Fireworks on the Lake - Independence Day 2014

I spent Independence Day this year taking pictures of a fireworks display from the Pennybacker Bridge in Austin with a couple of photographer friends.  This is the second year we've done this.  It's a great location to view the show, although the movement of the bridge and high winds this year made it tough to keep our shots tack sharp.  Considering the conditions, the results are quite good in my humble opinion.

The show was put on by the Austin Country Club.  It was a good long fireworks display that painted some interesting shapes and colors in the Austin night sky.  The water surface of the lake was brilliantly colored by the exploding shells while the drifting boats provided some decorative appointments of light.  Smoke drifted toward us, leaving behind the distinct scent of the burning powders.   I rattled off long exposures of up to 20 seconds and I enjoyed the show while my tripod mounted Fujifilm X-T1 slowly gathered some memorable moments of the display.  Fireworks photography is part skill, part (mostly) luck.  Many frames were captured, few were worthy of preserving.  These are my favorites from the evening.

Fireworks on the Lake - Independence Day 2013

It's been a while since I've taken pictures of a fireworks display.  This Independence Day I had a chance to attend one of the displays in Austin with my photographer friends AndySteven, and Yang.  The show was put on by the Austin Country Club on the lake near the Pennybacker Bridge.  The boats that gather to watch the display make for an excellent foreground for fireworks shots!

We arrived about an hour early and staked our spots with our tripods on the bridge.  I chose to travel light, taking only my Fujifilm X-E1 with a 14mm (21mm equivalent) lens and a tripod.  Because of some issues I was having with my shutter cable release I used the 2 second timer in the camera to fire my exposures.  I got my composition lined up before the show started and locked the tripod down tight.  The exposures were going to be a bit difficult.  I needed to expose for both the fireworks and the lake and landscape.  This would be a great application for bracketed shots for HDR.  However, I chose not to do this for a couple reasons.  Primarily, I wanted to maximize the number of shots I was getting since I had no idea how long the show would last.  The other reason is just plain laziness.  I knew that it would be extremely time consuming to do seamless blending of multiple shots and I just didn't want to take that much time in post processing.

I set my X-E1 to record a raw file and a high resolution JPEG with the Velvia film simulation.  The Fujifilm X series cameras produce great JPEG files and I find that I often use them over the raw file.  For these shots I was sure that I was going to end up using the raw file since the dynamic range was so wide in these scenes.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the JPEG files looked quite good and I felt that I really couldn't improve on the Fujifilm colors.  It only took very minor adjustments of the JPEGs in Lightroom to boost saturation a bit and lighten the foreground slightly to get the look I was after.

My exposures were around 15 seconds for the most part.  I wanted a fairly long exposure to help smooth out the water and allow time for the fireworks to ascend and burst.  It really just takes trial and error to find the sweet spot.  I worked as quickly as I could early in the show to find a good exposure.  As the show progressed I kept a close eye on the brief preview on my LCD and increased ISO and shutter values as needed to keep up with the rapidly darkening sky. Some shots were deliberately kept dark, favoring the fireworks over the landscape. I opened others up to better reveal the environment at the expense of color in the fireworks. It was a challenging environment to capture!

My preference would have been to use the bulb shutter and it was unfortunate that I couldn't get my release cable to work.  It came down to persistence and a bit of luck to get a handful of exposures with enough interesting elements.  I managed to capture a few good variations of the whole scene as well as the differing shapes and colors of the fireworks.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of shooting a fireworks display is the finale.  The rapid fire of mortars makes for a big blown out blob in the sky very quickly.  I have to say that I didn't really come away with anything I was happy with out of the finale.  Maybe next time!  We did stick around after the show though and I caught a few shots of the boats leaving the area.  Long exposures made for some interesting abstract patterns in the water.

This was my first visit to this annual display and I really enjoyed myself.  I'll look forward to attending it again, perhaps from a different vantage point next time.  Happy Independence Day, America!

Shooting Fireworks

Independence Day 2010

No, not shooting off fireworks; that would be illegal in the city! It's best to avoid legal troubles and just enjoy and take shots of the pro shows. I grabbed this shot at the Round Rock Express fireworks display after the game on Independence Day this year. This was my first time shooting fireworks and I was pleased with several of my images. I read up on tips for capturing images of fireworks on several web sites and blogs before heading out to the show. Basically, it boils down to a long shutter speed and a little bit of luck! Here's how I did it.

1. I got as close to the field where they were being shot from as I could. I didn't want any of the stadium or parking lot lights to interfere with the exposures.

2. I used my Canon 10-22mm super wide angle lens. I had no idea how high the fireworks would be in the air so I wanted as big of a coverage area of the sky as I could get. I prefocused the lens to infinity and set it to manual so it wouldn't try to autofocus.

3. My camera was mounted on a tripod (an absolute necessity).

4. I used a corded remote shutter release. You'll want one of those too.

5. The camera was set to manual. ISO was set to 100. Based on recommendations that I found online, I used apertures of f8 and f11. At f8, I got some good shots at 3 second exposures. At f11, I got good results at 4 seconds. This shot is the latter.

It takes some trial and error to figure out what works. I waited until I heard the booms and hit the shutter release. My 3 to 4 second exposures worked well for the fireworks, but everything else is dark. Longer exposures would definitely be needed to capture surrounding details. This is tricky because going too long, particularly with multiple explosions, will result in badly blown out highlights.

Like anything else, it takes practice to figure out what works. I will definitely be taking advantage of the frequent fireworks shows after the baseball games around here to get some practice in for bigger shows.