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