Monday, July 14, 2014

Where are your 4th of July Pictures?

It's hard to do the work of a photographer when you actually do help to shoot fireworks shows! I'm usually busy doing other stuff (safety/fire watch, actually shooting the pinboard) and don't want to get distracted with the camera.

What about 3rd of July? Some cities (including a few near me) do that, y'know? Well, I do know. And we did show up to one for the city of La Mirada, CA. The trouble is it looked like pretty much ALL of the city showed up. Lugging the gear around, plus tripod, plus a couple of chairs/water/eats over a mile with my wife wasn't in my list of things to do that day. So we went by Redbox, got a couple of movies we've been wanting to see (Monuments Men being one of them - highly recommended) and spent the evening at home. Date night, so to speak. And that's fine.

I love pyro, but I've gotten to the point where accessibility and access are a concern. Maybe next year we'll show up sooner. We'll see.

Monday, January 13, 2014

It's amazing what you can see when you can see

Wow - I honestly had forgotten how colorful and brilliant fireworks actually were. I had been suffering from a cataract in my one good eye, and it really came to a head last summer. We scheduled surgery for the 2nd week of December, and ever since, I've been rediscovering why I love pyro.

You see, one of the side effects of a cataract (a clouding of the lens in the eye) is a loss of contrast and glare. Bright things caused a brilliant glare that covered up anything that was dark. So when I walked down Radiator Springs street in Disney California Adventure, I'd either wear a hat or put my hand over my eyes like the sun was out because of all the neon. If I didn't, I literally couldn't see the ground in front of me. And when fireworks went off, it would hurt. Especially white and brilliant colors. Colors were more like a white line with a colored halo. And I gradually stopped yearning for pyro all the time.

One of the first things I did after the surgery was to go to California adventure and simply walk down the street in Radiator Springs, looking right at the neon signs, and opened mouth because of the colors. My wife was along with me, so before the fireworks we went over to Disneyland and stood on Main Street waiting for the Christmas fireworks program to begin. It really is a great show, but seeing the intense colors and not looking away when it was bright was a truly wonderful experience. I realized about half way through the show, I had tears running down my cheeks. I honestly had forgotten what they looked like.

Because of the surgery, I could not lift heavy objects or bend at the waist (to keep pressure off of the eye). So I figured that while I was on the disabled list, I'd send the cameras out to be repaired. So that's why I missed the Manhattan Beach Pier Christmas show (the very next morning was surgery), the Laguna Beach fireworks for the closing of the boat parade, and New Years Eve. This time I wasn't going to risk anything.

I've been to the Disney fireworks shows a couple of times, and I'm really looking forward to shooting WinterBlast this year! (And NOT LOOSING THE FREAKIN IMAGES!!!) And wouldn't you know it - they added an extra day but my work responsibilities will keep me away till Friday.

I don't care. It's a fireworks feast and I'm looking forward to seeing it again. For the first time...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Trying out a medium format camera

Well, not actually a true medium format camera. Shooting pyro with one of those would be VERY tricky (and expensive). What I did use was a new Nikon D-800, that shoots around 36 megapixels. Amazing detail with a dSLR camera. But how is it for shooting pyro?

Well, some of the same problems are there. To try and get as much color in the stars you really need to reduce a LOT of the light coming into the camera. Because the photo sites are smaller, the transition between blown-out white and color is more gradual, but this can be destroyed by a heavy hand in Lightroom or Photoshop. The camera can go down to ISO 50 (and I do put it there), but even at f/16 the images were blowing out. I didn't want to go down any further on the first go around because there was some detail involved that I didn't want goobered up.

In the end, I did use Lightroom because I needed a bit of detail to come through (graduation mask), as well as come color correction. In the end, I thought the camera did a pretty good job. I was expecting more digital noise than what I got. I still had to correct for it, but not very much. As such, it was able to maintain some amount of detail that comes from a high-pixel count camera.

My impression? Well, I'm still having to process RAW files to get the most out of the image. While you can downsize JPGs in the camera, you can't downsize the RAWs, so each image can take around 40mb which slows down the ENTIRE post-production process. For pyro, I'm not so sure it's worth it. I'll definately need some more HD space...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

KGB? In the USA?

Yeah - if you count radio station KGB, San Diego, CA. For the last 35 consecutive years, they have put on a pyro event called the SkyShow at QualComm (old Jack Murphy) Stadium, usually after a San Diego State football game. I know a few of the folks who work on the show (it's invitation ONLY to work on it!), and the show I was going to shoot that night was shot by another company, I decided to hoof it down to San Diego to see what all the hubbub was about. My son (Kyle) came along (his first try at shooting pyrotography), and the two of us headed south. Before the trip, I scoped out the area with Google Earth. There was a very promising spot to the north up on some hills overlooking the whole stadium area. "That would be cool!" There were even some bike tracks through the area so I knew it was used. Well, right before leaving, I tool a closer look and realized those weren't bike or motocross tracks - they were for utility trucks to service the high-power electrical lines in that area. Site B (a bit to the east) looked the same way. Nuts! Well, how about Plan C? Put the stadium between me and the pyro? There is a shopping center due to the immediate west and what looked like a truck/fire access across the back. Looked like that was open.

Armed with this knowledge, we headed south and made sure that when we got there, there was enough light to scope out the sites. Yup, Site A was gated and razor-wired off. (Kinda expected that after Sept 11...) Site B was the same way. Oh, we could have hiked around some nasty looking brush, but I didn't relish doing it at night, especially with some weird drop-offs. We went over to Site C, and it was PERFECT! Almost - where I wanted to go was blocked off, and there were trees in the area. The access road was wide open, but the way to the stadium was blocked with a 6' fence covered with thorny bushes. And there were also some young trees - that left two spots to catch all the action. I had one, Kyle had the other. For me, I had to prop my camera as high as it would go on top of a curb. The legs were only spread about 6" apart, and the post was all the way up - but the view from the camera was great. Kyle forgot the tripod, so he found a spot along a fence where he could balance his camera on his camera bag. And there was about 4 hours until the show. Sooooo.....

We went to the local Fry's, got something to eat, took a nap, he scoped out a Borders, and slowly cars started showing up. The locals knew this was a good spot. I got my place on the fence around half time and waited for the show. The SkyShow does comet launches from the light ring, so putting the stadium between me and the pyro got me some great 3-D kind of images. It was a LONG trip home, but it was well worth it. Hope you agree!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

WinterBlast, 2010. It remains for me the most I've driven over two days in a *very* long time. I showed up on Wednesday, and three hours later my laptop bricked. (I could not log into it - my own freakin fault.) It was a company computer, and they said that they need to have it plugged in to a company network. Since there was a marketing terminal in Phoenix, I thought that I would be able to drive down there, get in around 7:30, back by midnight. But - it was not to be. I had *really* bricked it and it could not be recovered. So, off to L.A. I went. I arrived in Blythe around 11 p.m., found a nice little Route 66 Motel, back on the road by 4:30. Dropped by home for a quick shower, hit the work place at 9:30, back on the road by 10:30, in Havasu at 4 p.m. 1200 miles in 2 days. But I had a working laptop.

On the first night, I set up around show central for the display, but folks will drive up in golf carts and park wherever. They also grab chairs and set up right in front of me, so it's a laugh to try and get a clear view. I usually camp out by Eldon Hershberger by turn #4 on the track, so I was there for the rest of the times. The problem was that the shows were quite close to the audience which forced a distortion with the wide-angle lens that I don't like. Couple that with smoke blowing right in my face, and it was sub-par (to me). But it's a great event and I love being there. I wouldn't have driven 1600 miles (for the whole thing) if I didn't!

I put the pictures both on my domain and on my Zenfolio account. My acocunt will allow you do download (for your personal use) or to purchase high quality prints.

Hope you like the shots.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Hail to the Queen!

Jeff Pardee, from PyroInnovations, also told me of a New Years Eve fireworks show off of a barge near the aft end of the Queen Mary. The problem was (and it was a good problem indeed!) my daughter, who is currently teaching down in Honduras, surprised us and showed up on our doorstep! We thought she was going to have to spend the holidays down there, and it was a HUGE surprise to see her. That was COOL! The problem was, that she booked her return flight for 12:20 AM on Jan 1st. She did what I've also done - thinking that was the night of the 1st, not the wee hours of the morning of the 1st!

It actually worked out to our advantage. My wife and I took my daughter to LAX around 10 PM. We made sure she cleared ticketing and the TSA check point (with a few tears thrown in), then got into the car and headed to Long Beach. I had planned to set up across Long Beach Harbor by a 'light house' (a prop, really) near the Aquarium of the Pacific. But as we were on the freeway heading into LB, there was a sign about parking for the "Red Bull Event". I learned later that they did a monster car jump, and the city turned it into a huge event. Traffic was *insane*. There was no way I was going to be able to make it to the light house. We pulled an illegal u-turn (right in front of a police officer - no worries, I wasn't the only one), promptly got lost, got back to the freeway and headed towards the Queen Mary.

