Photographing Fireworks

Every Wednesday night throughout the summer, there is a short Fireworks display at Niagara Falls.  I went out for a walk last night and decided to head over and see what they were all about.  After all, everyone likes a good show.

I wasn’t the only one there – there had to be everyone in the city that wasn’t playing at the Casino crowded onto the sidewalks along the river on both the Canadian and United States sides.

Before the show started, there was also the incredible setting of the lights shone on the American and Horseshoe Falls from the Canadian side by Niagara Parks.

So, it was a very touristy moment and the tourists didn’t disappoint.

Like most touristy things, every other person had a camera.  It was quite amusing watching people with their cameras and their actions.  I had mine because, hey, I’m a tourist too.  However, I’ve done enough photography to know that I didn’t have the tools.  There is some really good advice about photographing fireworks here, here, or here.  There’s some great advice here for the amateur.  A single bit of advice is to use a tripod and that sure doesn’t work well when you’re in a crowd of thousands with kids who should be in bed running around, screaming, crying, and you probably get the picture.  It’s really not a setting conducive for a positive “Kodak moment“.

New portable technology is very forgiving and, as I stand there trying to be part of the background, it’s natural to see what people were doing.  Carefully, they hold their digital camera up and snap a picture, bring it down to try to fumble in the dark to switch from camera to playback.  What they got were some really bad pictures!

There was some great amateur advice too.

  • “Turn off the flash” – “I don’t know how”
  • “Turn on the flash” – “I did but it didn’t work”
  • “Hold it steady”
  • “Give it to Mikey – he’s closer to the edge”
  • “Give it to Mikey and he can sit on your shoulders”
  • “Does anyone know how to switch this thing over?”
  • “I should have brought a tripod”
  • “Can you buy me some popcorn?”
  • “We should have gone up the Skylon
  • “Here, you try it”
  • “Why are all the pictures black?” “Did you take the lens cap off?”

The comments went on and on as folks tried their best to capture the moment.  Modern cameras have made things very convenient but even they can’t handle the optics and the conditions here.

Thanks, Mutantlog
I’ve got a few friends who might have the skills and patience to pull this thing off.  I’m thinking of my friends Ron and Diane.  Awesome pictures do require knowing what you’re doing in addition to being in the right place, at the right time.  However, common sense would indicate that this wasn’t the time and the place to grab that one in a million shot.  Thankfully, there’s Flickr!  Even in the image above, the photographer shot the picture from the hotel room as opposed to trying for a lucky shot in a crowd.
Hotel rooms and public, semi-private places where you have the time to set up as an amateur are great.  From the Minolta Konica Tower, I was able to get this shot.
Niagara Falls from the Konica Minolta Tower
My complete set with a little Photoshop Elements experimentation is here.

Planning and patience and knowing what to do seem to be the keys for success.  It doesn’t hurt to also know your own and your technology limitations too.  Letting Mikey hang over the fence is probably not going to get the job done.

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3 thoughts on “Photographing Fireworks

  1. We’ll make a photographer out of you yet, Doug. 😉

    No matter how much experience you have as a a photographer, you can always learn something new and the really amazing thing is that sometimes your best photographs result from dumb luck or even mistakes.

    Thank goodness for Photoshop. 😉



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