How to photograph 4th of July Fireworks

Nikon D3S, 14-24mm, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 8 sec

Location, Location, Location

The success of a great fireworks shot is the location. You need to know where the fireworks will go off well before they do.

You don’t want to be trying to lineup your shot after they have started.  You can tweak your composition, but don’t be caught not knowing where they will go off.

Consider clear view verses using foreground or surrounding to help make your fireworks stand out.  My favorite shots tend to be those iconic locations in the foreground like the Statue of Liberty  or the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.


Tripod and Cable Release

I recommend using a tripod and a cable release.  This will keep the camera as still as possible during a long exposure.

This is the Nikon MC-30 that I have used for years on different Nikon Cameras.

Camera Settings

  • Manual
  • White Balance – Daylight
  • ISO 100
  • ƒ/8
  • Bulb Shutter-speed and keep open for two bursts of fireworks using cable release
My exposures were from 6 seconds to about 12 seconds on average. I typically might shoot 75 to 100 photos and only really like about 10 of those shots.
Nikon D3S, 14-24mm, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 11 sec
When to press shutter?
When you hear the boom of the fireworks, click the shutter and don’t let go until the end of the second fireworks. The bursting will create those wonderful shapes. If you shoot at faster shutter speeds you just don’t get the same exposure. The reason is as the bright fragments are moving you are capturing them through out the exposure, whereas the faster shutter speed would freeze them.
This is similar to photographing car lights on streets at night. By letting the cars continue to move you get a trace of the lights through the photo.
Nikon D3S, 14-24mm, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 6 sec

Make your photos 3D for interest

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 500, ƒ/10, 1/200

Too often people are isolating their subjects so much that the context is lost. If you just give a peak in the photo of things behind the subject you can create depth into the photograph.

In the above photograph I used the ally to help create depth.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 1000, ƒ/10, 1/200

See the difference between that photo and the one below?

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 560, ƒ/10, 1/200

Here I am just capturing some individuals in this same ally. Here I faced the subject and kept the background simple.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 320, ƒ/10, 1/200

By just letting some of the background be of the ally in the lower photo you create a little more interest beyond the subject.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 280, ƒ/10, 1/200

I am not trying to compare the photos in terms of best expression and moments.  I am just trying to show how the composition can create more of a three dimensional photograph over a two dimensional one.

Here all the people were trying to stay in the shade and I like the photograph, but it is a little flat. The tables in front of them help, but compare this to the one below.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 250, ƒ/7.1, 1/100

I am using the reflections in the window in the background to help create depth here.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 2200, ƒ/10, 1/200

In the photo of the chef garnishing the food, I just have a small slither of sky in the top left hand corner of the photo. This helps with the depth as well as the reflections in the windows.

You will also notice in most of these photos I like working with extreme wide angle lens. I just love my Nikon 14-24mm ƒ/2.8 lens. By me getting close to people even where the background doesn’t help create depth the lens helps bue to the perspective and puts the viewer [you] right there in the ally with me.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 100, ƒ/7.1, 1/125

Photographers Need To Stay On Budget

Be ready for changes

Often after you have booked a client there will be some possible changes. Just because you quoted a price does not mean you have to keep that price if the client makes changes to the scope of the project.

“I will be more than pleased to make it happen for you. Since this is a change to what we agreed on I need your approval for the changes before we proceed,” is important to say to the client. You can phrase it however you want, but you need to communicate a few things.

  1. You want them to get what they want.
  2. With changes to the original estimate there are changes to the contract.
    1. Price
    2. What is delivered
    3. Deadline
    4. Possible new expenses
  3. They must approve of the changes in writing for you to proceed.
Willingness to serve
Don’t respond with no to a client unless they are asking you to do more for the same amount of money. Just tell them you need just a minute to revise the estimate to give them an idea what they will cost and any other changes they need to know.
This is why you want to estimate on a project and not give day rates. The only thing you can do on a day rate is if you have additional expenses to meet their request, otherwise when you have the time to do more for them you must.
Give yourself time to respond
It is quite common that a client might catch you off guard and don’t feel bad about asking for a moment to consider their request.  
Sometimes the request may mean not just price difference, but to meet their request something else must come off the project due to time constraints. 
Sometimes I have to point out while we are running ahead of schedule for right now, but I will not know until the end of the project if I have time to add on this request. I will ask if they mind waiting to see if we have time. If they push then I let them know one of the situations we have scheduled might not get done.  I then give them the quote for the price change and wait to see if they want to proceed.
Bait and Switch
If you have given them a written estimate you do not have to worry about them feeling like you have them over a barrel when you give them the increased price quote. There are some people who are actually trying to get more out of you than you estimated. This makes them feel like they got their money’s worth. 
You don’t need to feel the pressure to give in to them, you just tell them the price difference and let them decide.
What happens if you forget to communicate a price difference?
You will most likely eat the cost, because you failed to communicate.
It is professional to communicate price changes before doing the work. I have watched too many freelancers turn in invoices that were higher than the quote and the relationship with the client is tarnished at best and destroyed at the worst. 
Take care of the paper work as much as you do the creative and you will have customers who will hire you again and again.

