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

My Top Pictures of 2020

January 03, 2021  •  1 Comment

 

064-Webb Farm House064-Webb Farm HouseWith all the time I spent at Longwood Gardens as restrictions started easing, I caught a lot of different views of the Webb Farm House, but this infrared one was my favorite. 665nm

Each year since 2013, I go through all my photos and pick out my favorite 100. Even in 2020 when much of my normal marching arts photography opportunities were canceled, I still had a hard time picking just 100 photos to represent over 58,000 photos from the year. I continued with my weekly photography challenges with the Ricky Tims critique group, finishing out my sixth straight year – 272 weekly challenges without missing a single one. With travel limited, I spent a lot of time at Longwood Gardens and in my own backyard.

This blog post will give an overview of my year of photography with a focus on my top 100 photos.

Equipment

A lot has changed with my equipment since my last annual reflection. I ended 2019 feeling committed to Nikon, but by mid-February 2020 I made the switch to Sony. I finally got to where I was able to get the photos to look like I wanted them to and simply enjoyed the shooting experience more. The thing that sealed the deal was purchasing a Sony A9. I only had a few weeks of serious use before everything shut down, but it was a fun few weeks.

I sold a few of my Nikon lenses and the D750 I purchased at the end of 2019 but I'm still holding onto the D850, D500 and many of my top Nikon lenses. I’m not sure when or if I’ll part with them. Time will tell.

I added a number of Sony lenses – the 200-600 G, the 100-400 GM, the 28mm f/2 with fisheye adapter, the 24mm f/1.4 GM, the 70-300 G and the newly released 12-24 f/2.8 GM.

Top 100 By the Numbers

By Camera

  • Sony A9 - 53
  • Sony A7Riii - 18
  • Sony A6600 full spectrum conversion - 11
  • Sony A7iii - 9
  • Nikon D850 - 7
  • Nikon D500 - 2

Nearly half of the top 100 photos were taken with the Sony 70-200 f/2.8 with 48 photos. No other lens was in double digits, so I really distributed the work across my equipment with 20 different lenses represented.

The Top 100 included photos from 32 different locations, which is not bad considering how little I traveled. The top spot was no surprise - Longwood Gardens with 19 shots. I visited once just before the lockdown. Once things reopened, I went nearly every week. South Brunswick for the two day WGI Regional was close behind with 17. No other location was in double digits. Quite a few were shot in my own backyard.

COVID-19 Strikes

Of course, as everyone in the world knows, 2020 was a year of limited activities and travel. I spent time in just 3 states including my home state. I went to Delaware once and New Jersey a few times both before and after the start of the pandemic restrictions. In a normal year, I visit at least 15 states, so this was a big change. With the March 15 shutdowns in the PA/NJ area, I had a short indoor season, no drum corps, no summer travel, no airline flights, no hotel stays and just a few marching band events in the fall. This made for a very different year and a very different Top 100 photos.

But rather than focus on what I lost, I’m focused on what I was able to do, much of which was pleasantly surprising and much appreciated.

Indoor Guard and Drumline

My indoor season started on January 11 and continued through March 14. By March 7, the virus was on everyone's mind and within a few days all my events were canceled. I was invited to photograph end-of-season final events for United Percussion and AMP on March 14. I spent a few wonderful hours with UP, photographing both ensembles and then some group shots. As I was leaving, I received a message that AMP had to wrap up early and exit the building. It would have been nice to end my season with AMP, but I’m glad I got to see them a few times before the shutdown.

One of the very best moments of the short indoor guard season was watching AMP Junior perform at the AMP home show. Normally junior guards go on first, but the organization decided to put the junior guard on last - after the World Class group. The place was packed and those kids gave an amazing performance. It was literally the best thing in the world that evening.

018-The Best Thing in the World018-The Best Thing in the WorldNormally the junior guards perform at the beginning of a show to rather small crowds, but at the AMP Home Show they made the decision to end the evening with their junior guard. The group performed to the music of The Greatest Showman, and it was literally the best thing in the world watching those young performers with a full house of enthusiastic fans. I was a teary mess trying to capture what I was experiencing. Even today, reflecting on that moment is an emotional experience.

After spending the early shows going back and forth between Nikon and Sony, I decided to put the Nikon gear away and see how the year would go with just the Sony. Would I be confident enough with it in difficult conditions? Would I feel comfortable shooting awards and in other situations? I never really found out because this was such a strange year, but when I made the decision to pack up the Nikon gear, I bought a Sony A9. The next day, I went to the WGI Regional in South Brunswick to try it out. I stayed as long as I could on Saturday before leaving for a drumline show. I returned on Sunday after church. Here's one of the shots of the host school from that event.

027-Running on Air027-Running on AirSouth Brunswick Visual Ensemble's show featured these ramps. They would run up and down them. I caught this member with both feet off the ground, confidently running down a steep ramp.

As noted above, the indoor season ended for me on March 14 when I got to spend the day with United Percussion. It was a lot of fun being able to move around, change lenses, and see the same chunks of show run over and over. The group practiced in costume, so this yielded a lot of great shots, quite a few of which nearly made the Top 100. Here's one that did.

055-It's Over055-It's OverI was honored to be invited to photograph United Percussion's final performance. Due to COVID restrictions, friends and family were not allowed in the gym. This was March 14, and the group wanted to do one more run of the show, which they livestreamed. I was impressed by the group's hard work in rehearsal in preparation for this final run. I got to photograph all through the World group's rehearsal, their final run and the final run of United Percussion 2. Afterwards I did some group and section shots. Not long after this shot, the season was over.

Marching Band

I did not expect to have anything resembling a marching band season. Each weekend that we had perfect marching band weather did not go unnoticed. I was aware a number of groups were learning shows and recording them for competitive or evaluation purposes. I wasn’t sure there was a place for me, as I expected most schools would not want someone from outside coming onto their campus. But after I was invited to photograph Edison High School by Alfred Braza, I reached out to a few schools where I felt comfortable to see what they were doing. As a result of that outreach and other connections, I managed to see 16 marching bands. Mostly these were single band events, but there was one small festival I was able to attend as well.

While I wish the season had been so much more, particularly for the students, what I experienced at each of these events was a group of people working hard for very little outside recognition. I was impressed by each band and the commitment of the staff to provide as normal an experience as possible, while working hard to keep everyone safe. It was inspiring.

Here are a few of the marching band photos that made the Top 100.

079-Baritone079-BaritoneMy first marching band event for 2020 didn't happen until October 19 when I was invited to Edison High School by my friend Alfred Braza. This is one of the shots I captured that evening.

091-Masked Bass Drummer091-Masked Bass DrummerI spent a lovely afternoon at Timber Creek High School on the first Saturday in November. The small group worked hard all day and put on a nice performance for their family followed by a senior recognition ceremony.

094-Soloist094-SoloistA soloist with the Hillsborough marching band. With the daytime event, I was able to try some of my long but slower lenses than I usually use. This was taken with a 200-600 variable aperture lens.

One of the bands I visited was Southern Regional High School. I'd been there once before for an indoor Dayton send-off event and know many of the staff and parents. The drive was one of my longer drives for the year, so I figured if I'm driving almost to the Jersey coast, I might as well drive a few miles further and see the Barnegat Lighthouse. My challenge that week was Ominous or Suspicious. I hoped to find something. After looking at my photos from the lighthouse shoot and from the band event, I decided to create a Sci-Fi poster.

082-Attack fo the 200 Foot Drummer082-Attack of the 200 Foot DrummerThis composite was created for a photography challenge theme of Ominous or Suspenseful. Despite the pandemic restrictions, I've managed to find a few marching band photography opportunities this fall. One was a Tuesday night at Southern Regional High School in Manahawkin, NJ. The school is about 10 miles from the Barnegat Lighthouse, so I went out there early to do some photography. It was a glorious day. I mostly shot infrared at the lighthouse and had some ominous, ideas but after looking over my photos from the day, I thought a composite movie poster was in order. The lighthouse is 171 feet tall, so I went for a 200 ft drummer. Names of some of my photography classmates were used for the credits.

One group with whom I had no prior connections reached out to me because they wanted their students to get professional action, group and individual shots. They told the kids they had a big surprise. Then they pointed to me and said that they had hired the official TOB photographer because they wanted them to not miss out on that part of the normal experience. Seeing the reaction of the students made it all worthwhile for me.

Longwood Gardens

I'm not sure what I would have done without Longwood Gardens. I visited 21 times - once before the pandemic and nearly every week starting with the reopening June 20. My wife Donna and I went there several times, as it was the only outdoor dining environment where we felt safe and knew the rules. We'd arrive mid-morning and walk around different parts of the gardens and end with a lunch in the Beer Garden. A lot of the time I went by myself, sometimes with ambitious photography plans and other times for a more contemplative experience. In the early fall, Donna and I took a seven-week course through the Abbey of the Arts that was about contemplative spirituality and photography. Several of our visits there revolved around that class. Each time I'd go, I'd bring different equipment. Often I would bring the full spectrum camera, allowing me to take infrared photos at a variety of wavelengths along with visible light shots.

One of my favorite infrared shots is the top photo on the blog of the Webb Farm House. Another favorite was this butterfly who waited very patiently for me to figure out my settings to get this shot with the fisheye lens. I had to get in really close and was very surprised that the butterfly did not fly away.

