Each year I go through all my photos and pick out my favorite 100. Selecting just 100 photos out of more than 180,000 shots is challenging. I am pulled by memories about taking a particular shot, the difficulty in capturing a particular image, a sense of connection to the subject, the "cuteness" factor, the "wow" factor, and a desire to end up with a set that is representative of the year all make it challenging because often I end up dropping photos that I'd really like to include. Beyond my normal marching arts photography, the year included participation in a weekly photography challenge run by Ricky Tims. This is my fourth year in the group and I am yet to miss a week. With several opportunities to spend time in a couple of national parks and joining Longwood Gardens, I tried to expand the subject matter of my photography even more.
This blog post will give an overview of my year of photography with focus on my top 100 photos.
Each year I recap changes in equipment in this blog as a way to remind myself how much the gear changes. This was a year to buy camera bodies and go deeper with mirrorless. I added three new Sony mirrorless cameras. I got the A7iii on the day it was first available. I called Cardinal Camera a few days before to see if I could get on the list and they had one coming in that wasn't claimed yet. I picked it up when it arrived and gave it a try at a Great Valley colorguard rehearsal. LifePixel added a new infrared conversion, so I added another A6000 and had it converted to Hypercolor IR. Finally, I added the A7Riii during the Black Friday sale. Beyond the manufacturer reduction, the camera store was paying the sales tax, so it was a really great deal.
I added several new Sony lenses. 30mm Macro, 90mm Macro, 16-35 f/4 and 24-105 f/4. I sold the APSC 50mm f/1.8 and bought the full frame version. The 24-105 turned out to be an amazing all-purpose lens and spent a lot of time attached to the A7iii. I have yet to purchase the 70-200 f/2.8 (I have the f/4 version) but did get to borrow a friend's for a bit this summer. It is on my list for 2019.
On the Nikon side I bought a D850 just before Labor Day, sold the D810 and gave my daughter Amanda the D750 after having a warranty replacement of the shutter which had over 280,000 actuations. I didn't add any new Nikon lenses but I did sell the Tokina 80-4500 and Nikon 10-24. I also sold my D7100 camera which had been converted to infrared. I much prefer the mirrorless cameras for infrared.
By Location: The top 100 photos were taken at 33 different locations. Yellowstone National Park topped the list with 13 photos. 9 shots at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square PA, 8 each at MAIN championships and DCI championships, 7 each at TOB indoor championships in Wildwood and marching band championships in Hershey, 5 at DCA championships in Williamsport PA and 5 in Yosemite National Park. The other locations include Allentown PA (3), Annapolis MD (2), Bozeman MT (1), Chester PA (1), Sports Authority Field Denver CO (2), Eastern Regional HS (1), Governor Printz Park (1), Hillsborough HS (1), Jamestown NY (1), Mankato MN (2), Media PA (2), MetLife Stadium (2), Michigan City IN (2), Mount St. Helens (1), Old Bridge HS (1), Old Mill HS (1), Pennsauken HS (1), Perkiomen Valley HS (4), Philadelphia (1), Portland OR (1), Reading PA (2), Seattle WA (2), Spring-Ford HS (1), and Woodbridge HS (1).
By ISO Speed: Everything from 50 to 4000 with the most at 3200 (19). I definitely went above 4000 on a number of occasions this year, going as high as 32,000 for an evening parade.
2018 marked my fourth year doing a weekly photo challenge with people from all over the world led by Ricky Tims. I tried to incorporate the challenges into my normal photography. One week the challenge topic was Horizontal.
When I saw the challenge topic, this was exactly the situation that came to mind. At the start of the show - or perhaps at other times, sometimes band members lay on the ground. For these shots I set the focus and then put the camera on the ground and blindly shoot. It is way too difficult to line it up with Live View, particularly since I usually have very little time to pull off the shot. I've gotten pretty good at these over the years. I knew this group was performing on Sunday and was my best chance since I had seen the show two weeks prior. As it turned out, there were only two other bands (out of 38) who gave me anything that would work.
086-Horizontal - DelranNikon D850 with 70-200 f/2.8 lens at 100mm
1/2000, f/4, ISO 250
When I saw the challenge topic, this was exactly the situation that came to mind. At the start of the show - or perhaps at other times, sometimes band members lay on the ground. I try for these shots where I set the focus and then put the camera on the ground and blindly shoot. It is way too difficult to line it up with Live View, particularly since I usually have very little time to pull off the shot. I've gotten pretty good at these over the years. I knew this group was performing on Sunday and was my best chance since I had seen the show two weeks ago. As it turned out, there were only two other bands (out of 38) who gave me anything that would work.
