Alan’s Guide to Shooting Fireworks

How to Shoot Fireworks

  1. Use the bulb setting available in manual (M), see tip 17 for the finale’!
  2. Use a low ISO 100-200
  3. No long exposure noise reduction, high ISO NR can stay on, but it’s not needed
  4. F8-F11
  5. Use auto white balance
  6. No mirror lock up
  7. Use infinity focus, switch to manual focus, tape the lens focus ring @ infinity. Some lenses are not marked. Test focus in manual at farthest subject your lens can resolve sharply.
  8. O D lighting or auto lighting optimizer, these control contrast and brightness.
  9. Vivid color mode, leave saturation at normal, landscape (picture style) for Canon uses.
  10. IS-VR off, since you will be on a tripod.
  11. Metering: use matrix or evaluative
  12. Note: you will not have to meter anything for shooting (F11, ISO 100, bulb = done)
  13. Tripod, short zoom lens 18-70mm, 24-70mm, 18-105mm and a cable release (no need to lock)
  14. Tripod will possibly need to be repositioned (tilted etc) once the show starts. I’ll shoot vertical more often than horizontal.
  15. Vary zoom length for composition
  16. Fire the shutter (with a cable release) hold rather than lock. Hold for multiple bursts 2-8 or maybe more. Check the monitor, exposures should average 2-4 or 4-7 seconds, and can even be as long as 8-15 seconds. Disregard the histogram.
  17. Finale’ shots need to happen quickly in manual mode, burst or continuous 1 second, ½ second, ¼ second, 1/8 second, 1/10 second, 1/25 second, 1/30 second. These shorts can be blown out if taken for longer time periods (such as with bulb). Still maintain the F number 8-11.
  18. JPEGS or Raw? Raw is not necessary unless you feel a need to recover highlights. Shoot JPEG or raw together, or JPEG alone. Use a fast card for recovery of write speed times. Raw will offer a bit more color information too.
  19. Bring extra cards, batteries, and a mini flashlight. The show may be 30 minutes to an hour long. Be careful about inserting memory cards in the dark.
  20. Add an element of scenic interest in your picture. Bridges, skylines, crowds, etc

An Eye on Architecture (Story by Tamron)

 Derek Rath captures the form and function of Southern California landmarks with the Tamron SP 15-30mm F/2.8 VC Wide-Angle lens

Story Contributed by Tamron

When he was growing up as a boy in England, Derek Rath learned the ins and out of three-dimensional drawing from his father, a civil engineer. “He was in charge of housing and streets and all kinds of related things, and he showed me how to work up 3D plans,” Derek says. “It fascinated me even back then.”

Derek eventually made his way to the US to produce a music album, and he soon settled down in Southern California, which he has called home for more than three decades. It’s proven the ideal locale for a person who has since parlayed his childhood interest in the lines and forms of civil engineering into a career as one of the region’s top architectural photographers. “Southern California is such an interesting place for architecture, because you can find 20 different styles along just one block,” he says. “Builders aren’t afraid to do things here and take chances.”

For architectural photographers, a wide-angle lens that allows for work in tight spaces is a must. Derek recently started shooting with the Tamron SP 15-30mm F/2.8 VC Wide-Angle lens, and he’s been impressed with the results. “First, I can handhold at shutter speeds I never thought possible,” he says. “And of course I appreciate the extra reach on the 15mm end that allows me to capture photos in spaces I wasn’t able to before. Plus, its sharpness is stellar. On many wide-angle lenses, the sharpness tends to drop off in the corners, but that’s not a problem with this lens.”

Derek’s approach when he’s capturing local architecture involves putting the building or structure in context with its surroundings, depending on what he’s been commissioned to turn in. “That comes down to finding an angle, something that illustrates a strength of concept of the design,” he explains. “Other times, I may be looking at textures or how a particular aspect of the building works in relation to the rest of it, or how the entire building works in context with its environment. It very often doesn’t unfold until you’re actually looking at the scene in front of you. And I like to shoot in natural light, or use available light that’s been incorporated into the design of the building.”

One thing Derek does when on a shoot with a client: Bring his laptop. “If they see my images right out of the camera, they may get upset because they’re not seeing what they expect to see,” he says. “And that initial photo is not what I’m going to give them in the end. Ansel Adams is very famous for his prints, not his negatives—he made his magic in the darkroom by pulling all the information out of the negative. Digital is the same for me. I take the photo, then finagle the information, then present the final result to my clients.” 