078-Butterfly078-ButterflyI was amazed at how long this butterfly waited for me to get a decent shot. This was taken with a fisheye lens, and I was able to get very close to the butterfly to capture this shot.

I went to Longwood twice during the Christmas display - and might still go again before it is over on January 17. For my second visit, I brought the tripod and did a lot of long exposure photography, which can make the people walking by invisible, at least as long as they keep moving. When I got to this light tunnel, I really wanted a clean shot. But there were people there, and a small group didn't move for a good 10 minutes. Eventually they left, and a normal level of traffic flow allowed me to get this shot.

099-Tunnel of Lights099-Tunnel of LightsEven though I was shooting long exposures (30 seconds), I still needed people to keep moving through the tunnel. I setup for a shot, and a small group of people decided this would be a good time to take selfies. They stood there for a good 10 minutes, which I patiently waited. Finally they moved and I got my shot. Others did walk through, but they kept moving so they did not get picked up.

Create

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 2020 was Create. When I did the initial photo, my focus was on using Photoshop to create more imaginative images, but I also mentioned wanting to do more with creating music. Mostly my music involves church, and most weeks I play drums, so my guitars don’t get as much use as I’d like. So, I commented that I'd like to play my guitars more. Here's a photo I did for my photography challenge Initial Inspired (CM=Create Music) which worked well with my year word.

096-Create Music096-Create MusicI had a challenge to create a photo that used my initials, so I went with Create Music. My year word was Create, and I thought I'd be creating a lot of photo composites. Turns out, most of my creative efforts have been with video and music rather than photography. So, it seemed appropriate to photograph myself working on music. The sheet music on the stand is a song I wrote called Together for Joy. It is inspired by Psalm 98 and is being used for my church's pledge drive campaign this year. Our church band members each recorded their parts, and I put together three different arrangements of the song, including one that made use of my photography.

Once we went into COVID-19 lockdown, our church had to quickly pivot to providing a worship experience entirely online. I tried to help with the music. Since wife Donna and daughter Erin are both in the same household with me, the three of us set out to do some music videos, not really knowing what we were doing. We moved the PA system to the living room and did some recordings in real time. Having so many cameras, I tried doing some multicam videos. It was fun making music together, but I really wanted to include others. Over time, we refined the approach. Over the course of the year, I produced 85 music videos. Most of these involved the church band, but some were my family or other ensembles at church.

Donna, Erin and I have been recording about four songs every other Saturday. Erin selects the songs, makes sure they are notated correctly in Finale and creates a modified click track from the Finale file that includes the chords and melody. We record guitar, flute and voices. Then with Erin’s help, I get the tracks lined up and I generate a reference track for the band. The band members have 2-3 weeks for each song. They do their recordings and send me the videos. With Erin’s expert ear, we get the tracks lined up. Then I do the audio and video editing in Premiere Pro.

While not really a part of my Top 100 photos, the videos were certainly crucial to my desire to create in 2020 and worthy of mention in this recap of the year. Here are a few of my favorite videos from 2020.

Personent Hodie - performed by the whole Maher family.

Take Up the Story - written by my daughter Erin and performed by the church band.

Together For Joy - an original song (the one I'm working on in the photo above) for our church's Stewardship campaign.

Never Doubt - an original song of mine and using the photos of my friend Raymond Fudge, which captured some of the powerful images from the Black Lives Matter protests in Washington, DC.

As things stand now, we’re likely to continue this virtual band adventure for a good portion of 2021.There are currently 12 videos in some stage of production.

Favorite Photo

The final photography challenge of the year is to pick our favorite photo. It was hard work to narrow the photos down to the top 100. Trying to pick just one photo is tough, but that's why they call it a challenge. I decided to go with this photo of Chris Jackson performing with United Percussion. This was taken on March 7, just before everything locked down. It was the last group performing in the last show of the season - only we didn't know that at the time. Chris went to my local high school, so I've followed his career in the marching arts since he was in 8th grade. It's been wonderful to watch him grow as a performer and into a magnificent young man.

053-Searching053-Searching....United Percussion's 2020 show Searching... was something special. Here is Chris Jackson starting off the final competitive performance of the show.

The Top 100

So, those are some of the photos I took this year. You can see the top 100 here.

2021?

Well, after seeing how quickly the world can change, I’m hard pressed to make any promises for 2021. The one thing that feels certain is I will be continuing with my weekly critique group with Ricky Tims. I am hoping that I can photograph some individual indoor ensembles, much as I did this fall. Groups will be competing by video in most circuits, so the possibility is there, but indoor activities are different from outside, so it remains to be seen what will be allowed and what will feel safe.

I am hoping that there will be some kind of drum corps this summer. DCA plans on a video season with hopefully a live championship for Labor Day weekend. If all goes according to plan, I hope to get to as many of the DCA recording sessions as possible. If travel feels safe, I hope to get to the corps in Minnesota, Georgia and Alabama. DCI is planning on a three-day event in Indianapolis, so that is a possibility. A lot depends on the local and national restrictions, along with the progress on vaccine distribution. I'm sure everyone is hoping that by the fall marching band season, there will be something resembling normal.

So what will 2021 bring? I'll let you know in about a year.

 


My Top Pictures of 2019

January 01, 2020  •  1 Comment

010-Downtown010-DowntownLight Brigade Senior guard put out quite a show with their Magnificient 7 performers. I took their train prop and placed it on train tracks from a shot taken in Philadelphia and then added a shot of each performer on top. Such a fun and talented group.

Each year since 2013 I go through all my photos and pick out my favorite 100. Selecting just 100 photos out of more than 197,000 shots is challenging. There are a lot of factors to consider as I do want to end up with a collection that is representative of my year. I often end up dropping photos that I'd really like to include. This year an added challenge was consideration of a number of Photoshop composite creations and how to rate them compared to "regular" photos. Beyond my normal marching arts photography, the year included participation in a weekly photography challenge critique group run by Ricky Tims. This is my fifth year in the group and I am yet to miss a week. That's 260 straight challenges. I also had some great photography trips.

This blog post will give an overview of my year of photography with focus on my top 100 photos.

Equipment

This year I added three new cameras and sold one. I traded in my Sony A6500 for an A6600 at the end of the year and immediately sent it off to LifePixel for a conversion to Full Spectrum. This will allow me to take both visible light and infrared images with the same camera, just by changing the external filter. I decided to get the A6600 because it uses the same battery as my full frame Sonys making it easier to travel with just one kind of battery. I probably won't have the camera back until the end of January. Earlier in the year I bought a used infrared converted Sony A6000 from someone on Facebook. That was my third infrared A6000, each at different wavelength. I also added a Nikon D750. When I got my D850, I gave my D750 to my daughter Amanda but missed having the option to go all full frame when shooting indoor guard, so I took advantage of the great sales Nikon ran this holiday season.

I rented the new Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 lens for a weekend but decided I like the version I have better. The new lens flips the zoom and focus rings. I found that to be quite awkward. I had my Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 repaired which was almost like getting a new lens. The zoom ring has been very stiff for years.

The rest of my lens purchases were all Sony. The 70-200 f/2.8 GMaster was a great upgrade from the f/4 I had been using. Not only are the ergonomics much better with the built-in lens collar, but the aperture difference is huge. My favorite new lens this year was the Sony 135mm f/1.8 prime. The lens is big and heavy (so much for the size advantages of mirrorless) but it takes awesome shots with a nice creamy background. I also picked up the 16mm f/2.8 (with fisheye adapter), 55mm f/1.8 and 35mm f/1.8 primes as well as the 1.4x and 2.0x teleconverters. I sold the ASPC 50mm f/1.8 lens.

After several years of shooting with Sony and a year with the essential 70-200 f/2.8, I do definitely prefer my Nikon gear. I'm equally comfortable with both camera systems. I simply like the look of the Nikon images better. I'm a JPEG shooter for 95% of what I do (don't listen to those bloggers who tell you that you have to shoot RAW) and both camera systems have some features that only work for JPEG that I really like. Sony has Clear Image Zoom which is a kind of digital zoom that does not lose resolution. This is like having a built-in teleconverter that doesn't lose light. Nikon has Active D-Lighting which boost shadows and I just love the look. The comparable feature for Sony (DRO - Dynamic Range Optimization) doesn't come close. The Sony has a completely silent shutter. I expect to do most of my local events with the Nikon and use the Sony primarily when I'm traveling.

Top 100 By the Numbers

By Camera

  • Nikon D500 - 34
  • Nikon D850 - 23
  • Sony A7iii - 22
  • Sony A7Riii - 14
  • Sony A6000 - 5
  • Sony A6500 - 2

By Lens

  • Nikon 70-200 - 25
  • Sony 70-200 - 24 (9 with the 1.4x teleconverter)
  • Sony 24-105 f/4 - 11
  • Nikon 24-120 f/4 - 7
  • Nikon 300mm f/4 - 7 (1 taken with the Sony A7Riii using an adapter)
  • Nikon 70-200 f/4 - 6
  • Nikon 16-80 - 5
  • Nikon 80-400 - 4
  • Sony 18-105 f/4 - 3
  • 1 each with Nikon 10.5 fisheye, 24-70 f/2.8, 35mm f/1.8, 85mm f/1.4
  • 1 each with Sony 16-70 f/4, 16mm f/2.8 with fisheye adapter, 18-200, 16-35 f/4

The Top 100 included photos from 36 different locations. Indianapolis for DCI Championships tops the list with 12 shots. Allentown, Hersheypark Stadium and MetLife Stadium have six shots each. Five shots were taken at Penncrest. Four were taken at Annapolis (USBands and DCI), Spring-Ford (MAIN and MAPS shows), Wildwood (TIA), and Williamsport (DCA Championships). Three shots at quite a few locations - Central Dauphin , Delsea, Longwood Gardens, Media, San Antonio, Sioux Falls, South Brunswick, West Shore and Woodbridge. AT&T Stadium, Marion IN, Montgomery AL and North Penn HS all had two. Fourteen locations had one shot.

