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Shooting Fireworks

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Mike Zmuda
Shooting Fireworks
on Jan 1, 2008 at 4:25:37 am

Hi All!

Happy New Year!

Can anyone give me any pointers on shooting fireworks with a video camera (SD at 30fps?) We have 5 cameras, of which 3 are slated to be shooting the fireworks (aka: the sky.) 2 will be on a rooftop shooting "ground to sky" and "just sky," and another camera will be positioned about 140 degrees around the area where they'll be setting the fworks off. (Will this be ok, or could this be a problem?)

We've coordinated with the fireworks liason, who has told us the fworks will be exploding at about 300 feet - does this sound good?

Lastly, what should our camera settings be? Should we be fully iris opened? Any gain (No, Lo, or Hi) and what about shutter settings? Also, what color filter should we use for this?

ANY tips would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks A Lot, and Happy New Year again!

- Mike Z.

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Steve Wargo
Re: Shooting Fireworks
on Jan 1, 2008 at 6:39:07 am

It's probably too late but we just did this a month ago with a DVX100A. I had the white set for daylight and the iris at 5.6. At full open, they'll probably be white. No on the Gain.

Steve Wargo
Tempe, Arizona
It's a dry heat!

Sony HDCAM F-900 & HDW-2000/1 deck
5 Final Cut (not quite PRO) systems
Sony HVR-M25 HDV deck
Sony EX-1 has arrived and it's fascinating.

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Rick Amundson
Re: Shooting Fireworks
on Jan 2, 2008 at 6:46:33 pm

I've shot fireworks several times. Steve is right in that you want NO gain turned on. As far as a stop goes, is there anyway you can do a test the night before? You don't want to shoot wide open, but as far as the actual stop it depends on your camera's speed. I'm guessing Steve will be close with his 5.6. Lastly, I would leave the shutter alone unless you want a specific effect.

Best of luck!

Rick Amundson
Screenscape Studios
Bravo Romeo Entertainment

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Mike Zmuda
Re: Shooting Fireworks
on Jan 5, 2008 at 2:37:02 am

Hi, Steve, and everyone else that posted!

Thanks VERY much for the suggestions! It actually WASN'T too late, and the suggestions helped out A LOT!!! Our shoot was of a fireworks presentation that was to kick off a year of cellebrations comemmorating the 100th anniversary of a local village. The shoot took place 01/01/08, and it went off pretty well.

All told, the video we got was pretty impressive, though we did have 2 problems...

The first was that we were **WAY** too close. The fireworks were set to explode at about 300 feet altitude, and, even with a 750 foot (I think) radius of exclusion (required by the local bomb squad / fire agencies / laws / codes, etc...) we figured being JUST outside that circle would give us a decent view of the fworks. WAY WRONG!!! :) Turns out, we could have been back another 1000 feet, and EVEN with the cameras set to Full Wide, we STILL would have clipped the display a bit! (OK, granted, that's more a function of the fireworks - fountains and the like would not have filled the frame as much as these aereal explosions did [they were HUGE!!!])

The other issue (and I'm mentioning this in case anyone else ever has to shoot fireworks,) was a bit of an interesting one - Legal stuff! (YAY!!!)

We scoped out the site and, worked with village officials, a chart detailing the radius of exclusion (where no one [and no electronics - for fear of them setting the explosives off] can be,) as well as site management (the fireworks were being set up and set off from one of the baseball fields at the village's Park & Recreation center. We found an area that was PERFECT! (or so we thought:)

- It was an area where the public was not allowed.
- There was nothing "tall" in front of us (except for a short pine tree... no fences, light poles, etc...
- It was just outside the circle of exclusion.

Despite that, and despite being able to film for the entire duration of the setup of the fireworks, when it came time for them to set off the fireworks, my crewmates were hustled out of the area where they were set up - told that they couldn't be there because they were too close. This DESPITE them being outside of the exclusion area, and DESPITE them having been there all during setup.

The reason?

The wind was pretty intense, and they were down-wind.

Had anything bad happened, they likely would have gotten sparks, embers, if not whole explosive devices (let's face it - that's what fireworks are...) in their faces.

So, they moved to a different location, and being inexperienced volunteers, got lousy video that's generally unusable.

Fortunately, we had 2 cameras on the roof of a 35 foot building some 1000 feet away from the launch area, trained on the fireworks. (Even with these cameras, fully zoomed-out, we couldn't get the whole show in frame, though some individual aereal effects [fireworks] did fully fit in frame, and show up nicely!)

We also had two more cameras in the crowd that were repurposed after shooting a concert for shooting the fworks.

