Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Mammoth "Night of Lights" - Great fireworks over the ski slopes

It was right before Christmas and my family headed to Mammoth Lakes, CA for some winter fun. On our first night there, we joined my good friend Moose Peterson and his lovely wife, Sharon, for the Mammoth Lights fireworks show, which happens at the base of the ski slopes.

I had never seen these fireworks before, but was looking forward to grabbing some photos of the show. Normally I would bring a tripod for shooting fireworks, but I knew that space would be limited and I did not want to turn this fun family event into a photo shoot. So this time, I decided to shoot everything handheld, using the Canon 1DX and 24-105mm lens. I am now exclusively using the BlackRapid straps, which meant that I was comfortable with this beast hanging off of me for the entire evening.

Before the fireworks started, they had a whole bunch of skiers come down the mountain in formation. They criss-crossed through the snow grooming machines, which were parked on the mountain in the shape of a Christmas tree. I shot this at 1/40th of a second to try and add a little bit of movement to the skiers.

What made this a really cool experience, is the location of the fireworks. As my daughter said, it was one of those rare times when you go to see fireworks and they are blowing off right in front of you. So many times you get to a location to view the show and the fireworks are much farther than you expected, or behind a lot of trees or buildings.

I took this photo at 28mm to stay nice and wide. I had the ISO set to 1600, went -1 on the exposure compensation, and just held the camera as still as I could. The shutter speed on this photo was only 1/10th of a sec, but it is still very sharp.

As you can see, I took photos in both portrait and landscape modes, but always included the ski slope. Why did I do this? Because, what makes this different from most other fireworks shows is the location. If I do not show the location, it would be less dramatic.

While shooting the fireworks, I would try to shoot photos at the apex of the burst. But I was also careful not to shoot when there were too many fireworks going off at one time, This creates a photo with too many "subjects" and typically creates an over exposed shot.

This photo was one of my favorites, with really great colors in the fireworks. You will also notice that, at the time, all the ski lifts had flares on the chairs, creating a nice frame of red lights on either side of the slope.

I have had many people email me about shooting fireworks, and also asking how I take these photos with such a slow shutter speed.  With some practice, good shooting position, proper holding of the camera, and steady breathing, you can shoot good photos with relatively slow shutter speeds, like this one at 1/15 sec. While shooting, I generally left the ISO at 1600 and the aperture at f/4, but I was experimenting with different exposure compensations. This one was taken with only -0.3 exposure comp.

This last shot was taken at 1/125th of a second. You might be wondering how the shutter speed went from 1/15 sec in the previous shot to 1/125th on this photo. Well...two things changed. First, I changed the exposure comp back to -1 (which buys me some shutter speed). Secondly, there were more fireworks in the air giving me more light to work with.

I hope you enjoyed the photos from this fun event, and I hope that all of you had a great holiday break and a happy new year.


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Francesco Slezinger Photography said...

Hi Jeff, this is so spectacular! Thanks for sharing!

Unknown said...

HI Jeff great captures without a tripod so sharp