I love experimenting with different techniques and ideas. So when our editor here at dPS, Darlene, asked if someone was willing to try out a technique and experiment with fireworks. I jumped at the chance. I love being creative and pushing the limits of new ideas. Her idea for an article about creating artistic images of fireworks came from this article – Bloom or boom? Photographer captures the moment fireworks erupt into life – creating amazing images that look like flowers.
I loved the look of the images and this type of artistic experimentation is right up my alley. I try this type of stuff all the time. Sometimes it works. Other times it’s not such a success, but the point is to learn and grow as an artist and photographer.
These first set of shots were taken using the technique described by the photographer in the article. Yes, it is copying someone else’s technique, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Imitation can lead to ingenuity. I used a long exposure and then tried to time my movements of the focus ring with the explosion of the fireworks. Timing is everything with this technique, and it’s hard to master. It took me almost the entire fireworks display to get some images that copied his technique.
Note: you don’t need to crank the focus ring. A small movement out of focus will create the desired effect.
It’s okay to fail!
I’m quite satisfied with the look of these images. I used a 70-200mm lens and set the exposure at 0.6 seconds, with an aperture of f/2.8 and ISO 250. It worked fairly well. The timing was by far the hardest part of this whole endeavor.
I had an awful lot of failed images. There were times when the shot was too far out of focus. The result was some really nice bokeh lights that I’ve since used as image overlays. Usually, black and white art shots and blended them in to create light and interest. Every shot can have a use, so don’t always delete your “failures”.
The images that were never planned
Other images didn’t turn out exactly as the other photographer’s work but I think the results are still successful. The images are pretty and have turned out to be successful images for birthday cards.
I still used the same technique he did, but I didn’t get the timing correct so these images don’t have the same look as the first ones. They are still appealing though and there is nothing wrong with these unexpected surprises.
Using fireworks was tough. The timing was very difficult to master. I was only able to capture a handful of shots during the 30-minute firework display. This fact led to another experiment. This time sparklers were used. The night was fairly windy so I used my garage as a studio.
Pushing the experiment further
NOTE: Lesson learned – wait for a night when there is no wind to shoot with sparklers. The fumes from the sparklers filled the garage, and I had a headache after shooting. Of course, I should have thought of this before attempting, but when in the moment…
For the following shots, I used the same premise as I did shooting the fireworks. The one difference was my f-stop. This was my mistake. I set my camera to f/16. This was a huge mistake on my part. I couldn’t replicate the out of focus look for my photos. You need to use a wide open aperture for the experiment to be successful. As a result, the images I created are considerably different from the impressionistic flowers created at the fireworks. There are still a lot of interesting images in this collection, but it wasn’t the look I was hoping to capture.
The settings for these shots used a range in aperture from f/16 to f/32. They are still pretty I think, and I will find a use for them for sure.
The next step in the experiment involved getting closer to the sparklers and capturing something different. I attached an extension tube to my lens and got very close to the sparkler. Perhaps a little too close, it is possible to damage your sensor by shooting something too bright. The aperture was small however so this may have saved my camera.
Using an extension tube
Here are the results of the experiment. The images allow us to see how the base of the sparkler ignites. These are also interesting images and worth the time it took to create them.
Being creative in post-processing
It was also fun to play with color during the post-processing stage. An adjustment to the color temperature slider changed the sparkler lights from a warm yellow to an intense orange.
Again this is all experimentation. The process may not result in a finished image, but it’s all about playing with settings and trying to create different effects in your photography.
Trying one more time
Naturally, the experiment continued with a second try at the sparkler images. This time I set a much wider aperture. Here are the results using the same method as I used to create the firework images.
While the sparklers did not recreate the blooming flower impressionistic type effect, I still like the look of these shots. The sparkler allowed me to focus more easily on the task at hand. While I still had to move quickly it wasn’t as rushed as shooting the fireworks. Both activities were enjoyable and challenging in their own way.
Give it a shot!
It’s almost New Years and time for fireworks once again. Share with us some of your experiments and results. It doesn’t have to be fireworks. You could use lights or flashlights. Be creative! Show us what you’ve created!
My next experiment will involve spinning the sparkler while I shoot. What kind of effect will that create?
If you want some tips on shooting fireworks with a more traditional approach try these articles: