Monday, July 6, 2009

Photos | My first attempt at shooting fireworks (with a camera)

After a hiatus because of the recession last year, Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral put on a fireworks show just off Shepard Park. Near the famous Ron Jon Surf Shop, it is a popular spot for tourists in Cocoa Beach. I took Saturday off from work to get my first opportunity to photograph fireworks. In my hometown in rural Maine, there were no professional shows nearby on the Fourth of July. My family usually celebrated in its own way, with homemade explosives. And burgers and hot dogs, of course. Later in life, while working for various media outlets, I had never once gotten the night off from work. This year, that changed. (Shutter open for 1.4 seconds)

I arrived in Cocoa Beach a few hours before the show, which was scheduled for 9 p.m. or thereabouts. After seeing a car with a shattered window and surrounded by police officers - an obvious theft in a rather deserted, albeit free parking area - I opted for paying $10 to park near the beach and under the lights. I wasn't about to leave equipment in my car, risking a break-in by some drunken revelers. Above, a group of college-age people were cooking beef and chicken under the largest American flag on the beach, just after sunset. "Everyone's taking pictures of our flag," one of them said. He also said that the flag almost didn't make it to the beach: It flew through the truck window and was run over on the way. He pointed out the tire marks, but I couldn't see them. Oh, the desecration.

I planned to start the show with the flag in the foreground, lighting it by firing an external flash at some point during the exposure. The flash stopped the flag's waving motion, but overall, this composition was lackluster: The fireworks weren't reaching high into the air, so I decided to head for the shoreline. (Shutter open for 17.6 seconds)

I continued to use a flash when I reached the water, here lighting a child in the foreground. The child did not stand still for the entire exposure, but the flash makes that appear to be the case. (Shutter open for 15.3 seconds)

This shot turned out OK. The boy walked down toward the water with his two skateboards. (Shutter open for 21.2 seconds)

I used the flash this time to light the water as it crept toward my tripod. Now that this photographic adventure is over, I wish I had done two things: shot video and moved my butt. I had planned to move around to get different angles on the display, so I didn't want to juggle a video camera, too. But seeing how I didn't move around too much, I wish I had: There might have been more opportunities than just a few people and that American flag to get some interesting foreground. (Shutter open for 6.7 seconds)

At this point, I realized that the flash wasn't the proper route. The colors in the reflection might have been more brilliant if I hadn't used it for this photo. (Shutter open for 16.1 seconds)

In a long exposure, it's difficult to make it seem as though everything is in focus. The constantly churning sea creates a motion blur that can't be avoided. In this photo, I like the streams of gold plunging into the Atlantic Ocean. (Shutter open for 5.7 seconds)

The fireworks were shot from an offshore barge. Other boats, appearing as points of light along the horizon of these photos, formed a perimeter around the barge. The display cost the cities of Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral about $53,000. (Shutter open for 3.3 seconds)

This is one of my favorites, just because the fireworks fill more of the frame and the streaks of light aren't too overexposed. (Shutter open for 1.7 seconds)

Apparently, someone ventured out into the water to get a closer view. As for me, I stayed at the edge of the waves' reach. To protect the feet of my tripod from sand and salt, I fastened three Walmart shopping bags to them with rubber bands, creating plastic boots. Still, some sand - and of course, water - found its way in. (Shutter open for 3.7 seconds)

This was the last burst of the grand finale. In all, I took about 200 photos. I wasn't too impressed by any of them, but they were all so similar that I could not decide which ones should be highlighted here. The show was a great experience, though, one that I will learn from and use to improve future fireworks-shooting adventures. Here's hoping for another Independence Day off from work. (Shutter open for 3.2 seconds)

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