Fireworks Fun

Twenty years ago this Memorial Day weekend, my wife and I were married. To celebrate, we made reservations to spend a little time at Big Cedar Lodge in the Ozarks, one of the premier resorts in the area. As an anniversary trip, I swore to leave computer, computer books, Photoshop books and all things digital (except a camera, of course!) at home.

Having a bit of a Disney feel, Big Cedar’s nestled on a hillside overlooking one arm of Table Rock Lake. We did all the usual stuff – walks along the water, floating on the lazy river, naps, eating, reading. What we hadn’t expected, or known about, was that they were putting on a big fireworks show Sunday night for Memorial Day, and our balcony would be the perfect spot to watch it from. Now I’d sworn off all computer/digital stuff for the weekend, but I did bring a camera, and, well, there were going to be firewor…

The problem was, I wanted to travel light so had brought just a Nikon D70S (6 MP) and two lenses, the 18-70 3.5-4.5 and the 70-300 4.5-5.6 ED lens. That’s my favorite combination of camera and lenses for wandering around, light and small and easy to carry. And the 18-70 lens would work great for fireworks photography. But I had no tripod. At home there were four tripods, but was any one of them in the trunk of the car? Of course not!

When I got into photography in the early 70s, I worked for a studio photographer whose favorite saying for any problem I ran into was, “Well, why don’t you outsmart it?” My wife and kids now hate that saying, but I always go back to it when there’s a problem to be solved. This was an easy one, though. There was a small table on the balcony, so all I had to do was roll up a hand towel to put under the camera to get the right angle for the framing I wanted.

Next problem was that I didn’t have a remote release for the camera, and if I was going to do time exposures (and I was), pushing the shutter button would cause some blur. Getting around that was easy too – I just used the camera’s self-timer. I could trigger it, take my hand away from the camera and ten-seconds later it would fire.

Last problem was how to balance out the bright flash of the fireworks with the low available light, which would show the lake, the boats on the lake and the moon. That’s a tougher one. No way I could get both the fireworks and the other stuff in one exposure. Time to use a little digital magic. First I shot the lake/boats/moon scene, actually almost 30-minutes before the fireworks started, so there was still some light in the sky. Using Manual exposure, I shot that at one-quarter second, f/5.0 at ISO 400. After the fireworks started, I changed exposure, to six-seconds, f/5.6 at 200 ISO. I figured out those exposures using the histogram display and flashing highlights on the LCD.

Back home, I opened both photos in Photoshop (and this could be done in Elements, or any editing software that supports Layers). Choosing one photo, I selected all (Control-A or Command-A for Macs), then held down the shift key and used the move tool (V) to drag that photo on top of the other. I could then use the Eraser tool, with the Foreground set to white, to erase through the top image to reveal the image below. Voila, digital magic!

And unlike photos from so many other trips I’ve done, my wife will let this one sit framed on the kitchen counter, because she was there too.

(more photoshop tricks like this can be found in the Education area of the Blue Pixel web site)

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