Flash or not to flash

Nikon D4, 70-200mm,  ISO 10000, ƒ/2.8, 1/800 with Nikon SB900 on camera flash fired at slow sync

While at first glance this photo is quite acceptable the main light is now my flash and not the stage lighting.

Nikon D4, 70-200mm, ISO 2500, ƒ/2.8, 1/100

The second shot is available light and shot only 1 minute prior to the flash shot. This is around 9 pm and on one of the longest days of the year, so there is still some sunlight as the sun sets.

There is not as much “Stage Light” as there will be after the sun sets.

Nikon D4, 70-200mm, ISO 2200, ƒ/2.8, 1/320 with fill flash from SB900.

Here I went to the other side of the stage and shot a similar comparison of the flash and no flash.

Nikon D4, 70-200mm ISO 12,800, ƒ/2.8, 1/400

The one reason I was using the flash to begin with is the singer Marc Broussard’s hat is casting a nasty shadow and most of the time his eyes are hard to see.  You can see the shadow in the second available light shot.

While the flash fixed this issue as long as it was on my camera it just ruined the mood of the stage lighting.

Nikon D4, 70-200mm, ISO 12800, ƒ/2.8,  1/100

While I now decided to shoot the rest of the performance with available light I now had another problem the light on the lead singer’s face only looked good occasionally   Most all the time the light looked like this when he sang.  You see a bright spot on his chin and his eyes are in a shadow.

Nikon D4, 70-200mm, ISO 12800, ƒ/2.8,  1/80

Now to get the best photos of the lead singer Marc Broussard I had to pick the best moments where the light and the emotion came together. I think I have this here when Marc looked up into the light and also the emotion in his face worked really well.

Now you know why so often a spot light is used to follow the main character on a stage with stage lighting. You also can see why many theaters have foot lights. These are lights on the floor of the stage at the front aimed up at the actors to get rid of the shadows under hats and those with deep set eyes.

When there is still not enough light at ISO 12800

I have been in the darkest places like Swayze’s Venue in Marietta.  Here the punk band moved around so much that I needed flash.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 4000, ƒ/5.6, 1/60

Here is an earlier post in case you want to see when I do use flash and how I used it off camera:

High ISO is King for Night Events

Nikon D4, 14-24mm,  ISO 12,800, ƒ/2.8 & 1/125

Available Light

I try my best to always look at the light that is present and go with it before I use a flash.

When Nikon introduced the Nikon D3 the ISO on that camera went to 6400 with no trouble. Then Nikon bumped it up again with the Nikon D3S to ISO 12,800.

My newest Nikon D4 ISO goes to 12,800 comfortably and if you really need it you can bump it all the way to Hi-4 (ISO 204,800).  The Nikon D4 has other improvements as well with focusing and especially in video.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm,  ISO 12,800, ƒ/2.8 & 1/125

In the photo here of singer Marc Brousard singing at the People’s Fest at Atlantic Station the lighting for the stage was very minimal as compared to other music events. For most other major music events at Chastain Park Amphitheater or Verizon Wireless Amphitheater you could easily shoot people on the stage with ISO 400 or 800.

This is important because for the bigger venues you can actually own a much cheaper camera than you need to capture the event when the light is low.

This is true in sports as well. When you are photographing an NFL game at night the light on the field is much better than when you are shooting in a small town at their high school Friday night football game.

Nikon D4, 70-200mm,  ISO 12,800, ƒ/2.8 & 1/100

Do you need to go and buy a Nikon D4 for $6,000 without a lens to take photos?  If you want the very best ISO 12,800, but Nikon even makes point and shoot cameras that will go to ISO 12,800.

If you want to shoot events like the People’s Fest at Atlantic Station as I did this past Saturday night then you need a high ISO camera.  Minimum of ISO 6400 in my opinion will just barely work before you need to add a flash.

