Shooting Spinning Sparks

As I mentioned in my previous post ‘Freezing Fireworks’ I made two other sets of photographs on that Saturday night. A set of firework bokeh images that will be my next post and a small set of catherine wheel images.

Shooting at night has many problems to solve to get shots that you are happy with, and under most circumstances it’s advisable to use a tripod or something to rest your camera on. This is so you can leave the shutter open to capture all the detail and available light without the camera moving and leaving those images blurry.

My shots from the previous post (Freezing Fireworks) were all taken with a tripod set up and after the boxed fireworks had all been let off, we moved onto the three catherine wheels in the set. I moved my camera and tripod over to near the fence where the catherine wheels were being nailed to. I suddenly realised that I wouldn’t be able to get a decent vantage point or even fit the tripod on the narrow piece of concrete path. I realised that I had no option really but to shoot hand held. Hand held with a slow shutter speed. I didn’t hold much hope for these really but I thought that it was worth a try.

I got down low and tried to steady myself as much as I could. The catherine wheel was lit and started to spin. I went to take a shot and remembered that the two second timer was still on. Here is what happens when you realise this and stupidly try to move the camera while the shutter is open…

Result of camera movement during a long exposure

Exp 0.6sec, f/8, ISO100. Focal length 55mm.

I turned the timer off, resumed the position and tried to get one more before it burned out:

Catherine Wheel

Settings as above photograph.

While the next Catherine Wheel was nailed to the fence post I quickly reviewed the images I’d taken on my DSLR’s LCD screen and realised that I needed a better vantage point if I wanted the sort of photograph that I had in my head.

The next wheel was about to be lit so I steadied myself in front of the firework and watched as the view finder lit up in a tremendous pinky-red haze.

Pink Catherine Wheel

Settings as photograph 1.

I’m really pleased with how this one turned out, but I only got the one shot of it- it was a surprisingly short catherine wheel.

The final catherine wheel was nailed to the fence post and I knew that this was my last chance to get something good. I centered myself and made sure I was as steady as I could possibly be in the wind and rain and waited to see the spark of the fuse.

The catherine wheel span round and round getting faster and faster and I pressed the shutter.

Spinning Sparks

Settings as previous photographs.
Please do not use these images without permission.
© Michael Poulton

I’m so pleased with the shot above. It’s essentially the exact shot that I had in my head and that’s such a good feeling. I’m thinking about having this one printed onto a wall canvas….

I’d love to try a few more catherine wheel shots, but I have a feeling that I may have to wait until next year. But at least I’ll be ready for them!

For my third and final firework blog post I’ll be showing you the bokeh photographs that I created from fireworks night, so keep a look out for that one.

Thanks for stopping by and if you liked what you saw, don’t forget to share it! 🙂


Other blog posts with night shots:

Freezing Fireworks

It’s become tradition in my family that on bonfire night we all get together at my Nan’s house with fireworks, sparklers and food to celebrate the evening together. This year, November 5th fell on a Tuesday and owing to everybody’s work commitments we weren’t able to do firework night on firework night. We’d arranged to hold it the weekend before but had to cancel it at the very last minute owing to the weather. We all rescheduled for the following weekend.

So on Saturday, we all arrived at my Nan’s just after it had got dark and started to drizzle with rain. I was a bit apprehensive as I had the camera with me to take some shots of the fireworks and I was worried that a: my camera was going to get wet and b: that there was a possibility that my camera (or me) could get hit by a firework. The thought of being able to get a couple of good shots soon put these fears mostly to rest though!

Before I’d left the house, I thought it might be a good idea to change a few of the settings on the camera to roughly what I thought I might need before the shoot. I adjusted the ISO, the shutter speed, the aperture, the white balance, the metering mode and set the timer for two seconds and turned the anti-shake system off in order to give me the best shot at sharp photographs. I also put the 18-55mm lens onto the camera as I felt that this lens gave me the most amount of flexibility without having to change lenses in the dark and rain.

Once I got to my Nan’s I grabbed an umbrella and headed out into the garden to set up the camera on the tripod and there I stood, in the rain with the umbrella over the camera waiting for the colours and explosions to begin.

