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Playing with Smoke and Fire (Really!)

bitslammerbitslammer Posts: 818
edited 7:39PM in Off Topic
Sorry to Thirdeye. Had to borrow his tagline. Despite a full day of drizzle we managed to get our annual 4th of July firework show in. After 10 hours of setting up in the rain we pushed the pace and shot the whole show in ~10minutes which comes out to about $1000/minute :)

We still do this show the old fashion hand. The only change this year was shooting out of racks and not reloading tubes. That was a blessing in the drizzle. Lots of great 6 inch shells in this show.

Here's the play by play.

Building the finale racks.

A box of 3" shells that go in them. 12 shells chained together per rack.

Almost done with the 3"s. Ahhh what fun working under a canopy. Important tip here is to load them IN ORDER! If you don't then shell #8 may go off before #7 pulling #7 out of the tube where #7 can go off any which way ruining the night.

Down the barrel of some 4" shells.

Our fearless crew leader loading the 6" finale. IF you notice the construction you see a "cup" and a "ball." The "cup" is the lift charge. The ball is what goes boom in the sky. Some shells are cylindrical too, but still the same principal.

There's the finale, sitting there in a little heavier rain...hope it stays dry.

Finishing up the last racks. All covered with foil (to keep neighboring shells from getting lit too early) and plastic to keep the rain at bay.

It's showtime! Due to the rain we shot right through the plastic covering. We only uncovered a few times.

On the ground that is only the quick-match (fuse) as it catches.

This is when the shell goes up. Yours truly taking this as I'm backpedaling. You tend not to realize how close you are looking through the viewfinder of the camera! Wonder if my Nikon is flameproof????

Nice Palm shell.

There goes a comet leaving its nice trail of sparks behind. Looks like something burning in one of the tubes, or I got real lucky and caught the lift charge going off on one of the shells.

There goes a comet on its way up.

Hey light those last 2 racks of 6"s at once!

I felt this one.

Here goes the finale ~400 shells in 20 seconds. Notice the 30 foot leader on the fuse he's lighting! You have to "respect" the finale if you want all your fingers and toes.

Hey! Whaddaya know? Red, White and Blue in the Sky. I missed the blue a bit because I was too busy gawking at it. Rozzi's seem to have some of the deepest blue around. They also were first to have some really great purple shells.

Here come "the bombs bursting in air." Sometimes the sparks from the finale shells going off are 50 feet high. Just a mess of fire, sparks, smoke and shells.

And here they are. The silver round ones are the "salutes" that go BOOM! Great view when they're directly overhead.


  • Looks like fun. Best seat in the house. :laugh:
  • Gator Bait Gator Bait Posts: 5,244
    Good Lord, I hope you had some sort of hearing protection! Great photos, Chris. Looks like a lot of fun. Thanks for the great post.

  • TXTrikerTXTriker Posts: 1,177
    Hi Chris. Thanks for the expose. I have always wondered how the big shows were done.
  • bitslammerbitslammer Posts: 818
    Gator - We're covered well from head to toe. Hard hat, safety glasses, long sleeve denim jacket (usually damp or wet and hearing protection. The one thing it seems like we sometime need is a respirator.

    TXTriker - You can hand light up to 6" shells, after that it's got to be remotely fired. Most often electrical. On a lager show it may all be electric and if there's any type of time synch with music it's usually electrically fired as well. In any case it's a lot of tubes and grunt work setting up but worth every bit.
  • Grandpas GrubGrandpas Grub Posts: 14,226
    Thanks for the pictorial. Very impressive.

    Are all these digital? If so what settings are you using on the aerial shots and was the camera tripoded, lens & which model of Nikon?

    All looks kind of fun, but most like most things, just another job and a lot of work.

    Again thanks, GG
  • bitslammerbitslammer Posts: 818
    All of these were digital. I though about the tripod and wish I would have at least tried it but I wanted to be able to move fast so they were all hand held.

    I decided to go with only 1 lens (Nikon 55-200mm AF VR). I didn't think I wanted to be changing lenses in the firestorm and get crap in my camera. The VR (Vibration Reduction) really helped in the low light. The EXIF data below is from the very last aerial shot. Most of my shots were no flash with Shutter Priority.

    It's tough to take pictures in full dark with one (or many) really bright spots in the shot and have it come out. I was really happy with how well the Nikon metering works. It took care of the ISO and aperture to match my desired shutter. I figured 1/800 was a compromise to allow me to freeze some action but still get enough light in to catch something. I also bumped up the exposure compensation to +3.33.

    I'm still looking over these trying to figure out what to change next time. I'll probably take the tripod or buy a monopod. I think that would have made a huge difference. I'll probably go to full manual on shutter, aperture and ISO mode too just to see if I can do anything better.

    If I was only taking aerial shots I'd have gone with my 17-50mm f/2.8 lens. That lets in a lot of light can go from fairly zoomed to a nice wide. Because I had such a great vantage point I could have zoomed all the way out and still not fit the whole effect of many shells in the frame. An ultra wide like 10mm lens would have been really neat. I think I have an excuse to buy one now. :)

    Here's the data on the last shot:
    Camera Model: NIKON D90
    Image Date: 2009:07:04 21:09:36
    Flash Used: No
    Focal Length: 55.0mm (35mm equivalent: 82mm)
    Exposure Time: 0.0013 s (1/800)
    Aperture: f/4.0
    Exposure Bias: 3.33
    White Balance: Auto
    Metering Mode: Matrix
    Exposure: shutter priority (semi-auto)
  • stikestike Posts: 15,597
    that is the coolest post in a long time, man. great pics, and what a plum job!
    ed egli avea del cul fatto trombetta -Dante
  • bitslammerbitslammer Posts: 818
    stike wrote:
    that is the coolest post in a long time, man. great pics, and what a plum job!

    More of a part time hobby/addiction than a real job. Best part is getting paid to send somebody else's $10K up in smoke.
  • WoodbutcherWoodbutcher Posts: 1,004
    Very, very cool! I always wondered haw this was done, thanks for the post.
  • Grandpas GrubGrandpas Grub Posts: 14,226
    Very impressive pictures for those settings. I never would thought 1/800 would give those results. Faster ISO's on my D70 seem to get real noisy and not very enjoyable.

    I have wondered about the VR lenses. Seems like there is always something one can buy. :)

    Thanks for the details.

  • stikestike Posts: 15,597
    how do you get involved in that? i always thought it was the kind of a thing handed down through one family
    ed egli avea del cul fatto trombetta -Dante
  • bitslammerbitslammer Posts: 818
    stike wrote:
    how do you get involved in that? i always thought it was the kind of a thing handed down through one family

    Got into this via a good friend I used to work with. He's since passed on but I've been shooting with his son no for a dozen years.

    There's actually a shortage of licensed fireworks shooters due to the hassle of so many new regulations all due to 9/11. You have to re-register every 3 years with the state & ATF, background checks and finger printing. Fortunately for us the manufacturer takes care of setting that up for us. To transport the god to the shoot site requires a CDL with Hazmat certification. Luckily again the manufacturer trucks the stuff in for us at some shows. That means a drug test every 12 months as well. All of these "fees" start to add up so many part time shooters are dropping out.

    I think next year I'm going to get my CDL btu I'm not sure. Seems like a big hassle to shoot only a few shows.
  • CaptainJimmyCaptainJimmy Posts: 158
    WOW extremely cool. Nice camera too!
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