstone Park

Cornerstone Park had many other sights including the rising sun, birds and other animals. Here are a few of those images. Other photos from Cornerstone Park can be found here.

Cornerstone Park-016Cornerstone Park-016Cornerstone Park

Cornerstone Park-022Cornerstone Park-022Cornerstone Park

Cornerstone Park-028Cornerstone Park-028Cornerstone Park

Springs Preserve

This beautiful garden presented a great (and only) opportunity to get a flower photo for the weekly challenge, particularly since I didn't have an opportunity earlier in the week and the photo was due the next day. I found the ants crawling over this one to be interesting, so this was my submission. 

Springs Preserve-059Springs Preserve-059Springs Preserve

Here are a few more photos from our time at Springs Preserve. More photos from this Springs Preserve can be found here.

Springs Preserve-062Springs Preserve-062Springs Preserve Springs Preserve-070Springs Preserve-070Springs Preserve Springs Preserve-076Springs Preserve-076Springs Preserve Springs Preserve-083Springs Preserve-083Springs Preserve Springs Preserve-091Springs Preserve-091Springs Preserve Springs Preserve-096Springs Preserve-096Springs Preserve

A Chance Encounter

I planned to meet my Aunt Betty and Uncle Jerry at a restaurant in Henderson for an early dinner, so I drove over to the shopping center, parked the car, and started walking to the restaurant. I pass two young people and hear one of them talking about holding up his horn. I stop them and ask if they are drum corps. They were! 

I quickly found out that they were going to march Pacific Crest and they were being picked up in Las Vegas by my very good friend and fellow drum corps photographer Russell Tanakaya. Turns out, Russ was there and they had just left the restaurant I was heading to. They give Russ a call and tell them they just met Chris Maher in the parking lot. We head over to the restaurant where I have a quick visit with Russ and meet his sister. 

It also turns out that one of the drum corps performers is Luke Guthrie who I've photographed in the past with his high school and in the Raiders. He had taken the train from Maryland to Las Vegas. 

 

Zion National Park and Springdale Utah

I left Las Vegas early on Sunday morning, making a stop in St. George UT to buy food for the rest of the day and get gas.

Kolob Canyons

I decided to start in the West side of Zion at Kolob Canyons. Located about 40 miles North of the main Zion Canyon, this area of the park includes a 5 mile scenic drive with stops along the way for viewpoints and hiking. After making a few stops for photos, I continued to the Timber Creek Overlook Trail. This one mile roundtrip hike offered some wonderful views of the area. 

Kolob Canyon-003Kolob Canyon-003Kolob Canyon Kolob Canyon-016Kolob Canyon-016Kolob Canyon

As I started the hike, there was a serious looking hiker behind me. I would move out of the way to take a photo and let him pass but generally he kept behind me. Eventually he passed by and was at the main outlook when I arrived. I noticed he was shooting Sony, so I struck up a conversation. He was a serious hiker, having already completed 7 miles today. He continued along and eventually I caught up to him. We talked photography more and then stayed together for the hike back to the parking lot. 

A few times during the trip I set up my tripod to take a self-portrait. Here is the first of those. 

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I made one other stop for a hike at Taylor Creek Trail. The trail starts with a long flight of stairs and then a walk along a creek. I only did about a mile of the 5 mile route, knowing that I would have to walk back up those stairs. 

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On to Springdale and then to Zion

I left Kolob Canyons and headed to Springdale to check into my hotel - the Driftwood Inn - which was right at a shuttle stop (which it turns out I never used) and just a couple of miles from the park's South entrance. I planned to tackle the Narrows Hike the next day, so I stopped at Zion Guru to rent shoes, socks and walking stick for the hike. The store was great in helping me get the right gear and learning how to use the stick in the water. 