The most common ISO setting was 3200 with 26 shots. The most common shutter speed was 1/800 with 28 shots. The most common aperture was f/4 with 23 shots.

Travels

I took photos in 16 different states. While this was the first time since 2006 that I did not go to California, I did visit four new states - NM, NE, SD and ND - to complete all of the lower 48. I'm not sure when I'll be able to visit Alaska or Hawaii to complete the 50 states. Normally my trips to Texas revolve around drum corps but I made two trips this year to the Lone Star State, neither for drum corps. I decided to take a trip to visit clients in NC, SC and TX at the end of May during the lull between my indoor and drum corps seasons. The trip spanned Memorial Day weekend, so I worked in a stop in Albuquerque. The main draw for my second Texas trip was a USBands competition on Veterans Day at AT&T Stadium, the home of the Dallas Cowboys. I spent the rest of the week in Dallas visiting clients.

On my May/June Texas trip I spent a Sunday along the Riverwalk in San Antonio. Despite going to San Antonio nearly every year for the past 25 years, this was my first time spending any significant time on the Riverwalk since my first visit to the city in 1987. I also visited the five missions that make up the Mission Trail. This is an infrared shot of Mission San Jose.

029-Mission San Jose029-Mission San JoseDespite visiting San Antonio many times over the past 30 years, I never ventured to the South side of the city to the various missions along the Mission Trail. This year I spent a Sunday afternoon driving the trail and visited five missions. I took a lot of visible and infrared light images of each. This is an 590nm infrared image of Mission San Jose. It was a beautiful daya and many people were about. Some, like me, taking photos of the building. Others doing graduation or family photos. Still others enjoying the contemplative atmosphere of the historic structures. It took a lot of patience waiting for clear shots.

Of all the new places I visited, my favorite was Sioux Falls SD. I wasn't sure what to expect but I rolled into Falls Park and was immediately captivated with the town. There were three distinct parts of Sioux Falls that captured my attention, each represented in the Top 100 - Falls Park, Public Art and the July 4th Parade.

I wasn't planning on going to the July 4 parade but decided I might as well go. Much of the parade reminded me of a typical small town parade like I see in my hometown Media PA. I was thrilled to see the South Dakota Democratic Party participating in the parade. It seems to me that it takes a lot of courage to carry signs promoting gay and trans rights, racial equality, and environmental justice in a public setting but especially in a rather conservative state. Even now I choke up a little viewing the photos.

033-South Dakota Democratic Party033-South Dakota Democratic PartyI was thrilled to see the South Dakota Democratic Party participating in the Fourth of July parade in Sioux Falls. It seems to me that it takes a lot of courage to carry signs promoting gay and trans rights, racial equity, and environmental justice in a public setting but especially in a rather conservative state. I found this group very inspirational and wanted to see them represented in my year of photography. This is one of several photos that captured some of the group and their signs. Even now I choke up a little viewing this photo.

After the parade, the whole city goes to Falls Park for a free picnic lunch. I decided to follow along, just to see how it works to feed 5,000 people. I arrived after most had their food, so I walked right up and was given a pork sandwich, bag of chips and bottle of water. They also had free ice cream. There was a concert happening and everyone just seemed to be having a great time.

Here is a photo of a portion of Falls Park.

031-Falls Park031-Falls ParkMy first time ever in South Dakota started with a stop at Falls Park in Sioux Falls on July 3. I really enjoyed the park and the whole city. I took many visible light and infrared shots. I returned to the park the following day. After the July 4 parade, the whole town walks down to the park for a free lunch and an afternoon of concerts. I arrived late as I really wasn't planning on going to the picnic. I was intending to just get in the car and start my drive to Fargo. But I decided to see what the event was like and arrived after most had gone through the line, so I walked right up and was given a pork sandwhich, a bottle of water and bag of chips. Then I discovered they had an ice cream line. Of all the new places I visited this year, the one I most would like to return to is Sioux Falls.

The public art in Sioux Falls is spectacular with over 50 sculptures throughout downtown. I found most and photographed most of them. One shot made the Top 100.

032- Spiral Dance By Harold Linke032- Spiral Dance By Harold LinkeOne of the truly wonderful things about Sioux Falls South Dakota is the SculptureWalk, a series of more than 50 works of public art. I found and photographed nearly all of them. This one was probably the most striking to me. It took a while looking at it from different angles to get the composition just right with the building in the background. My favorite sculpture was called Keep Your Balance By Ray Kobald, but sadly there was only room for one SculptureWalk photo in the top 100.

While I had been in Alabama before, this year was my first visit to Montgomery. I was really captivated by the Civil Rights history there in a number of museums including the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, The Legacy Project, and the Civil Rights Memorial. I'm looking forward to a return trip in 2020 with my wife Donna as part of a civil rights tour vacation through four southern states.

Imagine

I again participated in a weekly photography challenge group for the fifth straight year. The group led by artist Ricky Tims includes people from all over the world. Each year our first challenge is to select a "year word" that will define our year. I chose "Imagine" as I felt it applicable to several areas of my life - work, church and my photography. I really wanted to get into compositing but felt like I lacked the imagination needed, along with some practical Photoshop skills. Rather than choosing imagination for my year word, I went with imagine. I felt like imagination is something you need to have but imagine was something you could choose to do. I spent a lot of time this year asking myself crazy "what if" questions, many of which led to interesting composites.

With some 150 composites among my 197,000 photos, it was even harder to pick a Top 100. At times I was tempted to create a separate Top list for the composites but forced myself to stick with the self-imposed rule of picking only 100. There are 21 composites among the top 100. Most of my composites were done during the indoor guard and percussion season. Here is Brian Rosa as a vampire performing with AMP.

004-Brian Rosa Vampire004-Brian Rosa VampireAMP did it again with an amazing visual product, this one based on vampires. I caught this shot of Brian Rosa in midair and added some drama in Photoshop.

One of the ways I learned compositing skills was a course by Matt Kloskowski which included a tutorial on how to create an underwater room. I thought "imagine a color guard show underwater" and came up with this composite of Southern Regional.

007-Southern Regional  Underwater007-Southern Regional UnderwaterI created an underwater scene with this guard member from Southern Regional. She just did a flag toss which released a bunch of rose petals which are the larger objects floating in the water.

Marching Arts

Most of my photography involves the marching arts. My year starts with the Indoor season which includes color guard, drumline, twirlers and dance groups competing in a gym. The season runs from mid-January through the first weekend in May. It is the longest of the three seasons and the most fun. I shoot for four different circuits - Mid-Atlantic Indoor Network (MAIN), Mid-Atlantic Percussion Society (MAPS), Tournament Indoor Association (TIA) and USBands. 22 of the Top 100 were from the indoor season and most were composites.

Flips are always fun to capture, especially when you don't know the show so you are just reacting to where you feel the energy and looking for clues that something will happen. I caught two images of this Spring-Ford performer but in neither did I get each leg completely because she was too close to fit fully in the frame at 70mm (one shot missed part of her left leg and the other her right), which is as wide as my lens goes. So, I took a leg from one shot and put it on the other to create this image I called "Some Assembly Required."

008-Some Assembly Required008-Some Assembly RequiredThis is a composite of two images of this Spring-Ford Blue guard member's flip. I had to pull her leg from the second shot because even at 78mm she was too close to get her whole body in one shot.

The drum corps season runs from mid-June through Labor Day. I covered Drum Corps International (DCI) and Drum Corps Associates (DCA) shows for the Drum Corps World publication and my drum corps history website DCX Museum. I was also the official photographer for DCA. I enjoy capturing moments of performer interaction and loved getting this shot of the Bushwackers snares.

062-Throwing Down062-Throwing DownThe Bushwackers snare line enjoying a moment of their show. I love the interaction of the performers here.

A dozen of the Top 100 photos were taken in Lucas Oil Stadium. This is a really fun venue. The lighting is fantastic and the drum corps are at their peak performance. It's also a fun place to shoot wide and try to really capture the environment, like with this shot of Carolina Crown.

055-What a Catch055-What a CatchA great moment of the Carolina Crown show with a great rifle toss and catch in front of their incredible brass line.

Drum Corps season rolls right into Marching Band season which starts immediately after Labor Day and continues to Veterans Day. I shot for two circuits - Tournament of Bands and USBands - and the Collegiate Marching Band Festival. Rain seemed to be the big theme this fall with four weekends in a row (7 events) having rain and a rescheduled mid-week show that also had rain. The worst day of rain was the TOB Region 1A Championships. The stadium had a grass field, so it was a muddy mess. There are two ways you can approach a cold, wet and windy day. You can be absolutely miserable, which is completely understandable and natural. Or you can choose to go all in and enjoy as this performer from Maple Shade illustrates.

