With the 4th of July Holiday coming up on Monday, I bet quite a few people are planning to go out and try to get some cool fireworks pictures ...
While I am by no means an "expert" on fireworks photography, I have captured a few nice images over the years (including the one above). As such, I feel I'm qualified to offer up a few ...
Tips for better fireworks photography this 4th of July
Use a tripod. Keeping your camera steady is especially important when shooting at night, or with a longer exposure. (If you have a dSLR, you might also consider locking the mirror up, and using a remote shutter release device)
Set your camera for a 1 to 5 second exposure. If your camera has the capability, you can use either "shutter priority", or manual mode. If you have a point and shoot camera, set it to the "night-time scenery mode". By using a longer exposure, not only will you avoid having to "guess" when the firework is going to explode in the sky; you'll also be able to capture a sense of "motion". The picture above was a 2 second exposure. Had it been taken at something like 1/200th of a second, all you would probably only see is a scattering of blue or possibly even white dots.
Stop down to a smaller aperture. If you're shooting in manual mode, don't be afraid to stop down to F8.0 or even F11. The last thing you want when trying to shoot fireworks is a shallow depth of field ... much better if the whole scene is in as sharp a focus as possible.
Focus Manually. Speaking of focus, if your camera has the ability, set your focus to manual, find a good target off in the distance, and take a few practice shots before the actual fireworks show begins. No matter how good the auto focus function on your camera is, none of them work very well in the dark ... you will end up with out-of-focus shots.
Consider the Foreground and Background. Pictures of fireworks exploding in the dark sky can be dramatic and cool; but they have no context ... they could have been taken anywhere. If there is a distinctive landmark or skyline that you can include your shots, it will definitely serve to enhance the story; and your memories.
Take a lot of pictures. Fill up that memory card. No matter how well you prepare, your ratio of "throw-a-ways" to "keepers" is probably going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 or 15 to 1. And even those keepers will require some photoshop work ... at the very least adjustments to white balance are likely to be needed.
Have Fun! As easy as it can be sometimes when you have a camera "glued" to your face, don't forget to pay attention to your family and friends ... especially if you have kids. Mentally capturing that look of wonder on your son or daughter's face as they watch the show is often way more rewarding than even the perfect digital image of colorful "bombs bursting in air".
Well, that's my advice for 4th of July photography. I hope you found it helpful ... and I hope it assists you in getting some awesome fireworks shots this year.
I'm tempted to say I had fun this morning, but I don't know if I'd really call picking up trash along the side of the road "fun". But I did help clean up Copperas Cove .. our new home town.
I was browsing Facebook last night, and I saw that the Copperas Cove Chamber of Commerce page had posted a flyer inviting people out to the cleanup:
I figured there was a reasonable chance that I might be up by 9am, and we didn't have anything else planned until after lunch, so I told Ana I was going ... and about 8:30 this morning, I actually got up and got ready.
We all met up over at the GC Service parking lot, were they had coffee and doughnuts to eat, passed out t-shirts and safety vests, and explained how things were going to work.
I was selected to be part of the crew that would be cleaning up Ave D .. which is the road I drive down every day to and from work. We all drove over to the Sherman Williams parking lot for a second meet up. There I was given my trash bag and "grabber". That grabber turned out to be something my back greatly appreciated.
We we navigated our way across the road, it was time to start picking up. We went both directions, the length of the road. It was a pretty good turn-out, with a couple of different groups, some retired people, and even some high school kids. I was actually surprised there weren't more military people out there.
For the most part even the trash wasn't too bad. However, this experience did renew my scorn for smokers. There were a few sections of the road where I swear it almost looked like people had pulled over and just dumped out their ash trays.
I'm not sure if this is just a yearly thing, or as I suspect, several times a year. I suppose I'll find out, since I gave them my phone number and email address. ;-)
So you'd really like to take cool pictures of lightning, but think it's probably beyond your capabilities ...
Well guess what?
It's really not that hard.
See that picture up above? I took it last night, and most of my Facebook friends really seem to like it. They are seriously impressed with my mad photography skills.
Funny thing ...
That picture was not planned. I'd hoped to get some thunderstorm pictures earlier in the evening, but after the sun went down I pretty much gave up and put the camera away ... until I heard the thunder.
I quickly grabbed my camera, and turned the dial to manual. I set it at F11 and a 15 second exposure. Changed the focus to manual, and attempted (in the dark) to focus on the distant horizon. I then looked around the yard for a place to put the camera down. I settled on the edge of the trampoline, with a hula hoop under the front of my lens to prop up the angle a bit.
I then sat down behind the camera and pressed the shutter release every 15 seconds for about 5 minutes or so.
Out of the 18 pictures I took, this bolt just happened to show up in one of the frames.
