Friday, July 3, 2009

Difficult-to-Capture Photographs

Tomorrow is our Independence Day, and in the news last night there was a story about one of the original Declaration of Independence documents being found in an old storage area in Great Britain! They actually think it might be the one originally sent to the King from the colonists, stating their intention to be independent. History is so very interesting, though the United States is very young compared with most of the world.

Fireworks are one of the ways we celebrate, and other parts of the world also use this method to sing out. But they are very difficult to capture, aren't they? I have looked back in my archives but don't find any digital images I can quickly draw on from past Independence Day celebrations, though I did find a couple which might cause you to chuckle. Fireworks aren't only for Independence Day celebrations!
When the last Harry Potter book was released, I was writing for a regional publication. I was happy to be covering the Harry Potter party at our local bookshoppe, and stayed up until the midnight release. (Yes, my own copy was in the pile of books ready to be distributed.)

The fireworks display was really part of another celebration going on at our fairgrounds, but the timing was extraordinary. These shots were captured on-the-fly, as I didn't know there were even going to be fireworks that night. I have not followed the "rules," but was able to capture a couple of images which remind me of the event, and helped illustrate the article I was writing.

So, what ARE the rules? There are few, actually, and your ability to capture fireworks images is dependent on the type of camera you have, your location in relation to the fireworks, and your ability to have a steady platform on which to rest your camera.

As you can see from the images above, I had no platform. I used my SLR camera, stepped out on the street, and leaned on a lampost in order to get the steadiest images I could. They're blurry, but they worked for me at the time. Because I decided to use them for my Harry Potter article, the fact that they're blurry almost works to my advantage - giving a little magical "pop" to the atmosphere.

A tripod is the obvious answer, but if you don't have one you can use a fence post, railing, wall, and even the hood of the car (if it's off:)). If you have a cable release (a method to trip the shutter without pushing the button), that's even better. The less vibration you cause your camera the better your focus point will be.

Flash won't help you, though if you want to capture something in the foreground then you might want a little flash. Have you ever seen a crowd at a concert or sporting event, and noticed all the flashes going off? The only thing that flash is picking up is the back of someone's head. They're just not designed to reach much further.

I have found an excellent link for your reference, from the New York Institute of Photography web site. This is a great distance-learning photography program which both my husband and I have taken. Browse their web site for more information.

The link will take you to a main page which introduces taking Independence Day Fireworks, and if you skim the page you'll see links to three articles: 1) How to Photograph Fireworks: Or Have Fun on the 4th of July; 2) Shooting Fireworks with a Digital Point-and-Shoot; and 3) Photographing Fireworks in Your Backyard. This last article talks about the fun things you can do using sparklers and other light sources.

A lot of it is trial and error. The more photos you take, the better your chances of getting a few you really like. One of my favorite methods is to set my camera to "bulb," which allows me to keep the shutter open. I capture a firework going off, then cover the lens of the camera with cardboard, or a hat, or even my hand, until the next firework goes off. Then I remove the cover and another firework is captured on the same frame as the first. It's a bit like trying to capture part of the finale, but earlier in the program. There's usually less smoke earlier on, and I generally get clearer images. Again...trial and error. I'll do this a few times, then take a few single shots, then maybe go back and take some more multiple images. If you noticed, I used "generally," and "usually" in this article. There are no hard-and-fast rules.

Have fun. And learn something new:). Read the articles for tips on composition. For instance, shooting a vertical image makes more sense than a horizontal, most of the time.

Post some fireworks pictures next week and we'll share ideas. If you don't take any this weekend, do you have some in your archive you can dust off? I need to look back at my slides, apparently!

Happy Independence Day, have a great weekend, and I'll look forward to seeing your images next week!


Jen said...

Oh, I am so glad you posted this. My husband is going to do a little firework show in our driveway, so I am off to try to get some good images!


Char said...

I want to try - I don't know if I will be close enough tomorrow. I'll take the tripod just in case though

Sandy K. said...

Good luck:). Just have fun.

georgia b. said...

i absolutely love these images!