I photographed more than one subject on July 4th, 2019. That was a normal 4th of July: festivals, parades, car shows, and fireworks. No worries about COVID-19. I had no idea where we would be today when I chose to save these photos and post them in July 2020. Since some cities are cancelling fireworks shows this year, I’m glad I saved these photos for today.
Photographing fireworks is not seen as serious photography, but it comes with its own set of challenges. To begin with, you are working in the blind. You can’t really see what you are capturing. The subject is there one moment and gone the next. It’s a long exposure, requiring a tripod. Usually, I focus on the first blasts. I’ve read to focus at infinity, but that doesn’t seem to work. I also ignore the recommendation to include a building or other landmark for sense of place. This is mostly because the best fireworks show in my area for good looking buildings is in a part of town I don’t feel safe in, particularly after dark. I forsake the city and trudge along the cornfields to the athletic field of a small town high school. The roads are lined with trucks full of families, and the ditches are thick with mosquitoes. But I can get close and get a clear view. Sometimes, I decide I need to back up a bit after the first bursts go off. I stand with my camera on my tripod and work as the blasts light up the sky and the sound waves resonate around me and through me. For me, a fireworks show is an active event, not a passive one. I am caught up in it, seeing it, feeling it, and capturing it.
Digital is a big help with fireworks. I can see if I’m on the right track with exposure. I used to always start my exposure when I heard the launch. I’d read to do that somewhere. The problem is, a long exposure captures the event much differently than we see it live. The fireworks end up looking like flowers with long stems.
It’s a cool effect sometimes, but it doesn’t really look like fireworks the way we see them in real time. So I started waiting longer and trying to time them closer to the actual explosion. There’s also the problem of the light trails. To they eye, fireworks are little specks and dashes of light. But again, the exposure to capture the whole thing unfolding makes them look like continuous lines. So I started trying to time it so I didn’t have the full duration of some of the fireworks to get a little more sparkle. The loud little gold ones could be helpful with this, but they also make a lot of smoke. The smoke illuminated by the blasts does not look pretty.
Practice, luck, and some editing for contrast and saturation. And I crop. As you can see, I chose to abandon normal aspect ratios for many of these. Fireworks photos are pretty abstract sometimes. Find the flowers, the trees, the space jellyfish, etc. Imagine. Have fun. In the two below, I see a flowering cactus (I admit I rotated it) and an ornamental tree. What’s a celebration for if you can’t have fun with it?
I know things are different this year, but I hope you are able to have a safe and happy holiday anyway. You made it a little more than halfway through 2020, and that itself is worth celebrating, even if you aren’t an American observing our Independence Day.
I just barely squished a trip to the fireworks into my 4th of July weekend. Since it was quite possible that my schedule for the next month or more would be tighter than usual, I decided to wait and post them as a regular post rather than a special 4th of July edition that weekend.
When it comes to photographing fireworks, just like many things in life, there is more than one school of thought. The way I originally learned involves very long shutter speeds where the light is entirely in trails. This allows me to have all the colors produced and include several bursts in one shot at the small town show I attend. The other method is to use a much shorter shutter speed and capture a lot of the sparkle we know fireworks for. This makes timing trickier. It also makes it more difficult to get multiple blasts in frame at smaller shows that are more likely to send one up at a time. Personally, I also tend to capture more smoke when I have shorter shots with a higher ISO. But sparkle is part of the fireworks, so this year, I experimented with getting a few of the blasts cut short a bit so I’d have some more.
Next Time: Change and Archive
Well, it’s happening. I’m going to be rather occupied with other matters for the next month. A necessary pain to accomplish a much desired end. I will probably post some archive material that I’ve shot in the past few years and never posted. Who knows, I may even go back to college stuff. Anyway, squirrels will most likely figure in the mix somewhere. Maybe I’ll post my college photo contest finalist shot too.