Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Independence Day 2016 fireworks at Cal Expo

It's tough to have serious camera gear and sit out a big fireworks show. So I tend not to.

Photographers more serious than me (and that's nearly all of them) focus(!) on shooting(!) fireworks with a photographically interesting foreground. Maybe someday. I'm so simpleminded as to be enthralled with the fiery blossoms, themselves. And trying to get a few keepers after each show.

My recommendations (to myself, if no one else) after this year's experience:

• Lens: 15mm (or 24mm—70mm set to 24mm)
• Tripod is required to stabilize the camera; a bullhead or tilt/pan is need for aiming
• Cable release is required to control the shutter without wiggling the camera
• ISO: I will set mine to "L–1.0", the lowest ISO I can get my camera (Nikon D800E) to go to—it's faux ISO 50
• Mode: Manual
• Aperture: f/11 (at f/8 this year, I was still getting blowouts—admittedly, I was only at ISO L–0.7)

Note: The D800E's dynamic range when capturing RAW images is great enough that one can bring up underexposure in post. But once a pixel is blown out (overexposed), there's no bringing it back. A bit of underexposure is acceptable. Too much will require bringing everything up, including the relatively dark yet somewhat illuminated smoke, and nobody wants that.

• Shutter is set to "bulb"—pushing the cable release opens the shutter; letting it go closes the shutter
• Metering is irrelevant here; the camera isn't making any decisions about exposure
• Focus: Manual—I focused at a distant light pre-show and confirmed
• Image quality: RAW (no in-camera processing)
• Long-exposure noise-reduction: Off (to prevent any in-camera processing)
• Live view: Off

Having the correct settings is a start. Next, you have to aim decently enough to contain the glowing bursts. The real trick is knowing when to open and close the shutter. Open too late and you get "porcupines" (streaming trails that seem to come from inside a black sphere). Keep it open too long and the frame gets too busy. Blowouts ensue.

Post-processing is where you can bring up the exposure if needed. Beyond that, I can go completely crazy with saturation and other settings. By eschewing "interesting foreground," I am free of any post-processing inhibitions.

With all that in mind, here are the keepers I got this year.

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