More of the Same

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Continuing yesterday’s list of tips on photographing fireworks . . .

Fourth, think carefully about depth of field.  If you’re shooting wide and trying to get the landscape into the photo at all, you’ll want to stop down the aperture as much as possible.

Fifth, as a contrary point to the above, be aware that because the fireworks are so bright, you aren’t going to be able to get a single exposure for both the fireworks and the landscape unless the landscape is brightly lit (like the city lights).  Some photographers solve this by combining two photos manually later.  Be aware the HDR settings will not be very helpful (although may be interesting) because of the motion of the fireworks.  To combine the two manual exposures, you would need to be able to layer them together in an application like Photoshop.

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Sixth, fireworks move.  To get long, bright streaks of light in the sky, you need a fairly long shutter speed.  This helps with the fourth tip–you get more depth of field as a bonus.  I’m pretty happy with the size, shape, length of the streaks I get at about .4 seconds.  However, there are some types of fireworks that look better with longer exposures.  The only downside of exposing longer is that you get more smoke showing up in the process.

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Seventh, I once missed about ½ of a fireworks show trying this trick, but maybe it will work better for you.  Supposedly, you can put your camera on bulb and use a piece of paper or your hand to cover the lens in between the rockets being fired.  Then, you can get multiple fireworks into one shot.  This might have worked last night when I was in very close proximity to the launch point.  However, from a further distance, I just got very dull looking fireworks that were often barely visible.

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Shooting Fireworks

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Well, there comes a time when we are all caught off guard by ill preparation.  I can list a long number of excuses as to how this happened, starting with working way too many hours for my day job, but the truth of the matter is that I didn’t give getting my blog posts ready ahead of time top priority and, therefore, it didn’t happen.

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So, I am about 45 minutes away from leaving for the airport.  I’m headed overseas on a business trip where my internet access may be limited and my time most certainly will be.  And, I have only photos of fireworks ready to post.

So what’s a daily blogger to do?

Well, I’ve decided to do some really short posts on the theme of “fireworks.”  We’ll see if I manage to get a post a day up!

For today’s fireworks-themed post, let’s talk about some things I’ve learned about shooting fireworks.

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First, if you’re going to be really close to the fireworks (in this case, we were within a .10 of a mile as the crow flies from where they were being fired), put your widest lens on your camera.  Since most of us now have cameras with 20+ megapixels, cropping to get tight photos is an option and there is a bigger problem with fitting all the action in the frame.

Second, if you know which way the wind is blowing, find a spot upwind.  This will help reduce the amount of smoke in your images.  Unfortunately, that was not a possibility for me, so I do have a lot of smoke in my images.  I managed to do some adjusting to reduce it’s appearance, but it’s still annoyingly visible.

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Third, your cameras metering is useless while you’re shooting.  It will jump all over the place as the fireworks create large amounts of light and then fade.  By the time you adjust exposure, it will be too late.  Remain calm.  Check your photos on your LCD early even if it means missing a shot of the next one going off.  It’s better to miss one or two getting your exposure set right than to get home and find that every shot you took was completely blown out or too dark.

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Out with a Bang

When Riverbend ends, it doesn’t fade quietly.  Rather, a pyrotechnics display to rival some of the best 4th of July fireworks I’ve ever seen announces the close of the festival.  This massive display causes virtually every person from miles away to descend upon Chattanooga.  After all, they may charge $25 to go inside Riverbend for one evening, but the fireworks are free for all within viewing distance.

As residents of the North Shore of Chattanooga who live in a building with a roof top deck in an apartment on the 4th floor with a view of the riverfront AND who happen to be house/dog sitting for some friends who have a condo in a high rise with a club house on the 7th floor right on the riverfront, we had the unique advantage of being able to choose from a variety of great viewing locations.

However, we ended up on our own balcony.  The crowds were overwhelming on the rooftops and shared balconies.  I wanted to shoot and there was no room for a tripod in a crowd.

Since our visiting friends were staying at our place and we were staying at our neighbor friends’ place, I brought over as little as possible to enjoy the fireworks.  For me, that means my camera, one lens, and my tripod.  I decided on my 70-200mm lens having seen fireworks from our living room on many occasions.  There are fireworks most Friday nights at the baseball stadium for the Lookouts, a minor league baseball game.  Assuming that was representative of the fireworks we were about to see, I figured I needed at least 200mm to get much of a shot.

Boy was I wrong!

First of all, these fireworks were fired from this side of the river, MUCH closer than the baseball stadium.  Second, this was a massive display of fireworks!  I mean massive!  We’d heard that Riverbend was not profitable and we wondered how that could be with the entry fees they were charging.  Now we knew.  All the money that didn’t go to the bands was going to the fireworks!

What this meant for me was I couldn’t get the fireworks to fit into my frame, so I had to pick out part of the display to shoot.  I still had fun.  But, I couldn’t help remembering fireworks from my childhood.

We would take a blanket to the park for the 4th of July fireworks display.  One rocket would be fired and it would either explode into a glorious display or it would fizzle and die, a dud.  We would clap and say “Ooooh” and “Ahhh” and then, as the sparkles were fading, the next rocket would scream into the sky.  It seemed like it lasted an hour.  The whole show probably used as many rockets as we saw in 3 minutes this night.  It was incredible to watch, but sometimes I do long for simpler times.  Plus, it would be easier to figure out what to shoot.  🙂