Because of the distance I was forced to go with my 70-300mm lens–the lowest quality lens in my bag. It being dark and all this would be a true test.

This evening, being the 4th of July, I wanted to go and photograph fireworks. The nearest, nicest fireworks are in New Haven.

It’s a fifteen minute drive, but the area around the harbor is pretty crowded. A few weeks ago two guards from Quinnipiac University told me about a vantage point from QU’s new field house. It’s high on a hill a few minutes away from here with a commanding view of New Haven seven miles away.

I loaded my camera, lenses and tripod and headed out. It’s a top-down night with low humidity and cool temperatures.

I was curious if it would be a buggy night… and it was! With our recent rain and a duck filled pond a few dozen yards away the area was thick with flying, biting insects.

The tripod and camera set up quickly in a nice vantage point with a view south. Because of the distance I was forced to go with my 70-300mm lens–the lowest quality lens in my bag. It being dark and all this would be a true test.


I never could find the exact focus point. I was close, but that’s not good enough. Beyond that my long exposure shots were too much for my lightweight tripod. Even after instructing the camera to flip the mirror long before the shutter opens (cutting vibration way down) there was still too much shake.

We’ll call these an experiment even though there’s a 365 day wait until the next practice session.







6 thoughts on “Fireworks”

  1. I know exactly how you felt w/ the lens quality. I brought my cheapo 55-200mm to shoot the Madison show almost as an afterthought, and ended up relying on it 100%.

    I didn’t have nearly as many background objects competing for the focus and I still struggled, too.

    Nevertheless, you’ve got some worthy shots in there.

  2. Jake –

    These are all manual focus–in fact manual everything. I’m not sure whether it’s the difficulty of focusing in the dark at seven miles or the shake you’re going to get with 10-30 second exposures or the quality of my slow Sigma 70-300mm.

    If I was closer the shots would be better! That would remove a bunch of obstacles all at once.

  3. I think you did everything right, and with a zoom with such a wide range as the 70-300, there’s always going to be a little quality sacrificed.

    I will, however make a suggestion for next time:

    Set your exposure time to a little longer than you want it, cover the lens (without touching it), activate the shutter, then uncover the lens – this eliminates camera shake. Manually time the exposure, then cover the lens again before the shutter closes.

  4. Geoff,

    If you’re looking to be close to the action, come to Guilford’s show. I tried shooting fireworks for the first time there last year. The display is shot about 200 yards in front of the crowd and has always amazed me at how close everyone is to the action.

    Last year I ended up using a 10-22mm to capture the shells above. However, I came away from that unhappy with how it was just photos of the shells exploding since it didn’t have any other frame of reference to show either people enjoying the show, etc.

    So, fast forward a year and I headed out to both Madison and New Haven’s shows. The link below is a sample of my attempt.

    I really like the shot from Madison that captures the crowd enjoying the show. That was shot with a wide angle which was the only lens I brought with me that night (which I regret… I went for mobility over dragging out my whole whole bag of stuff). I learned a valuable lesson in that I needed something in the 35-55mm range since the shells looked so small when using my 11-16mm wide angle. I fixed that the next night and used my basic 18-55mm to capture the New Haven shots from a small beach on the east shore of the Harbor.

    You should give Guilford a whirl this weekend. The show is Saturday night. I plan to be there again and this time I don’t plan on sitting in the front row. I think I’ll hang back and get some shots from behind the crowd.

    All the best,


  5. Gary – My camera has a mirror lockup feature which separates the jostle of the mirror from the purely electronic shutter. In essence I’m doing what you recommend, just by software.

    Mike – Depending on our family schedule I might go to Guilford. Your other shots are great.

  6. sorry, Geoff, thought you were saying that vibration was degrading the shot.

    anyway, my camera also has mirror lock (same model as your original “clicky”), but thought I was still getting vibration somehow, so the way I did the fore-mentioned technique w/ my 70-200mm lens was to snap the lens cap into the bayonette, remove it from the lens, and hold it over the lens backwards and do a manual timed exposure.

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