” Just Be There…”

…with Steven Christenson”

Independence Day in the United States is just around the corner. On July 4th families and friends will get together to celebrate this holiday. Plans are being made for pick-up games of baseball, volleyball, or swimming. There will be picnics, and barbeques will be fired up. Dads all over will be grilling hot dogs, and burgers, watermelons will be split, seed spitting contests will ensue, and the colors of the day will be Red, White, and Blue.

When the sun drops beyond the horizon the celebrating doesn’t stop. Countless cities and towns will put on a great show of fireworks, and many families and friends will be gathered in their favorite viewing spot to watch the show. Many of us will want to photograph these.

Steven Christenson an avid night, and astro-photographer who is a longtime resident of the San Francisco Bay Area shares with us one of his experiences about photographing fireworks, and gives us some tips on how we can capture these stars bursting in air .

Rain on Golden Palms

Photograph by Steven Christenson

Q. Tell us about this location.

Steven: Oyster Point Marina in San Francisco, CA. It was a local radio station KFOG event called Kaboom. An annual outdoor concert held in May. In addition to the concert there is a Fireworks show which is synchronized to a soundtrack broadcasted by the station.

The reasons for choosing this location were twofold: 1. Get far enough away to be able to fill the frame and ideally somewhere that we could be sure to have an unobstructed view (nobody could get in front of us without getting wet!), and 2. Get reflections in the water. HOWEVER, to get good reflections, you really need to be well above water level and it helps if the water is calm. We had roaring wind that day!

And it doesn’t hurt to make it a social occasion! I had set up a Photography Meet-up event around this KFOG event.  Anne De Lemos, a photographer in our group would have become a Popsicle if people hadn’t brought extra blankets.

Q. What time of day?

Steven: Just after dark at 9:20 P.M.

Q. How difficult was this to capture?

Steven:  Fireworks are always challenging, especially if you’re a first timer at taking them on. Fortunately, I had cut my teeth on several prior fireworks events, including the KFOG Kaboom event the prior year. Manual exposure is the only way to go, and I sometimes fiddle slightly with the settings after chimping a few shots (i.e. looking at the histograms).

Q. What camera and lens did you use for this shot?

Steven: A Canon EOS 40D with a 70-200mm f4L IS USM  lens

Q. How did you expose for this shot?

Steven:  121mm, f11, 2.5 seconds, ISO 200, Manual Mode

I learned that two things are important:

1) A relatively small aperture – this increases the contrast since the fireworks are very bright,

2) A reasonably short exposure (1-6 seconds).

The not too long exposure allows enough time for the firework to bloom, but not so much time that later fireworks or overall glow weaken the contrast in the shot.  I usually fire the shutter as soon as I see the burst. The lag time between when I see the burst and when I press the cable release button is just about perfect to get the firework bloom just as it has expanded enough to be noticeable, but is not completely formed.  Another shooting strategy is to continuously expose 2-4 second shots. Sooner or later a few good ones result.  On this night I used two cameras and both shooting tactics. This image was from my human actuated shutter, however.

Use a sturdy tripod, and a remote cable release or remote to trigger your shutter to avoid shake.

Read more about Steven and see more of his Night Photography here: “BLOG.StarCircleAcademy.com“.

Copyright © Deborah M. Zajac.  All Rights Reserved.

Photograph used with permission for this blog article

Photograph Copyright © 2010 Steven Christenson

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