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Fireworks photography 101

Fireworks Photography 101

You may think that taking pictures of fireworks is as easy as pressing the shutter button—and sometimes it really is that easy—but if you’re really keen on taking some great shots, there are a couple things to note in terms of settings and equipment.

Nikon D800, 1.2 sec., f/9.0, ISO 200, 14mm

Nikon D800, 1.2 sec., f/9.0, ISO 200, 14mm

Go early to claim your spot

There’s nothing worse in going to see and photograph fireworks only to have your view blocked by a few heads in front of you. You have to go early, scout the area for the best vantage point, and stay in that spot until the fireworks start. There’s really no other way around this unless you have some sort of special access that the general public does not have.

Setting up your equipment

Once you claim your location, be sure to set up your gear well in advance of the start of the event. This will ensure that you’re not fidgeting with your camera settings when the fireworks are going off in front of you.

Ideally, you should have a tripod, cable release, and if you’re trying for an extended exposure, a black card to block light from your lens while the shutter is open—I’ll explain more about this below.

The cable release comes in handy because it prevents you from shaking your camera by having to press down on the shutter button.

Start shooting

There are a couple ways of shooting fireworks. But whichever way you choose to go, be sure to keep taking those photos because fireworks go fast, and they don’t wait for you to ready your camera!

A simple long exposure of about 1-2 seconds will give you a decent display of fireworks that will work for the most part. The photo above was an exposure of 1.2 seconds on my tripod using a cable release.

Given the long exposure nature of fireworks at night, you may instinctively think to set your ISO to a high amount because of the amount of ambient light available. The higher your ISO, however, the more noise you bring into the photo.

My settings above brought in just amount of light without yielding too much noise. My ISO of 200 yielded in a fairly dark image at first, but I was able to open up the shadow areas within Lightroom without producing too much noise. I much prefer to do it this way than increase my ISO from the beginning as it almost always tends to produce cleaner images.

I mentioned a black card earlier in this post. This technique can come in handy if you want to stack multiple fireworks over each other by leaving your shutter open in Bulb mode, and covering the lens with this black card when you don’t want any exposure. You only take the black card away from the lens when you want to capture the fireworks. The photo below is a 4.6 second exposure where I used the black card method. This is why you see the coloured explosion on the top, and the white fireworks from the bottom.

Nikon D800, 4.6 sec., f/9.0, ISO 200, 14mm

Nikon D800, 4.6 sec., f/9.0, ISO 200, 14mm

You really have to be careful with this though, since you can easily over-expose certain areas of your photo, like you see in the photo below. You will have to figure out in advance how many seconds will give you a properly exposed photo.

Nikon D800, 12 sec., f/13, ISO 100, 14mm

Nikon D800, 12 sec., f/13, ISO 100, 14mm

A little post-processing helps

When you’re done shooting your photos, no doubt a little post-processing will help give your photos that extra oomph. This particular photo was editing completely within Lightroom CC 2015. I opened up the shadow areas while reducing the highlights. I boosted the saturation slightly, and added some overall clarity. And finally, the new dehaze feature of Lightroom really worked well in this case to remove some of the haze produced from the smoke of the fireworks.

The level of post-processing is always different for each photographer, so you do as little or as much as you want to make the final image what you envisioned.

Nikon D800, 0.6 sec., f/5.6, ISO 1250, 14mm

Nikon D800, 0.6 sec., f/5.6, ISO 1250, 14mm

One final note

Remember to enjoy the fireworks while you are there! They happen very quickly so try not to be totally consumed with getting that perfect shot. You can easily be distracted by fiddling with your cameras while the beautiful colours explode above you, preventing you from actually enjoying the evening. But with a little bit of preparation, you should be able to fully enjoy the event and take decent shots that you are happy with.

The Hearn Generating Station is epic in every way

Not too long I had the opportunity to visit an abandoned building just outside of the downtown Toronto core. Although I had seen many photos from the location before, I had never gone to it—nor did I even know the location of it!

iPhone 6 Plus edited in Snapseed and  VSCOcam

iPhone 6 Plus edited in Snapseed and VSCOcam

Needless to say it was a pleasant surprise when I had the chance to grab my camera and go wild in there. I’m typically not the one to go to these urban, abandoned locations, but it never hurts to get out of your regular routine and experience something new for a change.

As soon as I walked in, I was shocked to see how large a place this was. The Hearn Generating Station is a decommissioned electrical generating station that occupies 650,000 cubic metres of space! Can you imagine the size of that? You can somewhat see the scale of this building from the picture above, where the man standing in the middle is looking down the main corridor. There were construction crews on premises so I wasn’t free to walk around everywhere, but it sure was a great view from wherever I was standing.

I didn’t have my tripod with me, but had I, I would have stayed much longer taking my time to find great angles to showcase the grandness of this building.

The takeaway to this is, when an opportunity like this arises, take it without hesitation because you never know whether it will ever come again!

Luminato Festival 2015 Wrapup

Inside the festival tent.

Inside the festival tent.

It’s just over a month since the Luminato Festival ended in June but the events are still vividly clear in my mind. Looking over these photos, this year’s festival was another big success with such a variety of events for the public to enjoy. The 10 days of the festival went by very quickly, and while I was taking photos for most of those days, it’s hard to believe that there are so many other events that I wasn’t able to see. The variety of events is what always attracts me to the Luminato Festival.

The grounds at David Pecaut Square.

The grounds at David Pecaut Square.

The grounds at David Pecaut Square were always packed, and that’s a nice thing to see. The added artificial turf was a nice touch this year!