074-A (Wet) Moment of Joy074-A (Wet) Moment of JoyWhen your region championship happens on a day of miserable weather, you can choose to be miserable or put 100% into your performance as this Maple Shade guard member decided to do.

Shooting in the rain can be fun. I figure if the performers are going to be out there, I might as well be taking their photos. The rain shots are unique and memorable. I suit up with rain gear, so it is easy to kneel, which is how I like to shoot. I shoot with just one camera instead of two and cover my camera with a covering, which can make it a little hard to see, so I rely on my instinct. I saw Southern Garrett earlier in the season and knew this tumbling sequence was going to happen but seeing it in the dark rainy night was nearly impossible, still I caught her in mid air at several points in the tumble.

081-Upside Down in the Rain081-Upside Down in the RainI saw Southern Garrett earlier in the year and caught this tumbling sequence that seemed to come out of nowhere, so at chamionships I was ready but between the rain and a judge who was nearby I worried I was going to miss. Trying to see through the plastic rain cover was a challenge so I wasn't sure until I looked at the photos later if I was even close. Fortunately, I caught the whole sequence including this upside down capture.

 

Favorite Photo

The final photography challenge of the year is to pick your Favorite photo. It was really hard work picking a Top 100. Trying to pick just one is really tough. Since this year was about Imagine and composites, I decided to go with this composite photo of a key moment in the AMP show. I imagined what would it look like to capture the sequence all in one shot and then worked out the details of the composite that involved lots of layers, masks and other edits. At the start of the show, a deceased Natalie Tarman is carried over to this big black chair and then Dustin Michael-Joseph Donaldson bites her, bringing her into the world of he undead.

018-The Bite and The Chair018-The Bite and The ChairOne of the key moments in AMP's vampire show was Dustin Michael-Joseph Donaldson biting a deceased Natalie Tarman. I tried to convey the whole sequence in this composite.

The Top 100

So, those are some of the photos I took this year. You can see the top 100 here.

2020?

I will be continuing with my weekly critique group with Ricky Tims. I am hoping to do more traveling this summer and possibly get back to California. I'm not expecting to work Alaska or Hawaii into the plans, but who knows? The indoor season starts soon and I will be splitting my time across four circuits. I expect to do more with infrared photography once I get my full spectrum camera back. I plan to do more composite work. I signed up for a subscription at Creative Live and hope to go through many of the Photoshop classes. And, I'll probably acquire more gear. I'm not sure what but both Nikon and Sony have my number. In September Nikon announced development of a 120-300 f/2.8 lens but still no idea of when it will be available or what it will cost. Still, it's at the top of the list.

 


My Top Pictures of 2018

January 01, 2019  •  2 Comments

051-Grand Prismatic Panorama - Midway Geyser Basin Yellowstone051-Grand Prismatic Panorama - Midway Geyser Basin Yellowstone

Each year I go through all my photos and pick out my favorite 100. Selecting just 100 photos out of more than 180,000 shots is challenging. I am pulled by memories about taking a particular shot, the difficulty in capturing a particular image, a sense of connection to the subject, the "cuteness" factor, the "wow" factor, and a desire to end up with a set that is representative of the year all make it challenging because often I end up dropping photos that I'd really like to include. Beyond my normal marching arts photography, the year included participation in a weekly photography challenge run by Ricky Tims. This is my fourth year in the group and I am yet to miss a week. With several opportunities to spend time in a couple of national parks and joining Longwood Gardens, I tried to expand the subject matter of my photography even more.

This blog post will give an overview of my year of photography with focus on my top 100 photos.

Equipment

Each year I recap changes in equipment in this blog as a way to remind myself how much the gear changes. This was a year to buy camera bodies and go deeper with mirrorless. I added three new Sony mirrorless cameras. I got the A7iii on the day it was first available. I called Cardinal Camera a few days before to see if I could get on the list and they had one coming in that wasn't claimed yet. I picked it up when it arrived and gave it a try at a Great Valley colorguard rehearsal. LifePixel added a new infrared conversion, so I added another A6000 and had it converted to Hypercolor IR. Finally, I added the A7Riii during the Black Friday sale. Beyond the manufacturer reduction, the camera store was paying the sales tax, so it was a really great deal.

I added several new Sony lenses. 30mm Macro, 90mm Macro, 16-35 f/4 and 24-105 f/4. I sold the APSC 50mm f/1.8 and bought the full frame version. The 24-105 turned out to be an amazing all-purpose lens and spent a lot of time attached to the A7iii. I have yet to purchase the 70-200 f/2.8 (I have the f/4 version) but did get to borrow a friend's for a bit this summer. It is on my list for 2019.

On the Nikon side I bought a D850 just before Labor Day, sold the D810 and gave my daughter Amanda the D750 after having a warranty replacement of the shutter which had over 280,000 actuations. I didn't add any new Nikon lenses but I did sell the Tokina 80-4500 and Nikon 10-24. I also sold my D7100 camera which had been converted to infrared. I much prefer the mirrorless cameras for infrared.

Top 100 By the Numbers

By Camera:

  • Sony A7iii - 32
  • Nikon D500 - 24
  • Nikon D850 - 16
  • Nikon D750 - 15
  • Sony A6000 - 8
  • Sony A7Riii - 2
  • Sony A6500 - 2
  • Nikon D810 - 1

By Lens:

  • Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 - 36
  • Sony 24-105 f/4 - 21
  • Sony 70-200 f/4 - 9
  • Sony 18-105 - 8
  • Nikon 24-120 f/4 - 7
  • Nikon 300mm f/4 - 7
  • Sony 70-200 f/2.8 - 3 (borrowed)
  • One shot each Nikon 10.5 fisheye, Nikon 14-24 f/2.8, Nikon 16-80 f/2.8-4, Nikon 20mm f/1.8, Nikon 24mm f/1.8, Nikon 80-400, Sony 16-70, Sony 16-35 f/4, Sony 18-200 OSS LE

By Location: The top 100 photos were taken at 33 different locations. Yellowstone National Park topped the list with 13 photos. 9 shots at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square PA, 8 each at MAIN championships and DCI championships, 7 each at TOB indoor championships in Wildwood and marching band championships in Hershey, 5 at DCA championships in Williamsport PA and 5 in Yosemite National Park. The other locations include Allentown PA (3), Annapolis MD (2), Bozeman MT (1), Chester PA (1), Sports Authority Field Denver CO (2), Eastern Regional HS (1), Governor Printz Park (1), Hillsborough HS (1), Jamestown NY (1), Mankato MN (2), Media PA (2), MetLife Stadium (2), Michigan City IN (2), Mount St. Helens (1), Old Bridge HS (1), Old Mill HS (1), Pennsauken HS (1), Perkiomen Valley HS (4), Philadelphia (1), Portland OR (1), Reading PA (2), Seattle WA (2), Spring-Ford HS (1), and Woodbridge HS (1).

By ISO Speed: Everything from 50 to 4000 with the most at 3200 (19). I definitely went above 4000 on a number of occasions this year, going as high as 32,000 for an evening parade.

By Activity:

  • Drum Corps - 28
  • Indoor Guard and Drumline - 23
  • National Parks - 18
  • Marching Band - 11
  • Longwood Gardens - 9

Ricky Tims 52 Week Critique Group

2018 marked my fourth year doing a weekly photo challenge with people from all over the world led by Ricky Tims. I tried to incorporate the challenges into my normal photography. One week the challenge topic was Horizontal.

When I saw the challenge topic, this was exactly the situation that came to mind. At the start of the show - or perhaps at other times, sometimes band members lay on the ground. For these shots I set the focus and then put the camera on the ground and blindly shoot. It is way too difficult to line it up with Live View, particularly since I usually have very little time to pull off the shot. I've gotten pretty good at these over the years. I knew this group was performing on Sunday and was my best chance since I had seen the show two weeks prior. As it turned out, there were only two other bands (out of 38) who gave me anything that would work.


086-Horizontal - Delran086-Horizontal - DelranNikon D850 with 70-200 f/2.8 lens at 100mm
1/2000, f/4, ISO 250

When I saw the challenge topic, this was exactly the situation that came to mind. At the start of the show - or perhaps at other times, sometimes band members lay on the ground. I try for these shots where I set the focus and then put the camera on the ground and blindly shoot. It is way too difficult to line it up with Live View, particularly since I usually have very little time to pull off the shot. I've gotten pretty good at these over the years. I knew this group was performing on Sunday and was my best chance since I had seen the show two weeks ago. As it turned out, there were only two other bands (out of 38) who gave me anything that would work.

I cropped the original to get as much of the grass out and keep the 4x6 proportions. The top of the frame is the original and the cropping was right in the center. Other than that, just my typical LR edits. There is a certain amount of luck with these shots. The way the stairs blend right into the flag and then her legs was not something I even noticed because I never saw the scene from that low. Besides the subject, the horizontal bleachers, the flag and the red line all contributed positively to the horizontal emphasis. The green banner being fully in the shot and stopping just past her head was a plus.