Zion Canyon is mostly closed to private vehicles. You have to take a shuttle from the visitor center along the 9 stops - about half of which were closed due to COVID or rock slides. I wanted to get a better sense of the park and the shuttles, so I drove to the visitor center after 5pm. I spoke with a park ranger who advised me that the line for the shuttle can be very long in the morning and that I'd be better off coming later to do the Narrows. I took that under advisement since my plan had been to get to the park early. 

I spent the next couple of hours hiking the Pa'rus Trail and other areas close to the visitor center that did not require the shuttle. The landscape along the whole trip was very conducive to creating panoramas. My panorama technique is to shoot a series of shots left to right and then take a picture of the ground, so that when I'm reviewing images and I see a ground shot, I know that the preceding photos were intended to be a panorama. 

Pa'rus Trail-051Pa'rus Trail-051Pa'rus Trail Pa'rus Trail-052Pa'rus Trail-052Pa'rus Trail

Since my photography challenge for this week was Contrast, I made use of the shadows from the setting sun. 

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Pa'rus Trail-055Pa'rus Trail-055Pa'rus Trail

The Narrows

My big adventure in Zion was to do the Narrows hike. Ignoring the advice of the ranger, I arrived at parking lot way before sunrise and was in line for the shuttle by 5:30. The busses start running at 6 and run every 10 minutes. There were about 150 people ahead of me in line. It was going to a long wait, so I struck up a conversation with the couple behind me. They were from San Jose. They really helped me pass the time. We caught the fifth bus about 6:40am. 

This hike starts at the last shuttle stop for the Temple of Sinawava. I was on the trail about 7:30. The first mile runs alongside the river on flat dry land. Before long, I reached the spot to enter the water. 

The Narrows-071The Narrows-071The Narrows

I bought an inexpensive action camera for the trip. It came with an underwater housing case. I had the camera easily accessible in the pocket of my shorts. The camera performed amazingly well. 

The Narrows-075The Narrows-075The Narrows The Narrows-076The Narrows-076The Narrows

I had a dry bag with me where I kept my snacks, an extra bottle of water and my Sony A6600 with the 10-18mm lens. As conditions allowed, I would pull out the A6600 for some photo opportunities. The camera did a much better job with the dynamic range of the landscape of the Narrows as the action camera had a tendency to blow out the highlights. 

The Narrows-083The Narrows-083The Narrows The Narrows-085The Narrows-085The Narrows

Because I was there so early, there were not many people on the trail which made it easier to get photos without people in them. But there were enough people that I had others to watch for navigating the water as the hike involved moving in and out of the water. 

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I wasn't sure how deep the water would get. For the start of the hike it was ankle deep.

The Narrows-094The Narrows-094The Narrows

But it wasn't long before the water was up to my hips at times. It was shortly after this spot that I fell for the first time. The fall wasn't too bad, mostly a damaged ego but by that point I had seen a dozen falls. 

 

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My goal was to make it to the "Confluence" where the Wall Street begins and there is a branch off to the right to see Veiled Falls. I made it this far but fell again. An older woman near me also fell and we both made the same decision - to turn back. I stopped on the side for a while to grab a snack (pretzels) and then started the hike back. I had hiked three miles, two of them in the Virgin River. 

The Narrows-102The Narrows-102The Narrows

I figured the hike back would be easier, since I wasn't going against the current but there were so many more people and I was going in the opposite direction of most of them. Plus there was sun, where the hike in was in the shade. I fell again in the water. Then, I fell on the dry land trying to navigate over a fallen tree. I sat on the tree, swung my legs over and then somehow I lost my footing on the slippery rocks. That was the fall that hurt. I came away with four scrapes - two on each leg.  

The rest of the hike back was tough but I made it without further incident. I was concerned about the open wounds given that the water in the river contained toxin-producing cyanobacteria and there were signs warning not to swim or drink the water. I was able to get some first aid supplies when I got back to town. 

After completing the hike, I returned to my car on the shuttle. I stopped at Zion Guru to return the gear and then took a long bath. 

