Ala Moana 4th of July Fireworks 2013

There were a lot of spectacular fireworks last night at Ala Moana. And, practically every square foot of grass in the park was taken by fireworks watchers. A lovely night, not a drop of rain all evening. This is paradise.

And this photo below is the weirdest fireworks shot I’ve ever taken. It really looks like a face doesn’t it?
Ala Moana 4th of July 2013

Ala Moana 4th of July 2013

Photographing Fire Dancers – Part 3

Tressa Spinning Staff

Continuing from Photographing Fire Dancers – Part 1 and
Photographing Fire Dancing – Part 2.

Once you’ve got the basics of taking a long exposure of the fire trail, you just need a few tricks to make the picture really shine.

    Kapiolani Park - Hoopers and Fire Dancers

  1. Set your shutter speed to bulb mode and set your flash to rear curtain sync. Generally, you will not know ahead of time how long the shutter needs to be open to make your photo. It could be 1/4 of a second or several seconds. The only way I’ve gotten the photo to capture the face of performer is by using bulb mode and manually opening and closing the shutter.
  2. Kakaako Fire Jam

  3. Rear curtain sync will fire the flash just before the shutter closes and will make the fire trails appear to follow the performer. Front, or first curtain, sync will make the fire trails appear ahead of the performer. The flash should also be timed to freeze the image of the performer at the end of a move.
  4. Kakaako Fire Jam

  5. Take the flash off of your camera. Angle the light to fall on the performer from above and to the side. This will illuminate the performer while not lighting up the background directly behind the performer. The fire trails will stand out more prominently against a dark background.
  6. When you shoot in bulb mode, take your eye away from the viewfinder, you will not be able to see through the viewfinder anyway while the shutter is open. You should get into the habit of composing your photo and then moving aside to see the action so that you can release and close the shutter at just the right moments.
  7. Radio triggers work the best for synchronizing the flash with your camera since cables are just not practical in this situation. Nikon CLS (and presumably Canon’s IR based trigger or old fashioned optical slave triggers) will work if you set it up properly. But, the IR sensor on the flash must be pointed towards the camera or master flash. The CLS commander’s signal is usually too weak to bounce off of the subject and trigger the slaved flash. Radio triggers, however, have no problem in this situation.
  8. Learn to pre-focus on either the hyperfocal distance or on infinity. Your aperture will be small (f/8 – f/16) anyway because of the fire trails. You may as well lock in the focus to a known, good distance. It is usually really difficult for auto-focus to lock on to anything when the fire dancers are spinning.
  9. Hawaii Fire Artists - Chinese New Year 2013

  10. Watch for a big burn off move at the start of a performer’s routine. Performers will do a big opening move both to impress the crowd and to safely burn off the excess fuel on their prop. This practice is very popular with the staff and poi balls. Staff performers will usually roll the staff while tossing it in mid-air to let centrifugal force squeeze the excess fuel out of the wick. Poi balls will often be dragged on the ground to smear fuel or whipped in circles low to the ground. These burn off moves are much brighter than the rest of their routine and you need to stop down as tight as you can to avoid blowing out the highlights. Some fuels will simply burn too brightly to be photographed and you may have to wait for the fire to burn down to a more tolerable level.
  11. Yes, you will get splashed with fuel at some point if you want to get good photos. It usually evaporates quickly and should not be too hazardous unless it gets in your eyes. Try to stay back until after the burn off move.
  12. Kakaako Fire Jam

  13. Ghosting is a big issue if you want a clean portrait of the performer. Often you will just have to wait until the fire burns down a bit. But if you wait too long, the fire trail will be too faint to show up on your photos. It’s a delicate balance and you should expect to adjust your aperture on the fly to match the brightness of the fire. As the fuel burns down the fire gets weaker, but when the fire spins quickly the flames get bigger.
  14. Expect to do a fair amount of cleanup work in post to remove ghosting and smeared images. If the fire casts enough light to reflect off of the skin or clothing of the performer, ghosting will occur. That’s why you should stop down the aperture to f/8 – f/16. The ghosting is not so bad if you can limit the amount of reflected light entering your camera. But some dodging and spot healing will probably be necessary even on the relatively clean shots.

Mokuleia Star Trails

Star trails are more fun than time lapse photography in my opinion. Mostly because I like to show the effect of time passing in a single frame. There is something about long exposures and capturing a pattern. When images are strung together into a time lapse video it is easy to appreciate the motion, but it is just as easy to forget it a second later. Here are a few tips To make a memorable star trail photo.

