Fireworks... when will I get them right?

This blog is mostly an opportunity for me to show off my best work. For every picture I post here, I have 200 that are not as good. But this time I'm going to talk about my annual failed attempt to take pictures of the New Year's Eve fireworks.

Since getting my Sony A33 camera six years ago, on most New Year's Eves I've gone outside after midnight to capture the spectacular spectacle of the neighborhood exploding in fireworks of all colors, sizes and price levels. And every single time, on reviewing the pictures, I must conclude that... they kind of suck.

I have tried all sorts of settings, following the advice of the experts, but something just isn't quite right. In my mind, I'm going for something like this:

Fireworks, silhuette. Free photo from Pixabay.

I want not just the fireworks themselves, I want the surroundings, the people, the celebration, the awe... and of course, some well-defined, colorful blasts.

The good news is that I feel I'm getting closer every year. The bad news is, I'm nowhere near what I envision inside my head. And I may also be on the verge of concluding that the conditions for great fireworks photography are just not present in my local area.

Look at the picture below from the other night. We have the burst, we have the people, we have the street. But the problem with this, and my other pictures, is the utterly black Danish winter night. No amount of long exposure (my pictures shown here are between 3- and 15-second exposures) can turn blackness into anything other than blackness, and no post-processing can reveal details that even the human eye can't see.

The next picture is just a 5-second exposure over nearby housing communities. Apart from battling the utter darkness, it was a challenge in post-processing to tone down the light from windows and streetlights in order to make the fireworks stand out.

This next one may be my own favorite of the night. The bursts of fireworks are wonderful, and overall, it's the best-lit shot of the bunch. In this, as in some of the other shots, I have removed the trailing light of the rockets that is a result of long exposures. I realized, as I was looking at the pictures, that in real life you don't see the trailing light and the explosion at the same time. In real life, you see the trailing light, then the explosion.

The last picture is pure cheating. The three big bursts of fireworks were taken from some of the other pictures and 'shopped into a 15-second exposure of the neighborhood. The real bursts were nowhere near as big, but dammit, this comes closer to how I remember it than the actual pictures showed, so I have no scruples doing this. Whether I did it well enough to fool anyone else is another matter, but there! Now you know.

Time will show if I feel motivated to go out again on the next New Year's Eve and try to improve on these results. What I need to do is to go where there is more light on the ground and more people gathered. And the question is if long exposures are always the way to go, or if quick bursts of 7-10 shots might produce some keepers.

Check back in a year to find out!

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