For the second year in a row I attended the annual 'Festival of Lights' event which took place at Ballyronan Marina on the NW shore of Lough Neagh. The festival mainly catered for families and children with various activities such as face painting, outside disco, BBQ, illuminated boat display, raft racing and a RNLI rescue simulation, however what interested me was the fireworks display which offered a very special photo opportunity since it was one of the earliest displays of the year with the added bonus that the fireworks themselves where launched from a boat floating on the Lough itself. I had first heard about this event during 2010 so I attended and had a fun time shooting the display and ever since then I promised myself that I would cover the event in the years which followed. Friday August 26th 2011 would be my second attempt so I made sure I was ready for it by revising camera settings and location spotting while studying the forecast for the day itself. The forecast was excellent, it would be a convective day with scattered showers which where expected to die away during the evening leaving a clear and dry night which was absolutely perfect for fireworks photography so I began to get excited.
I arrived one hour before the display then spent some time walking through the grounds with my Girlfriend and Sister. The loud speakers said the fireworks would launch at 21.30 so after 21.10 I decided to set-up my gear and get ready. I was located on a sandy bank on the Lough shore with my tripod legs less than one metre from the water. The camera was looking directly E across the Lough towards the distant lights of Antrim with a beautiful crystal clear blue dusk sky aloft with the first stars of the night twinkling through the cooling sky which added to the building atmosphere. I was much better prepared for this event in comparison to 2010 because that year I shot the fireworks from a similar position on the sand however I composed the scene with a group of children in the frame taking their own images, back then I thought they added to the scene however in hindsight I decided they were a distracting element so this time I decided to avoid having any people in the images at all and keep it simple with just the fireworks and their reflection on the water.
I had observed from the 2010 display that as much as 90% of the fireworks would be reaching low to medium heights in the sky, and from this distance on shore they would easily fill the 18mm frame in standard horizontal configuration with only a small portion of the display being so tall that they filled the frame tilted to portrait or vertical configuration. These portrait fireworks were the most spectacular and they tended to happen half way through the show and again near the end so I decided to stay in 18mm portrait mode and sacrifice the smaller explosions in order to get those high-sky photogenic beauties. The loud speaker announced there was 5 min's to go so I spent the time re-checking my horizon level and made sure I was focused on infinity using the bright star Deneb which was located near the zenith. I stopped the aperture down a little and had my thumb on my remote shutter release then the loud speaker barked into life again and the countdown began and as the numbers got lower my heart beat faster, 5...4...3...2...1...
F/6.3, 8 sec's ISO100
F/7.1, 7 sec's ISO100
F/7.1, 5 sec's ISO100
F/7.1, 5 sec's ISO100
F/7.1, 10 sec's ISO100
F/7.1, 6 sec's ISO100. My strategy was a good one and I managed to catch a selection of these very high level air-bursts, these images are deceptive because they are wide angle with the actual fireworks detonating directly overhead with gorgeous red, pink, gold, and silver colours and at times there where three explosions at the same time accompanied by banging loud enough to produce a small shock wave which could be felt from across the water. These were the most thrilling to experience and most challenging to catch with the above image being my favourite catch to date. If you are used to long exposure photography at night then in theory fireworks photography should be easy however this is not the case in reality as one needs to able to adjust aperture/shutter speed settings rapidly in real time during the action to get the desired exposure and have a great sense of timing because knowing when to start and end an exposure is really what makes or breaks the end result. Only one thing is certain - it is great fun trying!
F/7.1, 8 sec's ISO100
The display ended all too fast for my liking or at least my perception was that it happened all too fast which is usually how it feels when you are taking images as you loose your sense of time due to concentrating on the camera intensely during the display which often means there is little time to relax and enjoy the show visually. Having said that I stole what glances I could and ended up with a nice visual memory and photogenic result to look back on. The fireworks were followed by an illuminated boat display which really didn't do much for me so I ended the session by taking this 15 sec exposure of the smoke coming from the disco which looked quite cool lit by the lights as it drifted towards the Lough with the stars of Perseus above and the colourful reflections of the trees on the calm water. The Festival of Lights was an enjoyable evening which ignited by interest in fireworks action again so now I'm looking forward to Halloween!