Springdale Sunrise

The rest of Monday I stayed in and worked on photos but I was up early for a wonderful sunrise walk in the town of Springdale. I was feeling better after a good night sleep. 

Sunrise-136Sunrise-136Sunrise

Leaving Zion

The final leg of my Zion trip was driving through the park and going out the East exit on my way to Bryce. I hit the road about 9:30 on Tuesday morning. The drive through the Eastern part of the park was wonderful. I made a few stops at pullouts for photos. Close to the Eastern entrance, I stopped for this panorama that includes the Checkerboard Mesa. 

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More photos from Zion and Springdale are here

Bryce Canyon National Park

The drive to Bryce was pleasant and short. I first stopped at the visitor center and followed the advice of the park ranger to take the Scenic Drive to Rainbow Point and then work my way back North to Bryce Canyon Lodge where I was spending one night. The views were beautiful with interesting rock formations and colors. It was as very different visual experience from Zion. The route turned out to be a great strategy as I could find parking at each stop. 

Rainbow Point

Rainbow Point-007Rainbow Point-007Rainbow Point

Black Birch Canyon

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Ponderosa Canyon

Ponderosa Point-014Ponderosa Point-014Ponderosa Point

Agua Canyon

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Natural Bridge

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Farview Point

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The Lodge

The Bryce Canyon Lodge was a great place to stay, particularly if you want to be disconnected from the world. With no cell coverage from my room and unable to connect to the Internet (which wasn't that good even if it had worked), I was a little off the grid. The location was great, right in the middle of the Amphitheater and easy access to the Rim Trail, Sunrise Point and Sunset Point. The General Store was a .3 mile walk and I hoped to get some first aid supplies. In addition to my wounds from falling, I was developing a blister on the bottom of my left foot. Unfortunately the store was lacking in any inventory, so I went into town to the store there. While in town, I grabbed dinner at the diner. 

Bryce Point

Earlier in the day, Bryce Point was full. I decided to go back there in the early evening and then drive to Sunset Point. Bryce Point is among the most popular view points in the park. 

Bryce Point-036Bryce Point-036Bryce Point

Sunset Point

Even though the view point was close to my hotel room, I decided to drive since it would be dark heading back, plus it would make it easier to have more gear with me. I used my tripod but moved around to different vantage points. The sunset was not spectacular but it was a very pleasant place to spend the evening. I spoke with a number of other photographers trying to find someone who knew the best place to be but everyone else was there for the first time too. 

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Sunset Point-072Sunset Point-072Sunset Point

Sunrise Point

I woke up early on Wednesday and easily made it to Sunrise Point for sunrise. However, it was very cloudy and even rained a little so there was not much opportunity for photos. I enjoyed chatting with the other viewers there as most were doing the same trip I was but in reverse, so they were coming from Capitol Reef, which is where I was heading. 

Sunrise Point-085Sunrise Point-085Sunrise Point

Queen's Garden Trail

My big hike at Bryce was the Queen's Garden trail. This 1.8 mile round trip hike offers the least difficult descent into the Amphitheater and a chance to see a rock that looks a bit like Queen Victoria. 

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More photos from Bryce Canyon can be found here

Scenic Byway - UT Route 12

Several of the people at Sunrise Point at Bryce mentioned a treacherous stretch of the Scenic Byway where there were drop offs on both sides of the road with no guardrails. This had me feeling a little nervous, so I did some more research watching some videos on YouTube. That put me a bit at ease and I gave it a go. It was not bad as scary drives are concerned. 

Scenic Byway-005Scenic Byway-005Scenic Byway

Since I knew taking photos would be impossible in some of the most interesting spots, I decided to set up my Akaso Brave 4 as a dashboard camera. Here is some of that footage. The scary part happens about 10-12 miles South of Boulder UT. More photos from the Scenic Byway are here
 

Capitol Reef National Park

Scenic Drive

I arrived at Capitol Reef and found the visitor center lot full, so I started the 8 mile (one way) Scenic Drive. Unfortunately the light was not great as it was cloudy and raining part of the time. Still I was able to appreciate the beauty of the landscape. 

