My favorites

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Favorite photos? Difficult task

Selecting photos from my collection for a public display of my favorite images was more difficult than I thought. 

I have more than 140,000 photos catalogued and stored in my database, with new shots added each week. I consider a couple of thousand of the images to be “selects” — photos that have been used for one purpose or another. Reducing that to fewer than 100 to be considered for display on this “favorites” page was somewhat easy. But the final selection, to choose the 15 “favorites,” took a lot of time and thought. 

It’s almost like having to look at my kids and choose a favorite (sorry, Matt and Laura; this was a difficult decision; I know one of you will be disappointed, but … ). 

So what determines a “favorite” image? Is it the quality, the color, the composition? Is it the subject, the situation, the location? Is it the memory of challenges overcome to get the shot? The criteria varied from photo to photo. 

Friends and family will likely be surprised by – or disagree with - the selections. Heck, I was surprised by my choices. Only one New York City photo? I have a ton of nice New York City photos. What about Times Square at night? That's a very special place. Or Rockefeller Center?

If I went through the process again next week I might select a different 15.  That’s the reason this gallery of favorites will change from time to time. And, no, the order of display here doesn’t mean that the first image is more of a favorite than the 15th. The images aren’t ranked. It’s just my 15 favorites … for now, at least. 

It’s almost like having to look at my kids and choose a favorite (sorry, Matt and Laura; this was a difficult decision; I know one of you will be disappointed, but … ). 

Enjoying the morning rush

Every time I’m in New York with my camera I’m drawn to two locations as if pulled by a magnet: Grand Central Terminal during the morning rush hour and Times Square at night. Both sites are filled with people and provide a number of photo opportunities.

This shot of Grand Central was taken near the end of the morning rush during a November 2007 visit. The sun streaming through the east windows reflects off the floor, backlighting people as they hurry through the Main Concourse to catch trains, subways or cabs.

I was standing on the west balcony and used the railing to stabilize the camera for the long exposure.

This shot was taken with a Canon EOS 40D and a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 lens at 16mm. I set the aperture to f/8 to increase both the depth of field and the length of the exposure. The slow shutter speed – half a second at ISO 400 – blurred the people as they walked by.

Travelers rush through the Main Concourse of Grand Central Terminal, New York City.
Horses battle off the turn during a race on opening day of the 2009 fall meet at Keeneland, the historic race track in Lexington, Ky.

Coming off the turn

I really enjoy shooting horse racing and look forward to our trips to Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., each spring and fall. We eat some delicious Kentucky burgoo, lose a bit of money and have fun watching the horses run. And I get some new racing photos.

But during this trip in October 2009 for opening day of the fall meet we had rainy weather and dark skies. The combination made it difficult to get the shots I wanted. 

We left after the seventh race on the 10-race card so we could meet friends for dinner. On the way to the car we stopped at a spot next to the parking lot to watch the horses in the eighth race come off the turn.

I got this shot as the jockeys, in a tightly bunched field, urged their horses into position for the stretch run.  The shot captures the energy and beauty of horse racing, and it definitely provided a nice end to a damp, gray day at the track.

I used a Canon EOS 7D (the first day I had that camera) and a Canon EF 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L lens. Because of the heavy overcast, the shutter speed was a slow (for sports) 1/320th of a second, even with the ISO set at 1600.

Bennett's Mill covered bridge in South Shore, Ky., June 1976 black & white photograph.

Bennett’s Mill Bridge

This is the photograph that started everything. You might call it image number 1 of my more than 140,000 photos. 

This photo of Bennett’s Mill Bridge near South Shore, Ky., taken in June 1976, was the first image on the first roll of film I used in my first 35mm camera. It was also the only shot on the 36-shot roll of Tri-X that was in focus and properly exposed (remember – this was long before autofocus and auto-exposure).

And I have no idea how I did it.

It was a difficult exposure, with the dark interior illuminated by light streaming through openings. The background was brighter than the interior. If I had known what I was doing I would have needed to adjust for all of these variables. And I must have used a small aperture to get the depth of field that makes this shot work. But all I did was point and shoot. Pure luck.

This was back in the days when Kodak sponsored an annual national photo competition for amateurs, with newspapers around the country soliciting photos to be judged. Regional winners were used in the newspaper. A smaller selection - national winners - became part of a traveling exhibit Kodak displayed in museums around the country the following year.