A recent test-drive with the 15-30 allowed Derek to try it out on some of his favorite LA haunts. For a photo inside one of the city’s most prominent government buildings, Derek was faced with less-than-ideal lighting. “It was almost dungeon dark, as this was fairly early in the morning,” he says. “I was on the third floor of the rotunda, the most elaborately designed of all of the floors. It’s a wonderful period piece of architecture. My goal was to focus on the filigree of the light and show how the light fell so beautifully down onto the Los Angeles plaque below.” 

© Derek Rath
15mm, F/9, 0.4 sec., ISO 640
Derek had previously surveyed this same scene through an iPhone, compact camera, and using a different wide-angle lens, but it wasn’t until he used

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Photographing Wildlife in the Sunshine State (Story by Tamron)

Photographing Wildlife in the Sunshine State

Story Contributed by Tamron

Carolyn Hutchins’ very first camera was a hand-me-down Canon AE-1 from her parents, which she used in high school to learn the basics of photography. It wasn’t until 10 years or so after she’d graduated, however, that she started taking her picture-making more seriously. “I’m really into hiking, so I started packing my camera when I went on my nature walks,” she says. “Then I began volunteering with the Osceola County Camera Club, where I met and interacted with a bunch of experienced photographers. Surrounding myself with people who were much better photographers than I was, and being able to learn from them, was a great help in advancing my own skills.”

Today, Carolyn explores nature and wildlife, camera in hand, both near her home in central Florida and when she visits family in West Virginia. Her proximity to Florida’s Space Coast (where she photographs the launches she includes in her “Flying Machines” portfolio) and her job at Orlando’s Gatorland offer her an abundance of convenient photographic opportunities. 

Carolyn taps into two Tamron lenses for her wildlife work: the SP 35mm F/1.8 VC and the 18-400mm VC, which she recently acquired. “The 35 prime is what I use mostly for landscapes and when I need as much light as I can get, which the F/1.8 maximum aperture helps immensely with,” she says. “I also love how sharp that lens is.” 

As for the 18-400, Carolyn mainly appreciates the versatility of its focal-length range. “When you’re around captive wildlife, you don’t want to freak the animals out by putting a noisy camera right in their faces,” she explains. “And when you’re in the wild, you don’t want to jeopardize either the animals’ safety or your own. The 18-400 allows me to keep a comfortable distance from my subjects.” 

The Vibration Compensation feature on both lenses helps ensure sharp images, as Carolyn rarely brings along a tripod unless she’s doing landscape photos. “I tend to especially use the VC when I have the zoom pretty far out, like at 300mm or 350mm, because I’m terrible at balancing,” she says. “It helps me keep camera shake out of the picture so I get the sharpest photos possible.”

Gatorland has proven to be especially fertile photography ground for Carolyn, and she often brings her camera to work to see what creatures she can capture. “It’s important to have patience when staking out my subjects,” she says. “I have to approach them very slowly, or else I’ll scare them. I once sat in the same spot for almost half an hour watching one particular dragonfly.”

Her technique is often to simply act distracted. “If an animal sees you walking straight up to it, most of the time it won’t hang around,” she says. “But if you walk really slowly, maybe focusing on something else or looking at the ground by your feet like you dropped something, it will make you look less intimidating, and it will be less likely the animal will scurry away.” 

Carolyn’s approach to her wildlife photos: “I like to create images that make people think,” she says. “Images should tell a story. Often, that means showing the animal or bird actually doing something, whether that’s hunting, preening, feeding, building a nest, or even interacting with other wildlife.”

© Carolyn Hutchins
18-400mm at 250mm, F/6.3, 1/1600th sec., ISO 200
Carolyn often heads out to a wetlands preserve about an hour from her home to see what birds she can place in front of her lens. It’s there that she photographed this great blue heron while taking an early morning stroll near a popular feeding spot. “Like I mentioned earlier about the slow approach, that’s what usually works when you’re dealing with birds like these,” she says. “Many times, they’ll pick at their food first, so if you approach cautiously, you can get pretty close to them.”