To recap, here's what worked:
- Everything set to MANUAL
- White Balance set to PRESET ('cause you can always fix the colors in post! :) )
- Iris set to F 5.6 (otherwise, all the colors end up looking whtie.)
- DON'T touch the camera after the show has begun (meaning no panning and tilting. FIXING the camera on a region of sky is permissable.)
- DON'T worry about too many people being in front of you if the show is going to mainly take place in the sky. (But if there are ground effects, plan to shoot them.)
- Shutter set to off (unless you want some interesting FX...)
- Focus on INFINITY, then back it up a bit (Being EVER SO SLIGHTLY out of focus makes the "sparks" bigger.)
- Work with the officials BEFORE the event!!!

Here's what DIDN'T work:
- We were too close. (You can always zoom in [though you should avoid it, since it amplifies camera shake,] though you can't get wider than "already zoomed all the way out.")
- We didn't work with the officials DURING the event. (If we would have known they were going to move us RIGHT BEFORE the show started, we would have relocated earlier, allowing us to set up in a better location.)

Again, a BIG THANK YOU to everyone who posted suggestions, and I hope my experience can help someone shooting some fireworks in the future!

- Mike Z.

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Oscar Deflorez
Re: Shooting Fireworks
on Jan 3, 2008 at 9:28:26 pm

Just wandered by and thought I'd drop my two cents in on this one. IMO - Put the camera on preset cause there is obviously no way to set your white balance in this situation, next put the camera on your 32K setting as you will not be recording any daylight, all light sources are likely to be 32K ish. ie. street lights and such might render too warm if you use the daylight setting and people's faces will look the right colour under whatever artificial lights are around (assuming you are filming some of the crowd also). Your fireworks would likely render proper colour under tungsten filter also given that they are artificial light as well. I seem to have opposite opinions of the last two I'm a bit out numbered here ha ha. It's hard to say what stop to put the lens on without using the first firework as a test - cause some of them are pure white explosions and others are green. I'm not sure by your post if your set up with a mobile, switching between cameras? or if your recording independent to tape and syncing up in post? Hopefully you have a monitor at least to see one firework display go off to make sure your settings are good. Not sure how much help your zebras would be - but I'd set it at 100 and if you see them you know to close down the iris a touch. Best of luck.

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Jeff Carpenter
Re: Shooting Fireworks
on Jan 14, 2008 at 9:39:51 pm

Oscar, the first 2 posts were correct. The 'daylight' setting on the camera is closest. Fireworks are very hot...perhaps even bluer than daylight. But using the daylight preset will get you pretty close, and that's all you need in these situations.

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Oscar Deflorez
Re: Shooting Fireworks
on Jan 18, 2008 at 4:04:53 am

Admittedly, I have not filmed fireworks as of yet (seems I'll have to now :), but just the logistics of it don't make sense IMO to place an orange filter on an environment that has no daylight whatsoever. I just can't see how a big splash of green and red across the sky is considered blue light (daylight). I have however taken photographs of a crowd during fireworks, using daylight film, no flash and under the light of the fireworks, the crowd rendered on the warm side.
And I guess the truth is, when you watched the footage after you filmed in either 32k or 56k, no one would really know that the colours were rendered correctly I guess anyways. The fireworks will just be off on one side of the spectrum or the other and no one would ever know. The only time I think it would make a difference and be apparent is during crowd shots as I said, where they are being lit by the fireworks displays themselves or by street lamps close by. Anyone else have thoughts on this..or am I the only one in support of a 32k filter for fireworks.

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Corey Maynard
Re: Shooting Fireworks
on Feb 13, 2008 at 1:01:24 am

I think one of the most important things whilst shooting fireworks is resisting the temptation to follow the action around, of course if you have more than one camera this is fine as you can assign cameras to specific roles. But if you have just one camera I always try to get a good minute of the the show locked off wide, then medium locked off, then some close ups locked off and maybe a couple of soft focus etc as these look great. The roaming camera searching for the action looks rubbish and is a nightmare to cut... just my two cents


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Re: Shooting Fireworks
on Feb 13, 2008 at 8:53:37 am

Please remember, the heart of most fireworks is magnesium.
This was the "flash" powder used by Edwardian pohotographers.
Set your camera on "Manual"
Stop that lens down to f16.
The burst blossoms, as a chrysanthemum.
Starting of dim, but developing to a blinding glare.
Then just as quickly fading to nothing.
Any kind of filter is inapropriate - your film will pick up colours that are beyond the human eye !
Use a pan/tilt tripod head.
ALL good firewoks photos are the result of rewinding the film, superimposing up to five bursts on each frame.
Happy Guy Fawkes Day.
John Smith. F.R.P.S.

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