I downloaded it to my computer, and spent literally about 8 minutes in Aperture "cleaning it up" (changed the white balance, sharpened, added some contrast and viginette, and cloned out some of the dust spots that inevitably show up when I shoot the sky at F11 with my 8 year old camera).
As is wont to happen with many photographers, I'm not nearly as impressed with this particular image as some of my friends are.
If I wanted to capture a really "good" lightning pictures, I would have planned a little better:
Dragged out my tripod and remote shutter release
Scouted out a location with something more interesting in the foreground than my neighbor's houses
Done some test shots to try to figure out exactly which aperture/shutter speed settings would really work best
Stayed outside a lot longer than 5 minutes ... even if I already had some "good" captures
Spent a LOT more time doing post processing.
But you know what? None of that was really my point. I'm of the opinion that provided you have a camera with manual setting, and you've read enough of the instruction book to be able to change the aperture and shutter speed, there's no reason YOU shouldn't be able to capture a picture at least as good as the one in this post the next time a thunderstorm rolls through your neck of the woods.
Coupons loaded digitally onto a card. Sounds like they did this for us guys. I'll be honest, when I go shopping, while I'm not opposed to using coupons, I'm normally not willing to go to any extra effort to collect them.
lol, I'm the dude who is proud about the $.75 I just saved on my $257 worth of groceries. :-)
Yesterday I stopped by the Fort Hood Army Wives expo, where my wife was volunteering. One of the tables was set up by DECA (Defense Commissary Agency). We were drawn by the offer of free candy for the kids, but while I was there they also gave me one of these Rewards cards.
It just so happens that I need to go food shopping today, so this morning I sat down and registered my card. It was pretty easy, I just entered my information and the number from the back of the card. After my account was set up, it brought me to a page full of e-coupons. I "clipped" the ones I was interested in, and apparently they've been loaded onto my card. I guess we'll find out in an hour or two how well it worked.
I will warn you, there wasn't a really big selection of coupons. I only found two that I wanted to use. Buy hey, it's $1.60 that I'm going to save, while only expending a couple of minutes of my time ... worthwhile enough that I'll plan to log onto the Commissaries.com from now on before I head to the store.
If you have a military ID card, and don't have one of these Rewards cards yet, Todd's Tip would be to get on before your next commissary trip. ;-)
So our back yard is not as nice as it probably could/should be. But hey, this is Texas, I seriously doubt we were ever going to have a lush green lawn, living in a place that seems to be in a state of perpetual drought. That said, I'd think I'd prefer that the weeds not take over either.
The girls LOVE Flowers. Doesn't matter if they come from "acceptable" flowering plants, or just your average weed.
... and if they find em in the backyard, you better believe they're gonna pick em.
One of these days I'll get out there to kill all the "bad" flowers, and maybe even plant a real garden for them to admire (and let's be honest, probably destroy). But in the mean time, the girls are happy with the flowers we do have, and daddy gets to feel slightly justified in his laziness. lol, seriously, they Like the weeds ... as long as they have flowers. ;-)
It's my daughter Haley's 18th birthday in less than a week. According to her mom, she's really into Zebras lately. So I made her a card ...
Now I could have run down to the store, searched to find a birthday card with some sort of a zebra theme .. paid $3-$5 (if I actually found one) .. then hope I remember to get to the post office before her actual birthday. (I'm getting old, I forget to run those sort of errands sometimes).
But I didn't do that.
Instead, I simply sat down at the computer, opened up my Pixingo studio, uploaded the zebra picture (which I took during one of my trips to the zoo), and created a totally custom card .. including the inside (which I won't show you, 'cause it's private ;-)).
It cost me 75 cents ($1.50 for retail customers) + .46 postage for an 8.5 in x 5.5 in glossy flat card. It was printed in Arizona the same day I hit submit on the design, and is already in the mail on it's way to Virginia, where Haley lives.
Quicker, easier, more convenient, and less expensive than doing it the "old fashioned way".
I can't imagine ever buying a card at the store again.
... lol, unless of course I pull a "dumb Todd" trick, and just forget to make one until it's too late to mail. :-D
Keep havin Fun!
p.s. I also made a card for my friend Cille (who's birthday is the same day as Haley's), but she reads this blog, so I won't post a picture of that one.
We have a nice almost full moon out tonight, and just after sunset it was inviting me to take a picture of it from my front porch. I have to admit upfront, that I did almost no preparation. Simply grabbed my camera, which happend to have a 70-200 F4L lens attached, leaned against the pillar to steady myself, and snapped off a few frames.
When I ran inside and loaded them onto the computer, it was almost immediately obvious that I wouldn't be sharing any of those shots.
... they were all way overexposed, with no detail at all.
Crap, I forgot how to take a picture of the moon.