I cropped the original to get as much of the grass out and keep the 4x6 proportions. The top of the frame is the original and the cropping was right in the center. Other than that, just my typical LR edits. There is a certain amount of luck with these shots. The way the stairs blend right into the flag and then her legs was not something I even noticed because I never saw the scene from that low. Besides the subject, the horizontal bleachers, the flag and the red line all contributed positively to the horizontal emphasis. The green banner being fully in the shot and stopping just past her head was a plus.
This is Delan High School from New Jersey performing in the Tournament of Bands Atlantic Coast Championships in Hershey PA. Their show was called Tribe (or something like that) an
The first challenge of the year was to come up with a Year Word that would provide focus and definition to the year. I decided upon "Transform" as I felt it encompassed a wide range of things that would define my year. First I hoped to do more with infrared photography, in part for its ability to transform an ordinary or boring scene into something other worldly. Second Photography, generally, transforms scenes through different views, lens choice, depth of field and post processing. Third my primary photography interest (marching arts) is all about transforming ordinary kids into superstars. Fourth my business had embarked on a big transformation of our insurance software system to give is a much needed facelift, so I expected to (and did) live transformation all year. Finally, the world is always in need of transforming agents but perhaps a bit more than usual in 2018. I hope, in my own small way, that I was an agent of transformation.
One way to Transform a scene fit nicely with the challenge Unique Perspective where I went to a local park with a fisheye lens to take photos of the Christmas lights. Here is one of those shots.
100-Unique PerspectiveNikon D500 with 10.5mm Fisheye lens
1/40, f/2.8, ISO 1600
As I thought about the idea of unique perspective, the obvious things were get low, camera on the ground, shoot from above - stuff I've done before. Then I thought about my rarely used fisheye lens. I thought that could add some interesting perspective. First I did some wandering around the house and then decided to head to the local park which is all decorated for Christmas. I had a great time looking at the world through this wide and distorted lens. Mostly I was shooting on a tripod but for this shot I took the camera off and put it right on the tree, thus the higher ISO and faster shutter. Mostly I was doing 30 second exposures with a narrow aperture. I'll have to make a point to get this lens out more often.
I picked this shot because I loved the view looking up at the trees but on the bottom are the trees on the ground. The white star at the bottom above the green lighted tree is the moon. My other shots on the tripod were shot at f/16 and this lens gave great stars - check out some of the other photos. I'm wishing I came back to this tree later in the shoot and used the tripod with a narrow aperture.
I love a challenge that gets me to do something I would not have otherwise done. But for this challenge, the fisheye would have stayed in the drawer the rest of the year. Thanks Ricky!
As usual, my summer travels revolved around the drum corps schedule but unlike past years I did not make any effort to see clients. My down time from the activity was spent at national parks and new cities. I visited 12 states and three National Parks. I've been to Yosemite 8 of the last 9 years but this was the first time I stayed in the park at one of the private condos available for rental. I was 8 miles from Tunnel View, so getting out for sunrise was easy.
For the first time I took a photography class at the Ansel Adams Gallery. The class was called In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams. We walked all over the valley floor and learned about where he took certain shots. We got to see his house where you can see both Yosemite Falls and Half Dome. Imagine waking up every morning in a place like that. We also learned about his work in the dark room. I'm convinced Adams would have loved Photoshop. This is an infrared shot of Half Dome that I took while on the tour.
While Yosemite is very familiar by now, 2018 marked my first visit to Yellowstone National Park and Grand Tetons National Park. Both were amazing experiences. I flew into Bozeman MT from Seattle and then drove down to Yellowstone. I stayed in the park in Grant Village which made it easy to get out early to all the places I wanted to see. The photo at the top of the page is Grand Prismatic Springs in Yellowstone.
One of the most unusual things I saw was these bubbling lakes of mud. Each burst created a unique pattern. While the smell was not pleasant, the action photos were a blast. I had the Sony A7iii with 24-105 with me as I walked around but I wanted to get in closer, so I went back to the car where I had the A6500 with 18-200 lens (I generally kept that in the car in easy reach in case I needed a camera quickly). The crop body and longer focal length worked perfectly for the scene.