This is Delan High School from New Jersey performing in the Tournament of Bands Atlantic Coast Championships in Hershey PA. Their show was called Tribe (or something like that) an

The first challenge of the year was to come up with a Year Word that would provide focus and definition to the year. I decided upon "Transform" as I felt it encompassed a wide range of things that would define my year. First I hoped to do more with infrared photography, in part for its ability to transform an ordinary or boring scene into something other worldly. Second Photography, generally, transforms scenes through different views, lens choice, depth of field and post processing. Third my primary photography interest (marching arts) is all about transforming ordinary kids into superstars. Fourth my business had embarked on a big transformation of our insurance software system to give is a much needed facelift, so I expected to (and did) live transformation all year. Finally, the world is always in need of transforming agents but perhaps a bit more than usual in 2018. I hope, in my own small way, that I was an agent of transformation.

One way to Transform a scene fit nicely with the challenge Unique Perspective where I went to a local park with a fisheye lens to take photos of the Christmas lights. Here is one of those shots.

100-Unique Perspective100-Unique PerspectiveNikon D500 with 10.5mm Fisheye lens
1/40, f/2.8, ISO 1600

As I thought about the idea of unique perspective, the obvious things were get low, camera on the ground, shoot from above - stuff I've done before. Then I thought about my rarely used fisheye lens. I thought that could add some interesting perspective. First I did some wandering around the house and then decided to head to the local park which is all decorated for Christmas. I had a great time looking at the world through this wide and distorted lens. Mostly I was shooting on a tripod but for this shot I took the camera off and put it right on the tree, thus the higher ISO and faster shutter. Mostly I was doing 30 second exposures with a narrow aperture. I'll have to make a point to get this lens out more often.

I picked this shot because I loved the view looking up at the trees but on the bottom are the trees on the ground. The white star at the bottom above the green lighted tree is the moon. My other shots on the tripod were shot at f/16 and this lens gave great stars - check out some of the other photos. I'm wishing I came back to this tree later in the shoot and used the tripod with a narrow aperture.

I love a challenge that gets me to do something I would not have otherwise done. But for this challenge, the fisheye would have stayed in the drawer the rest of the year. Thanks Ricky!

Summer Travels

As usual, my summer travels revolved around the drum corps schedule but unlike past years I did not make any effort to see clients. My down time from the activity was spent at national parks and new cities. I visited 12 states and three National Parks. I've been to Yosemite 8 of the last 9 years but this was the first time I stayed in the park at one of the private condos available for rental. I was 8 miles from Tunnel View, so getting out for sunrise was easy.

031-Tunnel View Sunrise031-Tunnel View Sunrise

For the first time I took a photography class at the Ansel Adams Gallery. The class was called In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams. We walked all over the valley floor and learned about where he took certain shots. We got to see his house where you can see both Yosemite Falls and Half Dome. Imagine waking up every morning in a place like that. We also learned about his work in the dark room. I'm convinced Adams would have loved Photoshop. This is an infrared shot of Half Dome that I took while on the tour.

030-Half Dome in Infrared030-Half Dome in Infrared

While Yosemite is very familiar by now, 2018 marked my first visit to Yellowstone National Park and Grand Tetons National Park. Both were amazing experiences. I flew into Bozeman MT from Seattle and then drove down to Yellowstone. I stayed in the park in Grant Village which made it easy to get out early to all the places I wanted to see. The photo at the top of the page is Grand Prismatic Springs in Yellowstone.

One of the most unusual things I saw was these bubbling lakes of mud. Each burst created a unique pattern. While the smell was not pleasant, the action photos were a blast. I had the Sony A7iii with 24-105 with me as I walked around but I wanted to get in closer, so I went back to the car where I had the A6500 with 18-200 lens (I generally kept that in the car in easy reach in case I needed a camera quickly). The crop body and longer focal length worked perfectly for the scene.

045-Mud Volcano - Yellowstone045-Mud Volcano - YellowstoneHad a great time capturing these eruptions - each one totally unique

Grant Village is right next to West Thumb Geyser Basin so I was able to get out early for sunrise. I had the place to myself. It was a chilly 40 degrees but the cold coupled with the hot springs made for great steam. The sun colored the steam yellow for some brilliant shots.

 

048-Sunlit Steam - West Thumb Geyser Basin Yellowstone048-Sunlit Steam - West Thumb Geyser Basin Yellowstone

Indoor Season

The indoor season begins in mid-January and runs through the beginning of May. I was fortunate enough to shoot championships for four circuits: Mid-Atlantic Indoor Network (MAIN), Mid-Atlantic Percussion Society (MAPS), Tournament Indoor Association (TIA) and USBands. The indoor activity is a challenge to photograph. Often I'm battling poor gym lighting. The action moves quicker than the outside marching arts because you are so much closer. Plus I shoot hand held, where outside I use a monopod, so it is more physically demanding. I witnessed so many different performances, photographing more than 300 different guards, drumlines, dance groups and twirlers at 27 different events.

One of the great things about indoor is capturing people doing amazing things - flips, being thrown in the air, splits. Several shots of that nature made the top 100. One of my favorites was this shot I called Pajama Flip by a performer with Turbulence Dance.


023-Pajama Flip - Turbulence Dance023-Pajama Flip - Turbulence Dance

Indoor drumline poses a number of challenges for photography. Normally the setup has the marimbas and other stationary instruments up front with the marchers behind them. That means there's a lot in the way of the action. You can sit up higher in the stands but then the shots seem rather ordinary. I've gravitated to sitting in the third row with the rows below me blocked off. Then I look for the spaces where I'll be able to shoot, listening to the music so I know when those holes will open. (notes getting higher the performers are moving to my left). I'm drawn toward the emotion and love capturing shots like this one of a Perkiomen Valley Indoor Percussion Ensemble performer.

013-Percussion Intensity - Perkiomen Valley Drumline013-Percussion Intensity - Perkiomen Valley Drumline

Drum Corps

When Indoor finishes in early May, I get a few weeks off before the drum corps season starts in the middle of June. I shot every weekend through Labor Day except one where a show was rained out. Rain was a theme both in the summer and fall marching band events. Often shows get called but you do have times when the show goes on. I do my best to keep myself and gear dry and tell myself that the shots will be worth it. This expression from this player, from the appropriately named Hurricanes, is what I want to see when photographing in the rain.

071-Timp in the Rain - Hurricanes071-Timp in the Rain - Hurricanes

Guard equipment flies through the air all the time but drum sticks usually stay in hand. But when drummers toss sticks, it is difficult to photograph but rewarding when you do. I managed to catch this trio of bass drummers from the Oregon Crusaders tossing their mallets in unison.

065-Tripple Stick Toss - Oregon Crusaders065-Tripple Stick Toss - Oregon Crusaders

Marching Band

The marching band season seems to fly by. Starting right after Labor Day and continuing through the middle of November, I split my time between two circuits, working two days most weekends. In addition, I was one of the photographers for the Collegiate Marching Band Festival in Allentown which featured 20 amazing college bands. One of the really powerful shows of the season was West Deptford High School. Here is a shot of their soprano soloist.

084-Soprano Sax - West Deptford084-Soprano Sax - West Deptford

Longwood Gardens

I live about 30 minutes from Longwood Gardens but hadn't been there in many years. On New Year's Day I decided to go visit the gardens. I brought two infrared cameras and had a great time. I always take off from work for my birthday, which fell on St. Patrick's day as it does every year, but since it was a Saturday, I took the Friday before to make a second trip to Longwood. I spent hours wandering around. By April, I decided it made sense to join. I was worried I wouldn't go back (like the time we joined the zoo which was the last time we ever went) but I went may times including one evening to photograph the amazing holiday light display.

Not being very comfortable with using a tripod in public, I ended up going as part of a workshop. I thought this would be helpful to see how others managed their gear and working with a tripod in a rather busy place. The instructors made suggestions about certain shots and encouraged creativity using techniques I've done before with my challenge photography (shutter zoom, intentional camera movement, panning). I was quite pleased with my results with five photos from that shoot making the top 100.

096-Tree in Motion - Longwood Gardens096-Tree in Motion - Longwood Gardens

099-Bridge at Hourglass Lake - Longwood Gardens099-Bridge at Hourglass Lake - Longwood Gardens

Favorite Photo

Each year I try to pick out that one photo that I like the best. It is hard enough to narrow down a year of photography to 100 photos. Picking just one is nearly impossible. Any of the photos above, as well as others in my Top 100, could be good candidates for the favorite photo. I really like capturing athletic moves in the marching arts and found this one to be particularly impactful. I didn't know this was going to happen but paying attention to what was going on I was able to catch her right at the apex of her jump as she soars above the heads of those around her. This is Courtney Tapper of the Bluecoats. Her expression says it all.

034-Above the Crowd - Courtney Tapper - Bluecoats034-Above the Crowd - Courtney Tapper - Bluecoats

The Top 100

So, those are some of the photos I took this year. You can see all the photos that made the top 100 here.

2019?

I will be continuing with my weekly critique group with Ricky Tims. I'm going to be starting a monthly photography challenge group at my church. We have about a dozen people participating. I will be selecting a church-related theme each month and the participants will take and post a photo within the month. I am hoping to do more traveling this summer and hit a few more states I haven't been to yet (just 6 to go). The indoor season starts soon and I will be splitting my time across four circuits. I am hoping to do more with infrared photography and learning more about all aspects of photography. 

