Officer journeys into digital photography success
SAN ANTONIO (Feb. 5, 2015) -- Maj. Ryan Foley makes his military travel more memorable by photographing his journeys.
His sense of adventure, impeccable timing, use of light, and darkroom creativity helped him become the most decorated winner in the 2014 Army Digital Photography Contest.
"I like traveling and being outdoors, so photography always has been a natural association for me," said Foley, 35, an Ohio native stationed at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. "I like trying to create neat images."
The Army Morale, Welfare and Recreation, or MWR, contest featured 2,529 entries in seven categories of photographs that competed in two divisions: active-duty military personnel and other military MWR patrons.
Foley took first, second and third place, along with an honorable mention, in three different categories.
"Looking at all the other amazing entries, I definitely feel fortunate to have won anything," said Foley, who earned a first and second place in the 2012 contest but failed to place in 2013. "There are some really talented folks out there."
His "View from Apache" took first-place honors in the active-duty nature and landscapes category. Shot with a Nikon D7100 and Nikon 70-200 2.8 VR II lens, Foley combined four frames to make the panorama, which measures "something like 11,000 x 3,500 pixels," he said.
He shot the photo at Forward Operating Base Apache in Afghanistan.
"Most of the time, you couldn't see the mountains very well, at all, as there would be a lot of dust in the air," Foley said. "The night before, there was a lot of wind and most of the dust was blown away. The next morning, the visibility was incredible and I could see the mountains as I never had previously."
Foley climbed into a guard tower, where he awaited ideal light.
"The shot was taken in the mid-morning so there was great lighting on the mountains and it gave nice contrast to the ridges," he said.
Foley had to work harder to shoot "Portuguese Cave," which took second place in the active- duty military nature and landscapes category. On a family trip to Portugal, he sought a series of caves on the southern coast, including one in particular near Benagil Beach.
"While they do offer boat tours, they don't start until the sun is pretty high up in the sky," Foley said. "I wanted to get the shot with the light just as it came through the oculus in the ceiling of the cave, so we went to the beach early in the morning. The cave is just a short swim from shore. Unfortunately, I hadn't really planned this in advance, so all I had was a normal camera bag and my daughter's beach-toy inner tube. So I just balanced the camera bag on my head, put one arm through the inner tube, and swam with one arm.
"With the swells of the sea and my non-waterproof, 20-pound camera bag weighing me down, it was definitely a bit nerve-racking -- but I made it without getting my stuff wet. There was also a very territorial seagull that kept dive-bombing me while I was trying to photograph, so that was fun."
Despite the unsettling swells and a kamikaze gull, Foley remained focused.
"When the sunlight began to fall through the oculus, I knew I had my shot," he said. "In the end, it was an incredibly beautiful scene and very much worth the trouble."
Foley took third place in the military life category with "Marine CH-53," a shot of a Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter.
"On the rare clear days, I was able to get some great shots of aircraft," he said. "If it was a day with good visibility and I wasn't busy, I would read outside and wait for opportunities like this shot to come along. Usually, I didn't have a tripod, so I would just balance the camera on my bag to keep it steady."
Foley received an honorable mention in the digital darkroom category with "Osprey on a Cloudy Day," another photo of military aircraft, this one shot at Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
"The photo was enhanced in Photoshop using their built-in HDR [high-dynamic range] photo processor," Foley said. "Basically, you take three to five shots of the same scene with different exposures and the software blends them together. Then you can tweak them in many different ways to get surreal or ultra-realistic images."
Like most photographers, Foley has shot the good, the bad and the ugly. Along the way, he's managed several contest-winning photos.
"I take a lot of pictures," he said. "I take a lot of bad pictures, but every once in a while one turns out good and it is really fun to see that happen."
Foley began dabbling with photography shortly after graduating from high school and said he looks forward to competing in the Army MWR-sponsored contest each year.
"My family and I have definitely used a lot of the services of the MWR," Foley said. "Everything from ski trips, tours, gear rental, etc. I think it's especially helpful overseas. It is really a great program to help support Soldiers to get out and enjoy life. The breadth of services they offer is amazing.
"It has been a lot of fun to take photos while in the military," he said. "We definitely get to see and do things that most people never will. I enjoy capturing those moments and sharing them with others. It also helps you remember things in the past that you might otherwise forget."
