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Photograph Fireworks Tips

Capturing Fireworks

From Josh Anon/ DPA instructor in San Francisco To view more of his images please visit I am a big believer in pre-visualizing photos and then executing them.  Even if your pre-visualization isn’t perfect, it gives you purpose and lets you actively plan for a shot instead of reacting to what’s around you.  In this case, I knew that for the fourth of July, San Francisco would have a big fireworks show downtown, and the forecast was (unusually) fog-free.  That meant I had a chance to create a unique image of San Francisco, with the Golden Gate Bridge (the most distinctive icon that immediately screams “San Francisco” to a viewer) and fireworks.  I knew of a good spot in the Marin headlands and arrived hours in advance, expecting a crowd and wanting a parking spot.  A lot of photography involves patience!  I framed this shot up before the fireworks started balancing where the bridge is and where I roughly estimated the fireworks would be, based on what I saw in the paper.  To shoot, I put my camera in bulb mode, held a piece of cardboard in front of the lens between fireworks bursts, and exposed each image for 2-3 firework bursts.  While the fireworks are a tad over-exposed, I still like the shot because of how the intense brightness and shapes from the falling embers contrasts with the darkness in the rest of the frame, just like when you see fireworks with your naked eye. Canon EOS 1Ds with Canon EF 16-35 f/2.8L at 35mm on a tripod.  f/5.6, 8 sec, ISO 200.  

Editing a portfolio for web site, slideshow, or presentation to a client or gallery

Digital Photo Academy and LivinginHD present a free monthly series of photography webinars on Your host, John Bentham answers many questions live during the webinars. Additional questions, answers and tips are posted here on where you can also view the archived webinars. Often in any shooting situation you will shoot 5-10 images of the same subject, maybe cover shots from different angles or a mix of horizontal, vertical or both. How do you know which is the best shot from that sequence? Which one do you present in your portfolio, or enlarge to display on your wall. Which of the 10 do you post on your website or blog? These are questions professional photographers deal with on a daily basis. As you get more involved in photography you will encounter these issues more and more. Prior to now ubiquitous digital cameras, a photographer might only shoot 2 or 3 frames of a scene, there being concerns about film costs. With digital its very common for a photographer to shoot the hell out of it and decide later. Not necessarily the worst idea considering you can take more time and care editing on a big screen when you have more time and a cup of coffee beside you. We have the ability to enlarge images on a computer screen to zoom in on areas, check for focus or details in the scene. Which is not to say you shouldn’t take care when composing images and strive to get it right in the camera. Using post production imaging as a crutch will not make you a better photographer, simply reward you with more time in front of the computer. But there are times when you need to make a choice between a few images. If you’ve got 5 good shots of foliage and you decide to post all five on your web site you are diluting the poignancy and potency of that one unique image. Photo by Steve Dunwell, DPA Photographer Boston A great shot of fireworks showing a slow shutter speed tripod exposure. By utilizing a 6 second shutter speed and fixing the camera on a tripod Steve was able to record multiple bursts of fireworks and the long trails of the falling sparks, a great technique and a great image. Timothy Findley, a best selling Canadian author I photographed a number of years ago, described one facet of his editing process as - Killing off all your little darlings. When editing drafts of his novels he knew there were scenes or sentences he loved they didn’t really fit. Perhaps they were not necessary for the novel to flow, or in fact interrupted the pacing. He often anguished and deliberated the necessity of editing these out, and mourned the loss of a phrase ... But ultimately knew it had to go, to strengthen the novel as a whole. This is what made him a great writer. He would bank these passages or phrases in the hopes of one day using them in another project or novel. As a photographer you can do the same. If a photo doesn′t quite work you often have the opportunity to re-shoot at another time. Take the time to expand these ideas, with better or additional planning, research or luck. This will often make the difference between the success or failure of a photo. Fig 1 Photo by David Sanders, DPA Instructor, Tucson The following two fireworks images by Tucson DPA photographer David Sanders show a similar yet unique approach to Steve Dunwells above. David has also used a long shutter speed to record the long trailing sparks but concentrated on isolating specific bursts against a black sky and adding design and compositional elements such as the neon lit building in Fig 1 and the spectators in Fig 2. Both Steve and David producing amazing images with slightly different outlooks, proof of an individual style. The same applies when editing your photos. Many times when students ask me to review their portfolios I am looking at a portfolio of 50 images. Its often difficult to see the 10 winners mixed in among the other forty. With editing photographs a Less is More approach should apply. You are always in a stronger position presenting a smaller, tighter more concise and precise portfolio of fewer images than presenting a glut. If you have difficulty deciding which are the best shots yourself, enlist some help. Someone less emotional, sentimental or less attached to a subject can be a better judge of quality, especially if the photographic subject is personal to the photographer. Fig 2 Photo by David Sanders, DPA Instructor, Tucson Much like author Timothy Findley, a photographer is often faced with pruning down a collection of images to a select few. Once you’ve edited down to the gems only then should you invest post production time making those few images the best they can be prior to presentation. Any gallery curator would rather look at 10 great images, tweaked to perfection, than 25 images that dilute the mix. Once you’ve decided on the best 10 you spend extra time with Photoshop and NIK software to bring out those subtle details and really make the images pop. If that same curator is impressed with your five shots they’ll ask to see more. As they say you only get one chance to make a first impression and very often you only have only one shot at certain opportunities. Show only your best photographs, don’t water down the cream. Portfolio Reviews: There are a number of portfolio reviews, the cost of which ranges between Free and $300. See the following links: DPA Portfolio Reviews:  A portion of DPA advanced classes is devoted to student portfolio reviews and DPA advanced classes wrap up with a critique of the students photos shot during the class. On request DPA can arrange one-on-one portfolio reviews of your work with a DPA photographer. Availability and cost varies by location and photographer. Powerhouse Portfolio Reviews: ICP (International Center of Photography: Free Port reviews for members: Members Day School at ICP,  a great opportunities for Members to take a complimentary workshop and receive a portfolio review—all for free. Wordpress: ART Directors Club of NY, Portfolio Review: ADC student review: SOHO Photo Gallery: Photo Lucida: The Met: Metropolitan Museum Prints and Photography Department

