Inner Harbor, July 4

I’m not really happy with a lot of these. But that’s okay; I wasn’t expecting to be.

This was the first time I’ve ever photographed fireworks, and despite the advice of various articles written by both professionals and amateurs much more skillful than I, I went in with really next to no idea what I was doing beyond the simple mechanics of long exposure and narrow aperture. So I expected to make mistakes, and resolved to identify and learn from them. Here, as nearly as I can tell, they are:

Positioning. I found what I thought was a great spot, just next to the cannon on the northern brow of Federal Hill. But when I found it, it was daylight out, and while that did give me a valuable opportunity to get some sorely needed practice photographing people – turns out there’s something about wielding a DSLR that makes people think you know what you’re doing with a camera! Their mistake, although they didn’t seem displeased they had asked me to take a family snap with their phones – I overlooked one vital point: lighted signs. You can see throughout this gallery how severe a mistake that was; the surrounding buildings aren’t so bad, but if I had it to do over, I’d have found an alternate position that didn’t put the FNB sign squarely in the middle of my frame. By the time I realized my mistake, it was close enough to showtime that the place was packed, and there was no way in the world I’d be able to adjust position, set up my tripod, and get my focus and frame dialed in all over again.

Whichever unsung hero is in charge of Rash Field’s lighting did an amazing thing this year and turned it off, making it much easier both to photograph, and simply to see, the fireworks show. If I go to the Inner Harbor show next year and don’t have a better option available, I’ll set up on the field, which will put me much closer to the action – with a much higher shooting angle, too, that should let me keep the building light mostly out of frame.

Lens swapping. This was just a terrible idea all around. I started with the 18-55 kit lens that came with my D5300, and that was fine. Partway through the show, I decided to swap it for my 70-300 tele, and that was not fine. It needed reframing, it needed focusing, the DX crop factor meant I couldn’t fit a whole burst into frame – and, of course, in swapping the 18-55 off and back on again, I messed up its carefully configured focus, too, which is why a number of images in this gallery are blurrier than they should be.

I had in mind that, since I was already treating this effectively as a practice run, I may as well take the opportunity to find out whether or not a tele, or a lens swap mid-show, were even things that’d work – and I suppose I did find out, after all. They are not even things that work! They are not even things that work at all. So I won’t do those things again.

Chimping. I know, I know! But I’m new and insecure at this. ;_;

In all honesty, I wasn’t being too bad about it; I checked, I think, about a half-dozen shots – which probably means I actually checked a dozen. I know I missed at least a few good exposures because I was too busy looking at the back of my camera, worried about whether I had the aperture open far enough to properly capture single shell bursts with two- and three-second exposures. Turns out it was fine and I shouldn’t have worried. Next time, I won’t.

Showing up way too early. It topped out around ninety degrees yesterday. I left the house a little before one in the afternoon and took the train down to Camden Yards station, then did an almighty lot of walking. To be sure, it helped me find and then secure the spot I wanted – but I could’ve just as easily left a couple of hours later, once the heat of the day had already peaked and begun to wane, and spent less time finding a spot. It might’ve even worked out better, since I could’ve grabbed a waterside bench with the same high shooting angle I mentioned Rash Field offering. Also, I wouldn’t have spent so much time regretting that I didn’t think to bring a camp chair…

Choosing the Inner Harbor fireworks show at all. It only ran fifteen minutes, and ended with the most disappointing finale I’ve ever seen in a fireworks show – I was just starting to experiment with focus and zoom adjustments during the exposure, as one of the images in today’s gallery reflects, when they decided they were done. Next year, I’ll spend a few bucks and go to the Oregon Ridge show, or to any of the several shows that carried on a good half hour and more after the Inner Harbor show called a halt.

But it wasn’t entirely a matter of making mistakes in order to learn from them! After only a few prior experiments with bulb mode and a cable release, and after not having been to a fireworks show in more years than I can count offhand, I was basically guessing at my camera configuration and hoping for the best. Judging by at least a few of these shots, it appears I guessed pretty well – and, as far as the rest of them go, I’m pretty sure I know how to do considerably better next time. Perhaps you’ll let me know what opportunities for improvement you see here that I don’t!

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