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.