Learning faux pas with fireworks photography

Learning faux pas with fireworks photography

Here’s a story of a partial failure in capturing fireworks last July 4th. Is there a reason to share this story? Sure! Find out below.


“Why would sharing a story about not getting the image you tried for be grounds for an article?” There is a tendency to share all the winning photos and completely shelve the less-than-great photos. It’s human nature. Readers see all the solid photos and begin to lose heart in their ability to keep up. Because you only see the “A” work and never the “B-roll” images that end up on the cutting room floor, newer photographers get frustrated. They don’t know that solid photographers fail ahead – we make mistakes. A lot of mistakes.

The difference between an emerging photographer and an established photographer is that the established photographer has probably made more mistakes than the emerging photographer has ever tried to make.

The story

Last year I shared a story of my photographer friend Heidi Mixon about a technique called Focus Pulling. Last year I didn’t get a chance to try it out, so I was looking forward to snapping some cool footage at this year’s fireworks. Well, that wasn’t supposed to happen because I hadn’t studied and practiced hard enough for the actual event.

Had I practiced instead of thinking I understood the process because I read about it, I would have learned that the manual focus on my lens wasn’t locked in the way I thought it would. Below you can see the less than stellar results I got because I couldn’t get the camera back into a focused position.

Most of my first attempts with the Focus Pulling Flowers technique went as above.
fireworks photo fail
As the evening show went on, I started to get a little more definition.

The lessons

A few lessons came from my experience.

  1. Be sure to practice a technique and not just read about it before heading out to create images. Especially if you’re doing it at an event that won’t be repeated for a year!
  2. Know that there will be failures when you try new techniques. And that’s a good thing. We learn more and more deeply when we make mistakes than when something goes too easy.
  3. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes are nothing more than learning opportunities. The more learning opportunities you try, the faster you’ll become a better photographer.
fireworks photo fail
Start feeling it and learn more about the recording process.
fireworks photo
Towards the end of the screening I got a little closer to the goal… Next year I will be better prepared and more ‘practiced’ before the actual fireworks explode.

Not the only mistake

Not to be outdone, I also made another mistake with my second camera. I set it up to capture a time-lapse of the fireworks display. A time-lapse sequence allows you to capture a lot of frames to make a video, which is another way to tell a story with your camera.

Despite the overexposure of the shots because I was shooting in RAW, I was able to save this part of my shot. Definitely a reminder to reconfirm settings before shooting

It also gives you resources to use Photoshop techniques to display additional bursts on a single frame.

“So Bob, what was wrong here?” I didn’t double check and set the exposure to 3.2 sec at f/11 ISO to 800 when it should have been ISO 200. Two stops over exposure, I wanted to be guided to photos that were quite overexposed.

Saved by RAW shooting

If I captured the time-lapse images in JPEG, almost all of those files would be toasted. Since I used the RAW format, I was able to recover 85-90% of the images. That made the time-lapse possible. It also made it possible to create the final blended image that forms the headline of this article. Before heading out to shoot, especially something as rare as fireworks, it pays to look at ideas and concepts before heading out.

fireworks photo
Able to save single shots by creating time-lapse sequences.
fireworks photo
My favorite single shot of the night.

I hope you learn something from my mistakes. I know I did!

Yours in creative photography, Bob