 

 


My Top Pictures of 2017

December 29, 2017  •  2 Comments

084-Bar Harbor panorama084-Bar Harbor panorama

Each year I go through all my photos and pick out my favorite 100. Selecting just 100 photos out of more than 146,000 shots is challenging. I am pulled by memories about taking a particular shot, the difficulty in capturing a particular image, a sense of connection to the subject, the "cuteness" factor, the "wow" factor, and a desire to end up with a set that is representative of the year all make it challenging because often I end up dropping photos that I'd really like to include. Beyond my normal marching arts photography, the year included participation in a weekly photography challenge run by Ricky Tims. This is my third year in the group and I am yet to miss a week, even though I gave myself permission to skip when life was too busy. 

I added quite a bit of gear to my collection. The only new Nikon lens was the 16-80 which is a DX lens, so it is similar to the 24-120, a perfect walking around lens for the D500 and D7100. I replaced the Sony A6300 with the A6500 and passed along the A6300 to my son so he can use it for his travels and video taping his wife's opera performances. I added a number of lenses for the Sony - 50mm f/1.8, 85mm f/1.8, 70-200 f/4, 16-70 f/4, 18-200 and 18-105 power zoom. I picked up another Sony from LifePixel - the A6000 with Standard (nm 720) infrared conversion. I now have infrared converted bodies for both Nikon and Sony gear. I also picked up some more lighting gear - remote flash triggers (Phottix Strato II), light meter, a continuous light set and a light box. 

This blog will discuss some of my favorite photos from 2017 and try to give a sample of the range of activities which captured my attention this year.

Top 100 by the Numbers

Top 100 by Camera:

  • D500 - 52
  • D750 - 27
  • D810 - 14
  • Sony a6300 - 6
  • Sony a6000 - 1 (infrared)

By Lens:

  • 70-200 f/2.8 - 57
  • 300mm f/4 - 8
  • 85mm f/1.4 - 6
  • 20mm f/1.8 - 4
  • 50mm f/1.4 - 4
  • 70-200 f/4 - 4
  • 28-300 f/3.5-5.6 - 2
  • 35mm f/1.8 - 2
  • 80-400 f/4.5-5.6 - 2
  • 14-24 f/2.8 - 1
  • 16-80 f/2.8-4 - 1
  • 24mm f/1.8 - 1
  • 24-120 f/4 - 1
  • Sony lenses 10-18 (3), 16-70 (2), 18-200 (1), 16-50 (1)

By Location: The top 100 were taken at 34 different locations, so most places had just 1 or 2 shots. Topping the chart were DCI Championships in Indianapolis, DCA Championships in Rochester and MAIN Championships at South Brunswick with 8 shots each. South Brunswick picked up another shot from the USBands Championships, so that was the top location overall. TOB Hershey had the next highest with 7 over two weekends. 

By ISO speed: 32 shots at ISO 3200 or higher, 36 between ISO 1600 and 2500, 18 between ISO 160 and 1250, and 14 at or below ISO 100. Mostly I shoot with a fast shutter with 65 photos at 1/500 or faster. 6 photos were shot at more than one second with 4 at 30 seconds. Most photos were taken "wide open" with apertures of 2.8 or 4.0 depending on the lens. 

By Activity:

  • Drum Corps - 42
  • Indoor Guard and Drumline - 23
  • Marching Band - 13
  • Challenge Group - 11 
  • Yosemite - 3
  • Charleston SC - 3
  • Philadelphia Flower Show - 2
  • San Francisco - 1
  • Bar Harbor ME - 1
  • My front yard - 1

Ricky Tims 52 Week Critique Group

2017 marked my third year doing a weekly photo challenge with people from all over the world led by Ricky Tims. My challenge to myself was to work as many of the challenges into my normal marching arts photography. When the challenge was paper, I was really excited by Winslow Township's guard who used newspaper as a prop. In the final moment of the show a newspaper is revealed with the phrase "We Need Change" and I caught the paper perfectly as it left the performers hands. 

006-We Need Change - Winslow Township006-We Need Change - Winslow Township

I also used the challenge as motivation to get out to Philadelphia, starting and ending the year with photo outings in the city. The year started with a challenge to come up with a "Year Word" and illustrate that with a photo. My Year Word is "Light." I ran the idea by my wife on New Year's morning as we were driving to church and she thought it was a great idea. The music at church confirmed my choice. The opening hymn was "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing...Jesus, the Light of the World" that includes the lyrics "we must follow the light." The closing hymn was "Arise Your Light is Come." I had several thoughts in mind with choosing Light.

  1. Light is fundamental to photography.
  2. Since I have little ability to control the light in most of my photography, I don't notice light as much as I should. I hope to be better at that this year.
  3. I very much want to gain a better understanding of using flash, even though I can't use flash in most of what I do.
  4. The world seems rather dark to me these days and I want to notice where there is Light. Hopefully I can be that light some of the time too.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that." - Martin Luther King JR.

On New Year's Day I went out for a photo shoot in Philadelphia specifically looking for light. Armed with my D810, two primes (20mm f/1.8 and 85mm f/1.4) and a tripod, I spent my time around the Art Museum, one of my favorite parts of the city. I also brought along a flash, something I never use in public and was proud that I put it to use a few times. It was a beautiful day and I arrived about an hour before the start of golden hour. I continued shooting until well after sunset. This is a shot of the Philadelphia skyline from the Spring Garden Street Bridge looking down the Schuylkill River. I was struck by the light from the setting sun bouncing off the buildings and the reflections in the river. This was a 4 frame HDR image.

001-Year Word - Light001-Year Word - Light

Indoor Season

The indoor season begins in mid-January and runs through the beginning of May. I was fortunate enough to shoot championships for four circuits: Mid-Atlantic Indoor Network (MAIN), Mid-Atlantic Percussion Society (MAPS), Tournament Indoor Association (TIA) and USBands. The indoor activity is a challenge to photograph. Often I'm battling poor gym lighting. The action moves quicker than the outside marching arts because you are so much closer. Plus I shoot hand held, where outside I use a monopod, so it is more physically demanding. I witnessed so many different performances, photographing nearly 350 different guards, drumlines, dance groups and twirlers at 30 different events.

Often the background in the indoor shots is distracting because there are signs and bleachers and sometimes random fans, but under the right conditions the background can be magical. TIA championships in Wildwood is one such venue because they put up black fabric. But sometimes the back stands can be populated with enough people and the performer is close enough to the camera and far enough from the back stands that all the pieces can come together. Here is one such photo of West Orange Guard taken at South Brunswick High School for MAIN Championships.

020-Rifle Toss - West Orange Guard020-Rifle Toss - West Orange Guard

Philadelphia

Philadelphia once again played a big role in my photos this year. I continue to be drawn to the area around the Art Museum. Once again I went to the Chinese Lantern Festival in Franklin Square. New this year was attending the Philadelphia Flower Show with my wife Donna for my birthday. The Flower Show's theme was Holland which I really enjoyed after having visited The Netherlands last fall. This was one of my favorites from the show. There were a whole series of heads with interesting hair. 

011-Big Hair - Philadelphia Flower Show011-Big Hair - Philadelphia Flower Show

Travels

This was a great year for traveling with Donna for three trips. The year started out with a week in Charleston SC. Our first day there we signed up for a walking tour without really a lot of forethought but we couldn't have been more pleased with the tour guide and his take on the city's history. His basic premise - follow the money and you'll understand all you need to know about the city. Just about every morning I got up early and walked around town and along the Cooper River with my Sony. Just outside the hotel was a fountain and I had a lot of fun with expressing my challenge theme for the week of In Motion. 

004-Fountain in Charleston facing Cooper River004-Fountain in Charleston facing Cooper River

In June, Donna and I went to California that started with three days in Yosemite. This was Donna's first time in California and it was a lot of fun showing her some of my favorite spots. Our first stop was the iconic Tunnel View. 

034-Tunnel View034-Tunnel View

Our third trip took us to New England in early October. Because of the warm weather, the leaves had yet to turn in most places but it was still an enjoyable trip. The photo at the top of this post is a panorama of Bar Harbor from the top of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. 

Drum Corps

Following the drum corps activity took me all over the country. I shot for Drum Corps World and my website Corpsreps.com which merged this year with some other historians and is now called DCXMuseum.org. My images were often displayed on the Drum Corps International website and used extensively in the Drum Corps Associates program book.

One of the most enjoyable parts of my drum corps photography is finding people I know on the field. Usually these are kids I get to know over a few years from the indoor and marching band activities who then decide to audition for a drum corps and spend a summer following their passion. About half of the drum corps photos in the top 100 are performers who I know. Photos of two of the three current or former Penncrest (my local high school) students marching this summer made the top 100. This is Chris Jackson, a senior at Penncrest who made the All American Army Band. Chris spent the summer with Jersey Surf. This photo was taken at the Dallas show which is a lighting challenge to shoot with shadows on the field and back lit bleachers. 