This photo – the first image I ever shot and the only image properly exposed and in focus on that first roll of film – was part of Kodak’s national traveling exhibit.

I guess this means the high point of my more than 40 years of photography came the first time I clicked the shutter. It’s all been downhill since.

My daughter  on court

This has been one of my favorites since I shot it in 2005. 

My daughter Laura, who was preparing for her sophomore year as a student-athlete at the University of Akron, was playing in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association National Hardcourt Championships at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. The tournament draws top college players from around the country competing for a national title.

There are a lot of things I really like about this shot. Laura’s concentration is very evident in the image. Her eyes are right on the ball, which is headed for the sweet spot on her racket. The muscles in her left arm are tensed as she prepares to drive a backhand return. And it’s my daughter. That fact alone helped it make the cut as one of my favorite images.

I was using the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L at 280mm on a Canon 20D. Exposure was 1/1600th of a second at f/6.3 at ISO800.

Laura Hemlepp hits a backhand during a tennis match at the ITA National Hardcourt Championships, Columbus, Ohio.

A very regal male cardinal posing

A male Northern Cardinal perches on a log in Blendon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.

Including this image in my list of favorites was an easy decision. It's been near the top of my list since I shot it in late December 2005.

The pose and posture of this male Northern Cardinal appear almost regal. And capturing this image at a time when I was still struggling to get quality photos of birds motivated me to keep trying.

I was deep in the woods in Blendon Woods Metro Park near Columbus, Ohio, when this Cardinal landed on a nearby log. It perched on the very end, giving me a nice profile shot. As I pressed the shutter release a gust of wind came from behind the bird, lifting and separating the feathers of the crest to provide a crown-like appearance that fits nicely with the rich red cloak of feathers.

I was using a Canon EOS 20D with a Canon EF 300mm /2.8L lens and a Canon 2x teleconverter to provide a 600mm focal length. This was before I had the Canon EF 600mm f/4L that I use now.  The shutter speed was 1/200th of a second at f/5.6 and ISO1600 on an overcast winter afternoon.

I've shot hundreds of very nice images of male and female Cardinals since the day this guy posed for me, but this still tops the list.

A futuristic-looking entrance to Bally's in Las Vegas, Nev.

Bally’s, exactly how it happened

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, so I guess I need to be a bit careful with the story behind this image of the entrance to Bally’s.

Best I can recall, it was June 2005. It was just before midnight and the temperature was still almost 100 degrees. I was just walking down The Strip, taking a few photos and minding my own business. The entrance to Bally’s caught my attention, with the sci-fi looking circular supports for the canopy positioned between large cylindrical internally illuminated columns.

I thought it looked pretty cool, so I took a couple of photos with my Canon EOS 20D and a Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 lens set at 70mm. The exposure was 1/80th of a second at f/5.0 and ISO3200. 

I hoped it would make a nice image. Then I went straight back to my room.

Yep, I think that’s exactly how it happened.

A raccoon peers between leaves in Blendon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.

A raccoon … and a little bit of luck

Getting this image required a lot of luck but I like it because it captures the curiosity of this raccoon, peeking through the leaves to watch what I was doing.

I was walking through a very dark patch of woods in August 2006 while looking for birds to photograph in Blendon Woods Metro Park outside Columbus, Ohio, when I startled a raccoon that was beside the trail. The raccoon climbed a nearby tree, but seemed curious about my camera and me. It kept looking around the tree and between the leaves to see what I was doing. 

I was able to click off a few frames. (For you photo tech freaks: I’m surprised I was able to get a somewhat sharp image shooting wide open – f/5.6 – at ISO3200 and a very slow 1/50th of a second using the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L and Canon 2x teleconverter on a monopod. The camera body was the Canon EOS 20D.)

After a few minutes the raccoon climbed down the tree and walked to within about 10 feet of me, stood on its hind legs, stared at the camera, then moved into the woods.

Adventures in babysitting

My niece and nephew on railroad tracks near Russell, Ky., October 1978.

I was always intrigued by the curve of this railroad spur near downtown Russell, Ky., but I could never figure out how to shoot it. Then it hit me – drop two red-headed kids onto the tracks on a autumn afternoon and start shooting.

Sounds easy, right?

This image, taken in October 1978 on film and scanned into digital, is one of my favorites, not just because the color, composition and subject work well.  Every time I see it I'm reminded of the story behind the image.

