The 2017 Miss America Pageant

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I got to travel to Atlantic City last weekend and cover the 2017 Miss America pageant for the fifth time. As expected, it was an amazing experience. I had my trusty Sigma 150-600mm, some good buds and the time of my life. I’ll write up some of the cool stuff that happened.

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There are tons of events that lead up to the big pageant, but the first part of the weekend for us was the Show Us Your Shoes parade. A decades long tradition, each state contestant sits in the back of a convertible and parades down the boardwalk. There’s also marching bands, cheerleaders, and other performers from across the U.S., supporting their state. It’s a lot of fun seeing each of the girls with their state-inspired shoes, but listen you guys, the greatest thing happened… 2015 Miss America Kira Kanzantsev came down the boardwalk with other Forever Miss Americas. There’s thousands of us in the crowd, but she spied me and gave me a big huge wave and “How are you Andy?!” I turned to the old dude next to me and said “Tell me you saw that!” Later on I checked my pics and noticed I captured her enthusiasm and eye contact. Score.

My pics are in the official #MissAmerica program!! (#1,3) #goCierra!

A photo posted by Andy Jones (@ageowns) on

I actually had two bucket-list items knocked out in one day. Just before the parade, I found two of my photos in the official pageant program. This is my fifth year, and each year I’m hoping that one of the many high-rez photos I send off to the Miss America Organization makes it to their print program. The closest I got before was when one of my photos made it to the year-end recap slideshow for Nina Davaluri’s year. I shot the 2016 Miss District of Columbia pageant, and the first and third photos on this page are mine.

Miss Arkansas - Savvy Shields - Show Us Your Shoes parade
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I have a whole gallery from the Shoe Parade, but mainly the point is to shoot each and every contestant so that I have nice photo of the winner, whoever she is. This was actually one of my favorite shots, and just so happens to be of Savvy Shields, the new Miss America. In years past it was a monsoon-like downpour during the parade. The rain was so miserable, I’d stand there as long as I could, but after a few hours of getting drenched, I would stick around for Miss Maryland and then call it a day. That’s usually when Miss New York would be the winner, so I’d have no parade photo of the winner.

#missDc loves little Cierra. Bring home the crown! #missamerica #playmobil #toyphotography

A photo posted by Andy Jones (@ageowns) on

It hasn’t worked the last couple of years, but finally Miss DC recognized me in the crowd and gave me a great couple of pictures. Something occurred on the route up ahead so the whole procession stopped for about 10 minutes. I ran ahead and had a chance to talk with Cierra for a few moments. Every year I bring along a playmobil beauty queen for my instagram photos. It’s purpose is two fold; first, I wanted photos that would be interesting to my son. He’s too young to find any of this pretty lady nonsense worth while. Secondly, I want to keep the social media flow going, even during the long stretches when there’s nothing to shoot. This year I matched my Miss Playmoland to match Cierra’s look, and she loved it! Check out this gallery to see all of the Miss Playmoland photos.

Who's cheering for #MissVirginia tonight at the #MissAmerica pageant on ABC at 9 #dmv

A photo posted by DC101 (@dc101radio) on

I was also entrusted to post directly to the DC101 Instagram feed. I knew the bulk of their audience were not pageant heads, but who doesn’t appreciate photos of pretty ladies?? I tried to keep the postings to a minimum, but I did want to try something new to engage the audience. On Sunday, leading up to the live broadcast I posted a photo of Miss Virginia (above), followed by Miss Maryland and Miss DC. I was hoping the number of likes would correlate to who our audience would be cheering for. Miss Maryland was our winner with 85 votes, while DC got 62 and VA got 54. Hardly scientific, but I don’t think anyone’s complaining. Also I love this stretch of the parade route. Once the overhead holiday lights came on, we got great reflections on the cars, and bokeh in the background.

Thanks Reza

We got our tickets and found our way to our seats. After some fenagling, I was able to score a seat quite a bit closer to the stage. Regardless, you really need an ultra zoom to shoot this pageant. Last year I rented, but this year I bought the Sigma 150-600mm. It’s a great zoom, it’s got some heft but it’s not impossible to hand hold. Since I’d be shooting the same general area for two hours, and it is heavy, I used a monopod. Yes I have the lens hood attached, but that was mainly so if I accidentally whapped the dude sitting in front of me, it was with the lens hood, not the front element. Secondly, yes, this lens is f/6.3 when all the way zoomed in. But since it’s a live broadcast, the lighting is great. My biggest complaint was about the seating, there were many heads and stage lights in the way, I never could get a good head to toe shot, especially during the evening gown portion.

Miss Maryland - Hannah Brewer
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Do you know how hard it is to take decent pictures of beautiful women in a bathing suit parading around on stage?? Actually it’s very easy. The hard part is limiting which photos you select. I love how this looks like Hannah is looking right at me.

