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

My Top Pictures of 2021

December 31, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

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

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

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

Equipment

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

Top 100 By the Numbers

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

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

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

 

Indoor Guard and Drumline

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

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

 

Drum Corps

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

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

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

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

 

Summer Travels

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

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

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

 

Photography Summit

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

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

 

Marching Band

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

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

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

 

For the Birds

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

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

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

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


New Things

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

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

 

Receive

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

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

 

Video and More

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Best Shot

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

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

 

The Top 100

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

 

2022?

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


June 2021 National Park Tour Part 2

July 06, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Arches National Park

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

Devil's Garden

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

Tunnel Arch

Tunnel Arch-009Tunnel Arch-009Tunnel Arch

Pinetree Arch

Pinetree Arch-015Pinetree Arch-015Pinetree Arch

Landscape Arch

Landscape Arch-027Landscape Arch-027Landscape Arch

Delicate Arch

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

Delicate Arch-040Delicate Arch-040Delicate Arch

Panorama Point

Panorama Point-041Panorama Point-041Panorama Point

Balanced Rock

Balanced Rock-045Balanced Rock-045Balanced Rock

Windows and Turret Arch

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

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

The North Window Windows-055Windows-055Windows

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

 

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

Courthouse Towers

Courthouse Towers-059Courthouse Towers-059Courthouse Towers

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

Dead Horse Point State Park

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

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

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

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

Canyonlands National Park

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

Mesa Arch

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

Mesa Arch-002Mesa Arch-002Mesa Arch

Green River Overlook

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

Upheaval Dome

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

Upheaval Dome-028Upheaval Dome-028Upheaval Dome

Grand View Point

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

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

Orange Cliff Overlook

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

Buck Canyon Overlook

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

Shafer Canyon Viewpoint

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

More of my photos from Canyonlands can be viewed here

 

Colorado River in Moab

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

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

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

Mesa Verde National Park

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

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

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

Here are some of my stops in the park. 

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

Pit House

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

Fire Temple

Fire Temple-033Fire Temple-033Fire Temple

Square Tower House

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

Spruce Tree House

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

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

Cliff Palace-039Cliff Palace-039Cliff Palace

Sun Temple

Sun Temple-036Sun Temple-036Sun Temple

Park Point

Park Point-057Park Point-057Park Point

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

Horseshoe Bend

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

Precarious 

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

Horseshoe Bend-001Horseshoe Bend-001Horseshoe Bend

Sunrise at the Bend

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

Horseshoe Bend-010Horseshoe Bend-010Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend-005Horseshoe Bend-005Horseshoe Bend

More photos from sunrise at Horseshoe Bend can be viewed here

 

Grand Canyon National Park

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

Desert View

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

Desert View-004Desert View-004Desert View

Navajo Point

Navajo Point-010Navajo Point-010Navajo Point

Lipan Point

Lipan Point-016Lipan Point-016Lipan Point

Moran Point

Moran Point-028Moran Point-028Moran Point

Grandview Point

Grandview Point-034Grandview Point-034Grandview Point

Unnamed View Point

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

Unnamed Viewpoint-045Unnamed Viewpoint-045Unnamed Viewpoint

Duck on a Rock

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

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

Sunset on the Rim Trail

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

Sunset-060Sunset-060Sunset

Sunrise at the Rim Trail

Sunrise-073Sunrise-073Sunrise

Trailview Overlook

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

Trailview Overlook-088Trailview Overlook-088Trailview Overlook

Powell Point

Powell Point-091Powell Point-091Powell Point

Hopi Point

Hopi Point-110Hopi Point-110Hopi Point

Mojave Point

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

Mojave Point-117Mojave Point-117Mojave Point

Hermit's Rest

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

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

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

Pima Point

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

Pima Point-142Pima Point-142Pima Point

Rim Trail

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

Rim Trail-145Rim Trail-145Rim Trail

The Final Morning

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

Sunrise-164Sunrise-164Sunrise

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

Hoover Dam

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

Hoover Dam-007Hoover Dam-007Hoover Dam

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

Las Vegas

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

The Strip-021The Strip-021The Strip

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

Leaving Las Vegas

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

 


June 2021 National Park Tour Part 1

July 06, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

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

Gear

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

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

Full Frame Lenses

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

ASP-C (crop) Lenses

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

Other Gear

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

Trip Summary

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

Las Vegas Part 1

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

Hummingbirds

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

Cornerstone Park-005Cornerstone Park-005Cornerstone Park

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

Cornerstone Park-030Cornerstone Park-030Cornerstone Park

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

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Springs Preserve

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

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

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A Chance Encounter

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

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

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

 

Zion National Park and Springdale Utah

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

Kolob Canyons

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

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

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

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

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On to Springdale and then to Zion

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

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

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

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

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

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The Narrows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Springdale Sunrise

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

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Leaving Zion

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

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More photos from Zion and Springdale are here

Bryce Canyon National Park

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

Rainbow Point

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Black Birch Canyon

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Ponderosa Canyon

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Agua Canyon

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Natural Bridge

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Farview Point

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The Lodge

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

Bryce Point

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

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Sunset Point

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

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Sunrise Point

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

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Queen's Garden Trail

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

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More photos from Bryce Canyon can be found here

Scenic Byway - UT Route 12

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

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

Capitol Reef National Park

Scenic Drive

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

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

Petroglyphs

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

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Chimney Trail

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

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

Hickman Bridge

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

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

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

Grand Wash

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

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Goosenecks Point

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

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More photos from Capitol Reef can be found here

Goblin Valley State Park

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

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

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More photos of the Goblins can be found here
 

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

 


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.

 

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