Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Shooting fireworks

The last post was all about using long shutter speed for doing night time shots and the need to use a remote trigger for the shutter. Well that and a tripod of course. Well this last weekend I had another chance for doing some photography that involves long shutter speeds. Where I lived had a festival that ended with fireworks.  I posted the photos on one of the email groups I am on for photography. I got responses asking how to set the camera for doing fireworks. Well I think that fireworks make for a great followup topic on long shutter speed.


Here is the thing with fireworks. You will use a long shutter speed to get a beautiful shot of them. There is not a single setting that works best. The longer the shot the more fireworks explosions that will be in the shot. Of course fireworks are pretty random since you never know for sure when they will shoot them off (unless you are running the display). So there is a bit of fun randomness in your photos that you will not be able to predict. But in general you will want a shutter speed somewhere between 15 and 25 seconds usually. Try different lengths and see what you get for the photos.

Of course you will want to use either a timer or a remote trigger to open the shutter. If you don't then you will end up with blurry fireworks just like our blurry cityscape in the last post. I don't have a remote trigger yet so I had to go with the 2 second timer. I would depress the shutter when I heard the poof of the mortar going off launching the firework skyward. It was pretty good timing actually.

For the ISO I was running 100. That will give the best shot with the least amount of digital noise. Interestingly fireworks are pretty bright. The background is not, but that is one of the beauty of it too right? So you can go with the slow ISO and be OK. Also I went with an aperture of f/8 since that is pretty close to the sweet spot for most lenses where you get the least problems with any lens design issues. The closer you get to either full open or full close the lens could tend toward some unwanted little "features" that affect the photo. And then for the focus you will obviously use manual focus and set the focus to the most distant focus on the lens. As far as lens selection, I was using my Tamron 28-80mm lens and had it set to 28. I kind of wished I had an 18mm lens that night. There were some times where the firework was outside of the field of view. Most of the shots were inside pretty well though so it all worked out anyway.

I think that the most interesting thing about shooting fireworks is that the first thought for camera settings is not what actually would be correct. Most of the time people think since it is dark they want wide open aperture and high ISO. They also figure since fireworks are so far off that they will want a telephoto lens. All of these are of course incorrect. And we have already talked about how a tripod is not enough with long shutter speeds, but that you also need to use some sort of remote triggering for your shutter. So see if there are any fireworks displays in your area and have a grand time shooting. Play with your shutter settings and see what you get for different settings. Hopefully they will shoot enough fireworks at one time to get something like the photo I call Fire Palms (below).

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Using timer or remote triggers

I was recently down in downtown Grand Rapids one night doing some nighttime photography. I was using a long shutter speed to be able to get the photos of the night lights of the cityscape. I was using a tripod for all the shots since I was doing long shutter speeds. Most people would think that this is enough to be able to get a good shot. Well the challenge is that when you push the shutter button, no matter how careful you are, you will most likely move the camera some. If your shutter speed is like 1 to 3 seconds that movement could be a significant portion of the photo. And then you will end up with a blurry photo when it should be picture perfect (pun intended). You will end up with something like this (click on the photos for a close up).

The photo is a little blurry. Really small you cannot really tell (like on the camera LCD), but when you look at it larger it is really obvious. So what you need to do instead is to get the shutter to trigger without your hand on the camera. You can use a remote trigger. These can be wireless or wired. But that way you can trip the shutter without any possible chance of jarring the camera and end up with a clear photo.

Another example of a blurry photo from having the hand on the camera that I took that night.

If you don't have a shutter trigger then the other way that you can get a nice clear photo is to use the shutter timer. Most people think that the timer is just for getting yourself in the photo. They will look at the 2 second setting and wonder "how could anyone ever get into the shot in 2 seconds?" when looking at the different timer selections. Well you cannot, and that is not the reason for a 2 second setting. It is for triggering the camera on a shot like this.

Now I was able to press the shutter button on the camera, get my hand off the camera body, and give it time to settle down totally still before the shutter opened up. And I was able to get a completely clear photo with a longer shutter speed.

By the way, my tripod is a cheap Walmart special that I bought 25 years ago for around $50. It still works just fine after all these years. So you don't need to invest a ton of money on expensive tripods. Save on the tripod and invest in a good wired or wireless remote trigger. Some of them will even allow for repeated shots taken at a set time interval. So you can get the trigger to do double or triple duty.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

It is the details that matter

Sorry it has been so long since the last post. I have been very busy with the holidays and with doing a lot of shooting. I decided though to go to a couple photos I took just over a month ago. One of the things Grand Rapids is known for is the all volunteer Arts Festival that happens the first full weekend of June. I love going down, especially with my camera. Well my favorite thing is listening to the Jazz music. There was a gal that was singing on the last day. She was an awesome singer with great stage presence.


Well while she was singing on stage a bunch of people were dancing near the back of the audience area in an open area. One of them was incredible to watch. She was so fluid... like watching water flow effortlessly down a woodland brook. She was totally enjoying life and was completely immersed in the moment. I think she was with a group that were like a dance club or something. She danced with several of the guys in the same group. Anyway, I got a lot of nice shots of the dancing. As I was going through the photos and weeding out the non-keepers I noticed two shots taken one after the other. As I was looking at them to decide which to dump and which to keep the final criteria was a very minor detail. The first photo, the non-keeper (except it ended up on here) is this one.

Not a bad photo. The frame is filled. I wish the other guy in the red in the background was not there, but to photoshop him out and make it look good would be a nightmare and a half. But then when I looked at the next photo...
what I saw was motion in the photo. The pose is just a bit different, not much, just a little. But that little bit gives the real sense of motion to the photo. It does not look static like the first. It really makes the photo pop. It is the attention to detail that makes all the difference in the world. The guy in the red is still there. Oh well, it is not like I am entering this in a contest, or that it is for the Time magazine cover. But it does bug me when I look at it. Well if I wanted to do perfect it would have been in a studio or some other controlled environment, right? Of course right.