055-Chris Jackson - Jersey Surf055-Chris Jackson - Jersey Surf

Drum corps shows often tell a story. One of the more compelling stories for me this year was The Cadets who performed Bernstein's Mass. Now you might think there wouldn't be much of a story to the Mass but The Cadets used music, costume changes and the guard to take us through an emotional roller coaster from gathering to sin to repentance to praise and worship. For me THE moment in the show was when that transition from sin to repentance begins. It started with a lone baritone player looking out at the rest of the corps reveling in their debauchery. He seems to want to participate but something holds him back. He rips off his red jacket revealing a white uniform and begins to pray. I caught the jacket in mid-removal which to me best captured this powerful moment in the show. 

057-Repentance - The Cadets057-Repentance - The Cadets

Marching Band

The marching band season goes by quickly. Starting the week after Labor Day and ending mid-November, I shot every weekend, including many Sundays. One of the most enjoyable venues to shoot is MetLife Stadium. With professional quality light and championship level performances, the USBands Open Class championships is a highlight of my fall season. I often shoot wide for this event, trying to capture the MetLife signs and give a sense of how huge the place is while still capturing the bands performing. It is also a lot of fun to play with the video screens and see if I can capture the same action on the field that is being displayed. This is a soloist for Chesire High School.

097-On the Big Screen - Cheshire097-On the Big Screen - Cheshire

Several marching band shows this year tackled difficult subjects like racism, equality and homelessness. The latter theme formed the basis of the show by Fort Lee High School from Cumberland MD. The show starts out with the guard members portraying homeless people, mostly holding signs. The band is dressed in business attire and marching around generally ignoring the guard. The narration tells the story - veteran, runaway teen, drug addict. It drove home the point that these are people who deserve to be noticed. The show concludes with a guard member climbing up on the drum major podium and falling asleep at the drum major's feet. When the show ends, he starts to walk down the steps, turns, and covers her with his jacket. There is hope. I was a crying mess the whole show. 

090-I'm Missing Life - Fort Hill090-I'm Missing Life - Fort Hill

Rain played a big part of the fall with some rain at DCA Championships over Labor Day weekend, a huge hour long down pour at a USBands show in Marlton NJ, and finally two rainy Sundays in Hershey for TOB Championships. Sometimes the rain is light enough that you get wet but not intense enough that you can capture it in photos, but when it really rains it can make magical photos. I was really prepared for rain in Hershey with a good camera rain cover and a full body rain suit. Marlton was a surprise, though I do always have a rain cover with me so the gear was fine, but I did get soaked. But if the kids are going to be on the field performing, I'm going to photograph them. 

Five rain photos made the top 100. This is my favorite. This is the snare line from Southern Regional. Not only was it pouring but it was windy and cold. Pretty miserable but you'd never know from looking at the performers. I maintained a positive attitude throughout. What better place could there be to spend a rainy Sunday in October? 

091-Three Amigos in the Rain - Southern Regional091-Three Amigos in the Rain - Southern Regional

Moment in Time

In looking over my photos from the year, I've realized I am particularly drawn to photos that show I was really paying attention to a performance. Many of my marching arts photos capture moments that exist literally for a fraction of a second. I don't burst when I shoot. I time my shots using musical and visual clues. I try to let the performers speak to me. The closer I pay attention and open myself to being in the moment with the performance, the better I do at capturing the action. At times I find myself drawn to some particular place on the field and then bingo, there's the big moment.

Over half of the top 100 fall into this momentary action capture category. There are quite a few guard members upside down, jumping or being tossed in the air, a number of behind the back rifle catches just before the catch, stick or cymbal tosses, drum major emotions, and momentary facial expressions or actions. The "We Need Change" photo above is a great example of looking in the right place and really being in the moment with the show. That newspaper was visible for a fraction of a second and the message really powerful. 

Tossing people in the air can have a surprising impact. By paying attention to where the energy is coming from on the field or floor, I often will find myself ready to capture a throw. This guard member throw by Toms River Independent came almost out of nowhere. I had not seen the show before, so this was not expected. 

017-Throw - Toms River Independent Guard017-Throw - Toms River Independent Guard

Capturing someone on the move in a tumbling sequence is technically difficult to acquire and maintain focus. Even when you know a flip is coming, it can be difficult. With so many other things happening on the field, it can be easy to miss completely. This is West Shore High School caught in perfect focus in the middle of a flip. There are a few other similar photos in the Top 100. 

087-I see the ground - West Shore087-I see the ground - West Shore

Favorite Photo

The final challenge for my photography critique group was to select our favorite photo from any we took in 2017, whether for the challenge or not. It is hard enough to narrow down a year of photography to 100 photos. Picking just one is nearly impossible. Any of the photos above, as well as others in my Top 100, could be good candidates for the favorite photo. After consulting with Donna and my daughter Amanda, I decided to go with this photo of a member of the Crossmen guard taken for the Altered Reality challenge week 28. The background was taken from Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park over looking Atlanta. I was in Atlanta that week for a couple of drum corps shows and a few business meetings. I was happy to find time to explore a bit of the park. For the challenge, I put drum corps action in unexpected places in the park. This one was my favorite of the bunch. 

050-High Jump over Atlanta050-High Jump over Atlanta

The Top 100

So, there are a few of the photos I took this year. You can see the Top 100 photos here.

2018?

For 2018, I will be continuing with the Ricky Tims Critique Group. I hope that I'll be able to go out shooting with my daughter Amanda as she would like to continue growing in her photography. I also hope to do a lot more with my infrared cameras. I'll be photographing the same four indoor circuits. I expect to be on the road most of the summer and stay local through the fall with two circuits. I hope to continue my learning about flash photography and grow in my understanding of light. And I'll probably acquire more gear. 

 

 

 


My Top Pictures of 2016

December 26, 2016  •  2 Comments

Mein River, Frankfurt Germany

Each year I go through all my photos and pick out my favorite 100. Selecting just 100 photos out of more than 135,000 shots is challenging. I am pulled by memories about taking a particular shot, the difficulty in capturing a particular image, a sense of connection to the subject, the "cuteness" factor, the "wow" factor, and a desire to end up with a set that is representative of the year all make it challenging because often I end up dropping photos that I'd really like to include. Beyond my normal marching arts photography, the year included participation in a weekly photography challenge run by Ricky Tims. The highlight of my year was a 10-day trip to Europe where I spent most days doing nothing but photography.

I added quite a bit of gear to my collection. Two new cameras: Nikon D500 and Sony a6300. The D500 arrived at the end of April just before TIA championships in Wildwood. I picked up the a6300 (with three lenses) primarily for my trip to Europe given its lighter weight and smaller size than the Nikon DSLRs. The D500 replaced the D7100 which I had converted to full-time Infrared (Super Color conversion by Life Pixel). I added three new lenses at the end of the year: Nikon 85mm f/1.4g, Nikon 20mm f/1.8g, and the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 which completes the "holy trinity" of Nikon 2.8 glass. I added the 10-24 as my other wide DX lens (Tokona 12-24) gave me hot spots with the infrared camera. The other new lens this year was the 70-200 f/4 which is smaller and lighter in weight than the f/2.8 version I normally use. I got that primarily for my trip to Europe for the Drum Corps Europe championships.

This blog will discuss some of my favorite photos from 2016 and try to give a sample of the range of activities which captured my attention this year.

Top 100 by the Numbers

Top 100 by Camera:

  • D750 - 45
  • D500 - 39
  • Sony a6300 - 8
  • D810 - 4
  • D7100 - 4 (infrared)

By Lens:

  • 70-200 f/2.8 - 59
  • 300mm f/4 - 11
  • 24-120 - 8
  • 80-400 - 4
  • 70-200 f/4 - 3
  • 10-24 - 3
  • 16-35 - 2
  • 105 f/2.8 macro - 1
  • 35mm - 1
  • Sony lenses 16-50 (5), 10-18 (2), 55-210 (1)

By Location: The top 100 were taken at 43 different locations, so most places had just 1 or 2 shots. Topping the chart were TIA Championships in Wildwood and MAIN Championships at South Brunswick with 8 shots each.

By ISO speed: 50 shots at ISO 3200 or higher, 14 between ISO 1600 and 2500, and 36 below ISO 1600.

By Activity:

  • Drum Corps - 39
  • Indoor Guard and Drumline - 29
  • Europe - 11
  • Marching Band - 10
  • Challenge Group - 6
  • California - 4
  • Kansas City - 1

Ricky Tims 52 Week Critique Group

Last year I participated in a weekly challenge with Ricky Tims that was geared toward photography, Photoshop and design instruction. This year graduates from that class continued a weekly challenge but without much instruction. We were given a theme and and a week to take and post a photo. Then the other participants in the group would offer some critique. Some of my favorite challenge themes included Long Exposure, Smoke, Found Alphabet, and Low Key.

I gained a new appreciation for Long Exposure and used that technique quite a bit outside the marching arts photography. The week of the Long Exposure challenge was February, so it was a cold night here in Philadelphia. Armed with my tripod, D810 and 24-130 lens I headed to South Street Bridge and the park along the Schuylkill River. While looking at some reflections of the buildings in the river, I noticed a helicopter and realized that if I could get setup quickly I could capture the light of its movement. The helicopter was heading to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.


Long Exposure011-Chris Maher - Long ExposureLong exposure over the Schuylkill River. The white light is a helicopter going to Childrens Hospital.

