How the Contest-Winning Fireworks Photo Was Taken

Winning fireworks photography contest entry

I ran an informal contest last week on our Facebook fan page where we invited all of the members of the community to upload their best fireworks photos.  We received over 200 entries in the contest, but the winner of a $50 Amazon gift card was Adam Agushi, who is a regular in our community.

Also, one note on the editing.  In every contest on ImprovePhotography, we do not limit the amount of Photoshop/Lightroom/other photo editing that is done on the photos.  Why?  Because post-processing is FUN, and part of the creative process.  If you like to keep your photos “natural” and not post-process, that's fine, but we think it's fun, challenging, and another creative tool for photographers to master.

I asked Adam to explain a little of his process in taking the picture.  Here's Adam…

My fireworks photo was honestly a bit of an accident. I had already decided against fireworks shot this year and was taking a relaxing day at the beach at Lake Thunderbird, Ill. Soon enough, the rocks around the shoreline had enticed me knee-deep out into the water to try some long exposure shots.

The people showing up with lawn chairs soon informed me that there were actually going to be fireworks there. Looking at the area, I thought this was a great opportunity to try something different. My previous fireworks shots had all looked similar with a single or even multiple bursts against a black sky.

I moved around, trying not to fall on the slippery rocks, and positioned my tripod and Canon 5D Mark II over the water as close as I dared.  I tried to position the rocks as a foreground element leading to the area from where the fireworks would be coming. I was also hoping the longer exposures would cause a nice smooth look to the water and help illuminate the foreground.

In the first few shots the fireworks were the only thing that came through. Eventually I thought it would be a lot easier with digital to fix a bit of overexposure with Photoshop than underexposure. So I waited for a gap in the fireworks and started taking much longer shots.

The final photo was 43 seconds at f/16 and ISO 640.

In Adobe Camera Raw, I pushed the exposure a little further and just a little bit of highlight recovery brought the fireworks back. I made an adjustment brush for a bit more exposure in the foreground, coupled with some clarity and contrast and some very, very liberal noise reduction. A bit warmer white balance and that was about it!

An interesting effect that happened with each shot were the weird flares to the right. I still have no idea how they happened. It amused me and I just left them in the photo. That, along with the multiple lines around the horizon, and the softness from the noise reduction were my only problems now, but I never really expected to win! So, thank you to everyone for your kind words. I'm glad that Jim and Improve Photography had this challenge to motivate me to try, and just from doing it I have a few interesting ideas for next year…

9 thoughts on “How the Contest-Winning Fireworks Photo Was Taken”

  1. “My fireworks photo was honestly a bit of an accident.” I wish I had a dollar for every time I had an accidental photo that turned out to be the best one of the day. It happens to me a lot. I wonder what this statement says about my photographic abilities!

  2. Stacey Z of PBG

    Beautiful shot Adam! Thanks for always being willing to share your knowledge! PBG appreciates you!

  3. That’s so awesome! I really should buy myself a tripod and try out those long exposure shots. I’m just starting out with a basic T3 Rebel from Canon, but I’d *love* to learn some of these cool photo techniques!

  4. Looking at the prize winning photo and also the comments of having foreground in the shot I guess it would be important to use the camera in vertical mode.
    It also makes the choice of site so much more important.

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