Friday, January 02, 2009

Join The Mile-High Club

Yep, I'm Talking Real Fireworks In The Sky

Photographs copyright: DAVID McMAHON


Photographing a fireworks display is always an interesting challenge. You can treat it as an exact science, or you can treat it as an abstract art form. That, in plain terms, is as simple as it gets.

Like a game of Monopoly, you can play the situation strictly by the existing rules, or you can toss the rule book out the window and treat the challenge entirely on your instincts.

So let's start at the beginning. What faces you are some definable factors as well as a couple that defy precise science. Let's begin with the things you can define. You have a vast sky above you. You are in total darkness. You know when the fireworks are scheduled to start. You know you will have an absolute cornucopia of colours.


But - and it's a huge but - there are things you cannot pin down. You do not know where the next rocket, starburst or aerial wheel is going to detonate. You do not know what colour is going to fill the sky next. You do not know what shape it will take. It's a big sky, mate, and the bottom line is that you simply do not know where to point your camera.

And here's another vital element to consider. Even if you are decisive with your camera and you have chosen the best possible speed in the circumstances, even Quickdraw McGraw would be hard-pressed to capture a starburst or a sky-high Catherine wheel at the precise moment it detonates above you.

So do you try and estimate the area of sky where most of the fireworks are detonating and simply concentrate your efforts in that wedge above you? Or do you try and follow each new launch from the ground, track it with your camera and hit the shutter as each explodes in turn?


Then there's the other big question mark. Do you use a tripod? Or should you opt for physical dexterity in view of the fact that a fireworks display is a public event and there are generally thousands of people around you who could a) block your view or b) bump into you and dislodge your carefully balanced tripod while you try and capture the best shots?

There's another factor to consider if you have the option of using a tripod. Quite simply, you are going to be bending over to use the camera for a prolonged period of time. Few tripods extend to the very height of your own eyes, which leads to an interesting clash of physical conditions.

You could be hunched like Quasimodo, with your spine partially parallel to terra firma, while your neck is twisted upwards as you try and get the best view of the sky above.

God created the human spine and neck to co-exist in the same vertical plane. Simple. Unarguable. So why use a tripod, especially if you're as tall as I am and you don't want to see your chiropractor the next morning?


So I chose to be mobile and to be flexible as I shot these scenes at the New Year fireworks display above the Yarra River on Wednesday night. The last time I did this, I used my 18-125 mm lens, which allowed me to get as close as I wanted, while giving me the option of getting an entire skyscape, simply because of the range of the focal plane.

This time I bravely (or foolishly, depending on your point of view) opted to use the 70-300 mm lens instead. I constantly varied my focal length and my focus ring as well. The first few images in this post bring you plenty of sky and a sense of place, but as the display drew to a close, I decided to zoom in fully and try - instinctively - for an overall effect that was "different".

Not an easy challenge, in a wide Australian sky where the fireworks could go anywhere. But I'm certainly pleased with the overall result. If you have time, do let me know what you think.


For other participants in Dot’s concept, go to Sky Watch HQ.

41 comments:

The Quintessential Magpie said...

These are amazing, shots, David, and may I wish you a very Happy Newe Year. One of the great pleasures of 2008 was "meeting" you and being introduced to your blog. I'm looking forward to blogging with you again in 2009. All the very best to you and your family!

Happy New Year!

Sheila

The Quintessential Magpie said...

"Newe" year. LOL! I'm not awake yet. :-)

Retiredandcrazy said...

Same goes for me David. Happy New Year.

Ishat's Fire and Ice said...

Happy New Year!

Neat pics! I never tried photographing fireworks.

Maybe I will go to Chinese New Year. Not same type for fireworks, but it would be fun.

Akelamalu said...

You captured them perfectly David! :)

Happy New Year m'dear.

Betsy said...

I saw some of Australia's fireworks on tv last night..much earlier than ours, of course! And you had nice warm weather to be outside and enjoy them, too! We were in the single digits...brrrr!

Stesha said...

Thanks for the fireworks David, and I hope that you have a Happy New Year!

Lee said...

Great shots, David! Of the 5 I liked 3 the best followed by number 4. I can appreciate the challenge you faced. A short while back I photographed the night sky when the Moon, Venus, and Jupiter converged. It was very difficult to get a decent shot with no tripod. You've got a steady hand, my friend.

Cheers!

distracted by shiny objects said...

Beautiful photos. Glad to see them today. We only had some noisy ones on hand to set off in the street at midnight. So sorry neighbors:>), but Happy New Year!!