Being Creative with Light Trails

While it is strongly recommended to shoot fireworks using a tripod, there are some instances when it may not make too much difference.  Such as on the case of a tripod on a boat!  The classic curves normally found in fireworks are almost always shot from a static camera on tripod, but when the  camera or photographer is moving, some interesting results can occur.  Jagged streaks of light and unpredictable trails of light can also create some interesting images.  Especially if you used a boat to get closer to the fireworks.  With a little practice, you can begin to paint with light inside the camera!

Metering for Fireworks

4th of July celebrations are always fun to photograph, especially the fireworks. But how do you take a meter reading of fireworks? They don’t hang around long enough. Although they look tricky, fireworks actually expose themselves. With your camera mounted on a tripod, set your ISO to 100 and your aperture at f5.6. All you have to do is keep your shutter open long enough to capture two to four fireworks bursts. You can use a bulb setting or set the shutter speed at five to ten seconds.  The fireworks will take care of the rest. If you leave the shutter open too long, multiple bursts will stack up on top of each other, overexposing the shot. © 2007 Chuck Place, Los Angeles DPA Instructor This particular image was produced in St. Augustine, Florida. I used part of the old Castillo de San Marcos and some palm trees to give the image a sense of place. I metered the fort, which was lit with artificial light, picking an exposure of f5.6, to expose the fireworks, and a shutter speed of five seconds, to expose the fort properly. Each exposure gave me different groupings of fireworks with the same properly exposed fort in the foreground. I just picked the best group of explosions.

A Trick for Shooting Fireworks

Yes, it may seem simple enough, all you have to remember to do is " take the lens cap off".  But Wait, maybe you don′t want it to be so simple. Imagine what you can achieve if you′re willing to shake things up a bit. Try this: With your camera on a tripod and the shutter set to B for bulb,  you can easily obtain multiple exposures of fireworks. First, hit the shutter.  The shutter will open...but with a lens cap on, no light will enter the camera. Then, as you hear the dull thud of the launcher and see the streaking fuse heading to the heights, you can pretty well judge when a big burst will happen. So, just before that explosion of shape and color, and with that shutter still open (on bulb), remove the lens cap and capture just the climax of the  pyrotechnic.  Then, cover the lens and wait for the next launch, repeating the process until the entire field of the photo is filled.  Obviously, some experimentation will be required, but you′ll have a blast with this one, cobbling together an unending variety of color, motion and dazling sparkles. And don′t forget that you have the option to point the camera at different areas of the sky. © 2007 Frank Siteman, Boston DPA Instructor

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