Daily Photo — Town Lake Fireworks

I’m going to take one of the shots from my portfolio and do a brief walkthrough of how the shot was composed, shot and processed. I’ll probably do this on a daily basis — at least until I run out of photos worth talking about. I’m a bit of an amateur still when it comes to photoshop and its kin, so I’ll likely spend more time on the reasons why I chose a particular method instead of the how I did it (I do welcome comments on how to further improve a given shot, or how to process it more efficiently).

Today’s shot was taken on March 20. I live in downtown Austin, and my balcony faces south toward Town Lake. I have no idea what event this was for — I was eating dinner and was a bit surprised to see fireworks going off outside my window. So I grabbed one of my cameras and a tripod and started snapping shots.

My original intent was to take multiple exposures and HDR them together to get the best combination of fireworks and background. Mostly I shot various combinations of exposures from 4 seconds to 30 seconds, between f/11 and f/22. What I found was that anything longer than 8 seconds tended to capture too many explosions, crowding the scene and overexposing the image where they overlapped. Anything less than 8 seconds didn’t provide long enough trails to really show them off (although 4 seconds sometimes worked, depending on the effect).

Here’s the final image, followed below by the original (click on the image to see a larger version).

  • Shutter: 8 seconds
  • Aperture: f/22
  • ISO: 200
  • Camera: Canon EOS 1ds mIII
  • Lens: Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8L USM (at 25mm)

And the original:

The first thing I noticed looking at this shot was that HDR wasn’t really going to help it. It didn’t need any additional explosions, and the background was relatively dull — no amount of surreal HDR processing of multiple images was going to help that. So I stuck with the single image.

A quick aside: I tend to use Lightroom for general exposure control and color balancing, then Photoshop for more localized changes, followed by Lightroom again for a couple final tweaks (like sharpening).

One of the problems with shooting fireworks is the smoke. The fireworks themselves light it up and depending on which way the wind is blowing, they’ll muddy the picture. The smoke in this shot isn’t too bad, but it’s definitely noticeable and detracts from the shot. To get rid of it I ran the “shadows” tone slider all the way down to -100. That really darkened the background of course, but more on that later.

The image was still a little crowded though– I wanted to create more separation between the different light trails figuring they’d pop a bit more against the black background. So I ran the “lights” tone slider all the way down to -100 too, and moved the “highlights” slider to +100. That effectively slimmed each of the trails to get the effect I wanted. I also moved the blacks up to +14, which thinned them slightly more.

In Photoshop I removed a number of distracting elements: some of the spray from the explosions didn’t look good, and that Silicon Labs sign was an eyesore. I then took a second copy of the shot from lightroom that hadn’t been altered (including none of the lightroom adjustments to the tone curve) and created an additional layer.

With this unaltered version, I color balanced and mucked with HSL sliders to try and add as much color to the bland background as possible. I then used a layer mask to paint into the main image those parts of the background I wanted to show more brightly. Even though the background was uninteresting, fireworks without some context are kind of weak. So I did the best I could to amp it up.  I also added a little bit of space at the top of the shot to give the fireworks a little bit of breathing room.

The combined shot came back to Lightroom for some minor cropping and the shot was done.

July 22 2008 12:05 am | Photography

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