2014 Army Digital Photography Contest
List of winners in the 2014 Army Digital Photography Contest with category place, military rank, name, duty station and title of photo:
Division I -- Active-duty military
People: 1. Sgt. Scott Tant, Camp Walker, South Korea, "Into the Ocean;" 2.
Staff Sgt. Pablo Piedra, Grafenwoehr, Germany, "Stone Violinist;" 3. Chief Warrant Officer 2 Juan Jusino, Fort Jackson, South Carolina, "Arrived."
Military life: 1. Sgt. Philip Velez, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington,
"The Long Walk;" 2. Maj. Bradley Gates, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, "H-Hour minus 002000;" 3. Maj. Ryan Foley, Kaiserslautern, Germany, Marine "CH-53."
Nature & landscapes: 1. Maj. Ryan Foley, Kaiserslautern, Germany, "View from
Apache;" 2. Maj. Ryan Foley, Kaiserslautern, Germany, "Portuguese Cave;" 3. Maj.
Darrell Reamer, Camp Zama, Japan, "Frosted."
Animals: 1. Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jessica Veltri, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, "Wild Cat;" 2. Spc. Tia Somkimson, Fort Meade, Maryland, "Preparation Due South;" 3. Capt. Long Pham, Fort Jackson, South Carolina, "Staring Contest."
Still life: 1. Master Sgt. Shawn Helgerson, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri,
"Three Peppers;" 2. Staff Sgt. Osvaldo Corea, Camp Red Cloud,
South Korea, "A Trumpet World;" 3. Sgt. 1st Class Oliver Kirkham, Torii
Station, Japan, "Rose and the Rings."
Design elements: 1. Spc. Adcharaporn Poonsap, Camp Red Cloud, South Korea,
"Pile of Tires;" 2. Staff Sgt. Pablo Piedra, Grafenwoehr, Germany, "Double
Helix;" 3. Maj. Michael Kendall, Fort Jackson, South Carolina, "The Western
Digital darkroom: 1. Spc. Andrew Hui, Camp Casey, South Korea, "Seoul Streets; Rainy Day -- Trick Eye Museum;" 2. Capt. Alexander Jansen, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, "Lens Explosion;" 3. Capt. Suzanna Endsley, Yongsan, South Korea, "Standing Out."
Division II - Other MWR eligible patrons
People: 1. Rachele Frickey, Fort Bliss, Texas, "Flower Girl;" 2. John Powers,
Camp Zama, Japan, "No Tips Today;" 3. Jason Burkhardt, Yongsan, South Korea, "To Be Hindu."
Military life: 1. Tara Ruby, Fort Bliss, Texas, "Finally Home;" 2. Rebecca
Mastrian, Fort Campbell, Kentucky, "PT Through the Fog;" 3. Jeffrey Kline, Fort
Belvoir, Virginia, "Soldiers."
Nature & landscapes: 1. Robert LaPolice, Detroit Arsenal, Michigan, "Sky
Dock;" 2. (tie) Michael Whetson, Vicenza, Italy, "Blue Waterfall;" 2. (tie) Clare Blackmon, West Point, New York, "Morning Dew;" 3. (tie) John Powers, Camp Zama, Japan, "Vintage Memories;" 3. (tie) John Waggoner, Detroit Arsenal, Michigan, "Blue Waterfall."
Animals: 1. Marjorie Lehman, Fort Knox, Kentucky, "Geese at Sunset;" 2. Lisa
Remnet, Fort Shafter, Hawaii; "Busy Bee;" 3. John Lackey, Selfridge, Michigan,
Still life: 1. Kimberly Kendall, Fort Jackson, South Carolina, "After the
Festival;" 2. John Powers, Camp Zama, Japan, "Empty Offerings;" 3. Elizabeth Loman Hayes, Fort Bliss, Texas, "Smell of Spring."
Design elements: 1. Jack Franke, Presidio of Monterey, California, "At the
Del Monte Hotel;" 2. Samara Stirneman, Yongsan, South Korea, "Safe Harbor;" 3.
(tie) Daniela Piedra, Grafenwoehr, "3D Floor;" 3. (tie) Rebecca Mastrian, Fort
Campbell, Kentucky, "Pink Infinity."
Digital darkroom: 1. Helen Foster, Fort Stewart, Georgia, "Wisconsin Point;"
2. Kimberly Kendall, Fort Jackson, South Carolina, "Divided;" 3. John Powers,
Camp Zama, Japan, "That Moment of Awe."