The first few shots of the night were of course adjustment shots, to fine tune the camera settings further to what I wanted- which was ok really as it turned out the first two or three fireworks were more smoke than colours. Now that I had the settings about right, I began the photographs.

It burns hot

Exp 6sec, f/8, ISO100 focal length 18mm.

Lava-like eruption

Exp 0.3sec, f/8, ISO100. Focal length 35mm

The main issues I came across while taking the firework pictures was using the two second timer meant that I didn’t get as much shooting time, but the trade off is a greater amount of sharper images and that the autofocus is useless in the dark! It could only lock-on once the firework was lit proper and then the two second timer delay kicked in. These two things together made things a bit frustrating but there really wasn’t a lot I could do to change it at the time.

I took some more photographs, adjusting the focal length and the shutter speed for slightly different results.

More Neon

Exp 0.6sec, f/8, ISO100. Focal length 35mm.

Exploding with sparks

Exp 1.3sec, f/8, ISO100. Focal length 35mm.

And all the while the rain was getting harder and harder. There was one advantage to shooting the fireworks in the rain though. The paving slabs in the garden became wet and started to reflect the lights and colours from the firework above.


Exp 2.5sec, f/8, ISO100. Focal length 40mm.

An Explosion of Red, Pinks and Greens

Exp 2.5sec, f/8, ISO100. Focal length 40mm.

Reflections in the rain

Exp 2sec, f/8, ISO100. Focal length 35mm.

Since shooting these photographs, I have realised that the easiest way to get around using the two second timer would be to invest in a cable shutter release so that I don’t have to touch the camera at all to take a photograph. In the situation with the fireworks, this would have probably allowed me an extra one or two photographs per firework, which doesn’t sound like a lot of extra shots, but it makes a difference when the firework is only firing for 10 or 20 seconds. I think it would also be particularly useful for shooting night shots of the city too and perhaps even during portrait sittings with children as it means I wouldn’t be hid behind the camera and it would mean I could spend more time interacting with my subjects and helping to get the best from them.

And with that, our firework night came to a close.

Like a Jet Engine

Exp 3.2sec, f/8, ISO100. Focal length 40mm.

Explosions in the air

Exp 0.3sec, f/8, ISO100. Focal length 35mm.

It flickers like a candle

Exp 2sec, f/8, ISO100. Focal length 35mm.

As well as making these photographs of the boxed fireworks, I also made a set of Catherine Wheel images, that I actually shot handheld and that I’m really pleased with, and a series of photographs where the fireworks are just represented as bokeh. (Some of my longer term readers may remember the photographs from ‘I Lost my Focus for Bokeh‘) where I made some photographs featuring those lush colourful bokeh circles using a fibre optic lamp, and a 50mm lens on manual focus. Both of these sets will be featured on adventuresinpictures in the coming days, so remember to check back for those.

You can also find this firework set on Flickr, where you can view a full-screen slideshow of the photographs featured in this blog post at the link here.

Of course, the easiest way to keep up with the goings on of the adventuresinpictures blog is to subscribe for free by entering your email address in the box at the top right of this post. That way, my new posts will arrive straight to your inbox for when you have five minutes spare to read it.

Thanks for stopping by 🙂

Poorly Petals on a Sickly Tuesday

A couple of weeks back, I wasn’t feeling too well. By the third day I was feeling pretty miserable and sorry for myself and had to find something to take my mind off of everything. I had some flowers in the kitchen that were just about on the turn and the light coming in through the window was just gorgeous. So I thought I set about making some still life photographs of these flowers.

I set up the bits and pieces that I’d need to make my still life shots- the set up is pretty much the standard one that I use for this sort of thing at the moment:

PhotoGrid of Set Up. Shot using a Sony Xperia SP and edited together with PhotoGrid for Android

PhotoGrid of Set Up
Shot using a Sony Xperia SP and edited together with PhotoGrid for Android

For this series of shots, I used a few pieces of black card for a backdrop, a ramekin to hold the flowers together, the tripod, a silver reflector to throw some light onto the shadow areas caused by using natural window light and my trusty 50mm f/1.8 lens with a 1:1 macro ring adapter that simply screws into the end of the lens. It’s a really simple set up which is really good for when I’m in the mood to take some photographs without having to spend lots of time setting things up.