© Carolyn Hutchins 
18-400mm at 65mm, F/7.1, 1/1600th sec., ISO 100
Many of her photo ventures take place at the Avian Reconditioning Center in Apopka, a rehabilitation and falconry venue for birds of prey. For her photo of a red-tailed hawk taken at the center, Carolyn sat low to the ground behind the bird’s trainer to get the photo of the bird landing. “This hawk is injured and was being trained by a falconer to return to flight,” she says. “You can see the falconer’s glove stretched out and waiting. It took a few practice shots with the tracking so I could keep everything focused just right.”

© Carolyn Hutchins
18-400mm at 350mm, F/6.3, 1/640th sec., ISO 200
The gators, of course, are some of Carolyn’s main photographic draws at Gatorland, and one of the first photos she took with her 18-400 was of an alligator emerging from the water right outside her office. “I had only had the lens for about a week and had taken it to work with me for some practice,” she says. “Early one morning, I spotted this gator. I was able to zoom in to 350mm and fill the frame, getting really tight on its eyes.”

© Carolyn Hutchins
18-400mm at 300mm, F/6.3, 1/1000th sec., ISO 200
For Luther, a 14-foot-long American crocodile that’s the resident “alpha male,” Carolyn had more of a heads-up on when to capture him. “The American croc is an endangered species in Florida,” she explains. “We’re lucky to have two of them at Gatorland. Luther sits in this same place outside of my office almost every afternoon, like clockwork, usually with a female or two. On this particular day he was in the water sitting just right so I could capture his reflection.”

Each year, staff members at Gatorland collect alligator eggs scattered around the property, letting them incubate until they hatch in August and September. “The keepers are really amazing—they watch these eggs and keep them at the right temperature until they’re ready to break open,” she says. “Then, once they hatch, we put them in their own pens so they’re protected and won’t be picked off in the wild by birds. Eventually they’re old enough to go out and hang out by the big lake on their own.”

© Carolyn Hutchins
35mm, F/1.8, 1/640th sec., ISO 800
On the day Carolyn photographed this particular hatchling peering out from inside its half-broken shell, she happened to have her camera at work and was hanging out with some of the zookeepers. “This turned out to be my absolute favorite of all the baby photos I captured,” she says. “They hatch very quickly: In the very next frame, this baby’s entire head was out of the shell. One of the reasons I switched to the 35mm lens for this photo was that I didn’t want to shine a big light down on this newborn. With the 35mm, I was able to dial back all the way to the maximum F/1.8 aperture to let more light in.”

© Carolyn Hutchins
18-400mm at 122mm, F/7.1, 1/1250th sec., ISO 200
With captive wildlife, Carolyn often prefers to zoom in tight to help eliminate background distractions such as buildings, fences, and parked cars, which can change the feel of the final image. “Be prepared to move around and approach each situation independently so you can figure out which elements to get rid of,” she says. Eliminating such distractions was necessary for Carolyn in her picture of one of the rehab center’s great horned owls, though these particular distractions were located on the owl itself.

“Besides zooming in tight, I also converted the photo, which I shot in RAW, to a high-key black-and-white image in Photoshop,” she says. “I feel like that helped enhance its features and also to camouflage the glove it’s sitting on and the ID band around its feet, which you can see if you look closely. Plus, by converting to black and white, I could best capture the contrast of its stripes and patterns, as well as accent the owl’s eyes more—they’re so beautiful and piercing. That’s why I prefer to shoot in RAW, as it allows for more control like this in post-production.”

Seeking out a clean background that showcases the animal’s natural environment also helps eliminate pesky distractions. “Birds look great with the sky behind them, while alligators look great in swamps,” Carolyn explains. “I like having a natural-looking background, so I tend to stay away from anything that would have straight lines or bright colors, like fences or barriers. I basically try to get low and get the sky in the background, or get high and shoot down. That usually eliminates much of the extraneous.”

© Carolyn Hutchins
18-400mm at 80mm, F/7.1, 1/1000th sec., ISO 160
The sharpness and detail offered by the 18-400 is a big part of what’s made Carolyn a fan of this lens. It was on full display in her photo of this crested caracara, one of her favorite birds at the rehab center. “They look so prehistoric,” she says. “This bird I photographed has the biggest personality—it loves to play with its trainer’s cellphone whenever it hears the phone’s noises. One of the things I was trying to show here were the details in its feathers and face. When birds have very colorful feathers or eye-catching patterns, it’s awesome to focus in on all of those different visual elements.”

