Well, as you will already know from reading previous posts, I am not scheduled to fly in the Caribbean again until March due to professional obligations (although I will be spending some time in Puerto Rico during vacation next week.) In the meantime, I have been filling in with posts from my life in Washington DC, which I hope you’ve enjoyed even though they are a little off-subject.
Tonight I attended a Color Guard competition in Maryland as the photographer for my daughter’s unit. More accurately, at this time of the year guard ensembles are referred to as Winter Guard. Now, if you are thinking of the guys in various kinds of uniforms who display national and state flags at sporting events, that’s not what I’m talking about.
Color Guard 101
During the temperate months when the school marching band is playing at football games and participating in local parades, the Color Guard’s duties are related to providing color and movement for the band. They toss flags in the air and twirl batons, and sometimes they have mock rifles and sabers. At the collegiate level, the color guard is a key component of half time shows and major holiday parades. They provide the WOW factor, using rippling color and synchronized movement.
During winter months the marching band is off doing other things, so the Color Guard becomes the Winter Guard, a wholly different thing altogether. Winter guard is truly something special. Cast free from the constraints of band performances, Winter Guard units emerge from the chrysalis as fully functioning performance ensembles, crafting drama, dance, costume, color, movement and music into a full blown spectacle. Flags wave, lithe bodies move, rifles spin, sabers fly, and the whole thing takes your breath away.
To help you understand what a Winter Guard show looks like, I found a video on YouTube of an excellent ensemble performance. The video quality is degraded, like all YouTube videos, but look carefully for the amazing flag, rifle and saber work.
So, now that you kind of know what its all about, here are some photos from the competition tonight. Congratulations to my daughter’s unit for taking second place in their division. WOOWOO!
Far from being a bunch of pretty flags and dance routines, these ensembles are really working hard. Practices are long and demanding, frustration and injury are common, and each member must be in decent aerobic shape. I’ve seen some units so drained after a performance that they had trouble removing their equipment from the floor afterwards. Each unit is judged on a number of factors, including time.
These young adults really give each winter season their all, making each performance better than the last… and it shows in the smiles on their faces.
These shots were all taken with my D300 in ambient light. Flash photography is not allowed, because when the Guard members throw these rifles high in the air, they need to see clearly for the catch. This makes photography especially challenging, but I think I am starting to figure out how to maximize the potential for great shots. The competition’s official photographer was having trouble getting crisp, well lit shots with his Canon – partially due, from what I could see, to his using a long lens which was probably a little slow.
This small unit was particularly good, taking first place in their division. What they lacked in numbers and flashy props they more than made up for in raw talent. Just awesome!
One of the more advanced units put on a very colorful show, with some great moments.
I took over 700 shots at the competition, and I haven’t had time to go through them all. These were just the first ones that caught my eye as I very quickly went through them. I know I’ve got some real keepers in the bunch, and when I have time to crop, color correct and finish them I’ll post the best for y’all. Each of these competitions leads to the finals and then championships, and I plan to be there.
For your part, you should take advantage of the season while it’s here: these competitions are open to the public nationwide and only cost a couple of dollars at the door to defray costs. Competitions are generally held every Saturday during the season at a high school not far from where you live. Younger children will love the flags, dancing, colors and music, and adults will be amazed by these unique performances. For more information about Color Guard units in your area, call your local high school and ask to speak to the band or Color Guard Director. I promise, after one show you’ll be hooked 😉