Nikon D4, 70-200mm,  ISO 12,800, ƒ/2.8 & 1/125

For the photo of the couple I am hand holding a 70-200mm lens at 1/25 and vibration reduction technology is helping, but if they move they would not be in focus.  The light from the stage and surrounding shops is helping light them, but barely.  ISO 6400 would have me shooting at 1/10 of second.  I doubt seriously that I would have gotten this shot without the ISO 12,800.

With the recent dismissal of the entire photo department at the Chicago Sun-Times we can see the times are changing. But there is no way an iPhone given to a reporter will capture the photos I was getting. Also, just to own the Nikon D4 will not get the same results.

You have to know how the camera works and how to make it work for you to get the best photos.

To remain competitive you need to have the best gear to capture the type of photos of the subjects you want to get paid to shoot. If you don’t have the best possible the guy that is able to show a better image because of their gear will get the job.

Remember, it is the photographer with the best images of the subjects that will get the job and not the most expensive gear.

All this is to say, your images decide if you get hired not the gear, but your gear can hold you back to get good images. If you have great gear and not good images then you still want get the jobs.

Interactive Panoramic of State and Lake in Chicago
I just got back from Chicago where I covered the Grand Opening of Chick-fil-A’s newest restaurant on the corner of State and Lake.  Be sure and click on the 360º above and drag your mouse to the top and bottom or you can just use the menu buttons to navigate. Be sure to also zoom in and out using the +/- buttons on the menu.

The far right button on the menu will make the 360º full screen.  Try that as well for really putting you there.

Maybe you have a place that you need to people to see as if they are standing onsite.  My recommendation is to use the 360º Panoramic to help put people in the place.

This is the corner of State and Lake Streets in downtown Chicago, which if you reload the page will start the 360º Panoramic and spin until you are standing on the street corner.

Maybe you have a campus that you would like people to visit and this is a way to help encourage them to see your space. On the other hand maybe you realize many people cannot travel to see your campus and you want them to have the experience of being there. Either way, the 360º Panoramic is a cool way to engage your audience.

Give me a call if you need a 360º Panoramic. 

Pricing Tip for Estimates

I am often getting phone calls from photographers about how to price a stock sale or assignment.


No matter what you are quoting on I recommend giving the buyer a choice.

I like to think of this as a low, medium and high price.

When you order a drink like coffee usually they give you 3 choices: small, medium and large.  Using this as your model always try and give the customer up front three choices for your prices.


Well the way you price will help setup how you negotiate later.

In stock photography you are negotiating how much the photo is used and for how long. By giving them three options you have set some parameters from how you like to price.

In assignment work you are quoting on things like number of photos, when they get the photos, how you deliver them and more.

If you just give them one price you are communicating more of a take it or leave it even if you didn’t mean that at all. When you give options people see you as flexible and may even ask for more flexibility.

If you offer three choices and the other bidder gives only one you can see how you just gave them 3 bids to the guys one and maybe you get the job just due to having an option they can go with without going back and forth.

Too Much

If you are not careful you can overwhelm people with too much information. Keep the options simple rather than complex. Sure if you tell them more they have even more options, but they show more than about 5 or 6 options actually works against you.


How to download video from YouTube and Vimeo on Mac

Downloading a video from YouTube can be tricky. Here is a simple App that will let you not just download, but choose the resolution that might be available for you.

FYI: You must not distribute or financially benefit from that content. It must also come with the express permission of the copyright owner.

This is a great way if you loose your copy to copy your own video from the web for example, or you can use this technique to let someone see your video and then give them permission to download it.

MacX YouTube is a free software that will let you download most YouTube videos.  This is great for those presentations when you may not have an internet connection or you don’t want to rely on one in case that fails.

When you open MacX YouTube you get this screen.  Just click on the link and copy and paste your URL for the YouTube video. It automatically detects the YouTube video opened in browse. You don’t need to copy and paste the URL manually if you have it open.

It is capable of downloading all YouTube videos in whatever format or resolution, including MP4, WebM, FLV, even YouTube HD video.

As you can see in the screen grabe you are given many ways to download the video. It will convert it to the video format you prefer. I prefer downloading, if available, @ 1080 H.264 MP4 since this is the standard for the internet and works just about everywhere for everyone’s computers.

Vimeo is better design for those who want to share videos across the web. You can upload the video package and then share a link and password protect the video. In addition you can make it downloadable.

So for those who choose to upload and distribute I would recommend Vimeo as a better choice.