There was a party on the boat, but the parking was plentiful. (For $12 per car, it had better be!) We were in the area a bit after 11 p.m., and I found a nice spot on a walkway towards the Catalina Express dock that allowed me with a chance to get some reflections as well as the whole front of the ship. I also knew I was in a good spot when another photographer came along, saw where I was at, then decided to get down on some of the boulders around the waters edge. (I don't think this turned out too well as other spectators were able to get right in his way.) If he had asked, I would have gladly shared some of the space.

Since the QM was in the foreground, and because I was dealing with reflections, I put on a graduated neutral density fiter to calm down the pyro, set the camera for f/8 (about f/14 for the space in the sky), then did some timing experiments and found that 4.5 seconds would give me a well lit foreground.

Well, the show went off without a hitch right at midnight. They had good product and it was well choreographed. I kept with my 24-70 lens and zoomed in as far as I was comfortable. The show lasted about 20 minutes which gets me a LOT of opportunities for great shots. It took a while to get out of the parking area, but I think it was worth it.

You can see the results here on my Zenfolio page.

In the future, I'm thinking I need to try that lighthouse again. I'm also curious if I can walk across the QM bridge (I don't think I can), but that would be a very interesting and unique spot as well. We'll see......

Monday, December 21, 2009

More Christmas Fireworks on the Beach

Jeff Pardee, a friend of mine through the Western Pyrotechnic Association, alerted me to this fireworks shoot. Jeff is part of PyroInnovations. The show was off of the Balboa Pier in Newport Beach, CA, and was going to close out the annual Christmas Boat Parade for the first time.

At first, I thought I could shoot this from across the Newport Harbor, but all the good spots were taken up by houses. There was no real clear view of the harbor with the pier in the background. And I also committed a BIG mistake - I *assumed* what the time of the shoot will be.

With my trusty Garmin in hand, I drove to about a mile away from the pier (where the parking spots were quickly disappearing), parked in the middle of the road (you can do that there), plunked as many quarters into the meter as I had, then trecked up the strand towards the pier. The issue was - I thought the shoot was taking place around 6:30 p.m., but it was actually scheduled for 9 p.m.! I knew something was amiss as I walked towards the pier as there was little or no activity along the houses on the way. I was *almost* to the pier when I saw a sign announcing the start time at 9 p.m. (which is actually more traditional for fireworks). Knowing how much time was going to transpire, I also knew that my parking meter was going to run out. Soooo, I walked *almost* all the way back to my car where there was a convenience store along the road. I went in to purchase some Gatorade and munchies and asked for some quarters, only to learn that parking was free after 6 p.m.! Argh!

The walk back to the pier was a lot more casual now. I stopped at a bench about half way back again, slurped on some Gatorade and munched on Boston Baked Beans. There was still very little movement along the strand or in the houses. About an hour before show time, I walked to the pier to find a spot to set up my camera. I went out to where the water line was but the tide was high (again) and the surf kept rushing the beach. Not wanting to see how my gear would stand up to salt water, I went up on top of a berm they set up to protect the area against high tides.

I knew I was in a good area when another photographer (with the right gear) camped about 100 feet further back from the pier. Then I committed what I would consider a fatal error - thinking I was far enough back, I swapped out my wide angle lens for my wide-ish angle lens. (14mm to 24mm) Now I know why that other photographer was further away. And why did I swap out the lens? There's no real good answer to that. What I lost was some of the color in the reflection of the waves near the shore.

The show was very short (5 minutes), and the product was standard issue fireworks. There was about 100 people on the beach and parking area, but when the show ended the cacauphony of sound from the harbor confirmed that the majority of the spectators were on boats or homes out in the harbor area.

There's only one road in and out of the Balboa area, plus a couple of ferries. The traffic was gridlocked with everyone trying to leave at once. I stopped at an italian restaurant to wait out the surge, which my arthritic knees thanked me for! After some *great* pizza and some *nice* coffee, I hiked back to the car and headed home on now-open roads. All in all, it was about 5 miles (or so) hiked for a 5 minute fireworks show.

Was it worth it? You be the judge. The results are here on my Zenfolio page.