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Springfield First Night 2011

by Brandon January 19, 2012 12:17 AM

SPIArtsLogoFor the past 25 years, Springfield has held a "First Night" event on New Year's Eve. First Night is a celebration of the arts that benefit programs and services of the Springfield Area Arts Council, such as grants and resources to local artists, arts organizations, social service agencies with arts programming and educational arts programs in public and private schools of some of Springfield's surrounding counties.

What does all this really mean? After living in Springfield for nine years and not having anything going on for the 2011 New Year's Eve, I decided to check it out.

First Night was supposed to kick off with a fireworks show at the Illinois State Capitol but it was too windy to safely shoot them off downtown. That was a bit of a bummer. Representatives from the arts council, Springfield's mayor and a few former mayors started the evening with speeches instead.

I then headed to the Old State Capitol and saw a collection of short films by the Springfield Public Schools Student Film Club.  The films are created and edited by area high school students with assistance from faculty members. I wish my school in Missouri had that when I was that age. (That makes me sound old!)

Next, I headed to "Representative Hall" for a Civil War-era ball by the Springfield International Folk Dancers. Friends of mine were dancing with the group, so I stuck around and took some photos and videos of the performance. Below are a few of my favorite shots from the ball, along with a video montage of some of their dances. You can see all of the ball photos at my SmugMug site.

After the ball, I went to the Hoogland Center for the Arts.  There was a lot going on at the Hoogland all night. I saw Brian the Juggler, a.k.a Brian Pankey, who is from Springfield and has been juggling and performing since he was 13 years old. He holds numerous records, has appeared on "Late Night with David Letterman," and works at the Department of Motor Vehicles. His juggling and balancing feats were great. I made the highlight video below of his performance. You can find out more about Brian at or his YouTube channel.

I stuck around to see the beginning of the next performance, Troupe Zahava, a middle-eastern dance company, but wanted to see The Muni's "25-Year Retrospective," before the night was over. The Muni  is Springfield's outdoor theatre. On New Year's Eve, performers sang numbers from the last 25 years of productions at the Muni. The theatre was packed and the performances were amazing, as always.

I'm glad I got around to checking out First Night. Even though all was over by 11 p.m., I was happy to get out and join hundreds of others for the night's festivities.

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Entertainment | Springfield

Sangamon Valley Trail - GoPro

by Brandon January 7, 2012 04:34 PM

I recently bought a GoPro Hero camera. It's a great little cam that you can mount almost anywhere. While I haven't recorded myself doing anything extreme with it, yet, I wanted to try it out in some way. I decided to take a short, leisurely bike ride down the Sangamon Valley Trail in Springfield, IL. Here's a video of that sped up several hundred times.

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General | Springfield

Stop-Motion Video Trial 1 - Sangamon Valley Trail

by Brandon December 6, 2011 10:50 AM

I've wanted to make a stop-motion movie for a while. Below is trial number one. The images were shot at the Sangamon Valley Trail bike path in Springfield, Ill. Check out the video and read the notes below.

The Experiment

I ventured down to the Centennial Park entrance of the Sangamon Valley Trail on the morning of Dec. 4. It was an overcast day, great for an experiment such as this. My gear consisted of my Canon 50D camera, Canon EF-S 10-22mm lens, a UV filter and Manfrotto tripod. Because I didn't know how long I'd be shooting, I set the image quality in the camera to small, fine JPEG. This setting, with an image resolution of 2352x1568, is more than enough resolution to create an HD YouTube video, and the small file size allowed me to snap more shots, of course.

My method was simple. I would take a shot, pick up the tripod, take two steps, set it back down, recompose, take a shot and repeat. I manually set the f-stop to 7.1, for a nice depth of field, ISO to 200, manual focus and varied the shutter speed.

