Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Portrait with Fountains and Fireworks (Basic to Intermediate)



The photo above explains why I hadn't had a blog post in more than a week (I was too cheap to get internet access at the hotel :)) ). I thought about putting a post about our trip but hesitated for security reasons (I didn't want to publicize our absence from our house).  Anyway I'm still taking test shots for the second part of the TTL tutorial but meanwhile I thought I would post a blog entry about taking fireworks photos, apropos to the upcoming 4th of July weekend.  We didn't see fireworks during our trip to Las Vegas, but the Bellagio fountains are analogous.  Here's how I took the shot above:


I like fireworks photos that include some portion of the location in order to give the image context.  I also wanted at least one portrait-type shot with us in it.

First, I setup the camera on a tripod with the composition of the final image in mind.  Next, I wanted to get the exposure of the background right.  To do this, I first selected manual exposure (for predictability), and estimated the difference in exposure between the lit buildings and the fountain.  In this case, I estimated that the fountain would be roughly as bright as the buildings, or a bit brighter.  I chose a slow shutter speed in order to allow the fountains to create some trails, though I didn't want it to be so long that the patterns of the fountains would look like a meaningless blur.  I chose 1/8 for the shot above.

For the aperture, it would depend on your intent.  If the subject of the photo is the fountain, then I would choose a reasonably small aperture like f/8 for sharpness and a wider depth of field, and choose an ISO that creates a test shot that looks roughly like what my eyes see.  That's the approach I took with the shot below:
Incidentally, the shot above is actually a composite of two pictures. I liked the fountain patterns in two different shots and combined the exposures in order to get both patterns in the same image.  The same can be done with fireworks to create the illusion of more fireworks.  If you didn't want people in your shot, then you're done.

Going back to aperture and ISO: if the subject of the photo is a person and you want the fountain to be only part of the background, I would choose an aperture and ISO that is slightly underexposed.  In this case, I chose a wide aperture to keep the emphasis on the people as the subject, then chose an ISO that resulted in an underexposure of 0.7 stops.

After setting the exposure for the background, I then worked on getting the correct flash exposure for the people.  TTL should work reasonably well (just adjust the flash exposure using flash exposure compensation).  However, in this case, for predictability, I ultimately chose manual flash mode (through a bit of trial and error, I chose a power of 1/64 +1/3 stop). 
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In order to get soft light, you can use an umbrella or try to bounce the light.  Using an umbrella requires less power from your flash, but you'll need another tripod or light stand to support the umbrella.  In the shot above, I didn't have an extra tripod, so I mounted the flash on-camera then bounced the light off a wall, which was reasonably neutral in color.

When the music began for the fireworks, I just listened for the highlights of the song to get an idea of the 'peak' times when there would be more lights for the fountain.

That's all there is to it for portraits with fountains (and fireworks).  Enjoy your weekend and be safe.