Okay, the title is only really there because I like the song. Since watching Forrest Tanaka's YouTube video on shooting fireworks, I've been waiting for an occasion to give it a shot on my own. Seems simple enough - Find a location, set to bulb, low ISO, open, close. How hard can it be??
In truth, it's not difficult at all. The location is by far the hardest part. Just because you know the park they will be at doesn't mean you can get a good spot, or that you won't be bumped and banged by obnoxious gawkers who are rank with a me-first attitude. That said, here's my experience from last night.
Here in Canada it was Victoria Day yesterday and with it came the promise of fireworks at Ashbridges Bay. Transportation proved to be a big challenge. Police and Auxiliary Police were everywhere. It seems they could have propped up some cardboard cutouts of them though because they did nothing to assist traffic flow or enable parking.
Giving up on being at the venue itself, I decided to try another location which turned out to be better. Parking on Leslie Street, I was able to carry my gear down to the Spit, set up on the edge of the lake in a slightly elevated area and had plenty of time to guess where they would be fired. A half a dozen test shots as the sky darkened, then it was all over but the waiting.
Over the course of the next half hour, folks slowly poured in, bonfires were lit and so were.. err.. other things. Yes, the air was soon filled with some slightly more exotic smoke. Whatever, I'm not judging. Unfortunately, despite my tripod, bag, myself and various things being set up in fairly close proximity to myself, it wasn't long before folks started wiggling their way in, bumping and nudging to get a better view. People around Toronto are obnoxious. Probably "me-first", silver-spoon 905'ers if I were to guess. A few slightly rough shoves back and I gained my space back. Folks, if you don't push back now and then, you'll get run over or squeezed out. People need to learn when you don't appreciate their obnoxiousness, and a harsh word just won't do it. Nuff said.
On to the show itself. No particular comment specific to each shot. The night was a learning experience. If you want to do it yourself, here's how I would describe the process. Find your location and set up with a tripod early. Get an idea of where they will appear in the night sky and if you have one, use a telephoto lens. I set mine up with the legs only slightly extended and I sat in the grass while I shot.
From here, take a few test shots, lower your ISO, set a fairly middle of the road aperture, and use Bulb. Bulb lets you decide when the shutter opens and then closes. It's all about keeping it open for a bit then closing it. A remote is a must. If you don't have one, get one. Lastly, set your focus on something near where you think they will be fired, then switch to manual focus. If you leave it on Auto, you'll never get a shot because your camera will spend too long hunting.
When the show starts, so do you. You'll hear the bang of ignition then a moment later, you'll see the light. Your goal is to time is so that the sky is mostly dark before you open the shutter, then hold it open for a second or two before closing it. You don't want to hold it open until the explosion subsides. That's too long, and the next one will already be in the air. Perhaps 10 of them.
Your first 10 shots, you should probably chimp it. Take your shot, look at the result, then adjust your timing. If you can, fine tune your focus as well.
Note, just because the first 5 all exploded in one place doesn't mean you can be complacent with your zoom. The really big ones explode higher in the air, so be prepared for that. If you can, try to capture a bit of the ground as well for some perspective. Explosions are cool and all, but without some perspective, it's just an explosion.
As the show went on, there was a substantial amount of wind coming in from the east. That wind detracted from a number of my shots because it created fairly oblong fireworks. In these shots you can really see how they trail off to the left. I do like the fact that it got the smoke cleared out though. The show finished up with one large one that filled the sky and seemed to last forever. I was able to get 5 2 second exposures on it, but I liked this next one most of all. The following ones appeared as though a curtain was being dragged across the sky. Stunning effect.
When the show was over, it was now a pushing party to get out of the park and back to the cars. Those obnoxious folks were now dazzled by the previous show and now walking like the undead in search of brains. Me, when I'm done with something, it's time to go, and I'm not particularly interested in walking like a soulless lemming. Hauling ass out of there, I was soon back in my car only to discover that Leslie Street was not moving. At all. So with my car turned around, I sat in the southbound lane facing north, waiting for cars to move for a little over half an hour before I could get in and get out.
All tolled, it was worth the trip. I learned a lot, enjoyed a nice show and came home with a story and a few pics to share and I hope you enjoyed them too :)