As time permits, I offer my thoughts on some of the events I am able to photograph.
My Top Pictures of 2022
091-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.
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 floorFast Forward Dance
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 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 JazzmereldaCaballeros Alumni
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 GoddessAtlanta Botanical Garden
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.
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 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 PennsylvaniaWellsboro PA
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 gladRidgewood Guard
I have special galleries for my composites if you want to see them all, approximately 135 in all. Marching Band, Indoor and Drum Corps
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.
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 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.
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
035-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.
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 DownFlips are always fun to catch.
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 CatchBushwackers guard rifles have a challenging toss and catch moment.
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-HoodoosA view of the hoodoos from Bryce Point.
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 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!
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 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 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-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.
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