Dogs and Fireworks


Dogs are frequently afraid of fireworks. I would venture to guys that dogs fall into two categories: Those who are completely oblivious and those who think the world is coming to an end. Tisen does not like fireworks. Nor does Twiggy, who is visiting with us again while her mom and dad are on vacation.


Tisen seems somewhat embarrassed about his fear of fireworks. Like he knows he’s supposed to be a big tough boy and not be afraid of loud noises. Instead of whining, howling, or barking, which would only draw attention to his cowardice, he hides. But if you happen to look in on him from time to time, you’ll discover he often has a puzzled look on his face like he can’t understand why his humans are not distraught by all the noise.

I think there is a simple explanation for this disparity in human and dog interpretation of loud noises. I think it’s hearing. While one might speculate that canines have less ability to understand the source of loud noises or to reason as to whether they are in potential danger or not, I really think it comes down to pain. The deep, reverberating booms and high pitched crackles sound so much louder to a dog than to a human, it seems quite possible they are in physical pain.

This being my theory, I was doubly surprised when I spent the entire length of the Riverbend fireworks out on the balcony of the common room (where dogs are not allowed) and Tisen remained parked by the front door waiting for my return instead of hiding under the sofa, desk, or Daddy. Twiggy cuddled with Daddy, leaving Tisen to fend for himself as the stalwart guard patiently awaiting the return of Mommy. I felt pretty guilty when I got home and found him still waiting for me.

I wonder if he is more afraid of losing Mommy than he is of fireworks? This also made me feel more guilty getting on a plane the following morning.

Tisen braving it out at the door

Tisen braving it out at the door


More of the Same


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.


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.


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.


Shooting Fireworks


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.


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.


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.


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.


Fire over Water

The last big performance of Riverbend winds down as the crowd grows in anticipation of the fireworks

The last big performance of Riverbend winds down as the crowd grows in anticipation of the fireworks

If every fireworks display were the likes of the Riverbend Fireworks, I think there wouldn’t be a shortage of explosives worldwide.  That could be a good thing–fireworks are probably among the more peaceful things we do with explosives.  Although I suppose there are a lot of people who would disagree that that’s the best use of explosives–a few of my friends are extremely grateful for the explosives used in their airbags, for example.


Regardless, fireworks always feel nostalgic to me.  I don’t know why–fireworks displays are so much more sophisticated and reliable than they ever were when I was a kid.  I think I couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8 years old when I started anticipating the success or failure of the 4th of July Fireworks based on the weather.  Rain the week before the big display was a disaster.  Perhaps “the fireworks got wet” was really just a euphemism adults used to explain away all the “duds” that would fail to go off with little more than a “ffftttzzz” and maybe a spark.  But the children in my neighborhood grew up terrifies of rain right before fireworks because we were sure there would be lots of duds.


I remember fireworks taking an hour or more from start to finish.  I remember being blown away by the finale when a dozen or more fireworks blossomed in the sky simultaneously.  I remember the show leading up to the finale consisting pretty much of one, maybe two, fireworks going off at the same time or in close sequence.  I remember lots of time between fireworks when the sky was simply empty.  I remember the first time I ever saw a fireworks display that had been timed and choreographed with music.  It was in the 1980’s.  They played Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American” as part of the montage.  I can’t remember being to a fireworks display set to music without hearing Lee ever since.  In fact, I heard it again tonight.  That guy must make millions just on fireworks background music.


Things I don’t remember from the suburban fireworks display my family attended every 4th of July, sharing a blanket in the grass of a local park, include adult men without shirts on, extraordinary traffic jams, closed roads, cops with lights flashing everywhere, people packed like sardines into all available open spaces and fighting over the high spots.


Of course, the suburb that sponsored the fireworks from my childhood has all of 10,000 people living in it.  While Chattanooga may not be a big city, it’s nearly 20 times the size of that.  So I guess it’s unfair to compare the sweet innocence of the suburb I grew up in  to the issues that arise when you take a very large number of people and put them in a very small space.

The fireworks have been over for at least 45 minute now.  But sirens keep going by outside.  Hopefully it will settle down soon.



The Walnut Street Bridge takes a wild turn

The Walnut Street Bridge takes a wild turn

I have discovered a whole new way to have fun with my iPhone camera.  Yes, more panoramics!  But in this case, instead of creating a really big view of a vast landscape, I’m making a U-shape!  I know, I am easily amused.

But how much fun is it to stand on the Walnut Street Bridge and take a panoramic shot that starts by looking up the bridge, then pans across the scene of Riverbend and ends looking down the bridge?

I clarifies the concept of putting a 3-dimensional landscape into 2 dimensions in a brand new way.  I am starting to think of other possible uses for the panoramic capability.  I will cover 240 degrees.  That means I can’t quite create a circle.  But horseshoe shapes?  The bridge is pretty close to a horseshoe.

Bending the bridge around the Carousel in Coolidge Park

Bending the bridge around the Carousel in Coolidge Park

Before I get carried away on the possibilities, let me just mention that we are rapidly approaching the close of this year’s Riverbend Festival.  Riverbend is a pretty big deal that takes over the river front across the river.  They close the main street that runs along the river, float in a big stage, and book many bands.  Lynrd Skynrd played last night.  That was a bit of a shock–I thought most of the band died in a plane many years ago?  I guess you can still be a band even if you’ve replaced most of the original members.

In any case, Riverbend attracts a large crowd.  Supposedly, over 600,000 people descend upon Chattanooga over the course of the 2 week music festival.  To put that in perspective, there are about 170,000 people in Chattanooga proper.  Believe it or not, that makes Chattanooga the 4th largest city in Tennessee, and only a about 10,000 people behind Knoxville, the largest city in East Tennessee.  Only Nashville and Memphis are larger.

A panoramic that stops short of making a bend

A panoramic that stops short of making a bend

By the time you add 600,000 people to Chattanooga, that’s enough to bump the population up to the largest city in Tennessee.  Of course, they’re not all here at once.  But, the extra crowd may explain the extra people hanging out in the park looking like perhaps they are camping out there.  It’s hard for me to believe there are enough hotel rooms in town to house even 300,000 extra people.  The building we live in has suddenly filled with extra people we don’t recognize and cars in parking spots that are normally empty.

We’ve learned that locals are not fond of Riverbend.  I think people camping in the park do not help the locals lack of enthusiasm.  But it’s likely the fight for parking is the bigger issue.  People park anywhere they can.  It’s pretty rare to find free parking anywhere in the vicinity of downtown.  During Riverbend, unless you have a reserved spot, you’re pretty much out of luck.

However people feel about Riverbend, the fireworks display at the end of the festival is a big deal.  We’ll see if it’s as impressive as last year tomorrow night.

Tisen cuddling with daddy

Tisen cuddling with daddy

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.  🙂