The kids are my niece and nephew, Lori and Kevin.  I called my sister Susan that morning and asked if I could borrow the two kids for an hour or so for photos. I never mentioned anything about railroad tracks, of course. She’d just had her third kid so she was happy to let me take the two older ones.

I had no kids at the time (our first was born two months later) and had never been in a situation where I was supposed to be the grown-up. I had trouble keeping track of these two even in the confined space of a car on the short drive to the location. Heck, I hoped one of them didn’t run off when I let them outdoors. That would be difficult to explain to my sister. I don’t think she’d buy that I only had one when I left her house.

When we reached the track I put Lori and Kevin a few yards from where I wanted them to be for the shot, ran to where I needed to be and had them walk toward me. Kevin had already picked up the biggest, greasiest stick he could find. Lori was stepping carefully trying to avoid oil. I took five or six shots, then packed the kids in the car before one ended up lost or damaged.

My sister had this photo on her wall for more than three decades. It sparked memories for her of when the kids were young ... and of trying to get grease off Kevin for a couple of weeks. And that Lori, who dressed herself, had her pants on backwards.

But I got the shot.

Sitting with Abe, between columns

Visitors spend a quiet moment at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.

I’ve liked this shot ever since I first saw it through my viewfinder.

I was in Washington, D.C., on business in September 2007 and had time early in the morning to roam with my camera. I climbed the steps to the Lincoln Memorial, hoping to get a shot of tourists at Lincoln’s feet looking up at the statue but no one was around. I went behind the interior columns and was reading the text etched into the wall when I heard someone quietly talking. I turned around to see a woman sitting on the floor between the columns, reading to her son about Lincoln.

Their bright shirts, the interior columns and even Abe himself were all modeled by the early morning sunlight.

I took a couple of shots, framing the threesome between columns.  When I checked the image on the camera’s display I knew I had the shot I wanted.

I don’t know who these people are (except for Abe, of course), but I’m glad the mother picked that morning and location to give her son a history lesson.

I use a Canon EOS 40D with a Canon EF-S 10-22 f/3.5-4.5 lens at 22mm. I set the aperture to f/7.1 to get a little extra depth of field. That allowed me to shoot at 1/80th of a second at ISO200.

Monumental reflection: Sticking with the plan

It’s not often that I can say an image turned out just as I planned. This is one of those rare times it did.

I wanted to get a photo of the Washington Monument mirrored in the Reflecting Pool near the Lincoln Memorial just after sunset while I was in Washington, D.C. on a business trip in June 2006. But I knew a lot of things would need to work out perfectly for me to get the shot. 

First, I had to be able to finish work in time to get my camera gear and travel to the location. 

Second, I needed a clear evening to get the deep blue "moments-after-sunset" sky that I wanted for the image. 

And third, I needed other tourists – especially the children running the perimeter of the Reflecting Pool – to stay away from the camera while the shutter was open for the long exposure.

It worked.

This photo was captured about 25 minutes after sunset on a clear summer evening, during a period known as the “blue hour” when the sun is below the horizon and indirect sunlight takes on a predominantly blue shade. You can see the fountains of the World War II Memorial to the left and right of the base of the Washington Monument, the circle of flags that surround the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol dome in the background.

I was using a Canon EOS 20D and Canon EF 28-135 f/3.5-5.6 lens at 60mm. I set the aperture at f/14 to increase the depth of field, which led to a four second exposure at ISO 200.

The Washington Monument mirrored in the Reflecting Pool after sunset, Washington, D.C.
A crew inflates the canopy of a hot-air balloon during a festival in Grove City, Ohio.

Full of hot air: inflating a balloon

Each August Grove City, Ohio, hosts a balloon festival with loads of photo opportunities. I enjoy shooting "the glow" – an after-sunset event when balloons are tied down and inflated. The flames from the propane burners illuminate each balloon from within. This creates a collection of giant, colorful, glowing bulbs standing tall against the night sky.

I have a number of nice shots taken during the glow. But they rank well behind this image, taken in August 2008, on my list of favorites.

I was in a perfect position as the crew began heating the canopy shortly before sunset. The starburst design at the base of the canopy filled my viewfinder and I timed the exposure to catch the flame heating the air inside the canopy.