Mokuleia Star Trails

Mokuleia Star Trails 2

    Basic Tips

  1. All of the tips from Night Photography apply to shooting star trails.
  2. When choosing your spot to shoot star trails, you want to have as little light pollution as possible. But, it is not really practical to go far enough away from civilization to eliminate all light pollution. You will inevitably get some glow from a city somewhere on the horizon. Don’t worry so much about that, just concentrate on how many stars you can see with your naked eye. If you can see the milky haze of the Milky Way, your view is more than good enough for star trails.
  3. Shoot your star trails during or around the nights of a new moon. Moonlight is basically light pollution and there’s no where you can go to get away from this source of light pollution.
  4. Wider is better. Capture as large of a pattern as you can with a wide angle lens. Fisheye lenses are especially trippy for these type of photos since you are primarily angling the lens upwards. The distortion enhances the trails.
  5. The north star (Polaris) is practically stationary in star trails since it is almost perfectly aligned with the rotational axis of the Earth. The other stars loop around Polaris and you can use that to your advantage when composing your shot.
  6. Invest in a camera body that has a built-in intervalometer. Or get a remote trigger that has one. And yes, the cheap Chinese ones on Ebay are good enough. One way or another the camera should be set to take the shots on auto-pilot.
  7. Mokuleia Star Trails 3

      Advanced Tips

    1. Cloud cover. So long as passing clouds keep moving through your frame they don’t ruin your star trails photo. Or not as much as you might fear when you are out in the field. The long exposure needed to capture star light thins out the clouds and you still have a largely useful frame. Now if the whole sky stays cloudy, your outing is pretty much a lost cause, but don’t give up after the first big wave of clouds pass by. Now this star trail above had only one thick set of clouds that concerned me. It rolled right through the scene and it looks like a solid cloud bank, but that is just the stitching process smudging the cloud across the frame.
    2. Move and recompose after you’ve gotten about 50 – 75 shots. I know it would be epic to shoot a single sequence spanning the whole night. Then stitch the photos together to make some really long trails. But, if you can’t make this kind of a trip every night, you should make the most of your time by shooting just enough frames to make a decent size trail then move on to the next scene.
    3. The star trails should be the background of your photo, not the subject. If you can find an awesome landscape (or nightscape) that has star trails in it, that will be at least a dozen times better than pointing a lens straight up at the stars.
    4. Learn to focus manually, in the dark, and possibly without live view. You may have heard of the trick where you focus using live view and magnifying the image on the LCD to dial in your focus. But, if the stars are faint, you won’t see them well enough to focus even with live view. Instead look on your lens’s focus ring and find the mark for infinity. Use that as a starting point to fine tune focus if the stars are bright enough to show up on live view.
    5. Be mindful of the wind and the vibration it can cause on your camera & tripod. The lower your camera is to the ground, the better your shots will come out. That, and you can sit on the ground and look through the viewfinder to compose your pics. It’s better than crouching if you had set up the tripod to your standing eye level.
    6. A lot of the finishing touches, not to mention the star trail stacking, is done in post production. Edit your photos before running them through the star trail stacking software. Adjust your exposure, noise reduction, contrast and sharpening prior to processing the star trails.
    7. Once you have the stacked star trails, take the photo back into Photoshop and do some more cleanup. You may possibly want to use just one of the foreground shots from the series to replace the blended foreground that came out of the star trails stack. Composite the foreground on top of the trails and mask away whatever you don’t want to see.

    One last part I almost forgot to mention. The software I used to create the star trails is StarStaX and Startrails. Either of these programs will automatically stack your photos and create the star trails. They are both free programs and do not need Photoshop or any other image editing software to run. StarStaX is cross platform and runs on Windows, Mac & Linux. StarTrails is Windows only.

Google Street View Announcement

Google announced a big improvement of their Street View program today. This includes panoramic vistas of popular places inaccessible by car. It will help tourist take a virtual walking thru Waikiki in addition to driving down Kalakaua Avenue.

Hawaii’s Total Lunar Eclipse

I got up at 2 a.m. and drove out to Mokuleia to catch the last total lunar eclipse visible from Hawaii until 2014/2015. While I was there, I figured I should try giving this time lapse thing another try.

This video is published under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 3.0 license.

Music: “Bright Northern Lights” by Matthew Ebel
All Rights Reserved