Saturday evening I went to Les Grands Feux du Casino du Lac-Leamy as one of the volunteer photographers for the event. It’s the first time that I’ve been an “official” photographer for something since my days of being a photographer for the yearbook in high school.
Being the first day of the festival, the team of photographers were asked to fan out and take pictures of everything from the signs to the tents to the chairs and also the people. And, of course, raison d’être for the event, the fireworks.
There are a couple of different approaches I use when taking pictures of fireworks, which depend on the type of camera I have and whether I can use a tripod.
As I was fortunate enough to have an unobstructed front row seat, I set up my camera on a tripod and framed the scene prior to the beginning of the show. I focused on the barge where the fireworks are set off from and then turned off the autofocus on the lens so that it wouldn’t "hunt" for something to focus on when the fireworks started. Shooting in raw mode, I chose an ISO speed of 100. This would allow longer exposures while avoiding saturating the CCD sensor. For a shutter speed, I selected "bulb", which means that the shutter would be open for as long as I held it open with my remote. (Fortunately, I didn’t have to actually hold it open because I was using a wireless remote — I just had to press the button to open the shutter and press it again to close it.)
And then I waited for the start of the show.
Shortly before the show started, a couple of test shells were fired, which allowed me to fine the framing and play with the length of exposure. Because I was using long exposures of several seconds, I quickly realized that each firework that went off during the exposure was like turning on a layer in Photoshop. If the pyrotechnicians were lobbing a lot of shells into the air the resulting photo could quickly become an over-exposed mass of light trails. So I attempted to visualize what the sum of the fireworks during an exposure would look like and cut the exposure short if necessary. Based on the results, I was reasonably successful.
But multi-second exposures give you long light trails, which are pretty, but for some types of fireworks, like the dense green-orange-yellow spark clouds that hung in the air for ten seconds, the effect of the fireworks is lost. So, I tried some short exposures by setting the ISO to 1600 (the highest my camera offers) and letting it figure out the exposure. That produced photos that had individual points of light for each spark in the firework.
These photos tend to show the true colours because the sensor doesn’t get as saturated with light as it does on the longer exposures.
So, Wednesday is the next show with the team from Italy putting on the show. I’m looking forward to another evening of fireworks photography.