Thursday, July 05, 2007


We watched fireworks last night. That the fireworks display actually happened is remarkable in itself, given the unending rain we've had here in Dallas for weeks and weeks. Our neighborhood's Independence Day parade - an ancient tradition - was canceled due to weather. But late in the evening, the rain let up and the skies cleared for a while, so decided to go. On the way out the door, I grabbed my Pentax K10D, as usual, and my tripod, which is not so usual, but which I knew would be necessary for this shoot.

We drove to the area near the Lakewood Country Club, which is not too far from where we live on the east side of Dallas. We found a good place to sit right across the street from the country club's driving range. Telephone lines are just barely visible in some shots but otherwise I had a clear view. I placed the K10D on the tripod, and in the Fn menus configured the camera's shooting mode so I could trigger the shutter with the infrared remote. The camera settings were simple: M mode, ISO 100, aperture f/11, shutter 2 seconds (sometimes just 1.5). I used my standard outdoors lens, a Tamron AF (IF) 18-250 f/3.5-6.3 LD Di. Because I couldn't be sure where in the sky the fireworks would explode I experimented a bit with the focal length. In the end 30mm or thereabouts seemed to work pretty well. I set the camera to manual focus and used the distance markings on the lens barrel to set it manually to just a bit less than infinity. I did have the camera's LCD display the photos for 1 second. After the first few fireworks went off, the instant review helped me quickly identify and resolve a couple problems: that the camera wasn't aimed quite right, focus wasn't right, initial shutter setting of 1 second was too slow, field of vision wasn't wide enough. After getting everything set up and resolving these initial problems, the biggest challenge was making a good guess about when to trigger the shutter. I'd watch the rocket go up and try to click just a split second before the burst.

Post-processing was remarkably easy. I cropped a few photos. Most of the photos got a slight adjustment on the clarity slider in Lightroom 1.1 and in the tone curves, I narrowed the dark tones to just 15% of the range and then made the extreme blacks very dark black, to provide a nice sharp background sky. But I did very little else.

Is it possible for a photo to be really good if it contains nothing but the burst of the rocket? I doubt it. Abstract colored patterns are interesting, and I suppose it's true that every burst is unique. But to be really compelling, I think a photo of fireworks would need to have something else in it, perhaps a compelling landmark like the Statue of Liberty (not handy here in Dallas) or at least the silhouetted head of a child. I had no landmarks available, not even a tree, and I'd have had to push my daughter into the street to get her into the shoots, and my wife would have objected. Still, it was a pleasant exercise. And since I was using the remote to trigger the photos, I got to enjoy the show personally as well and without the usual tunnel vision that I experience, say, when shooting sports.

You can view the entire gallery here.

About Me

I am an event photographer living in Dallas, Texas.