Monday, February 26, 2007

Fires in the sky

New Year's Fireworks
Delray Beach. Florida, January 2007 [Click all images to enlarge]

Warning: stream of consciousness-like post coming up. I'm feeling verbose this evening. Stick with me, though, as there's method to my madness.

Working with the new camera over these last few months has been an extended exercise in figuring out what's possible. For the first couple of days, I left it on auto-everything as I tried to get a feel for how it worked. Gradually, I became more comfortable with taking chances, and started to dig into the more arcane features of this endlessly complex piece of machinery.

The bottom line is a happy one: Turning off all the automated doodads and playing with the controls has allowed me to learn what works and what doesn't when the situation is more challenging than a basic snapshot. I've discovered that a computerized program doesn't always know how to take the best picture; that sometimes I need to go manual and go with my gut. I've accepted that I'll be learning, both the craft and the tools with which I practise it, for the rest of my life. In the end, that's what makes it such a joy.

Unfortunately, this long-term learning curve seems to have turned me into a bit of a photo addict. Actually, my wife would agree that I'm a major photo addict now. I tend to view everything in terms of how it might be viewed through a lens, often musing openly about what settings I'd use, and what outcome I'd hope to achieve. This isn't ordinarily a big deal, but when I dreamily wax on about how cool it would be to explore the neighborhood supermailbox with my lens, I know I've crossed some sort of line. Are there any Photographers' Anonymous chapters in my town?

I know it's all part of the learning process. Because I wield a pen for a living, I often draw parallels between my writing and my photography. They're two halves to my creativity, and I can't imagine not having both tools at my disposal. I can hear my introduction to the PA meeting: My name is Carmi Levy. I am addicted to words and pictures because they make me happy.

Sounds like a plan to me.

But enough of my artistic musing. You want to know about the fireworks. Well, these pictures exist precisely because of this crazy learning process. See, whenever I'm looking for something new to record, I first imagine a scenario that, by all rights, I have failed miserably to photograph in my earlier life. High-speed bike races? Yes. Aquariums? Check. Birds in flight? Yup. Then I figure out how to successfully shoot them. It involves many sets of trial-and-error shooting. And many, many really awful pictures that you will never see. Ever.

The granddaddy impossiblest scenario of them all is the fireworks display. Before this evening's festivities, I had never brought home a workable picture of fireworks in my life. I believe I made Kodak shareholders very happy with my efforts, mind you. From lighting to focusing to composing, I just couldn't get it right. I'd read books and go online for advice, but nothing worked. I was a firework/photographic spaz. By any sense of logic, I should have given up long ago.

But I figured if the principles of Kaizen were enough to bring Toyota from engineering has-been to global dominator of the automotive industry within two generations, then I figured I had it in me to get a good picture of some colorfully explosive gunpowder.

So just after the stroke of New Year's midnight, when a few neighbors of my aunt and uncle decided to cook off a large-ish box of firecrackers in the middle of their development, we all ran to watch. We stood on the sidewalk, safely away from ground zero, and watched these three very friendly guys light off round after round of incendiary joy.

Their approach gave me ample opportunity to preset the camera and think through my composition, exposure and focusing strategy. After each round was finished, I'd quickly review the results on the camera's screen and figure out what worked, what didn't, and whether I was moving closer to photographic nirvana. I'd make a quick decision on the settings for the next round, and by the time I dialed 'em in, the guys were ready to light off the next set.

It was as close to on-the-fly photography as I've had with this camera, and it was a heck of a lot of fun not necessarily for the outcome, but for the process I followed to get there.

After the last embers flickered out and fell from the sky, I strolled across the street, introduced myself and showed them some of my handiwork. I thanked them for giving me the opportunity to capture their fun before we all formed up and walked the few hundred feet back to the house.

Your turn: Celebratory pictures. Please discuss.


Corey Bienert said...

I can relate with the fireworks failures.

Last year when my family went on vacation to Washington DC, there was a 4th of July celebration that we watched at the Washington Monument. It was some of the best fireworks I had ever seen, and I happened to capture some pretty cool shots on my new camera.

Unfortunately, because of my lack of expertise with my new camera, I started messing around with the menu and options of the camera. I came across an option to "format". I thought, why not. I ended up losing all my pictures from vacation. I felt terrible. I still have some of the images saved in my head...and I want so badly to recreate them.

but you live and you learn. Hopefully you wont have to live, lose, then learn like I did :)

Anna said...

Carmi, can I just add my name into this post? It is SO me these days. :)

I like these shots and I think it is great that you are trusting your gut when makes it so much more interesting and then you realize that you are indeed a "photographer"....and that you are learning how to do all these new techniques.

Have you seen the movie the Matrix? Everytime Neo looks at the world he sees all this information and a different reality. That is how I am starting to see things....not only through my lens but my eye as well.


You know I like this, so keep it up!

Awareness said...

LOVE these......the last two look like some creature living at the bottom of the sea.

I have a friend who is a filmmaker. Serendiptously, I have had the chance to bump into him a few times since I received my new camera a couple of months's a good thing that he still smiles when I go rushing up to him with a bunch of questions about the gizmos and doo-dads on the camera.....mostly about lighting etc. So, I'm taking small baby steps in my learning....

YOU SIR.........are taking leaps!

Addiction to words and pictures?
I can completely relate.

My rationale? Much better than playing in traffic. :)

CG said...

I have just got the courage to take my camera out of programmed auto and I'm finding it incredibly challenging and exciting. Like you I find myself seeing everything around me as if through a viewfinder - I'm Julie and I'm a photoaddict too!

I took my first ever successful photos of fireworks last November. I had such a sense of achieving something.

talj said...

These look pretty good to me Carmi! Never the easiest of subjects to expose for you have done quite well!!

