Useful Tips : Photographing Fireworks and Getting a Result

Happy New Year everyone! This is going to be a quick post about photographing fireworks, and making the best of what you get. It also includes some tips for people who just want to go to bed early.

Tip #1 – Arrive early. In most places, there will be a lot of competition for places to view and photograph the fireworks. If the fireworks are starting “when it gets dark enough”, like the 4th of July in the USA, you want to arrive about 2-3 hours before dark and set up. If it is at midnight, like New Years Eve, you want to be in place at least 3 hours ahead of time, depending on how popular the spot is.

However, if you are photographing from a place you own or rent, you are fine. I like to use my apartment window because #1 – I can set up during the daylight, and #2 – January is cold, and I want to sip my champagne in peace.

Tip #2 – Fireworks are a big light source. This light will bounce around and can create reflections or illuminate things you don’t want seen. If you are shooting through a window, the fireworks can light up your room and cause reflections in the glass. Use a black cloth to eliminate this reflection as much as possible. I like to tape the cloth around the lens and to the glass, if possible. If you don’t have something that is black, use the darkest color available.

Tip #3 – Find your settings early. My go-to is iso200, F/8, 3 seconds. I like 3 second exposures.

Tip #4 – If you can leave your camera, use a self timer. I prefer to use the internal timer when possible (my D800 and D750 both have internal self timers). My older cameras do not. So I set the camera to iso200, F/8, 3 seconds, and set the self timer to start a 35 minute exposure starting at about 11:55 and ending around 12:30. The camera thinks the shutter is being held down and takes back-to-back 3 second exposures, and I get to enjoy the fireworks or sleep. In general, I like my self timers for purposes like this (they also work great with sunsets when you want to photograph them and watch them – this lets you enjoy the event with your significant other). Self timers are also great when you can set things up early, then enjoy some adult beverages which may otherwise prevent you from taking the images.

Tip #5 – If you are trying to take the lazy aproach, be prepared to work with what you get.

Expanding on Tip #5, 2 years ago I set everything up on a self timer, taped a dark cloth to the window, and went to bed. When I woke up, I had about 300 photos, only 100 of which had fireworks. But, the tape I was using didn’t hold, so the 100 fireworks images all looked like this.

Crap.

While it was disappointing, the right half of the image turned out, so there was hope. Since I knew that the D800 has a crazy high resolution, and I can make big prints from even a vertical crop of a horizontal image, I did just that.

This cropping was able to save my image

I like the results. Especially considering the non-ideal situation that caused these to be my only options. I am setting up one of my cameras for the fireworks this year to try to get something similar.

As I write this, there is about 9 hours remaining in the year. I’m going to spend the next few hours getting 3-4 cameras set up and ready, then probably sit down for a relaxing day. Once the cameras are set up, I’ll make a post on Instagram with what the setup looks like.

Happy New Year! And best of luck in 2017.

-Brad

Experiments with Time : Seattle Timelapse, What I Learned

Hello Everyone.

This past weekend, I came up with an idea for an experiment with time.  I was sitting in my apartment, watching storms pass by, thinking to myself “it would be really neat to make a timelapse of these passing storms”.  But the storms came and went over two days.  So I began to think about how you could actually capture something that lasts that long.

After thinking about it for a day, I came up with an idea – a full 24 hour timelapse.  Somehow, I would have a camera take photos for 24 hours.

My first thought was to have 24 hours in 24 seconds.  Since I live in the USA and we use 30 frames per second on our TVs, shrinking 60 minutes to 30 frames means 1 frame every 2 minutes.  After thinking about this longer, I decided this was a lot of work for under 30 seconds of video, so I decided to go with 40 frames per hour, or 1 every 90 seconds.  This works out to 960 photos in 24 hours.  I ended up going with 1000 photos over 25 hours as a ‘just in case’ precaution.

After more thoughts, I decided to go from midnight to midnight.

So, with a concept created, I got ready.  I cleared out my memory cards, set up my tripod in my windows, then set up the camera.  I decided to use my D750 because my D800 is testing out a new tripod, and my 24-70 f/2.8 lens.  My initial thoughts were that the D750 would be better because the low light capabilities are better (turned out this didn’t matter) and because the files are smaller (this DID make my life easier).

For the camera setup, I had to shoot through a window.  So, I added my C-PL to the front of the lens to eliminate as much of a reflection as possible, then used masking tape to hold a dark blue hand towel to the window to prevent as much reflections as possible.  The towel was taped to the window, camera, and tripod.  Because I would be asleep and unable to make changes, I selected f/9 and iso400 in Aperture priority mode.  The D750 has a min shutter speed of 1/4000th of a second and a max shutter speed of 30 seconds.  Back of the napkin math said this would probably be fine.  For the metering point, I picked the only white object in the scene — the Space Needle.  This would also allow the auto white balance to correctly handle the transition from night to day.

And so, on March 7th, 2016, I set up my camera with a timer set to start at midnight, and went to bed.

I woke up at around 7:15 and checked the camera.  Oops, battery is running low, glad I looked.  One more battery change at 6pm was required.  The last battery charge lasted from 6pm to 1am and still had about 40% remaining in the morning.

I am very happy with the results of this test.  Due to a limitation of iMovie, each image ended up lasting 0.13 seconds in the final result, and each hour is around 5.3 seconds.

The first mistake I realized I made was when I first looked at the images.  I always shoot in RAW format.  But now, I needed to convert the images to JPEG.  The conversion took 6 hours.  Next time, I’ll either shoot in RAW+JPEG or JPEG only.  The reason I would use RAW+JPEG is because there is a chance some of the images are good enough to become standalone images.

The next change I would make for the next attempt is to have more images.  I find the resulting video to be quite nice, but, I wish it was longer.  I would probably change to 1 image every 60 seconds and potentially try to go for 2 days.  But, this would require more battery changes, potentially 3 overnight, and probably an external power supply.  There is also less time to change a battery during the night, when the exposures can get to 20 or more seconds.  During the day, when the exposures were 1/400th of a second, there is a lot of extra time for a battery swap.

The final change would be in the framing of the image.  I made the mistake of handling the framing after dark on viewfinder that doesn’t cover 100% of the image.

I would also like to make the resulting video better and more professional.  Right now, this is a rough draft video that was produced quickly to see how well it turned out.  Now that I know how it turned out, I’ll spend some more time on the video, which is something I am not very good at.  Because I started with 24 MPix files, I could finalize the video at 4K, but likely will keep it at HD only.

While I certainly wish I could get lucky and predict when a fantastic sunset will happen (as I look out my window tonight, the sunset is nicer than when I ran the test), this is one of those ‘luck’ things, which is difficult to predict 1-2 days in advance.

-M

After The Violence in Paris

Paris is a great city. One of the first foreign cities I ever visited, and the first foreign city I ever visited without my parents present (1997). Paris is one of the few foreign cities I have been to multiple times (3 to be exact, 1997 x2, 2004).

The events of this past weekend are heartbreaking. I do not know why, but, to me, it feels a lot like the attacks on the USA on 9/11/01. Je suis Parisien. J’adore Paris. #prayforparis

This photo is of one of the tributes that my current city has for one of my favorite cities. I may live in Seattle, but right now, I’m a Citizen of Paris.

I am happy that the city I live in has done this, and I fully support this action.

I am aware that other city landmarks have done similar things. This is a good thing.

I hope and pray, but do not expect, that this is the last time such a gesture is required.

-M