JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD (Mar. 22, 2017) - - Landscapes are forever and breathtaking in and around Seattle, but when they touch the sky, the view is often amazing and unexpected.
"I never know what I'm going to get," said Kaweka Stoney, a retired Sgt. 1st Class, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. "It's my way of relaxing and [photography] gets me out and away from the hard work and sometimes long hours."
Stoney took first place in the 2017 Army Digital Photography Contest for his work entitled "Century Link Field at Night" -- a wide-angle view of the stadium, which is home to the Seattle Seahawks.
"When I was in the Army, I had a point-and-shoot hobby, taking snap-shots," said Stoney. "I really got into it about two or three years ago. As I developed my skills, I upgraded to a Nikon D810 with a variety of good lenses and I guess you could call me a serious enthusiast."
Stoney also won an honorable mention in the annual contest, conducted by the G9 division of the U.S. Army Installation Management Command, for his work "Seattle Mini World" -- a digital darkroom manipulation created in Photoshop by spinning the landscape.
"There are times as I'm setting up for a shoot, I often have something in mind, but then, particularly with a sunrise or sunset, once you get that shot, you get to see [and share] the beauty of the world."
Stoney currently works in the Outdoor Recreation Center, part of the IMCOM G9 Morale, Welfare and Recreation division at JBLM.
"I was a volunteer for three years before I retired," recalled Stoney, who completed his career at JBLM in 2014 as a telecommunications chief in the signal corps. "When I retired from the Army, after 22 years, I wanted to do something completely different. [At Outdoor Rec] you can't call it a job -- when you love your job."
The Outdoor Rec program at JBLM has four components.
"We have our rental equipment -- campers, trailers, boats, that sort of thing. We also manage the travel camps and skeet range," said Stoney. "Then there is the retail store for camping gear, fishing equipment and hunting supplies. What I'm most excited about is our Adventure Programs. These are excursions I help set up, such as our winter snowshoe and snow-tubing trips, and the JBLM Alpine Club."
"I also head up the Outdoor Rec Photography program, which includes workshops, such as Photography 101 and field trips, such as 'Seattle at Night' and 'Astro Photo' where we improve and perfect our ability to photograph the distant sky."
Some of the patrons get their final digital work posted on the JBLM Outdoor Rec Facebook website http://www.facebook.com/JBLMOutdoorRec.
"The idea for the program is to get people interested in photography and improve their skills," said Stoney. "Sometimes [during the shoots] I get way too caught up in the technique of the shot itself, but hopefully, the end result is amazing."
Stoney's advice: "For the amateur photographer -- keep at it. For every [great] shot, you have to figure on 50 shots not quite up to standard. Don't get frustrated. It's all about working at it."
One of Stoney's favorite places to shoot sunsets is Ruby Beach in the Olympic National Park, where he captured a heart stopping red sky over large rock formations in the surf -- a photo he did not enter in the contest.
"This [shot] was at the end of a couple of days of camping and I wanted to get some images before heading home," said Stoney. "The great thing is this is located just off the parking area so not much walking to get there."
Because of his job, he often heads out on his own but ends up meeting other photographers to compare notes.
"On this trip, I met a couple from back east who were staying at a resort down the road and we spent some time talking about different techniques, which I love because I pick up great tidbits. This one was interesting because the sunset was starting to look like it was not going to be interesting but then as everybody was leaving I stayed an extra 15 minutes and was rewarded with some great color. This just goes to show that patience is very important in photography."
When Stoney retired, he remained in the Seattle area because his family is nearby.
"My Grandfather was from Kansas and Grandmother from [Seattle]. My Mother moved to the area from Hawaii, working on the construction of the Madigan Army Medical Center. My name Kaweka, which has Hawaiian roots, means 'David,' which was my Grandfather's name."
Astrophotography is another technique Stoney is working to master, as seen in this panoramic shot of the Milky Way, taken from Mount Rainier last August, also not entered into the contest.
"I was coming back from a sunset shoot at Tipso Lake just south of this location. As the Milky Way was to the south I was not able to get the Milky Way and Mount Rainier together, but I was able to get a great vertical image. I ended up taking five vertical shoots and stitching them together in Photoshop to create this panoramic image.
"This shoot represents one of the first times that I cracked the code for taking astrophotography."
By circumstance, accident or fate, Stoney has found his extended "Soldier for Life" home at JBLM, where there are infinite opportunities to meet and work with great people, share his knowledge of photography and live the job he loves.
"Once you get that shot, the Milky Way, you see the greatness of the universe, and often the relative insignificance of yourself."
The Army recently released the names of all the winners in the 2017 Army Digital Photography Contest http://www.army.mil/article/184424. This contest is one way that MWR and Family programs encourages patrons to participate in recreation where they are, with the camera gear they have at hand. Any eligible MWR patron is invited to participate.
A list of current and past winners in the Photo Contest can be viewed https://www.armymwr.com/programs-and-services/arts-and-crafts/digital-photo-contest/.