by Harry Flashman
Recording the New Year fireworks
I was reminded of the tricks in
shooting fireworks when we had the fireworks extravaganza a couple of
weekends ago. I should have written this then, but better late than never.
We (that’s you) will have plenty of opportunities over New Year (be that the
Western New Year, Chinese New Year, Thai New Year or the Patagonian Petunia
Festival). At all of these events the culmination is the letting off of
Many photographers attempt to record these colorful displays and most come
back with disappointing results. Here is how to do it properly (but even
then you do need a little luck!
The first item is to select where you are going to shoot the fireworks. Try
to avoid overhead wires and the roofs of houses. The secret is an
uninterrupted view, without people walking in front of you.
The next item to attend to is the flash incorporated in your camera. You
have to turn it off! Most automatic cameras these days pop their little
flash heads up as soon as it gets dark, and flash settings are exactly what
you do not want in recording firework flashes. You may have to resort to
your instruction booklet to do this. It is amazing just how many camera
owners do not know how to turn on and off the various functions.
The next item of equipment you need is a tripod. I have written about these
many times, but a good sturdy tripod is best. The light aluminium jobs are
easy to carry but don’t keep the camera rock solid. You need a good heavy
one and even hang the camera bag from the central pole, just to stabilize
the whole shooting match even further. My own Manfrotto is around 25 years
old and has never given any trouble. It is worth the extra expense to get a
good one and it will be with you forever.
Another piece of equipment is a cable release, and even though not 100
percent needed, makes life much easier in this firework situation.
The final piece in the equipment list is a piece of flat black cardboard
around 10 centimeters square. Matt black is best as it does not reflect
light (this is why most photographic equipment is matt black too). Get a
matt black spray can at the hardware shop and make your own card. Your usual
100 ASA or whatever will be fine, this exercise does not need super-slow or
super-fast ASA (ISO) ratings. Use a wide angle or even standard lens and
point the camera at the sky where the firework star-bursts explode in the
sky. Even wait for the first star-burst and lock the tripod with the camera
then in the correct position.
The way we are going to get the top shots is to record more than one
firework star-burst on one piece of film. This is how the pros get all those
magnificent fireworks photographs. The trick is how!
Here comes the action. You are going to need something like 30 second
exposures to get several star-bursts. Select “B” as the shutter speed -
popping the shutter button in this mode opens the shutter and keeps it open
until the button is released. Now you can see why the cable release is a
good idea, particularly ones that you can lock in the depressed position.
With the cable release in your left hand and the matt black card in your
right, you are ready. When the rocket goes up, open the shutter. As the
star-burst wanes, cover the lens with your black card, but keep the shutter
open. As the next star-burst happens, uncover the lens, covering it again as
the star-burst wanes. Now you have two sets of fireworks on one picture. Get
another and then close the shutter, which means that the camera advances to
a fresh area in the memory card. Now you can repeat the exercise as many
times as you like. Get up to four star-bursts on one photo - any more than
four and it gets too crowded in the final print.
So there you have it. Shoot like the pros and get professional results you
will be proud of. And Happy New Year.
Shapes, patterns and contrasts are eye-catchers
How do you get eye-catching photographs? Even in camera clubs there are more
dull photographs than eye-catchers. So what is the secret?
Amazingly, sometimes the commonest or simplest items can produce
eye-catching photographs. No difficult shots, no special effects, no exotic
lenses, just great shots by the simple technique of keeping one’s eyes open
for good results.
The secret to all this is to remember repetitive shapes, contrasting shapes,
contrasting colors and shadows. In other words, these types of images rely
totally on vision and composition.
Remembering that the ‘rules’ of composition are merely there to be broken,
very often a dramatic shot comes from trying something different.
The secret of great photography is not just in correct exposure and
placement in the frame. You will get plenty of photographs that are
perfectly exposed with the subject at the intersection of thirds, but dull.
You need to remember contrast!
Contrast in photographic composition is an effective means of directing the
viewer’s attention to the subject of interest. When I speak of contrast, I
am referring to both tonal contrast, as in black-and-white photography, and
color contrast as it relates to color photography.
In B&W photography, contrast is the difference in subject tones from
white-to-gray-to-black or from the lightest tone to the darkest tone. In
color photography different colors create the contrast.
Tonal contrast is generally expressed as high contrast which has extreme
black and whites, or low contrast which has nothing but graduated greys.
Now you can wander around all day looking for a girl in a white swimsuit on
a white sandy beach, or you can manipulate a photograph to produce that
image. If you have an advanced digital camera, you can program it to record
black and white only and then go from there, but if not, no fear, your
software will allow you to do this post camera. First convert the color shot
to grey scale, then play with the brightness and contrast, and you will very
quickly produce a high contrast shot.
Now high contrast should not be confused with high key. A high key black and
white shot is one where the photo shows mostly light tones. Conversely, a
low key shot is one that has mainly dark tones. Low key and high key
pictures convey mood and atmosphere. Low key suggests seriousness and
mystery and is wonderful for Halloween photographs. However, high key
creates a feeling of delicacy and lightness. A portrait of a blonde in white
against a white background is an example of high key.
High contrast gives very black blacks and very white whites, and usually
with nothing in between. Low contrast, on the other hand, still has blacks
and whites, but everything is predominantly grey, giving a flat scene which
still has tones, but in which highlights and shadows have very little
difference in densities. In other words, all tones within the scene are very
similar in appearance. However, remember that if you are shooting in
automatic mode, the camera will be set to deliver 18 percent grey, and not
Now to contrast in color. This is where an artist’s color wheel comes in
handy. By picking colors from opposite sides on the wheel, you immediately
have stunning contrasts. Blue and yellow is a classic example. Another is
bright red against a luminescent green background.
Cold colors (bluish) and warm colors (reddish) almost always contrast. Cold
colors recede, while warm colors advance. Light colors contrast against dark
ones, and a bold color offsets a weak color.
Color contrast is an effective compositional element in color photography,
just as tone is in black-and-white photography. Colors with opposite
characteristics contrast strongly when placed together. Each color
accentuates the qualities of the other and makes the color images stand out
dramatically. Color contrast is enhanced when you create the contrast of
detail against mass. An example is a single, bright, red flower in a clear,
glass vase photographed against a bright, green background.
The photograph used this week is an example of very high color contrast, so
much so that only two colors matter. This was designed to be a photograph
that hits you between the eyes.
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