Jörn Weisbrodt, Artistic Director of Luminato Festival, does karaoke with Toronto Mayer John Tory.

Jörn Weisbrodt, Artistic Director of Luminato Festival, does karaoke with Toronto Mayer John Tory.

Perhaps the mayor doing a karaoke song with the festival’s artistic director was the highlight of that day, as the crowd loved every second of it.

Having fun under the lights.

Having fun under the lights.

During the evening hours, the lights lit up the square making for an even grander festive mood that I saw many people enjoy.

Looking towards Metro Hall.

Looking towards Metro Hall.

These panels created by acclaimed Brazilian artists Regina Silveira added a very colourful touch all day and night long, and drew many people underneath it to rest and enjoy.

St. Vincent at Times Talks.

St. Vincent at Times Talks.

The multitude of events at Luminato Festival is always a crowd-pleaser: The New York Times‘ TimesTalks brought in Nelly Furtado, St. Vincent, and Charlotte Rampling; there was a cabaret series at the Festival Shed; David Collett’s Basement Revue was always a crowd-favourite; and then there were performances like Apocalypsis, bringing in 1000 performers, and David Byrne’s Contemporary Color, bringing color guards to the forefront.

No matter rain or shine, there would always be a crowd at David Pecaut Square, the hub of the festival. With free outdoor concerts, why wouldn’t there be?

Performer at Luminato Festival.

Performer at Luminato Festival.

The final weekend did bring in a lot of rain, but the Brazilian block party was still a lot of fun with bands and audience members soaking it all in under the festival tent.

The crowd in the rain at the Luminato Festival.

The crowd in the rain at the Luminato Festival.

Of course, the festival wouldn’t be complete without the help of volunteers! There were no shortages of volunteers to help you navigate this festival, and it’s always a pleasure to be able to photograph them in action as well. The Youth Volunteer Photography Program, which I also taught this year, had many of them think creatively to get some fun photos for the festival.

Youth Volunteer Photography Program members at Luminato Festival.

Youth Volunteer Photography Program members at Luminato Festival.

Volunteers at David Pecaut Square

Volunteers at David Pecaut Square

The festival brings many unique photo opportunities, which are always a good challenge, and that’s why I love coming back to this festival year after year. For those of you who would like more information on the Luminato Festival, you can check out their website at www.luminatofestival.com.

As always, I leave you with one last photo, which is one of my favourite shots that I took within the 10-day extravaganza. This photo was taken within the Air Canada Centre at an angle that really makes the venue seem so grand. You can see the stage and performers including all the audience members enjoying the Contemporary Color performance.

Inside the Air Canada Centre for Contemporary Color.

Inside the Air Canada Centre for Contemporary Color.

For my post-festival wrapups from prior Luminato Festivals, you can check them out here: 2013, 2014.

Adding a human element to landscapes

While I love to shoot landscapes, sometimes adding a human element to the photo adds to it as well. I’m not the one to take portraits but adding someone to the photo in one way or another—not necessarily looking towards the camera—can add an element of scale, interest, or storytelling to the overall scene.

Whether it’s someone sitting on the edge of a cliff, standing in the middle of a dessert, or jumping in the air in a cityscape, the human element brings another form of interest to the photo.

I do find it refreshing in a way to see someone in the photo, but I tend not to overdo things and keep to what I like the most: pure landscape photography.

Nikon D800, 15mm, 1/640 sec., f/9, ISO 100.

Nikon D800, 15mm, 1/640 sec., f/9, ISO 100.

I took this photo on the top of the Scarborough Bluffs when I met a friend there earlier this Spring. Rather than just taking a picture of the usual scene, I asked her to stand at the edge of a cliff and look out. By including some foreground to the image, I was further able to make it look like she was the only one there in a wide expanse leading to the edge. There’s a few trees on the right hand side that I wished were a little less prominent, but I’m not the one to Photoshop these out for this purpose.

For this particular photo, I do think the human element adds more interest to the photo than if I were to take it without one. This landscape alone would seem like it’s missing something to complete the picture.

The takeaway to this is to be sure to mix things up a bit and try and add some people to your photos, even if you’re not the type to typically take photos of them. It may work out better than you think!

Combining food and photography always makes for a good time!

I’m very fortunate to live in a city where food plays an important part in our society. Every year there are no shortages of food-related festivals, especially during the warmer months of the year. This year, I’ve been tasked to take photos for The Stop’s Night Market fundraising event, which promises to be even more delicious than previous years!

The Stop's Night Market

The Stop’s Night Market

The event raises funds for The Stop’s community food programs, and brings together local chefs, designers, and foodies in one location over two nights. The designers are housed with the responsibility for creating one-of-a-kind food carts that the chefs will use to create and serve their own inventions on. It’s a great concept and one that I’m very excited to be a part of this year.

Corndog from Delica's Kitchen

Corndog from Delica’s Kitchen

Last night saw a huge crowd at a new venue for the event, a huge expanse in front of an abandoned building over in the west end of the city. With 35 custom-made carts and chefs’ creations, it was a feast for both the eyes and our bellies.

The crowd as the sun set.

The crowd as the sun set.

As a festival photographer, I always try and make sure that the event is properly represented with my photography. Since this is a new venue for the Night Market, it was important for me to get overall shots to reflect the location and popularity of the event this year. Details of the carts, and of course the chefs’ creations, and the all important volunteers and sponsors round up my photography tasks.

It was a great first night and I look forward to returning to the second night tonight. See you there!