July 4 FireworksNiagara Falls, 2006 It has been a long while since I photographed any fireworks. My most memorable ones from the past were at Niagara Falls where I aimed for perfection with a combined landscape below and fireworks above, a wide-angle lens, my camera firmly on a tripod, remote release, and probably several other things to try to come up with the best possible landscape photo featuring fireworks. I wanted to stay vague here saying that it has been a long while. It has been indeed but instead of staying vague I bothered looking that set of photographs up and it was in 2006, very early in my photographic journey! I really got heavily into photography in 2005 so that was only about a year in. However, that is a whole different topic.
What I was getting at here was that I have not really photographed fireworks since. I am just not into them, they seem like a monster waste of money, and they create a lot of mess on the ground and in the air. Especially with the 2023 wildfires in Canada and a frequent bad air quality it felt even weirder this year to do all of this.
July 4 Fireworks, Two Bursts, Orchard Park, New York
However, since we went to see the July 4 parade in Orchard Park, NY I stayed for the fireworks too. And since I had the camera with me why not use it, right? I had a 50mm lens mounted and thus my photography was limited to the bursts alone without any foreground or ground level reference point. I have always felt that was a problem because the fireworks could have been anywhere without any recognizable foreground features.
July 4 Fireworks, Ghosts, Orchard Park, New York
Maybe the lack of context encouraged me to think of other ways to be more creative rather than mechanically repeating what I did 17 years earlier (wow, that sounds so much worse than saying 2006). I decided to do these long exposures handheld. Why not, I thought. Since I had no stationary objects in my frame, the fireworks were moving objects anyway, and the background was almost black, why would there be a need for perfect stability? Sure, 10 - 20 seconds is quite a long time but why not?
July 4 Fireworks, Handheld Abstract, Orchard Park, New York
I had the Nikon D610 DSLR with me and during long exposures the mirror is lifted and one can't see anything through the viewfinder. Therefore, I used a trick often used with other optical instruments and kept both of my eyes open. I started by tracking the fireworks through the viewfinder and when it burst open, I'd initiate the long exposure and continue hunting for and tracking additional fireworks with my left eye, trying to move the camera along hoping it would somewhat point at what my left eye was seeing.
July 4 Fireworks, Squiggly, Orchard Park, New York
Initially, I tried to keep my hands steady following one, two, or three different fireworks. As time went on, I went crazier. I explored what would happen if I moved my hands up and down, left and right, or even turning the camera clockwise and back. I also tried going out of focus and back into focus during some exposures. The LCD confirmed that whatever I was doing was translating into the photographs, which encouraged me even more.
July 4 Fireworks, Rain, Orchard Park, New York
From an exposure point of view, things were really easy this evening. Not including any foreground and having the almost black sky for a backdrop, I only needed to record and not overexpose the fireworks. Shutter speed had minimal impact on the exposure as the fireworks move and the source of light does not stay long enough in one spot for the exposure time to matter. Instead, the shutter speed only controlled how many different bursts I could catch in a single exposure. I found a sweet spot around 15 seconds which allowed for 2 - 3 bursts. Any longer and the result was too chaotic and less would mean single bursts only. To get the fireworks bright but not overexposed I had to work the aperture. I found that between F/16 and f/11 worked well this evening. That also provided enough depth of field for the infinity focus of the 50mm lens.
Conclusion? This was simple and a lot of fun! The results can vary from quite steady with predictable fireworks light trails to a complete mess of lines and anywhere in between.
Enjoy the beauty that surrounds you! (#etbtsy)