Fireworks long exposure

Technical: Nikon D200, 1.3 sec, f13, focal length 29, ISO 100


Nikon D200, 4 sec, f13, focal length 75, ISO 100

As I have learned, long exposures work very nicely for fireworks. Here you see two examples taken in 2009. The buildings are sharp. With fireworks, almost like running water, a long exposure will give a nice blend. The exploding shells can create trails that will fill the frame as opposed to a shorter exposure. Either style can work.

Until recently, I hand held my fireworks shots. But now I definitely recommend a tripod. What I have learned is that there really is no right exposure. I start with 2-3 seconds and then dial the f-stop. Remember to keep the ISO constant. And, the camera is of course on manual. In darkness it is often a challenge for the camera to auto-focus. So set the camera to infinity, or at least focus on any object in the distance. If you don’t have buildings or trees in the frame then sharpness is less noticeable. When shooting at dusk, the beginning of the fireworks, try to get some of that great ambient glow from the sunset that just happened.

Fireworks on the fly

Technical: Nikon D200, ½ sec, f5.3, focal length 120

An unscheduled fireworks show broke out the other night. I shot fireworks by hand holding the camera. Actually at ½ sec exposure, I used the fence and braced myself. At some point I will post a better fireworks image. Fireworks are bright so when I was younger, I used a shutter speed of 1/60 or thereabouts. Then someone told me that long exposures would give long trails to the fireworks. This would mean tripod and several seconds for shutter speed. I have varied and used as much as 10 sec. But I didn’t have a chance to set up a tripod. So I stood braced, feet apart and the camera steadied on the fence. Not too shabby.

Two more long exposures

Technical: Canon EOS 7D, 30 sec, manual, f16 ISO 400, 60mm focal length, no flash

Technical: Canon EOS 7D, 30 sec, manual, f18 ISO 400, 60mm focal length, no flash

I am impressed. Initially, I didn’t  look in the metadata for exposure information and David hadn’t told me. A quick email and he responded that this was an experiment in low incandescent light.

His long exposures test the limits of the camera sensor. Ordinarily with film, long exposures will result in image degradation and color shift. Digital sensors are also subject to changes when taken beyond the ordinary parameters. In both cases the terms often used are grain or noise.

For purists this is a topic of agonizing discussion. Sharpness, image color fidelity and so forth can consume you. Fear of dust may also paralyze you. It used to be dust on your film. Now it’s dust on your sensor. With few exceptions this is reasonably easy to handle. But, I digress.

Here it appears that the grain/noise is acceptable. The sensor did well on such long exposures. I don’t have the original art for comparison, but I find the digital captures David made to be very nice indeed.

Vase – long exposure

Technical: Canon EOS 7D, 30 sec, manual, f16 ISO 400, 60mm focal length, no flash

This is a photo by cousin David. This image was taken shortly after the return of his camera from being repaired. Everyone’s nightmare is to attempt to service one’s gear and have it all go wrong.

My daughter’s Texas friend visited and her point and shoot wouldn’t open up and let the zoom lens advance. I took the camera apart on the kitchen table. After removing a series of tiny screws, I got the mechanism to work again. Hurray! One small problem – after assembling the camera, there was one small screw that remained on the table. The camera worked fine; there was just this one screw. I heard later that she bought a new camera.

David’s image of this plate was shot at 30 sec according to the metadata. This long exposure brings a few things to mind. The background is black suggesting that he considered this before he made the shot. The detail is tack sharp indicating use of a tripod. The hole in the middle of the plate is dark. I assume it’s a hole as I can’t derive any detail. The composition is pleasing. There are enough elements to lead the eye around the image. Then I got the email from David that this was a vase. Hmmm… think in 3D.

I discuss image size and noise with the image below (leaf bud).

Leaf bud

Technical: Canon EOS 7D, .3 sec, manual, f?, ISO 400, 50mm focal length, no flash

On the subject of image capture, size is a question. The image sent to me was 7.6 mb. There is a setting on DSLR cameras for RAW or large jpeg files. RAW files are larger than a jpeg capture. The data is like a film negative, which the digital camera computer processes into a jpeg file of smaller size. If you are satisfied to let the camera’s image processing software do it’s magic, then you get many more images on a memory card. Otherwise the RAW file takes up a lot of memory on the computer hard drive as well. There are many opinions about whether to shoot RAW files. There are advantages in post processing options such as tweaking color balance and salvaging information in underexposed areas.

With a large image capture file, you have another advantage – the ability to enlarge the image. In the second image I enlarged the image to show detail. There is no grain/noise to be seen. The fine detailed hairs are sharp.

The image was shot on a tripod. And here is an example advantage of stabilizing the camera. The finest details are preserved. Of course if there is a breeze and the plant is moving, detail would be lost on a long exposure. The rule for handheld image is 1/focal length. Therefore, if the focal length is 50 mm the longest handheld exposure would be 1/50. It’s just a guideline.