Miss Washington - Alicia Cooper
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When making selections, I look for the clear poses, or the occasional great mid-stride shot. While swimsuit photos can be seen by some as exploitative, I try to do my part to capture the evening with a photojournalistic eye. I treat it like a sporting event. I want to capture each of these women in their glory. Go more for a picture of “them” rather than their body parts. They’ve been working extremely hard to look good, so I want to pay them that respect.

Every year the tradition is to tweet a photo to host Chris Harrison. Some years he retweets it, but always acknowledges it. This was the photo I tweeted to him this year. I thought he’d enjoy it. My wife enjoys the entire Batchelor franchise, and I enjoy his detached befuddlement on that show from time to time. Rarely do I get to capture a man quite a level of mackin.

Miss Arkansas - Savvy Shields (2017 Miss America)
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Yes the swimwear segment is my favorite, but I do love the parade of gorgeous women in evening gowns. This is Savvy in an elegant black dress. No jewels, no embellishments, just black velvet. I caught a great pose, the rich blacks, and the light showing off the texture. I’m very happy with this lens. I like how the contrast of the background shows off her figure even in a solid black dress, and everything is in sharp focus.

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I also love shooting the talent portion as well, especially when they jump and dance. Here, Miss California did a dance routine featuring a lot of gymnastics moves, set to A Little Less Conversation by Elvis Presley. Not only is she performing gymnastics in front of nine million viewers at home, but one of the judges, just meters away, is Olympic Gold medalist gymnast Gabby Douglas. I like how this image captures both the flippity-doo in (relatively) sharp focus, as well as the other contestants gasping at the feat. I strive to tell as much story as possible in as little number of images necessary.

Miss Washington - Alicia Cooper - Talent
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Though there is less action present in this frame, I love how the composition worked out, along with the colors and the focus. It looks like it could be a posed studio shot, but it was indeed captured on the fly. When going through my images, I’m looking for the ones that have a little extra oomph.

Miss South Carolina - Rachel Wyatt - Talent
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I really like the clarity and moment in this shot. The only problem is that Miss South Carolina looks like an amputee, so if I had to be really selective, and pick only one shot of her performance, I’d use the next one.

Miss South Carolina - Rachel Wyatt - Talent
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I like the composition of this shot. The moment is effectively frozen, but not all the edges are as sharp as I’d like. I should have gone with a quicker shutter speed, but with her movements in and out of the lighting sweet spots, I kept lowering my shutter. I do like how the spectators are silhouetted in the background, and the color contrast works well.

Miss Arkansas - Savvy Shields - Talent - 2017 Miss America
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Now this is the shot. Not only is it dynamic and sharp, but it’s also of the winner, Savvy Shields. When I realized that Savvy had won, I had to double check I had the right photo, I couldn’t believe my luck. This is almost straight from camera too. I was able to tweet this one out moments after she won using my Canon 6D’s wifi. Also note that this one was also 1/100. I love this shot. It’s the smile, confidence, and the moment in time. I got lucky.

2016 Miss America Betty Cantrell, final walk.
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This is my ideal type of a pageant. I love how the lighting looks almost like a studio shot, as if it were an advertisement. The lens flair gives it some magnitude, and the spectators being in focus with their phones up, almost look planted. I love how it all came together, in such a chaotic moment. People were rushing the stage with their phones up, and I had to elbow in, get the shot, and then get back to my seat.

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I got a shot of Savvy in a very similar set up as the photo of Betty above, looked like a studio shot. However I love this shot because she’s totally looking right at me.


ZOMG… I’ve never gotten quite a good glimpse of myself from the broadcast. I guess this’ll have to do. But it’s still exciting. Between this and the appearances in the official program, along with the times that prior Miss America’s have used my image on their own Wikipedia pages, I like being part of something.

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I’m extremely lucky I got this shot. My aforementioned 6D has a slight flaw, the button on the mode wheel is stuck in the down position, so it frequently gets bumped to Bulb or Av mode. I had a circular polarizer filter on the lens. When I nabbed this shot, I hadn’t noticed that the mode wheel had been switched to Av, so when I went to review my images, this one was almost pitch black. The toe dip, my favorite part of the entire weekend, was over, and I thought I had totally blown it. Luckily, I shoot RAW, and I was able to salvage this image without too much problem. I was relieved. I’ve said it before, but I want to point it out again, that my signature M.O. is to wade out into the surf a bit, so that my photos have Atlantic City in the background. Most of the time, the other photographers won’t venture out with me, so my shots are a little bit more unique.

I’ve written about shooting Miss America before (read 2016, 2014, 2013) and those posts get a little bit more into the technicalities. I just really wanted to share all the awesome things that happened this weekend. I can’t wait to meet Savvy in person when she comes to DC. Ok, here you go, here’s the whole kit ‘n kaboodle of images from the pageant and toe dip.

2017 Miss America

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