Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2014 Fireworks

Well my first project for 2014 was to photograph fireworks. This is my first attempt at capturing still images of fireworks and I learned quite a few little lessons which may be helpful to other novices out there :D

Firstly I had arranged to go in a group, we would leave early to get the best position for both the fireworks and the New Year festivities. There were to be children in the group so we would need to cater to their needs first and so we felt it was necessary to allow the guardians of the children to have the final say on departure times and itinerary. In hind site this was my first error as changes to timeline and miscommunication caused an exceptionally late start for Ronnie (my Bonnie wife) and I as the group failed to eventuate and the best (in fact all worthy) vantage points had been taken. My advice to avoid disappointment, is to be sure that you remain in control and set solid guidelines and timelines.

Since the primary location positions had been taken we opted for our secondary location and made the assumption that the fireworks display would be similar to another major event called "River Fire", this was our second mistake, don't assume anything - research the event and make informed decisions. As it happens there were only fireworks at the primary location which was on the other side of the city and not visible to us. 

We did salvage the disaster by catching some awesome city nightscape images like this one:

Camera; Sony a99 - Lens; 22mm f/2.8 (Sony Wide Angle) - Settings; ISO200 - f/22 - 181.0 sec
There were to be two fireworks displays, one (about 40% of the payload) at 20h30 for the children and the other at midnight (about 60% of the payload). Upon realising that we were not going to get good captures at the earlier event we decided to join friends at Scarborough Beach where there would also be a fireworks display, albeit smaller. We were improvising on the fly and hoping for the best as we dashed off to catch a train back to our car.

After a quick pitstop at home to grab extra glasses and bubbly we headed to the beach. I had read something about the fireworks display being on a barge 50-100 meters out on the bay... I thought, the third mistake.

On arrival at the Scarborough Beach event, it was raining but easing so we went ahead and took up with our friends, it was getting late so I took a few extended exposure captures and got ready for the midnight event and setup facing into the bay (the night was as black as the proverbial hell). Note everyone appeared to be facing that way so they were not following my lead, but rather I was following theirs (my excuse and I'm sticking to it.)

Countdown and "bang" off went the first fireworks... I could hear them but they were not in front of me as expected... what the?? The fireworks were to my left down the other end of the beach... well what a comical tangle I got myself into, trying to reposition my tripod and camera hastily - out the window went my plans to start with a high ISO and wide aperture with about a 10 second exposure and systematically alter the settings until I found what would suit me best... I lost my composure for a moment and was all over the place.

The lesson from this was to make sure that you know where the action will take place well ahead of time. See 15 Tips for Successful Fireworks Photography to get an understanding and starting point so that you don't fall into the same trap that I did.

As I said earlier, we were able to salvage what could have been a disaster thanks mainly to the fact that I shoot in RAW (the data is there) and use Lr5 for all my post processing (to extract the RAW data and salvage what appears to be a disappointing capture). Now don't get me wrong, it is far better to get it right in camera than to spend time correcting avoidable errors but if it's your first attempt at something this can be just the confidence boost you need.

Firstly I'll show an example of the RAW capture pre processing;

Camera; Sony a99 - Lens; DT 18-250mm F3.5-6.3 - Settings; ISO 200 18mm f/16 3.2sec
My ISO was too high and aperture was too narrow (small) so a lot of the detail was missing from the actual fireworks. Whilst ISO 100 and f/8 would have produced the same detail in the firework there would have been less noise to compensate for.

The following is a post Adobe Lr5 processing of the same image; I'll provide the settings that I used in this instance. Please note that different lighting and distance of the original image's will require variances to the settings that I will provide and as always beauty is in the eye of the beholder so what works for me may not work for you but experiment, try different settings and surprise yourself.

Lr5 Basic changes only were made.
All changes were only to the second Panel "Basic" (The first being "Histogram"). I started with "Presence" settings as I was unconcerned with White Balance (WB). 
1) I pushed all three sliders (Clarity/Vibrance/Saturation) to +100 which causes everything to pop and introduces a lot of noise and grain. 
2) Now we need to compensate for these changes so I work backward - it's a night shot outdoors so I don't need black and it will remove grain if I push it to +100.
3) Next I need to check my exposure which should have been about 8 seconds but we need to be gentle so I pushed this up to +1.65.
4) I add a little Highlight to +20.
5) I want my whites to be whiter than white so pump it up to +6.

All this is very well but now for the trick to reduce all that noise we have created, actually we have not created anything it was all there to begin with, we have just adjusted what gets the focus and what does not or rather we have increased everything except Contrast and Shadows.

6) Now I reduce the shadows down to -100 (in this case) to  remove all that nasty stuff.
7) adjust the Contrast if needed - I left mine at 0 for this shot.

That's it folk - All I do next is add a border and my logo in Photoshop, you can see the rest of my Fireworks images here. Remember to like is nice but sharing is caring.

Till next time - Take Care.

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