Scenic Drive-007Scenic Drive-007Scenic Drive

After the drive, I stopped at the visitor center and got some advice from the park ranger. 

Petroglyphs

The first recommendation from the ranger was to stop at the petroglyphs. This was an interesting exhibit but one which I found hard to follow. I asked a couple who seemed like they were getting it, and they pointed out some of the drawings that could be seen on the rocks. They could not only make out that there were drawings but seemed to know what they represented. 

Petroglyph-016Petroglyph-016Petroglyph

Chimney Trail

After the petroglyphs, I decided to go check into the hotel which was 12 miles west of the park. On the way exiting the park, I made a quick stop at Chimney Trail. 

Chimney Trail-017Chimney Trail-017Chimney Trail

After I checked in, I decided to get some dinner but it was raining pretty hard now, so I ate at the restaurant on premises and left the rest of the Capitol Reef adventures for the next day. 

Hickman Bridge

The previous day when I went past this trailhead, the lot was packed with cars all over the road but when I pulled up a little before 7:30 in the morning there were just a couple of cars. There was a guide for the trail that led me through 17 points and explained what I was seeing. This helped with the senses of making progress. Capitol Reef National Park gets its name, in part, from the Capitol Dome which was easily viewable from the trail. 

Hickman Bridge-020Hickman Bridge-020Hickman Bridge

The first half of the 1.8 mile hike went along smoothly. I passed one couple coming out and they said there was no one ahead and I'd have the view of the 133 foot natural bridge all to myself. I got to the bridge and it was quite a sight. 

Hickman Bridge-037Hickman Bridge-037Hickman Bridge After a bit, I realized I wasn't sure exactly how I got into this part of the trail nor was I sure how to get out. This was a lollipop design where most of the hike is the same out and back, but you are supposed to circle around. I started hearing some voices, so I decided to wait. Eventually a family from Bucks County PA arrived and I confessed I didn't know how to get out. They weren't sure either, so together we found out way back to the trail. In chatting with them, they were doing roughly the same trip as me only in less time, spending at most one day per park. 

Grand Wash

The next hike the ranger recommended was the Grand Wash. This was a dry riverbed (the Grand River) which in may ways resembled the Narrows, just without the water. The trail was mostly quiet and seemed to go on forever. Eventually I turned around having gone about 2 miles in and I was about half way through my water, so I figured it was time to return. When I got back to the parking, I met a couple from Lancaster. It seems everyone from Pennsylvania had the same idea this week. 

Grand Wash-070Grand Wash-070Grand Wash Grand Wash-094Grand Wash-094Grand Wash

Goosenecks Point

My final stop in Capitol Reef was Goosenecks Point. This involved driving on an unpaved road for one mile and then a short hike up a hill to the view point. 

Goosenecks Point-096Goosenecks Point-096Goosenecks Point

More photos from Capitol Reef can be found here

Goblin Valley State Park

On the recommendation of my friend JoAnne Parente I stopped at Goblin Valley State Park. This park was about 15 miles off the main highway, so I figured since I was passing right by on my way to Moab, why not stop? I wasn't sure what to expect. The park features thousands of hoodoos which look a bit like goblins, which are formations of mushroom-shaped rock pinnacles. At first I thought you had to view the goblins from a distance but then I realized there were stairs leading down into Goblin Valley and I could go down there and walk among the goblins.

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After I was there for a while, I decided the environment called for some infrared black and white photography, so I walked back up the stairs to change cameras. 

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More photos of the Goblins can be found here
 

I planned to do the whole trip in one blog, but when I had everything together, I couldn't save it because it was too large, so please continue to Part 2

 

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