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Location, Location – Fireworks Photoshoot


This was my second fireworks photoshoot, and I was to heading out with my buddy Nick. Initially, I knew that I wanted to take pictures from a different vantage point, so I started to research locations. Using Google maps (which is a great method by the way), I found a small park across the port from where they were being launched. I wasn’t sure how the access was, so I planned to head out earlier in case we had to drive back into town.

I was lucky enough to be in the area in the afternoon, so I took the time to check it out. The location looked absolutely perfect. There was a good amount of parking, and you could walk out easily to some great locations. I got really excited.

I headed back to get everything ready for the shoot. I packed my normal kit lens, my 55-250mm in case I wanted to get closer, and my Meyer Orestor 135mm f/2.8 (my fastest long lens – to play with). The one thing I added that I hadn’t had before was a set of those hand warmer pouches. They worked ok for my palms, but the heat didn’t really travel to the fingers very well.

Nick and I arrived about an hour before the fireworks were supposed to start. We had other people who were going to join us from the Meetup.com group, but they had still not called to confirm. We walked to the end of the park and set up to try out some panorama shots. It was the first time I had created one, and I think it turned out pretty well. I wouldn’t want to over do it, but I will have to try one of these in France. Nick created a full 360 panorama, and it turned out amazing.

I initially thought the fireworks shoot went really well. The location was awesome with the city to the left and the fireworks to the right. I got so excited, I even remembered to Tweet in the car ride home. I thought I had at least 4 or 5 good shots of the fireworks. I ended up just clicking the shutter like crazy when taking the pictures with a lot of it being luck. With a slower lens (f/4) that I have, exposures are pretty long (3sec). You don’t know what you are going to get, so you go by your gut. I did the same as last time where I started exposing on launch and stopped when the firework would crest.

Half way through, I started to notice that the shots weren’t turning out great. I decided to adjust my exposure time to be shorter, so I switched out of bulb and into a set shutter speed (below 1sec). It was like I started all over again. My timing was off and on the first shots I launched to early and they ended before the firework even exploded. The fireworks started to look better, but I was also having problems with my IR remote. My fat glove hands had trouble clicking the button so I had to pull them off and freeze my hand for a while.

In the end, none of the pictures really turned out. While the location was great, the main problem was that the smoke from the fireworks was blowing to the left. By the third launch, the city was obscured by the smoke, and not in a good way. I also didn’t refer to my last shoot where the fireworks images turned out great. My aperture setting was to small compared to the last shoot, so my exposure time was longer. I was getting blurred fireworks, which can be good, but this time it wasn’t. I really needed a lower aperture so I can get the detail that only happens at faster shutter speeds.

The final shots I chose were pretty city shots from that location. The location was great, but the weather wasn’t perfect. The ice was a big plus, but some of the shots were lacking something. The building lights reflecting on the low clouds and smoke from the cold, just make the sky look a little weird.

As an added note, the Meetup.com group showed up late and had to take pictures from closer to the parking lot. It didn’t have the view of the city, but as above, that didn’t really matter. While talking with them afterwards, we all agreed it would be a great sunset location. We are trying to find a good weekend evening where everything (availability, lighting, cloud cover) aligns.

A Few Comments from the Shoot:

  • Scout out the location if it is a specific event. Even if you are traveling, check out some places first. Google maps is an awesome tool for that.
  • Check the settings of your past good images, it helps a lot. Also check out other photographer’s images and their settings.
  • If it is an event you are shooting, get there early. Look around because things change once you get there.
  • Seasons can be a key factor. Some of these shots work best because of the ice in the foreground. The city shots would not be as dramatic if it wasn’t for the ice.
  • When taking images of fireworks, wind direction is very important.
  • Best few pictures during fireworks are the first shots since the smoke hasn’t really started to overwhelm.
  • Location can be so important. Keep checking new places to shoot something from.
  • I really have to get a faster lens (f/1.4) to see how that affects the fireworks images.
  • Need a wired remote that I can press with gloves on.

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