Thanks for your email, it was full of really helpful stuff!! I will get back to you in the next couple of days! Been busy....and tired so got lots to catch up on!!

{{{HUGS}}} take care :o)

Linda said...

I love favorite is the all white with the blue haze appears more like over-exposed coral in a deep blue sea, with darkness beyond...

As for celebratory pictures...I can't even begin to discuss. While most of my celebratory is birthday parties, I am hoping to capture the celebration of love as people return from deployment next year...I have many friends who will be welcoming home a loved one. But that's a year away. For now I have to settle on the "missed blowing out candles shot", the "kids in front of the gift recipient, effectively blocking the shot" know what I mean....

Stacy said...

I have to tell you, my son and I were looking at your fireworks pictures (he was drawn right to them!) and his observation is that there is one in there that looks like and eagle. And it does! Too cool. Enjoy the new camera!

bluemountainmama said...

very cool shots! i'm still a point and clicker....don't know how to do anything else, except maybe turn the flash on. i have a hand-me-down digital camera from my father-in-law. one day i want to take a beginning photography class...i see what i want to capture, but don't have the skills to do it. i could never get these kind of shots, the fireworks. and i think seeing the world through a photographer's and writer's eye is a good stop and notice details. we live in such a fast-paced world, many people don't notice or appreciate the details...the simple, beautiful things. it takes something bright, neon and grand to get most people's attention. so kudos to you....

Kyle said...

I've always thought that firework photographs slightly resemble the images captured by the un-manned satellites that travel the galaxy.

That's why I love them.

Great shots!

susie said...

Carmi! Just a note to say that I came across your name in our local paper in a tech-related article.

I was all, Hey, I know him!

Thought it was neat-o! :)

Terri said...

Those fireworks shots are awesome! I can see you quickly made friends with that incredible camera of yours. Happy're doing it justice.

rosemary said...

I agree with awareness....when I first looked at the pics I thought you had gone underwater!!! They are stunning.

Leah said...

Great photos Carmi. We've tried and tried to take as many fireworks photos but has never captured it as well as you did. Maybe more practice will do.

Gyrobo said...

Great Galloping G-Mail!

If awesomeness was an indefinite integral, those would be the plus constant!

krystin said...

The firework pictures are breath taking, and the movement has somehow been captured.

Had to comment on the photographic addiction...

You know it's not an addiction :)
It's a passion that cannot be controlled, only guided.

Until neighbours complain about the pic's being shot through their nighttime windows, I don't think you've crossed any 'line' at all.

Keep Clicking!

Lori Schmidt (LoriProPhoto) said...

Welcome to the world of the photographer. I have never written so I am not sure how well I would do with that but I started photography out of necessity. I needed to earn a living and hated what I was doing (Secretary, typing, filing, telephones etc. AAaAaARGH!!). I met a new friend who had been a photographer for many years, had shot everything from Fashion to being a Wartime PhotoJournalist in Afghanistan, South Africa, Israel, Gaza and Ruanda.

I learnt to print in a B&W darkroom before I even learnt to shoot on an old manual camera (a Practica) and manual 50mm Karl Zeiss lens. My first job was portraits for children at a playschool (3 month olds up to 5 year olds) with studio flash. Boy I would be embarassed to see those shots today LOL. I did upgrade to Autofocus SLR in the first year of shooting. To cut a long story short, I have always shot with my lens on autofocus but my camera set on manual (20D Canon now). I use my eye or my hand to take light readings in outdoor situations.

It didnt take long for my new photography career to extend into the equine world which was my passion since the age of 9. I now look at everything in a magazine, newspaper and in everyday life "through the lens" and wonder how that shot was achieved, or how that would look on "film". One thing I did learn is that if you see something you want to capture, do it there and then, dont put it off because it will never look the same again. If you dont have your camera with you and it is close by, get it and go straight back and shoot it, I have regretted many lost shots that I put off or didnt have a camera handy. Even if it means laying on your back in the middle of the sidewalk to get the shot you want, go for it!!! LOL most people understand the others will just shake their heads but who cares you got your shot.

I had stacks of other stuff running through my head to say but it would turn this into a manuscript. Photography and Journalism are a lifestyle, enjoy it, you have something that very few people appreciate or understand, they think of it as a hobby which is the biggest hurdle to overcome, they dont realise that it is a way of life and what you chose to earn a living doing, you don't do it for free. I learn stuff every day still and that is what is great, especially now in the digital age.

Another soap box commentary from me but your posts always get me thinking about stuff and I find it great to be able to put it into words, helps get it off my chest LOL

Have a great day.


Elaine said...

Great fireworks shots! I like the 4th one best--very abstract.

Redhead Mommy said...

Have you seen this?

Carmi said...

Redhead Mommy: I sure have! I bought the small one that you can use with a small point-and-shoot camera. I clamped it to the outside of the observation deck on the Empire State Building to capture this image:

I was pretty afraid of dropping the thing, but it made for a good baptism by fire.

It's too small for a full-sized SLR. Thankfully, they've released an SLR-capable model. No stores near me are carrying it yet, but it'll hopefully make its way to Canada soon.

Fingers crossed, as it would be a great addition to my camera bag. I've got a wonderful Manfrotto tripod, but I don't take it with me all that often because it's so darn big.

Pod said...

join the (photography addict) club mate!

Matt said...

I feel the same way. The best part, in my opinion, is realizing that you got it right - or almost right - on the first try. Sort of like... everything. :) Have a good night.

keda said...

i absolutely love these.. gorgeous :)

Robin ~ PENSIEVE said...


Yes...I LOVE your stream of consciousness! It's what tangled me to you in the first place.

Love pictures, lovely words...lovely man behind the lens.