© Carolyn Hutchins
18-400mm at 145mm, F/5.6, 1/200th sec., ISO 400
That same detail was also clear in her photo of a Florida panther, down to each tiny hair follicle. “We have two main big-cat species in Florida: bobcats and Florida panthers, which are an extremely endangered species,” Carolyn explains. “The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission estimate there are only about 200 left living in the wild.” 

Carolyn snapped a photo of this panther, one of two resident panthers at Gatorland, through a solid plane of plexiglass. “That can make reflections really tough to get around,” she says, though she managed to do so in this case. “Many times the panthers will lounge on the deck, but I didn’t want the deck in the background, so I caught the panther on the ground here, which looked more natural to me.”

For those interested in trying their own hand at wildlife photography, Carolyn offers one main piece of advice. “Keep shooting, and check out all of the locales around you for possibilities,” she says. “I visit a lot of parks, forests, and conservation areas. And I strongly believe in visiting the same places more than once, at different times of the day and year, and in different weather conditions. Be respectful, and pay particular attention to things like migration patterns, nesting areas, and feeding locations to get a grasp on your subjects’ habits. Plus, don’t forget to talk to people. Forest and park rangers can be extremely helpful in giving you tips about the local wildlife that will enhance your photography.”

To see more of Carolyn Hutchins’ work, check out her website


How’d You Get that Shot? (Story by Tamron)

How’d You Get that Shot?

Story Contributed by Tamron


Image by Daniel Schenkelberg

10mm, F/8, 1/500th sec., ISO 1000, with a Canon 70D

I took this photo at Nitro Circus, an “action sports collective” in Bakersfield, California. It’s one of the biggest action-sports events in the country, featuring BMXers, freestyle motocross stars, skaters, even scooter athletes—all the top guys out there to show the crowd their best, most daring tricks. I was invited out there by my buddy James Foster, whom I started racing cars with a couple of years ago. James is a professional BMX rider and recently won a gold medal at the X Games. 

Because I have a media pass, I get free reign, more or less, on where I want to stand. I had originally set my camera up on a tripod to photograph the BMX jump, which is a smaller jump that you can’t see in this photo here. As the day started coming to a close, that’s when they brought in the motocross jumpers—and I had to quickly adjust to capture this shot.

I knew I wanted the composition to be super wide to capture the full crowd with the stadium lights backlighting the rider, so went as wide as I could go, to 10mm, using the new Tamron 10-24mm Di II VC lens. I hoped to show how huge that in-air trick was—my goal was that the final image would make the viewer feel like he or she was part of the crowd. That unreal sunset, which I got lucky with, simply put the photo over the top. 

When they wrapped up the BMX jumps and brought on the motocross performers, I literally had no time to adjust the settings I’d had programmed for the BMX jumps. I simply grabbed my tripod and moved it up to the other jump as quickly as I could. I had just enough time to make sure the image was composed the way I wanted it. My aperture was set to F/8, and my shutter speed at 1/500th of a second. I set it on auto ISO because with the clouds and changing light during the day, I needed the auto ISO to compensate a bit. I knew those settings would work to freeze the action; I just hoped it would be in focus.

Speaking of focus, locking it down was another challenge. I use manual focus and then lock the focus ring down with tape so it doesn’t move. However, when the object I’m trying to focus on is going to be extremely high in the air, it’s hard to pick a focal length that will lock down the focus exactly how I want it to be. Even when I lock it in at infinity, it doesn’t always come out the way I hope. What I do in a case like this is pull the camera back and guesstimate: I’ll point it at something else, like a ramp or a light or something high up in the air, in the same general vicinity where I think my subject will end up when he jumps. Then I’ll lock the focus there and tape it before putting the camera back on the tripod and composing the image.

I triggered this shot remotely. I was about 150 feet to the left of the remote camera, shooting into the sunset. [Check out the video here to see a short snippet of how Daniel triggered his remote camera.] Now typically, if I were shooting through the camera myself, I’d wait until the motocross rider was in the air before I’d trigger the camera. But for a shot like this, where I’m using a remote Pocket Wizard, I trigger it to shoot right before the rider hits the jump. If I wait until he’s in the air like I usually do, he’d already be gone.

In post-production, I dodge and burn a lot, and I pulled out the shadows to bring the rider up, but that’s pretty much it. I didn’t have to go too crazy during the editing process, because everything just came together so perfectly. I was extremely pleased with how sharp this image came out using the Tamron 10-24. 

To see more of Daniel Schenkelberg’s work, check out his websiteFacebook, and Instagram