How to Shoot Fireworks

It’s either the 4th of July or Cape is being invaded. The economy might be shaky, but you wouldn’t know it by the amount of money being blasted into the sky all around us.

I spent most of Monday in Cairo with a production company that is doing a documentary on the town. They had seen my photos of Cairo, wanted to use some of them and wanted to interview me roaming around town shooting more pictures. Nice folks. I’ll post some stuff later, but I don’t have time to do it tonight. This is the last Fourth of July photo I’m going to run until next year, I promise.

Photo tips for shooting fireworks

My fancy Nikon strobe needed new batteries and I was too lazy to go in the house to get new ones, so I put the Nikon  D40 in full auto mode so it would use its built-in flash for this photo. The little flash did a pretty good job of lighting Mother. The color balance isn’t bad and the short blast of light stopped the action and produced a reasonably sharp photo.

DULL and sharp

And, that’s the problem. It’s DULL and sharp.

The photo at the top of page is technically flawed because I wasn’t using a flash that offered more controls, but it’s a good start. Here’s how I shot it and why.

  • I turned the dial from Full Auto to a Shutter Priority. I wanted the shutter to stay open for a longer time so it would capture the sparks, flames and streaks made while she was waving the No. 36 Morning Glory around in the air.
  • I set the shutter for five seconds. That was long enough to record the light trails, but not so long that Mother would go too blurry, so long as I
  • Allowed the flash to go off as soon as the shutter opened. That provided the light to illuminate her and it “froze” most of her movement. The Morning Glories gave enough light that you can see some slight ghosting around her hands.
  • I dropped the color saturation just a bit to take some of the redness out. With a little more work in Photoshop, the color balance could have been improved, but it’s been a long day with lots of walking in either rain or a under a hot sun..

She SAID it was an accident

I was standing in the front yard wearing a pair of sandals when Mother gave her Morning Glory a particularly vigorous shake, more like a whip. The flaming, sparking, cracking tip went flying off, aimed directly at my bare toes. Only quick reflexes and dance steps I never did before saved me from having toasty toes and a trip to the emergency room.

She says it was an accident, but I’m wondering if that’s not a subtle hint that it’s time for me to think about heading back to Florida.

8 Replies to “How to Shoot Fireworks”

  1. Sorry about your near “accident.” We had a similar occurrence when my sister was around 12 and I was 6. Daddy was sitting on the front porch steps lighting sparklers for us and he turned to hand one to my sister. He didn’t realize she had turned and was walking up the steps and he plastered the sparkler across the back of her calf. Ouch! Your mother has such fun. I hope I’m as spry as she is when I turn 70!

  2. Any body but me ever step on a hot sparler wire when they were bare footed? Ah, 4th of July memories.

  3. I’ve been enjoying your mini photo lessons lately; was wondering what camera you use and now the mystery is solved. What did you use in the film days?

    1. My first camera was a Kodak Tourist II folding camera that took 620 roll film. I graduated to an Argus Autronic 35 and used a 4×5 Crown Graphic in high school.

      I shot Honeywell Pentaxes until I moved to Ohio and picked up a used Nikon F with 35mm, 50mm and 105mm lenses.

      After that, I was a Nikon user with about every camera body they made from the 60s to the 80s. I had two Nikonos underwater bodies that I carried for hurricanes and bad weather. My lenses ranged from a 16mm fisheye to a 500mm mirror telephoto.

      My day-to-day shooting was done with a motorized F and a couple of plain F bodies. Unless I was shooting sports or something that needed longer glass, I normally shot with a 24mm, 105 and 180 on the three bodies.

      Two of the three cameras would be loaded with whatever film was most appropriate for the task. It might be two bodies with 400 ASA Tri-X black and white and one with 200 ASA Fujichrome color slide film. Or two with an extremely high-speed B&W film and one with Tri-X. If it was an outdoor color assignment, then two bodies would have color and the third B&W.

      The three-body combination meant that I didn’t have to switch lenses often; I could grab another camera faster than changing lenses.

      It also meant that I could shoot an “insurance” shot on a second body in case there was a mechanical malfunction on the primary. It also gave me the ability to have the film processed in different batches to eliminate a chance something went wrong in the lab.

      I worked with a few photographers who used Canons. In fact, some of my best friends were Canon-users. I just wouldn’t want my brother to marry one.

  4. I have the same problem with my speedlight 800 it is a batteryhog. I used F2,F3 FM2 and 20 2.8 351.4 85 1.8 and a 105 2.5. I don’t know about you but I miss Tri-x 400 and Ektachrome 200 images. the F2 is still my favorite camera. and the FM2 isa close second.

    1. I can’t complain about battery life on my strobe. It’s just that I hate to use flash, so it’s been a long time since I checked the batteries.

      As much as I like to wax nostalgic (I’m thinking of naming my bike Nostagic. “Where you going?” “Out to wax nostalgic”) and lament for the Good Ole Days, I can’t say that I miss film.

      I can shoot color photos with a digital camera under light levels that would have been difficult if not impossible with silver film.

      One of my earliest posts addressed that in a comparison of photos I took of Central High School at night,/a> in 1964 and recently.

  5. Hello, I enjoyed this page and I enjoy the photo’s on it. If you have not seen the new Heart/Cancer center at Saint Francis you should. It is facinating? The highest in new technology and patient comfort features.

    1. Mother had some tests run at Southeast a week or so ago. I was impressed with how friendly the staff was. I try to avoid hospitals as much as possible. I’m still digging through boxes to find photos I shot of the old St. Francis just before it was torn down.

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