I liked what I saw through the viewfinder and what I saw on the camera’s display. When I saw the image on my computer that evening it quickly became one of my favorites. The color, the composition and the action all work for me.

This image was shot with a Canon EOS 40D and a Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 lens set at 120mm. The exposure was 1/640th of a second at f/5.6 and ISO400.

The sun sets behind carnival rides in a Kmart parking lot in Russell, Ky., June 1977.

Carnival at sunset … and at Kmart

I have a variety of nice sunset photographs taken on beaches in West Florida, so it seems a bit strange that my favorite sunset image was taken in a Kmart parking lot in Eastern Kentucky.

This is that sunset.

A carnival set up shop in the parking lot at a Kmart near Russell, Ky., for a week or so in June 1977. My wife and I stopped by and I took a few photos while we were walking around. I was intrigued by the juxtaposition of the vertical geometry of the Ferris wheel and an adjacent horizontal ride so I grabbed this shot as we headed to the car. 

I didn’t think about it again until I picked up the prints a few days later (this was shot on film and transferred to digital years later) and found this image at the bottom of the stack. The geometric shapes were striking against a deep red-orange sunset sky.

So who needs Florida beaches when you can pick up a nice sunset at Kmart?

The light at the end of a rock tunnel

The Hocking Hills region of Ohio has terrain much different from the rest of the state. Towering rock cliffs and deep caves line the sides of the Hocking River. 

But this feature surprised me when I first hiked the Old Man’s Cave trail in June 2006.

A tunnel carved through rock connects two portions of the trail. Hikers enter the tunnel by climbing down stairs also carved from rock. 

I walked down the steps, curious about what I would see outside the other end of the tunnel. For some reason, when I was about two-thirds the way through the tunnel, I looked back and saw how the light from the staircase played along the rock walls of the tunnel.

So I put my Canon 20D on a tripod, put on the Canon EF-S 10-22 f/3.5-4.5 lens and grabbed a couple of shots. This exposure was 25 seconds at f/14 and ISO100.

I like this image because the light from the entrance retains detail of the wall deep into the blackness.

Daylight illuminates steps at the end of a tunnel carved through rock, Hocking Hills State Park, Logan, Ohio.

Remedy for a snowy winter day

A close-up photograph of a violin's bridge and strings, Hilliard, Ohio.

I can give credit to the snow for this image. Weather was terrible in late December 2006. Snow, cold, ice … not conditions conducive to hauling camera equipment through the woods in search of wildlife.

So I decided to try an indoor shoot using multiple flash units. I had all the technical issues addressed. But I still needed something to shoot.

I grabbed my daughter’s violin that she hadn’t used in years, propped it up on a table, arranged the lighting and started shooting. I created a series of nine images (featured gallery, January 2011) that I’m very pleased with.

For this image I used a Canon EOS 20D with a Canon EF 28-135 f/3.5-5.6 lens at 130mm. I set the aperture at f/36 to get maximum depth of field. Shutter speed was two seconds at ISO200. The primary lighting was a Canon Speedlite to the lower left with a LumiQuest softbox to soften the flash. I placed a second Canon Speedlite to the top right, bare and set at a reduced power, to provide fill and to add some kick to the strings. I placed both lights to allow lighting to fade at the top right to keep the viewer’s focus on the bridge and strings. And I had a couple of white cards positioned as reflectors to bounce some light back on the subject during the long exposure.

More than a hole in a tree: Squirrel at home

Every time I look at this image I smile. Maybe it’s because the squirrel seems to be smiling at me – see its lower lip? Or maybe it’s how the squirrel’s tiny front paws are crossed beneath its chin. Or maybe its just that he looks so at home in that knothole.

Whatever it is, I really like this image.

I shot it while photo-hiking in Sharon Woods Metro Park near Columbus, Ohio, on an overcast December morning in 2006. I had seen the squirrel hanging around this tree deep in the woods the previous week so I set up about 20 feet away and focused on the knothole to see if anyone was home.

After a few minutes the squirrel stuck his head out to have a look. He ducked back in about a minute later but by then I had grabbed a few shots. 

I was using a Canon EOS 20D with my big lens, the Canon EF 600mm f/4L and a Canon 1.4x teleconverter on board, which gave me an effective focal length of 840mm.  The exposure was 1/400th of a second at f/5.6 and ISO1600.

A squirrel looks through a knothole in a tree in Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.