Making that Fire Work

Marina Bay countdown31 Dec 2008, 11:59pm. A year ago, counting down to 2009, at that very same moment, I was experiencing a firework of a different kind. The kind that shakes you to your very core and ignites new hope. This countdown to 2010 however, I had to be satisfied with fireworks that filled up the night sky, but not the barrenness of heart.

For the first time, I went to Marina Bay to catch the countdown fireworks that heralded the start of another decade. How love and fireworks share the same lifespan. I waited 6 hours to catch but a 5-minutes display of pyrotechnics. I waited 4 years to catch but a 10-months romance.

But better to have had than to have nothing at all. And while I’m at it, I took lots of photos. Photos last longer. Which brings me to the purpose of this blog to share what I’ve learnt about photographing fireworks. May we all remember the brilliance of the fireworks and forget the reasons that diluted a chemistry that made sparks fly. Yes, the darkness returns, and it’s necessary because we can’t be staring at bright lights all the time. And there’s always the next countdown when the fireworks will return so long as a relationship is kept alive.

So here’re lessons I’ve learnt about prolonging the beauty of a split-second…

1. Go REALLY Early

The fireworks don’t happen till midnight, but my friend, Siow Har and I arrived at Marina Bay at 6pm. The front row spots along the bay were already lined with photography enthusiasts! We were lucky to find an empty space just nice to fit our tripods towards the end of the bayside, next to the floating stage. I was told that people go as early as 3pm to get in the front row. I thought it was ridiculous. I was the one ridiculed.

2. Don’t Leave Your Spot

At about 9pm, I crossed over to Marina Bay to do some big business (in the toilet). Then I wandered around the shopping complex to enjoy the air-con since I’ve been out in the open for a number of hours. At about 10pm, I decided to return to the bay area. I wasn’t allowed back in by traffic police.

Apparently, the bay area had reached a quota for human capacity and no one was allowed in. I was directed here and there, walked through and fro, caught in crowds… to cut the story short, I went through an ordeal. And the police wouldn’t let me back in. I was there since 6pm, my camera and equipments are all set up, and I’m sure as hell not gonna miss photographing the fireworks after waiting so many hours and that being my sole purpose of being there!

So I tak-bodoh (act blur) and began crossing the street to Esplanade. A female constable promptly blocked my way. I tried to state my appeal. But don’t expect much from a robotic parrot. All she did was repeating the words, “You cannot go over”, while spreading her arms like a well, squawking parrot.

Thankfully, another male officer came over to handle the situation. I explained my predicament and he promptly let me pass. Good to know that our civil service still has people who listen. More of them would be nice. I understand they’re doing their job, but it was not made known that we’re not allowed back in if the place got overcrowded. Otherwise, I would’ve stink up the portable lavatories.

From one nightmare, I crossed over to hell. Marina Bay was jam packed with people. And many of them spread out groundsheets and sat in groups, making it almost impossible to pass. I can’t remember how many feet I stepped on, got chided by an uncle who stretched out his legs fully in a body-to-body space situation, and said sorry a gazillion times. But I made it back.

I went through a lot of trouble, effort and time. The photos better be worth it.

3. Camera Settings (Nikon D90)

Use a really wide lens (mine was 18mm and still couldn’t capture the full scene)
ISO – 200
EV – -0.3
Camera Mode – S Mode (set to Bulb)
White Balance – Tungsten
Turn OFF Long Exposure NR (Noise Reduction)

4. Photographing Technique

In S Mode, frame and shoot your scene a couple of times with varying shutter speed and determine which shutter speed correctly exposes the background buildings. Mine was 5 secs.

Then switch to Bulb mode. This mode holds the shutter open for as long as the shutter release button is depressed. It is useful to use a wired or remote control shutter release device to avoid camera shake.

Cover the front of the lens with a matt black card. Press your shutter release device to open the shutter. Each time fireworks appear, remove the black card to capture the scene and cover again when the firework is not that nice. You can do this a couple of times but the total capture time must be equivalent to the time determined to correctly expose the background buildings (5 secs). Then let go of your shutter release button (wired or remote control device). Repeat this step to take more photos of the fireworks.

You must also be deft to reframe your shot because your original framing may not capture the full fireworks.

Fireworks 2009

What Really Happened During the Shoot

The settings and technique were told to me and based on further research on the net. But no one told me to turn OFF the Long Exposure NR setting! What happens if this setting is ON is that the camera will go into a ‘Job nr’ mode after taking a photo and I couldn’t depress the shutter release button again to take another shot. I was losing precious time!

As I later found out, the camera will start processing each shot I’d taken in NR on mode and it could take up to 30 secs. Photographing fireworks is very time sensitive so imagine the amount of images I lost because I weren’t able to snap any more after the first shot! I panicked and to rectify the problem, I turned my camera on and off after each shot was completed. It works but the correct way is to OFF the NR.

On top of that, I realized that my lens couldn’t capture the full fireworks. So I had to reframe to the best I can very quickly. And in the race for time, the good ’ol pressing the shutter release button directly method is easier than using a remote control device. But some shots suffered camera shake.

It was my first attempt at photographing fireworks and it was a good learning experience. Although I was somewhat disappointed with the photos as they didn’t turn out they way I thought they should, and I didn’t get to enjoy much of the fireworks because I was fiddling with my camera the whole time, but the process was not without its sweet moments.

Just like the person we’re with may not be the ideal or what we have in mind, it still doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy some fireworks once in a while. This countdown was memorable but I sure don’t want to wait for hours, squeeze with thousands of people and face the trouble of getting home after the show again. Unless my photography skills and equipment improve, it’s just not worth it.

But I sure would like to have fireworks of the first kind any day… any time. And hopefully at the next attempt, I know how to make that fire work a lifetime.

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10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. kinkythepanda
    Jan 08, 2010 @ 12:19:06

    Very captivating shots Darren! Beautiful! Lucky you’re not too busy to enjoy things, and to enrich other people. You definitely are a ‘spark’ that lazily drifts across the deserted and uncontested night sky. While in that indefinite situation, you pass dying sparks and now everything is shining more brightly than before. Thank you.

    Reply

    • celebratelah
      Jan 10, 2010 @ 13:12:42

      heh heh… thanks for the very beautiful analogy. i myself am dead wood waiting for a fire and spark :o) may we learn the see the beauty of life through the eyes of hope :o)

      Reply

    • celebratelah
      Jan 10, 2010 @ 13:12:42

      heh heh… thanks for the very beautiful analogy. i myself am dead wood waiting for a fire and spark :o) may we learn the see the beauty of life through the eyes of hope :o)

      Reply

  2. kinkythepanda
    Jan 08, 2010 @ 12:19:06

    Very captivating shots Darren! Beautiful! Lucky you’re not too busy to enjoy things, and to enrich other people. You definitely are a ‘spark’ that lazily drifts across the deserted and uncontested night sky. While in that indefinite situation, you pass dying sparks and now everything is shining more brightly than before. Thank you.

    Reply

  3. papababa
    Jan 09, 2010 @ 04:47:53

    beautiful fireworks photography…

    Reply

  4. papababa
    Jan 09, 2010 @ 04:47:53

    beautiful fireworks photography…

    Reply

  5. Anonymous
    Jan 21, 2010 @ 00:43:12

    NICE PHOTOS AND NICE ENTRY!
    hoping to read more stuff abt ur past romances tho, heehee. :p

    Reply

  6. Anonymous
    Jan 21, 2010 @ 00:43:12

    NICE PHOTOS AND NICE ENTRY!
    hoping to read more stuff abt ur past romances tho, heehee. :p

    Reply

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