During editing, I batch-applied an "aged photo" look to each of the images to make them stand out a bit more. I imported the pictures into my video-editing software to make the stop-motion video. The outrageously awesome musical score is something I tapped out on Garage Band for iPad. I used the "smart" instruments. There's no way my musical ability could even come close to sounding decent.

What I Learned

Overall, I'm pleased with how it turned out. I played around with the exposure as I progressed down the trail. After reviewing the photos, I can see that even a few thirds of a stop can make a big difference, because you are viewing them so quickly one after another. Varying cloud conditions also contributed along the way.

I have a few ideas to try next time:

  • Do the whole trail in the spring! It was cold out (in the 30s) and I wasn't dressed warmly enough. It became apparent that the winter months just won't have enough hours of daylight to complete the trail in one day.
  • Pay close attention to the exposure. This will drastically cut down on editing before importing into the video editing software. I didn't edit any files for exposure for this test video.
  • Watch the horizon. Bobbing up and down for the entire trail won't make for a great viewing experience.
  • See if I can get wheels for my tripod. I think this would cut down a lot of time. Instead of picking up the tripod and moving, I could just push it two steps forward.
  • I'll probably use a polarizing filter next time to cut down glare from the trail itself.

Hope you liked it!

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My Videos | Photography | Springfield

114th Regiment Illinois Volunteer Infantry Flag Retreat

by Brandon September 3, 2011 01:26 PM

Tuesday, Aug. 30, was the final flag retreat ceremony of 2011 for the 114th Regiment Illinois Volunteer Infantry at Lincoln Tomb in Springfield. The 114th is a local group of Civil War-era reenactors who perform at many ceremonies at historical sites in central Illinois and surrounding states.

The flag is lowered with pomp and ceremony by the men of the 114th in their dress uniforms. After the lowering, the flag is folded and presented to a spectator. If you wish to be one of those lucky spectators, pre-registration is required so your name can be drawn at random. For 2011, the ceremony occurred at 7 p.m. every Tuesday night from June 1 to Aug. 30 and lasted around 45 minutes.

My wife and I attended the last ceremony this year and photographed it. Many spectators attended as it was a nice, cool evening. Please check out the photos below and visit the 114th at their Facebook page if you would like to keep up with their activities.

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Old Capitol Blues & BBQ 2011

by Brandon August 28, 2011 07:16 PM

This year, I went to the Old Capitol Blues & BBQ festival for the first time. The annual festival features barbecue competitions, blues music and all the barbecue you can eat.

This was the largest crowd I've ever seen at a Downtown Springfield event. The section of Fifth Street between East Washington and East Adams streets was jam-packed, almost shoulder to shoulder. A sea of people seated in lawn chairs and folding seats filled the portion of Fifth where the performer's stage was located. Despite the crowd, I was able to navigate through. I picked up some delicious barbecue along the way and snapped some photos of Jimmie Vaughan, older brother of the late Stevie Ray Vaughan and Saturday evening's headliner.

Click the thumbnails below to visit my gallery at



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Entertainment | Springfield

Independence Day Photos

by Brandon July 4, 2011 01:06 AM

Happy birthday, again, America. Across our nation this weekend, citizens are venturing out to their respective city parks and other locations to catch firework shows. Despite the heat and humidity, we did the same. The following were some of my favorite shots from the July 3 celebration in Chatham, Illinois. Click any photo to view larger versions.


The last photo is one of my favorites because of a new technique I picked up this year from Creative Live. If you view the photo on my SmugMug gallery, click the Photo Info button that appears when you move your mouse to the right side of the photo. You'll see that the photo has an exposure time of 31 seconds. Most firework photos are two to five second exposures. The technique I learned involves using a black card to block the lens while taking a long exposure. When the firework explodes, move the card away. Move it back again and wait for the next firework. You can "stack" fireworks into one photo using this method. Many thanks to Creative Live and John Cornicello for putting on this free Photographing Fireworks workshop where I learned this trick.

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Entertainment | Holidays | Photography