Yesterday was the 4th of July and I made my second serious attempt to shoot the DC fireworks.
Like any major event downtown or nearby Washington DC it takes the right mindset and a plan to avoid unplanned pitfalls or something which might make the night a bust. For the 4th of July the things to plan for are the spot to shoot from, transportation to and from there, and having the right gear and supplies to make it somewhat comfortable.
I was leaning towards trying to shoot from near the Iwo Jima Memorial and did just that. I started surveying the area, road closures, access to various places around 1PM - a full 8 hours before the fireworks. I parked in a grassy area setup by the park police near the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery when heading north on the George Washington Parkway. By 2:30 or so I had walked to the Iwo Jima Memorial and picked a spot in the shade to wait and finalize my plans from. By around 7PM the area started to get fairly busy and I picked my final spot - where I took this shot looking back up the hill from.
For supplies I packed a Gatorade, 4 frozen waters, a soda and some trail-mix.
For gear I packed my D300 and D300s, 80-400mmVR and 18-200mmVR and my two tripods. I also had a cable release and stereo microphone. Last fall I got a VariND, a variable Neutral Density filter and I brought that, and a circular polarizer too. I also brought a bag chair, and a couple of camera bags to carry the stuff in. In all I probably had like 30 pounds of stuff, maybe more.
I posted this one last night right after I got home. It might be the best of the night I got.
What Worked Well
The gear I picked was enough. Lol, I brought a ton, but I did leave another camera home (Fuji S5) and a video camera. Since I knew I'd be walking a lot and heading back to my car in the dark, I didn't bring my 200-400mm. It is a great somewhat fast lens but is huge and weighs a lot. The 80-400mm worked better because I had a ND filter for it, and could shoot long exposures without having to stop down to f/18 or more and go past the sharp range of the lens (and avoid highlighting dust spots on my sensor).
Part way in to shooting I had to adjust my exposures a bit and remembered something from a podcast I had just listened to regarding low ISO. Nikon makes the ISOs below 200 low-1, 2 and 3. The reason these are low is that below ISO 200 the camera doesn't perform as well, possibly with more noise than at ISO 200. So I adjusted my ISO up to ISO 200.
The VariND on the 80-400mm lens also worked well. I wound up using it to adjust my exposure once I was setup and rolling. I chimped some shots, and increased the ND a bit.
While reviewing last year's images I realized I was not zoomed in nearly enough. This year I made sure to try to get tighter shots, more full frame. Part of my thinking was that fireworks are set off all over the country, but the thing that makes seeing them in Washington DC so special is the surroundings / the monuments, the Capital Building, etc. I did way better than last year, but it wasn't until almost the end that I zoomed in on the 80-400 past around 250 or 300mm.
What Didn't Work Well
Operating two cameras led to many more shots than what I could have done with just one camera. However I think I did two things wrong. I had the tripods very close and touching eachother, or at least the stuff I had hanging from the tripods (to add weight) were touching. This led to shooting with one camera and adjust the other and moving that first camera a bit. I have some images that show movement in the camera.
I shot in manual focus on both cameras. This speeds things up, prevents focusing on close trees and makes for consistency. However, I didn't pay close enough attention on the 18-200mm and D300s and a large group of early shots are out of focus, focused closer than what I wanted.
Shooting two cameras at the same time isn't something I've ever done like this, so all in all I did ok.
What I Might Try Differently Next Year
Shooting from near the Iwo Jima Memorial was pretty cool. I got the shots I wanted and had planned for. Getting all 3 Washington icons in tight formation was what I'd seen in my minds eye.
Next year I might see about shooting from downtown DC or somewhere else. I've seen some shots from behind the Capital building looking west that were very good, and made the Capital build the major "dc" element...
Monday, July 5, 2010