Neva said...

Amazing as usual...I hope you had a wonderful New Year's Eve and I wish the best for you and your loved ones this year. I have enjoyed learning from you and seeing your part of the world.

Baino said...

You're right about it being tricky, it's like trying to photograph lightning! I think I'm a traditionalist and like to see photos of the 'real' thing rather than the abstract. Great shots as usual David. I didn't go into watch the Sydney ones unfortunately or I might have had a few to post as well. (then I could do without the competition!)

Cherie said...

Awesome!

One word seems so insignificant, but sometimes simplicity is best. ;)

esnorway said...

great shoots and not easy to take. happy new year

RuneE said...

After all this you had better not visit my site - you would only be depressed.

Max-e said...

Great shots and post David. I photographed the fireworks last year, so I know how tricky it can be. Hope you and your family have a really great New Year

Pearl Maple said...

Fantastic fireworks photos, perfect way to kick of a new year of Sky Watch Fridays.

Ana said...

WOW. I looove fireworks! Your shots are great

Reluctantfarmchik said...

No matter what your photography strategy, you always pull off amazing shots. Awesome edition for SWF. Happy New Year!

imac said...

I just knew that you would do well David, lol.
Great shots and well executed.

Gill - That British Woman said...

gosh what amazing photos.

Gill in Canada

Steffi said...

Great choice of photos,perfect shots!!Happy SWF and Happy New Year 2009!

ramblingwoods said...

A Loss In The Blogger World

A blogger friend lost her husband suddenly last Sunday night. I thought it would be nice to go and leave a message for her on her blog...You may know her as 'mommanator' at grannies ramblings

Louise said...

I prefer abstract, and you did an excellent job of it! EXCELLENT!

Sylvia K said...

You never disappoint me or any of us, David, with your gorgeous photos and this one is certainly no exception! It has been great fun in this first year of my blogging to "meet" you and be amazed and delighter with your photos. Look forward to continuing in 2009. Happy New Year!

Jack and Joann said...

Well, no wonder my fireworks photos don't turn out like yours. I'm not even thinking about or asking myself the right questions let alone coming up with good answers.

Happy New Year to you down under where I think it is warm and sunny.

Pat - An Arkansas Stamper said...

Wonderful photos, as usual, David, and an excellent tutorial on photographing fireworks. Thank you!

vincibene said...

Fantastic pictures!
Unfortunately we had a foggy New Year's Eve, so the pictures from the firework are not so satisfying.

Rune said...

Great shots, we got snow on newyears eve :( Happy new year from Norway!:)

Annie said...

well, your photos are always wonderful David, and there is always a great commentary to go with...

I didn't get to photograph the fireworks this year, unfortunately, but it is always fun trying!

Annie

Colin Campbell said...

Better than the real thing. No doubt you have a range of success. Lovely shots. How many do you take if you are aiming for about 10 good ones?

CrazyCath said...

I love the second one! Some one dancing across the sky...
Brilliant shots. I know how hard that is. I have tried (and failed) many times! Having said on a previous post of yours that I can't cope with out of focus shots, I am strangely drawn to the last two pictures. Especially the second to last.
Very artistic shots that work. I love how you force me to change my mind and challenge my perceptions of what I like!

Gaelyn said...

Excellent captures all the way. Nice to see fireworks as there weren't any outside my windows.

Welcome to 2009!

Rottlady of the Ozarks said...

The fireworks are lovely!

Happy New Year and hope you have a great sky watching year!

Leslie: said...

Fabulous shots, David! Happy New Year!

Jennifer H said...

Such great shots. I think the first is my favorite.

Happy New Year!

Maggie May said...

What a challenge. Difficult shots to take....... but you have succeeded in taking photos that not many could master!
Peace and health and happiness to you and yours this New Year.(May there be many unusual shots just waiting for you to take, as I am sure there always will be!)

Arija said...

Nice shots David! What have you got against your chiropractor?
Happy New Year to you and your dear ones!

Old Wom Tigley said...

Stunning David.... as always my friend.
Happy New Year to you and your loved ones David.

Tom

The Arthur Clan said...

Loved your thoughts on shooting fireworks...you sure know what you're doing because your photos are stunning!

Carrie and Troy Keiser said...

awesome fireworks! I take fireworks in a guess fashion, pointing in a general direction and hoping for the best. Sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised! I do like the super zoomed shots of yours as well, like individual lights.

Sandi McBride said...

G O R G E O U S Simply to marvelous for words
Sandi