Fire up the camera this Fourth of July

  • Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Michaele Duke

Everybody loves to watch a fireworks show. Just after sunset on every July 4, somewhere, someone will be filling the sky with sparkling Chrysanthemums, horsetails, and roman candles. The booms, whistles and crackles from the explosions and the electrified colors lighting up the black sky excite both children and adults. The only disappointment is that all pyrotechnic shows lasts but a few minutes and weíre left to recall its brilliance only in memory.

What if you could capture those effects in a tangible way so they could be enjoyed over and over again? Video taping the event is one way but the real challenge comes when we try to photograph the aerial display. Capturing fireworks isnít all that hard, but you do have to have certain equipment. Youíll need a camera that has the capability of shooting time lapse. All cameras (film and digital) have a self-timer function but I choose to shoot in manual mode. That way I can adjust the time, depending on how many bursts I wish to capture in a given frame.

Getting it right also take some forethought. If possible, find out the location the fireworks will be set off. Then ride around and pick a spot that will give you the best view. I like to include an anchor or backdrop in the composition, which simply means objects that will give a sense of perspective. For instance, shoot the event from a distance so you can include the cityís buildings.

A tripod is essential. It is impossible to hold a camera still for, say, 10 seconds. Keep the tripod close to the ground, in other words donít extend it all the way up. You want it to be stable. Carry a flashlight. Though your camera probably has a button that illuminates the controls, you can use a flashlight to check everything once you start shooting.

Manually set the focus to infinity. Set the ISO to 200 (light sensitivity), the shutter speed to 10 seconds and the aperture at f/11. Now, listen for the first canon to go off and press the shutter. Take note of how many bursts are in the 10 seconds. Review the shot. If itís too bright (washed out color) change the f-stop to f/16. If itís too dark go the opposite direction. Also, make sure the image is in focus.

One thing Iíve found is too many air bursts tend to create a messy glob of white wavy lines. Therefore, try limiting the number of airbursts between 3 to 10. Now that youíre armed with the right equipment - before the first fuse is lit, youíll be ready to shoot like a pro. Have a safe and fun Fourth of July.

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