10 July 2017

2017 Independence Day Fireworks

I was in Leadville, CO with family for this year's Independence Day holiday.  Leadville is approximately 10,000 ft above sea level, and has panoramic views of the Colorado Rocky mountains, including Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert.  I spent the afternoon scouting for locations all over the city to best photograph the fireworks with the mountains in the background.  After all, it isn't everywhere you can capture a firework display in front of such rugged natural beauty.  After hours of scouting, I settled on a location within walking distance of the house where we were staying.  I envisioned the fireworks high in the frame, with the mountain range in the middle, and the launch location at the bottom.

As chance would have it, forest fires in the area (unbeknownst to me) caused heavy smoke to roll in shortly before dusk.  It smelled like I was sitting around a campfire.  The smoke caused a haze so thick that the nearby hills to the east of the city were no longer visible.  The mountains might have well not been there; they were completely obscured by the smoke.

There should be mountains in the background!
All my pre-planning went up in smoke (ha) and I decided to try some abstract techniques I had read about in previous years.  The two techniques I tried were changing focus and changing zoom during the firework blast.  For both of these methods, had to move my camera to track the shell from its launch to apogee.  As it detonated, I would lock my ball head's position, release the shutter, and either move the zoom ring or focus ring.  My exposures were about ~2s.

While reviewing pictures between firework salvos, I decided I like the variable zoom pictures more, so I stopped my focus shifting photos. In hindsight (and with the aid of a large computer monitor), I wished I had shot more with variable focus.  A 3" screen on the back of a camera doesn't show the details like a 27" screen.

I really like the way these firework pictures turned out.  Had the smoke not forced me to change plans, I never would have experimented with these abstract firework photo techniques.  Now I have some new ideas for firework displays in the future. I'd like to try rotating the camera, panning, or combining zoom and focus.  It would also be nice to get a picture of fireworks exploding over the Rocky Mountains!

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