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Fireworks Photography with Richard and Pat Barlow

From the Editor: Fireworks Photography sounds ominous, but meeting Richard and Pat Barlow at the top of The 1000 Islands TOWER, on Hill Island, made it sound fascinating and surprisingly easy. 

This July 4th, we saw the fireworks from high above the Islands.  The evening was beautiful and, as soon as the sun, set we could see small bursts of colour along the shore near Alexandria Bay.  For those attending, and not familiar with the annual Alexandria Bay extravaganza, the first bursts seemed exciting.  But there was a big difference between, what I call “family fireworks kits” being set off along the shore, and the professional show which began soon after dark.

Richard and Pat live a few miles downriver, near Maitland, ON.  They were Torontonians, who retired and moved here in 1999. Pat was a dental hygienist and Richard was a technological studies teacher. He taught high school photography for many years. They are members of the Brockville Area Photo Club and have been photographing fireworks for several years, but this was their first visit to the Tower.  As soon as I spied the cameras, I asked if they would share their work with TI Life.

“Of course.” he said, “but the technique may not be what you expect.  You see, I use a multi-second exposure.”  He showed me an example and I thought they were so interesting, I certainly wanted to share them with our readers.

That night, Richard explained that the distance from the Tower to Alexandria Bay was too great for really good pictures. However, I assured him I wanted them and at the same time asked if he would give us a short primer on being adventuresome.


Barlow six fire

Photo by Richard Lyle Barlow
Barlow eight fire
Photo by Pat Barlow

BArlow five fire

Photo by Pat Barlow

Photography of fireworks:

To take photos of fireworks, one must have a camera that allows manual settings. To prescribe exact settings here is impractical, as factors such as the power of the fireworks and the distance away all affect things.

You are not trying to freeze action, you are trying to get the full burst – start to finish of each firework – or of several of them.

I suggest that the following settings be a starting point:

ISO: set at 100 to 200

Shutter Speed: 4 to 8 full seconds

Aperture: F8 to F11

These are starting points; if you want the fireworks to appear as you saw them, then the use of a tripod is essential. If you want crazy special effects, then hand-hold and swing, or rotate the camera, during the exposure. You can achieve amazing results doing that.



Barlow four fire

Photo by Pat Barlow
barlow three fire
Photo by Richard Lyle Barlow
Barlow seven fire
Photo by Richard Lyle Barlow

After you have shot the first picture, look at it on the screen of your camera. If it is too bright and washed out, reduce the ISO, or use a smaller aperture (higher number).

If too dark, then increase the ISO, or use a larger aperture (smaller number) and try again. Make changes slowly; after four or five tries,you should have it right. The time of the exposure – I never use less than two seconds, or more than ten seconds, has less effect on the brightness and more on how many bursts you capture, on each frame.

Digital photography costs nothing, so take lots of pictures; in a fifteen-minute show, I will take close to a hundred. Later, when you look at them on your computer, there will be outstanding images and failures. You only need a few to have an impressive record of the show. Delete the failures.


BArlow other one fire

Photo by Richard Lyle Barlow
Barlow other two fire
Photo by Richard Lyle Barlow
These two photographs were take at another fireworks display when the photographs used a tripod and were much closer to the display.

For any other questions, I can be contacted through this periodical.

By Richard Lyle Barlow

Posted in: Photography, Sports
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