So if my problem is over exposure, I need a faster shutter speed, a smaller aperture, or both. Ok, let's try this again ...
I manually set my camera to ISO 100, F11, and 1/400 sec exposure, and when back out to lean against the pillar.
The picture at the top of the page is what I got. It's not the greatest moon shot in the world, but for a spur of the moment, run outside and snap away, I'll take it.
However, one of these nights I might actually have to plan for some good pictures of the moon. I can use a lot of the same tips I've already written about in How to take fireworks pictures.
I'm going to go to the garage and get my tripod
I'm going to dig through my camera bag to find my remote shutter release
I'm going to continue to use the manual settings on my camera, but I'll take a few more test shots at different settings. Ideally I'd own a light meter.
Since I own a (quality) lens that extends out to 500mm, that's really what needs to be on my camera if I only want the moon in the frame
However, just like with fireworks, it might be more interesting if I could position my tripod to try to capture something interesting in the foreground .. even though it will almost certainly be in silhouette.
I'll take quite a few shots, then probably spend an hour or two editing ... to come up with one or two picture that I like. ;-)
So did I miss anything?
What are some of your favorite secrets for getting really good pictures of the moon?
I'm such a responsible dad. At the first sign of an approaching thunderstorm, instead of telling my girls that they need to come inside, I simply grab my camera, and make them part of the shot. :-)
Reporting live from our backyard .. we expect rain & hail any minute now!
Rest assured though, they were (relatively) safe the whole time, and actually had fun trying to stand up in the wind gusts. At first I was just out in the backyard taking picture of sky. I was using a 17mm Tokina lens on my Canon 20D, so I could get some nice wide shots of approaching thunderstorms. But then when I saw the girls jumping on the trampoline, I decided to try to include them in the pictures. I really like the depth of the shot with the wide angle lens. lol, and my little models definitely made it more than just another ominous sky picture ... Joey my youngest looking like one of those crazy weather channel reporters, broadcasting from the teeth of the storm. :-)
I think for the rest of the spring, she's going to be my "storm chasing" partner.
Keep havin FuN! [todd-sig]
p.s. this thunderstorm happened back in January. It's pretty nice in Texas today. ;-)
I finally made my first trip to the new HEB Plus in Copperas Cove ...
I'd been sent on a mission to retrive some chocolate covered strawberries.
That's quite the Valentine's day scam they've got going. $5.49 for five strawberries. lol, next year I'm just going to get a carton of strawberries and a bag of chocolate chips to melt so I can dip them myself. :-)
But back to the new HEB ...
In case you've never been to Texas, HEB is an acronym for Here Everything's Better. Judging by how packed the parking lot has been since the new store opened about 2 weeks ago, I think it's safe to say that this is many Texan's favorite store. And this one is apparently special since it's an "HEB Plus" .. which from what I can gather means that it's not only bigger than the old store, but it also carries some non-grocery items like t-shirts, electronics and small furniture pieces. To be honest, I didn't spend a lot of time exploring the store today, being Valentine's Day and all. The chocolate covered strawberry table was right at the front, so I was pretty much in an out.
This HEB Plus is the anchor store of the new Five Hills Shopping Center. Right now the only other establishment that's opened so far is Whataburger (also a Texas tradition). But with 9 more acres of lots, I'm sure we'll end up with plenty more places to shop ... especially after the new Hwy 9 & US 190 bypass roads are finished.
Our adopted home town seems to have a bright future. I think we chose well. :-)
I almost didn't have time for a "picture of the day" yesterday. Fortunately, as I was driving Johnathan home from school, we got stopped at train crossing. Since I had my Nexus S smart phone in my pocket, I decided this was a good opportunity to get my daily picture.
This is the result ...
I kind of like it.
Possibly could have been better if I'd had my Canon in the car. But then, would I have had the right lens on it? If I have the opportunity to plan my picture taking, obviously I'm going to bring my "real" camera. But let's be honest, for the majority of good picture opportunities that I may randomly come across, my best chance of capturing them will be with my smart phone.
So, I'm glad it's at least "capable".
What camera do you take most of your pictures with?
I don't know about you, but I hate to use the pop-up flash on my camera. But sometimes you just have no choice, even shooting with wide open aperture and high ISO, it's just not light enough. I saw something on a youtube video a few weeks ago (and I wish I could remember when/where so I could give credit), about how in a pinch you could put a piece of this tissue in front of your flash to soften the light, and cut down on the harsh shadows.
Of course I had to try it ...
Jaiden has a tummy ache
The subject was my sick daughter Jaiden, laying on the couch in our living room with the only light coming from the TV to my left, and the hallway behind me. I was probably about 10 feet away from her, using the pop-up flash, with a piece of tissue held out about an inch or two in front of the flash.