At ISO 400 this image shows hardly any grain or noise as it’s called these days. Noise is the consequence of being able to image in near darkness. The sensor gives up some detail in the capture. Looking at the plate there is hardly any noise in the black center. The detail holds at high magnification.

These are some of the choices to keep in mind when adjusting your settings.


Technical: Canon EOS 7D, 1/13 sec, F??, ISO 400, 50mm focal length

David used selective focus to draw the viewer’s eye to the thorns by letting the stems and leaves in the foreground blur and frame the center of interest. The thorns are pretty much centered and the stem goes north south in and out of the frame. That part is a little distracting. I could see cropping this down to just the thorns and you would have a tilted diagonal image. This is a good example of using elements to frame the point of interest.

Another way to gain selective focus is a device on the market called Lensbaby. It is a device that when attached to the camera body will selectively focus. It has many models now and can be quite expensive with the bells and whistles. Then, there is Photoshop, which can also be used.

Downsized flags via email

Technical: Smartphone

Yes, this was taken with a smartphone from a car window and processed by Microsoft imaging software. At the time the shot was made, Ginny had no idea that the sun flare would complete the image.

On her way to a wedding on Long Island, my friend Ginny called to her cousin to stop the car. She rolled down the window to get this image of flags on Veteran’s Day. When she reviewed the image her friend shouted out commenting on the sunbeams. I have always called this ‘angel light.’ What wonderful serendipity! For what it is, the shot is perfect. A cellphone image is better than none. But here…wow!

Eclipse of the Moon

Technical: Nikon D200, 1/500 sec, f9, manual, ISO 1600, focal length 400, tripod

Nikon D200, .8 sec, f9, manual, ISO 1600, focal length 1600, tripod

The moon is often a compositional element in an image. When it is the primary object of interest, there are caveats. First, the moon is a very bright object in the sky. The light source is a very familiar bright object, the sun. That means the exposure is greatly different from the ambient light of dusk or night. One of the best times to shoot the moon is at dusk when there is still ambient red orange glow before the sun goes down, the so called ‘golden hour.’ From the settings you can see that the moon is very bright. I generally set my camera to ISO auto, a mistake here. The camera tried to compensate for the overall dark background. The ISO was 1600. I used a tripod. You can’t effectively hand hold at .8 second exposure. The lens was at 400mm focal length. Even here the moon only fills a small part of the frame. A proper exposure will show some detail on the moon’s surface. It’s not everyday that one has an eclipse of the moon. The weather conditions, clouds, and ambient city lights are all in play.

Shooting the Sun


What I know about shooting the sun was from some brief experiments as a kid. I wanted to shoot an eclipse of the sun. I at least knew enough not to look directly at the sun. The lens of the eye acts like a magnifying lens and focuses the image of the sun on the retina and will burn or damage the eye. It’s obvious, but don’t look directly into the sun. As a kid I was told that several layers of opaque developed film would filter sunlight enough to look directly. Otherwise there were indirect ways to look at the sun.

This summer David and I were on Governor’s Island. A science demonstration was set up in an open field and a series of sun telescopes were on display. We curiously approached and two men were bent over their instruments making adjustments and muttering to one another. It turns out that they were representatives of the telescope company. They were more than happy to demonstrate how the telescopes worked. Each was heavily filtered to protect the eyes. “What was the purpose or need?” you might ask. Well they were observing solar flare activity. Plasma was being expelled from the sun in long slow moving plumes. The clouds were sparse but interfered with the observations.The shadows on the sun’s disc are actually the overhead clouds.

I asked about imaging. A simple down and dirty way to get an image was to put a point and shoot camera on the observation lens of the telescope. We did just that and got a shot. Go figure. Actually, Julia had already showed me this trick in Africa. She shot pictures through my binoculars with her point and shoot camera. And wouldn’t you know it, the images were quite serviceable.

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Technical: Nikon D90, 1/200 sec, f10, focal length 36mm,

This is a nice tightly cropped photo. The viewer’s eye can concentrate on the details. There are two things to notice. She used a fill flash. This is good because Matilda is in shadow with a bright backlight that would possibly make her face too dark. The exposure is very even and there is good detail in her face. The sky and beach behind her are not too bright and retain some detail. The second thing is that there is wide angle distortion. With a wide angle lens too close to the subject you can see that Matilda’s hands and feet are disproportionately small compared to her head. And, the top of her head is lager than her face. I like this picture for the color and the exposure. So, the distortion was not immediately noticeable till I point it out. Now the body disproportion is all that you can focus upon. To avoid this problem, back up with the camera. As you move back you will lessen the wide angle effect. You could stand away and zoom in to capture the detail but your distortion will not be so noticeable.