Grant Village is right next to West Thumb Geyser Basin so I was able to get out early for sunrise. I had the place to myself. It was a chilly 40 degrees but the cold coupled with the hot springs made for great steam. The sun colored the steam yellow for some brilliant shots.
The indoor season begins in mid-January and runs through the beginning of May. I was fortunate enough to shoot championships for four circuits: Mid-Atlantic Indoor Network (MAIN), Mid-Atlantic Percussion Society (MAPS), Tournament Indoor Association (TIA) and USBands. The indoor activity is a challenge to photograph. Often I'm battling poor gym lighting. The action moves quicker than the outside marching arts because you are so much closer. Plus I shoot hand held, where outside I use a monopod, so it is more physically demanding. I witnessed so many different performances, photographing more than 300 different guards, drumlines, dance groups and twirlers at 27 different events.
One of the great things about indoor is capturing people doing amazing things - flips, being thrown in the air, splits. Several shots of that nature made the top 100. One of my favorites was this shot I called Pajama Flip by a performer with Turbulence Dance.
Indoor drumline poses a number of challenges for photography. Normally the setup has the marimbas and other stationary instruments up front with the marchers behind them. That means there's a lot in the way of the action. You can sit up higher in the stands but then the shots seem rather ordinary. I've gravitated to sitting in the third row with the rows below me blocked off. Then I look for the spaces where I'll be able to shoot, listening to the music so I know when those holes will open. (notes getting higher the performers are moving to my left). I'm drawn toward the emotion and love capturing shots like this one of a Perkiomen Valley Indoor Percussion Ensemble performer.
When Indoor finishes in early May, I get a few weeks off before the drum corps season starts in the middle of June. I shot every weekend through Labor Day except one where a show was rained out. Rain was a theme both in the summer and fall marching band events. Often shows get called but you do have times when the show goes on. I do my best to keep myself and gear dry and tell myself that the shots will be worth it. This expression from this player, from the appropriately named Hurricanes, is what I want to see when photographing in the rain.
Guard equipment flies through the air all the time but drum sticks usually stay in hand. But when drummers toss sticks, it is difficult to photograph but rewarding when you do. I managed to catch this trio of bass drummers from the Oregon Crusaders tossing their mallets in unison.
The marching band season seems to fly by. Starting right after Labor Day and continuing through the middle of November, I split my time between two circuits, working two days most weekends. In addition, I was one of the photographers for the Collegiate Marching Band Festival in Allentown which featured 20 amazing college bands. One of the really powerful shows of the season was West Deptford High School. Here is a shot of their soprano soloist.
I live about 30 minutes from Longwood Gardens but hadn't been there in many years. On New Year's Day I decided to go visit the gardens. I brought two infrared cameras and had a great time. I always take off from work for my birthday, which fell on St. Patrick's day as it does every year, but since it was a Saturday, I took the Friday before to make a second trip to Longwood. I spent hours wandering around. By April, I decided it made sense to join. I was worried I wouldn't go back (like the time we joined the zoo which was the last time we ever went) but I went may times including one evening to photograph the amazing holiday light display.
Not being very comfortable with using a tripod in public, I ended up going as part of a workshop. I thought this would be helpful to see how others managed their gear and working with a tripod in a rather busy place. The instructors made suggestions about certain shots and encouraged creativity using techniques I've done before with my challenge photography (shutter zoom, intentional camera movement, panning). I was quite pleased with my results with five photos from that shoot making the top 100.
Each year I try to pick out that one photo that I like the best. It is hard enough to narrow down a year of photography to 100 photos. Picking just one is nearly impossible. Any of the photos above, as well as others in my Top 100, could be good candidates for the favorite photo. I really like capturing athletic moves in the marching arts and found this one to be particularly impactful. I didn't know this was going to happen but paying attention to what was going on I was able to catch her right at the apex of her jump as she soars above the heads of those around her. This is Courtney Tapper of the Bluecoats. Her expression says it all.
So, those are some of the photos I took this year. You can see all the photos that made the top 100 here.
I will be continuing with my weekly critique group with Ricky Tims. I'm going to be starting a monthly photography challenge group at my church. We have about a dozen people participating. I will be selecting a church-related theme each month and the participants will take and post a photo within the month. I am hoping to do more traveling this summer and hit a few more states I haven't been to yet (just 6 to go). The indoor season starts soon and I will be splitting my time across four circuits. I am hoping to do more with infrared photography and learning more about all aspects of photography.