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.

 


Comments

Ajith Eapen(non-registered)
Really nice shots! Chris

Ajith
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