High’s and Low’s with Fireworks Photography

The big problem with photographing fireworks displays in Edinburgh is trying to get something that’s not been done 100 times before. This year along we’ve had the half hour display from Edinburgh Castle for the Festival, a shorter display from the castle for St Andrews Day, a display from Calton Hill as part of the Hogmanay celebrations and just over 24 hours later, another huge display from the castle again at midnight for New Year. That’s quite a lot of opportunities with iconic landmarks.

For the Festival display I trudged high up on Salisbury Crags with what felt like 10 tones of camera gear but nailed the shots I wanted so it was all worth it.

Festival Fireworks 18
Nikon D90 with 18-70mm lens set for a wider shot of the city with the fireworks at the castle.

Festival Fireworks 1
Closer shot with a Nikon D7000 and Sigma 70-200 f2.8 lens.

The St Andrews Day display though was another matter. With no firm time for the display and a strong biting wind I had gave up on my Calton Hill location thinking they had been cancelled, thankfully when I realised that hadn’t I was only down by Regent Road so did get some shots, nothing I’d describe as killer though.

St Andrews Day Fireworks 2011 - Explored
Shot with a Nikon D7000 and Sigma 70-200mm f2.8

Ok, so it’s not bad and the Bank building in the shot rather than the castle is different but it’s not the shot I wanted, not the best of nights.

Next big chance was the Son et Lumiere on Calton Hill, the end of the Hogmanay torchlight procession. In previous years I’ve shot this from the hillside itself from the back of the 10,000 strong crowd but have never been that pleased with the results.

This year I decided to try something different. Earlier in the year I took some shots from the Holyrood side of the Radical Road around Salisbury Crags trying to get traffic light trails with a backdrop of the Parliament and Calton Hill. The idea struck me, why not try and combine the two? So that’s what I did. 2 cameras set up, D7000 with the Sigma 70-200mm shooting Calton close in in portrait format, the D90 with the Nikon 18-200mm lens shooting the wide scene on 15s exposures to get the light trails and the fireworks. And guess what? It worked. Exactly the shot I wanted and something I’ve not seen done before.

Son et lumiere 9

The good times didn’t last though. For the big New Year celebration fireworks I had scouted out an easy access location with a clear view to the front side of the castle. Trouble was, this was a daylight scouting mission and on arriving at the location with no time to get anywhere else, the error I had made was obvious. There’s a rugby club here and they had strong security lights on their clubhouse, right in front of the castle which caused a load of issues with light flares on both cameras.

To say this was a nightmare was an understatement, I had to spend the whole display fiddling with settings and compositions and came away with nothing I was happy with at all. Eventually I had to resort to blending two fireworks bursts together and then blending in another shot of the castle before the display to get anything approaching a usable shot. I’m not that happy with the results, it looks too perfect. No smoke obscuring the castle is the big give away. To the man in the street it’s a good shot but to a semi knowledgeable photographer, it’s a dirty big fake and that doesn’t sit that easily with me.

New Year Fireworks 2012

So, lessons learned?

Scout out new locations at night.
Use your existing shots for inspiration for locations and techniques.
Get all the info you can on the display.
Use 2 cameras on different settings if at all possible.

I’ve got a few months now before there will be anymore, I just hope I remember the lessons learned by then!

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One response

  1. GASP!!! Stunningly spectacular!!! Like, wow over the moon awesome.

    What I especially enjoyed about your photos is the contrast between the fireworks and the scenes below. Life as we want it compared to life as we know it.

    I love fireworks displays, but we rarely have them. Yet, real life is what we’re all about all the time. In other words, fantasy versus reality. And it’s all right there together.

    Really TERRIFIC shots!!!

    January 9, 2012 at 2:16 pm

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