Bombs Bursting In Air – Punta Gorda, Florida

It’s been a couple of days since the 4th of July and I hope that everyone has the majority of their fingers left! It starting raining hard here about 4:00 p.m. and I was wondering how the turn out was going to be. I had to photograph the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. anyway so I was going to be inside for a while.

I got lucky as the symphony was playing at the Event Center in Punta Gorda, Florida, which happened to be a few hundred feet from where they were going to be shooting off the fireworks. The talent that the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra has is truly amazing. I mean come on; any orchestra that travels with Barry Manilow must know what they are doing. They put on a great show as always. I photographed this the same as I have in the past with my fast 24mm, 50mm and 85mm. Most of these go down to f/1.4. You can check out my “A Night With The Orchestra” post for a more detailed explanation on how I accomplish this type of photography.

After the concert was over, I headed outside with my camera and tripod in tow. People were lining up and it was getting crowded. I found a spot and set up my tripod and camera. I also attached an electronic shutter release to minimize any shake that might happen during the exposures. For a lens choice, I used my 18mm-200mm lens. I wasn’t exactly sure where they were going to be shooting them off from so this lens would give me a decent range no matter where they might be fired from.

The rest of the set up was simple. First, I set my camera to manual focus. I took the focusing ring on the lens and cranked it over to infinity and then backed it up a hair. I have been told that this is the “sweet” focus spot for infinity. Anytime I have set up a shot like this, the image has always been crystal clear. This also keeps the camera from “hunting” in the low light and possibly missing some good shots while the camera is trying to figure it out. I set my camera on manual. Manual is a nice guy; you should talk to him sometime if you don’t know him. For my ISO, I choose 100. I know this is low light, why wouldn’t I want to crank up the ISO? I’m exposing for the fireworks, these are the brightest part of the scene. Think of it as photographing the full moon as it’s lit by daylight. The aperture that I choose was f/8 and a shutter speed of “bulb”. Why f/8? I wanted some depth of field and also, this is going to control how bright, and the saturation of the colors in the flowers that are produced from the shell. Here is the other reason for the electronic cable release; I was using the “bulb” mode on the camera. This meant that I was in control of the shutter speed. Most of the time I will use a predetermined time such as 1/250 of a second when I use my flashes. However, with bulb, the shutter will stay open as long as I’m holding down the button, and will close when I release it. At this point the camera is set.

Here is my reasoning for using bulb rather than say a 2 second exposure. I like tail, more specifically, tails on my fireworks. After talking with other photographers, I have found this to be a controversial subject. Some photographers are hell bent on getting just the flower part of the firework. Then there are those that are like me, I like to see the tail on the flower showing where the shell came from. This is the way that my natural eye saw it, so I like to capture it that way. If you just like the flower, that’s ok, we can still be friends. Here is where the slickness of the electronic release comes in, when I hear the “thump” of the shell, I press and hold the shutter button. When the shell goes up and explodes, it makes the flower. When most of the flower is gone I release the shutter button and the camera is ready for the next exposure. The time for each exposure is different and there is no magic number.

After the first couple of shells are launched, I look at the back of the camera and check to see if the centers are blown out and what the color saturation is. In this case, I wanted more saturation in the color so I stopped the lens down from f/8 to f/11. This gave me the rich color and the centers still had detail. One last adjustment was to see if I needed to zoom the lens in or out to ensure that I got the whole flower in. Once this was set, all there was to do was watch the show and press the button.

Here is another great tip that worked for me, if I wanted multiple flowers in the same frame; I just left the shutter open for another shot or two. When I get a couple in the scene, I closed the shutter.

You will notice in the following photos that there is some dingy material hanging in the sky. This would be the smoke. I was locked in position and I couldn’t move. Being down wind sucked, but some photos are better than no photos. I know that I can go into grand ole’ Photoshop and fix it, but for this, I’m not going to make the effort. To help counteract this in post, I did take the photo in Camera RAW and moved up the black slider and make a curves adjustment with the Tone tab. This helped eliminate some of it in a snap. Here’s the tip, when scouting the location to set up, make sure that you are upwind of where they will be fired from and the smoke won’t be in your photos.

 I really like this one; I know that the edges are cut off. This was one of the first ones that went off. I’ll call this mistake “Photographer’s Art” and charge a lot of money for it!

I hope that you and your family had a great 4th. The next time that you go somewhere where they have fireworks, try these techniques and they will help make your trip memorable.

Until next time…

Keep Your Glass Clean


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