Saturday, July 8, 2017

My Mediocre Fireworks photos!

I've photographed galaxies a hundred million light years away. I've shot moths that pollinate flowers IN PITCH BLACK NIGHT. I've shot planets thru a telescope that has an observatory as a pretty background. But evidently I'm incapable of shooting a decent image of a fireworks display! Co-worker Steve set the bar pretty high and did a lot of the preliminary work, taking a spectacular fireworks image 2 years ago. He told me all the hints he could but warned me that to get a background of Tucson's skyline (at least what there is of it), you had to expose a long time, risking way overexposing the fireworks. But I figured it was worth a try so even though the night before leaving for the Midwest, I went chasing fireworks!

I used the same venue he did - the top level of the parking ramp next to Parking and Transportation on 6th street on the south edge of UA campus. Even an hour ahead found cars claiming prime spots - it looks like it was gonna be a party! I set up camera and tripod and used my trusty 70-200 zoom lens. Steve used 70mm, and I figured with the full-size sensor of the 6D that I'd need something closer to 100-120, so the zoom was a great choice. My first shots, that still showed some twilight glow, showed that to get a properly exposed skyline, at least 10 to 15 seconds was needed. You can see at far left some of the "wildcat" fireworks in the neighborhoods showed up nice on this exposure.

But at right, the problem can be seen! The Tucson display was held far after it got dark, not starting till about 9:15. This shot shows that even in the 4 second exposure, the fireworks were so bright that they are very overexposed and colors are blown out. I was able to stretch some of the skyline back, but you can't do much with the overexposed fireworks...

I did luck out and get some shots that were ALMOST acceptable. At left is another 4 second shot that captured some of the dimmer shots that didn't overexpose the sensor, yet, I was able to bring up the skyline a little.

At right is a 10 second exposure that again, did well on the cityscape, but the fireworks were again on the verge of being overexposed again... It is a very narrow line to balance background with the points of interest, but that is the goal! My buddy Ken who runs a "Picture a day" blog not only got a great shot, but ran it on the 4th of July! A former newspaper photographer, he is used to running on deadlines!

The party did develop! I ran into some very nice people there, mostly young student-types, some with kids. Some were interested in what I was capturing and were amazed at what a few seconds exposure would show - things they couldn't see with their eyes... The photo at left is a hand-held exposure with my spare camera showing some of the cars at a lower level watching the distant show.

You will note in almost all the shots above that the fireworks ignited a blaze on the lower slopes of "A Mountain" from where they were shot off. In fact, most refer to the local fireworks as the "traditional lighting of A Mountain! After the display ended, many stayed to watch the blaze grow before being extinguished. At right is a shot thru the longest focal length of the zoom (200mm). It was impressive to us and we couldn't even see the fire directly from our location!

So I'm not sure I'm gonna try this again anytime soon. It is too hard to get good results. Maybe I'm getting lazy in my old age, but you would think if you take 85 photos, you would have one or two "keepers" of which I don't feel I did. Back to photographing invisible things...

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