I tried several different compositions, adding and subtracting flowers to try and get some varied shots of the purple and white blooms. As I was using the tripod for most of the shots I could afford to use a longer shutter speed and the two-second self timer on the camera to ensure that I didn’t get any ‘camera wobble’ from pressing the shutter button. Using the slower shutter speed allows for the camera’s sensor to pick up more light, however when using it in daylight it is all too easy to overexpose a photograph. There are also one or two that I was able to take handheld, in part because of the large maximum aperture of f/1.8 that the lens allows.

Here is the short series of images that I took on that crappy Tuesday:

Purple Flower Petals

Shot at 1/100 second, f/2.5. Tripod and silver reflector used.
50mm lens.

White Flower with Purple Tips

Shot at 1/160 sec, f/2.2. Tripod and silver reflector used.
50mm lens.

White Flower

Shot at 1/100 sec, f/2.5. Tripod and reflector as before.
50mm lens.

Saturated Purple Flower.

Saturated Purple Flower.
Set up as before, 50mm lens.

Buds and Petals.  Set-up as before. 50mm lens.  Black and white conversion using PSE9.

Buds and Petals.
Set-up as before. 50mm lens.
Black and white conversion using PSE9.

Faded Flower in a Dead Bunch

Shot at 1/160 sec, f/1.8. Shot handheld using 50mm lens.
Edited using PSE9.

Triple Flowers

Shot at 1/125sec, f2.5.
50mm lens.

Keep a look out for my next piece which will be a slight change of pace as last night I spent yesterday evening shooting fireworks in the rain! Which was actually a lot more fun that it sounds.

In the meantime, you can find a few more of my flower and still life shots; some using the same sort of set up, here:


Still Life (assignment)

Sunday at Nan’s

A bit of Still Life

Shooting with a compact, in JPEG

Yesterday I thought I’d take a step back for a moment. Just to revisit a few things from the past- sometimes it’s good for the soul!

I ventured out into the garden with my compact camera- a camera that I can’t remember the last time I picked up. I’ve become so used to carrying my DSLR with me and having all the flexibility and control that it brings, I thought it would be interesting to return to a camera where the vast amount of settings decisions are made by the software in the camera. It’s also the first time I’ve shot in JPEG in about two years.

My Samsung Digimax L85 Compact Camera

My Samsung Digimax L85 Compact Camera

On the whole, it wasn’t a huge amount of fun- I actually miss the control over things that the DSLR gives me- in particular the viewfinder, and the DLSR’s far superior auto-focus and the ability to be able to focus manually, which are all things that I take for granted now.  The other issue that I found with the compact was the limiting f-stop. I prefer to use my 50mm f/1.8 lens in the garden with the DSLR and the maximum aperture on the Samsung is f/2.5, it meant I couldn’t quite get the depth of field that I wanted and again with the hit-and-miss autofocus it made for a frustrating hour.

Anyway, here are the first three images that I took with the Samsung Digimax L85, which are JPEGs straight from the camera:

Green Leaf.  © Michael Poulton

Green Leaf.
© Michael Poulton

Pink Rose © Michael Poulton

Pink Rose
© Michael Poulton

Red © Michael Poulton

© Michael Poulton

One processed using iPhoto:

Black and White Leaves © Michael Poulton

Black and White Leaves
© Michael Poulton

And one to highlight the auto-focus issue; this image looked perfectly sharp on the camera’s screen:

Out of Focus

Out of Focus

As I’ve said, it didn’t make for a particularly fun hour spent in the garden, but it did help me appreciate the power and control that my DSLR gives me- I won’t complain about having to lug it about again! And using iPhoto for editing the black and white image of the leaves really makes me appreciate the power of Photoshop.

Let me know if you’ve recently tried going back to a compact camera and how you found it- even better, show me how you got on.

You can find some of the photographs I have taken on my Sony DSLR in the garden here:

A Fleeting Meeting Between a Bee and Me

Flickr Explore!

Butterflies Caught in a Nebula

Flickr Explore 2!

Look out for my next post which is about a still life that I shot a few weeks ago.