I think I need a little more practice with this technique. But for a first attempt, I was happy with the way it turned out. The shadows behind the bowl and the couch are from the TV light. I really should have taken a "without tissue" shot for comparison. But even without that, I'm pretty sure that the green couch, purple blanket, her skin tone, and especially that white pillow would have looked much different with just straight flash.
I'm sure I'll be trying more of these in the future.
Do you have any "creative" shooting techniques that you've tested out recently?
Ana took the Kindle Fire HD with her to Washington. Jasmine is very happy that she's home .. the tablet that is ;-)
She kind of missed her mom too.
We got two Kindle Fire HDs for Christmas this year. One is shared between mommy and Jasmine, while daddy and Jaiden share the other. Mine and Jaiden's is full of books and videos, while the mommy/Jas tablet is mainly loaded up with games.
They really like Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja.
In our picture of the day, Jasmine was taking a break from the "fun" games to play something slightly more educational; hangman I believe.
I'm tempted to write a mini review about our experience with the Fire HD, but since it's only been about a month and a half, and since this is our first experience with any tablet (so I can't really compare it to anything), I think I'm going to hold off for a little while ... other than to say that we're generally happy, and feel like we're getting our $199 worth.
Would you believe me if I told you I was just assaulted by a household appliance?
Ok, so I'm frantically running around trying to make the house look semi-presentable for when my wife returns tonight, after spending 3 weeks with her sister in Seattle. Dinner was cooked, the dishes and laundry were done, the kids were bathed and up watching a movie. The plan is coming together. Just have to sweep and vacuum.
So I'm jamming through the living room, around couches and end tables, I don't need the living room light on, because our vaccum has it's own headlight. Oh yea almost done, this is easy. Then I guess I got over confident, because the next thing I knew that Kirby was backing right up over my foot.
Then I was like a little kid. I forgot about it for about 45 minutes. Until I sat down here that is. Then once I saw the blood, and maybe a little bruising, suddenly my foot really hurts!
We swung by one of Fort Hood's two commissaries on our way home from my work's Valentine's Day party. Just had to pick up a couple of things. So even though all three girls were with me, it was pretty smooth sailing. They were happy as we managed to get one of the carts with the steering wheels (apparently mommy has let them ride in this one before, buy not me).
The only minor "almost got in trouble" moments we had were right here at the end, waiting to get to the checkout. That entire row of candy and toys, you know that Jaiden wanted EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM. :-D
... but she didn't get any. Primarily because she already had a bag of goodies in the car, from the party.
Speaking of the party, we're gonna make this a short post tonight, as I was the only one who brought a "real" camera to the party. Which means, I've got about 100 pictures to edit and post to the squadron's Facebook page. I'd better get started.
Things were a little quiet in the living room. When I went to check, I found her passed out on the couch. Daddy kind of wishes he would have thought of the idea sooner too ... almost time to pick up kids from school though, so no nap for tired old dad.
I know a lot of single people don't have cable or satellite; they watch all their tv on the Internet. I wonder if a family the size of mine could do the same?
[caption id="attachment_4951" align="alignnone" width="500"] Picture a Day #3: "It's not just Tv ..." [/caption]
For now it's just an academic question, as we got Directv when we moved into our new house in August of 2011 .. so there's still about 7 months left before we could even consider canceling without penalties. The TV is often on in our house, but the majority of the time it's tuned to Nick or Disney Jr, and the kids don't really seem to care whether the shows are new or repeats.
The truth is, most of what they watch thru the Directv box is also available from Netflix, Hulu Plus and/or Amazon Prime ... all of which we have. The same really holds true for me. I don't have many "must watch" shows, but of the ones I do enjoy, most if not all are available from one of the three services above. Even my wife Ana, who would be the hardest to convince that giving up TV is even possible, has been getting by for the past 3 weeks while she's visiting her sister in Seattle, just watching her shows on the Kindle Fire HD she brought with her.
So how would giving up satellite it even work?
We'd need internet capable boxes for each of our TVs. We already have a BluRay player with Internet capability in our bedroom. There's also a Wii and xBox upstairs that can stream movies and TV shows. Beyond that, we could get more BluRay players, or if we don't need to play disks, just get Roku boxes. Heck, as I was researching some ideas for this post, I even discovered that with the purchase of cheap connector cables we could even hook our two Kindle Fire HDs to the big TVs when the mood strikes.
To be honest, at this point, I seriously doubt this is something we would do. There are a few too many obstacles I can still think of .. the two biggest being how slow would it cause my internet to be at peak viewing times, and how mad would my wife be the first time she couldn't watch one of her shows because of the slow connection?
That being said ...
I do think it might be possible to ditch a few of the additional boxes we have upstairs in the kids rooms. Hmmmm.