My daughter Amanda took a photography class in college this fall, so I took her with me on a few of the challenges. One of those was Found Alphabet where we went into Media and looked for objects that looked like the letters of our initials. We were both successful and also found the letters to spell Media. Amanda did a great job in her class and I was really proud to see her portfolio showcasing her work that included photos from a few times we went out shooting.

My favorite photo from the weekly challenges was the theme Smoke. I knew nothing about incense or photographing smoke. After doing a little research, I setup some incense in my office and gave it a shot. The first attempt was a dud but I gave another try a day or two later and came up with some exciting images, including this one which I called Smoke Dancers. This was the only image in the Top 100 where I used flash.

001-Smoke DancersSmoke Dancers

Indoor Season

The indoor season begins in January and runs through the beginning of May. I was fortunate enough to shoot championships for four circuits: Mid-Atlantic Indoor Network (MAIN), Mid-Atlantic Percussion Society (MAPS), Tournament Indoor Association (TIA) and USBands. The indoor activity is a challenge to photograph. Often I'm battling poor gym lighting. The action moves quicker than the outside marching arts because you are so much closer. Plus I shoot hand held, where outside I use a monopod, so it is more physically demanding. I witnessed so many different performances, photographing over 300 different guards, drumlines, dance groups and twirlers.

Often the background in the indoor shots is distracting because there are signs and bleachers and sometimes random fans, but under the right conditions the background can be magical. TIA championships in Wildwood is one such venue because they put up black fabric. But sometimes the back stands can be populated with enough people and the performer is close enough to the camera and far enough from the back stands that all the pieces can come together. Here is one such photo taken at Ridley High School.

Main Line Independent Guard - Hayley MaltaisMain Line Independent Guard - Hayley Maltais

Philadelphia

Philadelphia was a frequent destination for photography this year. I love the area near the Art Museum and the park along the Schuylkill and went there several times, including one outing with Amanda after she got her camera but before her class started. I also went to two special events at Franklin Square. One was the Chinese Lantern Festival. The other was the Holiday Lights. The lantern festival was a colorful display. I arrived early and did a pass through the park, planning my route for when the sun went down and the lights came on. I was particularly drawn to the large dragon that overlooked the beer garden. The location made getting good shots difficult, but I managed to get a few angles that I found interesting. I used this trip to meet the challenge theme Paper since these lanterns are made from silk which was the first type of luxury paper. Among my Top 100 photos was this shot of some of the colorful flowers.

Chinese Lantern FestivalChinese Lantern FestivalThe lanterns are made of silk which has been used to make paper. Acording to Wikipedia paper made with silk became the first type of luxury paper.

Summer Travels

My summer activities took me to 17 states this year, including three states I'd never been to before (KS, IA, MO) leaving just eight states left on my list of states to visit. The past few years I started my summer trip in California at Yosemite National Park. This year I decided to take a different route. I flew to Las Vegas and drove to Mammoth Lakes, California by way of Death Valley where it was a comfortable 118 degrees. I spent a lot of time hiking around the Mammoth Lakes region and then drove to Bodie National Park. On the way to Bodie, I stopped at Mono Lake on the way. Bodie is a ghost town. I spent several hours wandering around the town taking photos of all sorts of abandoned buildings and objects. I shot a lot of infrared images that day. Both Bodie and Mono Lake came highly recommended from one of my photographer friends, so it was great to get to those places. They did not disappoint. After leaving Bodie, I went to Lake Tahoe, my first visit there. One evening I went out for some sunset photography over the lake. I was disappointed by the lack of clouds, but waited out the light until the magical glow came from behind the mountains about a half hour after sunset.


Sunset at Lake TahoeSunset at Lake TahoeZephry Cove at Sunset

Drum Corps

Following the drum corps activity took me all over the country and over to The Netherlands for the Drum Corps Europe championships. I shot for Drum Corps World and my website Corpsreps.com. My images were often displayed on the Drum Corps International website and used extensively in the Drum Corps Associates program book. Because I'm on the road so much over summer and trying to do a full time job along with dealing with all the photos, meeting my photography challenge can be daunting. Fortunately I was able to use drum corps photos for a number of weeks: Serenity (photo of an empty Rose Bowl), Low Key (photo of Blue Knights drum major), Circles (Phantom Regiment euphonium duet), Hat (a Blue Devils shako that was on the ground), Ouch! (the kill scene from the Genesis show), Shadows (Pacific Crest at Allentown), Doors (the door prop in Les Stentors show), Yellow (a guard shot from Buccaneers), and Past Prime (tambourine player in Hamburg Kingsmen Alumni) - 9 out of 10 weeks in a row.

There were several shows that were an absolute blast to photograph. I'm fortunate that I get to see many of these shows multiple times. This can lead to problems when picking my Top 100 because I often have multiple favorite photos of some performers and I try to limit to one per performer. One favorite performer this year was Clyde Forland III of the Madison Scouts. He played Judas in the show titled Judas, so he was hard to miss. I had three photos that I thought belonged in the top 100 so I decided to break my self-imposed rule and picked two of him.

Clyde Forland III as Judas with Madison ScoutsClyde Forland III as Judas with Madison Scouts

Judas HangingJudas HangingClyde Forland III as Judas with Madison Scouts

DCI drum majors are often a show unto themselves and my Top 100 includes five drum major shots - Troopers, Cascades, Mandarins, Blue Stars and this one of my favorite DM this season Anna Quenemoen of the Oregon Crusaders.

Oregon Crusaders Drum MajorOregon Crusaders Drum Major Anna Quenemoen

Marching Band

The marching band season goes by quickly. Starting the week after Labor and ending mid-November, I missed a couple of weeks - one for a church songwriting retreat and one for my Europe trip. Otherwise, I shot every weekend, including many Sundays. One of the most enjoyable venues to shoot is MetLife Stadium. With professional quality light and championship level performances, the USBands Open Class championships is a highlight of my fall season. I often shoot wide for this event, trying to capture the MetLife signs and give a sense of how huge the place is while still capturing the bands performing. Here is South Brunswick High School (NJ).

South Brunswick High SchoolSouth Brunswick High School

One of the groups I was able to see several times was Pennsauken High School (NJ). Their creative show featured an airplane and various cloud themed backdrops that made it difficult to get good shots of the plane from field level. I kept at it until I found a good angle that did not have any obstacles (including judges). This was one of my favorites from the marching band season.

Pennsauken High School - Jasmine MagalongPennsauken High School - Jasmine Magalong

Europe

For years I've been wanting to attend the Drum Corps Europe championships and this year everything fell in place to make that happen. The DCE event is held in Kerkrade, The Netherlands each year on the last Saturday in September. Having only been to Europe once before (London and Paris in 2008), only speaking English, and traveling by myself, I was a bit apprehensive about the trip. Fortunately I found a great travel agent (Destination Europe) to help me with all of the logistics. I started the trip in London. I figured it would be best to start with someplace where I'd been before and where there would be no language barriers so I could get comfortable. I settled in quickly (I had to as I only had two days). From there I went to Amsterdam for two days and on to Kerkrade. Anyone who knows how I work over the summer (visiting clients that are located near the shows) will appreciate that I managed to arrange a work lunch about 10 minutes from the stadium in Kerkrade. After DCE, I took a train to Maastrict, one of the oldest cities in The Netherlands. From there I headed to Frankfurt and flew home after my two-night visit. All in all I had two nights in each location and spent the better part of seven days taking photos.

For the trip I brought the D500, the D7100 infrared and the Sony a6300. I had all three of my Sony lenses. I brought the Nikon 70-200 f/4 just for the DCE event. My other lenses were the 10-24 and 24-120. In each location I had a photo outing with each camera. I used the D500 with the 24-120 for all the night photography, doing a lot of long exposures with my camera (reasonably securely) positioned on whatever surface was nearby as I didn't want to deal with the weight and bulk of a tripod for the trip.

One of my favorite photos from the trip is this one of the Tower Bridge.

Tower Bridge - LondonTower Bridge - London

Favorite Photo

The final challenge for my photography critique group was to select our favorite photo from any we took in 2016, whether for the challenge or not. It is hard enough to narrow down a year of photography to 100 photos. Picking just one is nearly impossible. Any of the photos above, as well as others in my Top 100, could be good candidates for the top photo. After looking over the photos multiple times, I decided to go with this photo of the Crossmen guard toss. I only captured this once. Every other time I saw Crossmen I was involved with photographing something else and would tell myself to remember to get it the next time, only to be distracted once more. Or if I remembered, I'd miss it somehow. Finally everything came together in Allentown. Not only did I get the capture, but the sky was just awesome.

The Jenny Toss - CrossmenThe Jenny Toss - CrossmenJenny Brittle tossed in the air

Here is a close up of Jenny.

The Jenny Toss - CrossmenThe Jenny Toss - CrossmenJenny Brittle tossed in the air

The Top 100

So, there are a few of the photos I took this year. You can see the Top 100 photos here.

2017?

For 2017, I will be continuing with the Ricky Tims Critique Group. I hope that I'll be able to go out shooting with my daughter as she would like to continue growing in her photography. This year I had to skip the Collegiate Marching Band Festival for my Europe trip, but at this point I do not expect to return to DCE so I'll be able to photograph the college band event. I'll be photographing the same four indoor championships. I expect to be on the road most of the summer and stay local through the fall. I'm also planning on learning more about flash photography and hope to start an online class soon.

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