Chinese New Year: Fireworks

Chinese New Year is a huge deal here. Celebrations are going on over the next two weeks including parades, food fairs, fireworks, and even coloring the Sydney Opera House with red light (as fleeting as it was).

I’d never really photographed fireworks well before. Much like children, they are a fleeting art form that needs to be carefully photographed for good results. Just about every camera I’ve had before didn’t do them justice. The backgrounds were too grainy and the color wasn’t forward enough.

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I wanted to give the DSLR a spin for the fireworks tonight. I was doing some quick Google searching and found a video from Adorama about how to photograph fireworks successfully. Most of the tips I was conceptually familiar with. I was just looking for sample shutter speeds and apertures to start from. I was surprised with their recommendations. The shutter speed was quite long and the aperture was quite narrow. But not having any better advice, I figured I’d start there.

What did I wind up using? ISO 100, aperture f/8-10, 6-8 second shutter speed, wide angle lens at 16-20 mm.

Australians definitely love their fireworks. A number of weekends throughout the summer, the city shoots off fireworks from Darling Harbour. Darling Harbour is the upscale recreation area here in Sydney. It reminds me a lot of Atlantic Station back in Atlanta but I don’t have a great comparison for it in San Jose. The best I can think of is Castro Street in Mountain View, but way more scenic.

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I thought there were going to be fireworks tonight but there wasn’t great information available other than one small sign from a small cruise ship in the harbor. I figured I’d show up and hope there would be fireworks.

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The last time I did night photography with this camera my tripod wasn’t up for the challenge and showed a lot of camera shake resulting in blurry photos. I stumbled my way into a solid tripod to try out for the evening. The Adorama camera site recommended using a very wide angle lens which it first I was a bit hesitant to but in hindsight I firmly agree with. Most of the photographs were between 16 and 20 mm of focal length.

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I got my tripod set up about an hour before anything actually started. No fewer than 20 people came out to ask me if there were the fireworks tonight. The first 10 I cheerily answered, “Yep, they start at 9:30.” The next five got in “I think so…” The last five got “Uh… I dunno!” I took the time to get all of the background settings configured so I’d be ready for showtime.

The fireworks were fast and furious! I didn’t expect the show to be as intense and as fast as it was. Adorama recommended a shutter release to help minimize camera shake. The corded one I had from my film camera wasn’t compatible. Why did I want a corded one? My wireless shutter release didn’t support bulb mode. Bulb mode allows the photographer to hold the shutter open for a indeterminate amount of time. The benefit is that you can open the shutter when you hear the firework launch and then close it as it begins to fizzle. With the shutter release I was fixed to two, four, six, or eight seconds. I wasn’t able to coordinate it with the firework well

The show was great. It’s always fun to see fireworks and the great display of color they provide. Hopefully I can find a corded shutter release for better timing. For my first real shot though, I’m happy with the results. What say you, readers?

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