I’ve gone to the same place for the 4th of July fireworks for several years. I wanted to do something different this year but the best-laid plans came crashing down. That experiment was a failure. But, in failure, I ended up creating something better than I ever thought.
I was at the Pennybacker Bridge, also known as the 360 bridge, which spans Lake Austin. The Austin Country Club was putting on their annual show. I had my Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with my wide-angle Olympus 9-18mm lens prepped on a tripod. I was excited to use Olympus’ Live Composite feature which automatically stacks multiple pictures to create a single image. It works wonderfully for star trails, which you can see from this example. It’s also supposed to work well for fireworks.
Two things conspired to make this approach a dud. First, the country club’s fireworks all launch from one single spot. Therefore, the fireworks merely stack on top of each other. Live Composite will work better at larger fireworks shows launching their pyrotechnics from many locations. It should combine all the fireworks from the various locations, happening over time, into one glorious image, without overexposure.
The bigger issue was the wind, which was the strongest I’ve experienced out of my multiple visits. The hefty winds introduced a vibration which was exacerbated by Live Composite. Instead of blurring the motion into a less sharp image with a standard long exposure, Live Composite created a sharp image with micro vibration-induced jaggy movements. It’s an interesting effect in a way, but not what I was looking for. The Live Composite experiment was a failure.
Luckily, I made some regular long exposures too — always trying to hedge my bets. The strong-wind-degraded long exposures weren’t particularly sharp either but had a more organic appearance. Then I hit upon the idea to create an Art-ish image.
The photo I picked had an especially nice set of explosions. I post-processed the image heavily knowing that Topaz Software’s abstract effect would hide any aggressive modifications. I really like the resulting image, which I envisioned in a watercolor effect. The primarily red, white and blue color scheme worked especially well for this patriotic 4th of July celebration.
The net effect is that I made an image that I like better than any of my previous 360 Bridge fireworks photographs. It’s all about the mood. If I didn’t run into these unexpected problems, I would’ve never explored creating an Art-ish image. A little “overcoming adversity” story in my journey of creative image-making.
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