Happy 4th of July 2010

Posted on July 4, 2010 at 10:45 am
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I’m leaving town for a few days, on a surprise road trip. I’ve no clue where we are going, but I’m pretty sure there won’t be any fireworks in the sticks. There might not even be any Interwebs, oh noooo. I’ll bring my camera with me of course, just in case Sasquatch gets frisky. This is the first time in a while I’m not in Albany to take photos of the pretty lights in the sky. This blog wasn’t around last year, so here are a few photos from 4th of July 2009.

Photos below. Check the full-screen Flickr  slideshow, or click on any of the thumbnails to open a larger view.

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These below look like giant palm trees towering over Albany. Says Paul.

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Paul, Bennett and myself decided to avoid getting trampled at the Empire State Plaza last year, and set camp on top of one of my favorite building instead. Welcome back to the Central Warehouse. The door to the top was locked this time around, but right before we they attempted some Ninja acrobatics involving a tiny window 12 feet above the ground and a suspicious ladder, I remembered of the second door on the opposite side of the building. Crises averted. Turns out we weren’t the only one to come up with this idea that night, as we soon introduced ourselves to a group of kids pitching a tent in front of the Albany skyline. I brought some wine, the weather was perfect, and so was the company. After the fireworks we practiced some light painting and took a few photos for the album cover of our next fantasy band.

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B. and I had discussed taking photos from the now razed Wellington Hotel on State St., a building much closer to the fireworks, but the entry point through the scaffolding was a tricky one at the time. I was concerned we would end up in a cloud of fireworks smoke too. Also: blood-thirsty pigeons. I’m confident we will work out an interesting location again next year. I would give a bit of my French liver to gain access to the last few floors of the enormous Corning Tower, to the left on the photo above. What a view. For more family-friend suggestions, check out last week’s “Best view of the fireworks?” post on All Over Albany.

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My photo tips. I took about 90 photos of the fireworks alone, and salvaged about 18. There are more than a few photography guides online that I would recommend in this situation, but I will emphasize one single rule today: stay very very stable. I had my aperture set to about f/9.0, and my ISO as low as 150 for noise-free images. With this in mind, I had no choice but to expose each photo for a few seconds, so that I could capture the fireworks trails and enough light from the skyline. At this speed, there is no point hand-holding the camera, you need a sturdy tripod. Fun fact: with a zoom as long and heavy as the Canon 70-200mm, the lens itself is actually attached to the tripod, not the camera.

A tripod is a great start, but a few other tricks can help stabilize a photo, reduce vibrations and decrease motion-blur. First of all, cable releases or remotes are cheap accessories that will let you trigger the shutter without touching the camera body. Mine was still in a UPS truck that night, “Yeah!” for timing. I tried to stay still, but vibrations from my body went straight to the camera through my finger, something I noticed in a few photos by zooming on the zigzags in the fireworks trails.

A second trick, a bit more advanced, is to use mirror lock-up if your camera supports it. From Wikipedia: “Normal operation in an SLR camera involves flipping the mirror up out of the light-path just before the shutter opens, and then returning it when the shutter closes [...]. This causes vibration of the camera, particularly when the mirror slaps into the top of the mirror box. [...] Mirror lock-up involves flipping the mirror up well before the shutter opens, allowing the vibrations to die down before exposing the film.”. There are two issues to deal with though. It can be difficult or time-consuming to find the MLU function. If you are lucky enough, recent cameras will allow you to assign it to a face button, but you may need to fiddle with a lever or the camera menus.  The other issue is that when the mirror is in the up and locked position, the subject is no longer visible through the viewfinder. Keep that in mind and compose your shot carefully in advance. I’ll be honest, I didn’t use mirror lock-up that night, and I’m not even going to blame it on the wine :)

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Happy 4th of July from myself, Paul and Bennett (above).

More photos

A few more photos from Bennett:

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A few more photos from Paul:

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Tags: 4th of July, Albany, Central Warehouse, Independence Day


  1. B says:

    I think this was also the night you forgot your tripod plate. So actually nothing was attached to the tripod. But yay for improvisation.

    Third-party cable releases are super cheap, and at the rate I lose them, should be bought in bulk (also, lenscaps).

  2. Sebastien says:

    Haha, right, I think that was the time. Man, I pretty much did the opposite of everything I’m advising :)

  3. B says:

    Yeah but somewhere in rules #1 or #2 is something like “work with what you’ve got” or “improvise”. If you went home to grab that plate, you’d have zero fireworks photos.