With Vimeo they give you options for downloading the video if the person who uploaded it gave that permission. Here you just click on Download under the video and they give you a few choices.  As you can see the choices are much more limited than with the MacX YouTube downloader.

In case you need to convert a video I recommend Wondershare’s Video Converter. It can convert video to 158 formats. You can download a trial version and then buy it for $59.95.  It works on Windows and Mac platforms.

It will also download from YouTube.

Just drag your files to the screen and then pick the output you choose.

Now you know an easy way to download video from YouTube and Vimeo.

PhotoMechanic is a must have for the editorial/sports photographer

If you were in the press room and were watching all the photographers ingest their images, write captions, crop and upload their images to the wire services or newspapers you would find the majority of them using PhotoMechanic. It sells for $150 and works on PC or Mac.

Why PhotoMechanic?

The number one reason most use it is speed.  It is a stand alone image browser that is so fast for the pressroom most who use it in their workflow ingest into this program and if they need to more than crop their images then they may use PhotoShop or Lightroom to adjust color, burn and dodge or some other image correction.

Many photographers shooting on deadline shoot JPEGs for speed. Some will shoot JPEGs plus RAW and use the RAW to help salvage an image if necessary.  You see most of these pros are nailing the exposure, focus and white balance. The most they are doing is cropping or rotating an image.

Figure 1

Step One—Ingest

PhotoMechanic allows you to ingest multiple cards at one time.  In Figure 1 you can see the screen that lets you customize how you ingest.  I select the cards and then select a destination, which for me is always an external drive.  I have it checked that when it is done to eject the cards and only to ingest new images.

Two more things I do before clicking the “Ingest” button is click the renaming of files. Now once this is done the next time I ingest this will be the same.  By the way I rename all my images using this code “{year4}-{month}-{day0} {hour24}-{minute}-{second}.”

The most important step to me that makes this program stand out is the ability to embed text into every image as I ingest.

Figure 2

You can see the box that pops up when you click on the IPTC Stationary Pad here in Figure 2.  There are more fields as you scroll down than you see here.  PhotoMechanic will remember all that you typed as a default. You can also save these and then load them as needed.  For example if you shoot for Associated Press you have to use certain fields and they will be different than if you shoot for the New York Times. You may also have your own personal style that you want to use. So, I have many different forms saved to help speed up filling this form out.

Once I finish this I ingest. This will put the same IPTC on every image. This way when I want to modify the IPTC I only need to change a few things rather than put everything in the form from scratch.

Step Two—First Edit

I really don’t want all the images I just ingested, so I am going to select the ones I want to keep first.

Figure 3

I look at each image and decide do I want it or not. If it is a keeper I just type “T” and the program puts a check in the box and it is now “tagged.”

Figure 4

I then go and select all the “Untagged” images and select all the images. The together I push “⌘ Command” and “Delete” to move all of them to the trash.  Once this is done I show all images again.

Step Three—Rating

PhotoMechanic lets you rate images using color code system and/or stars. I primarily use the stars since this is how I was marking my contact sheets back in the days of film.

Figure 5

You need to go to preferences> Accessibility and this is where I check to use the Star Rating. Now when I like an image I can just key 1—5 and if needed 0 to remove them.  A 5 for me is portfolio quality and 1 is it is OK and usable for publication.  It is a sliding scale from there for me.

Step Four—Caption Modification

Now I go to the bottom right hand corner of PhotoMechanics contact sheet and click how many “Stars” I want to show to help me narrow down the images I will transmit to the publication or wire service.

Figure 6

Usually the number of images Sports Photographers are moving from a normal game is about 5 to 6 images.

Now I can go into each photo and customize the caption. Now the really cool thing about PhotoMechanic is saving you key strokes and helping you be accurate with spelling.  This is called “Code Replacement” in PM.

Go to Edit>Settings>Set Code Replacements and here you will select a TXT file that has been previously created. This will have the roster of the players for both teams.

Figure 7

One guy has a website that you can go to and create that file for a small fee and help save you tons of time captioning players names, position they play and number.  Here is that link to help you understand how to use this in PhotoMechanic

Step Five—Image Correction if Needed

Sometimes you might need to do some work on the image.  Here the photographer can press “⌘ Command” and “E” if they have selected an editing program like PhotoShop to make changes to an image or images.

Figure 8

To designate a program like PhotoShop go to Preference>Launching and create the link to the program.

Step Six—Upload for Deadline 

Now you need to upload these images. Here is what I am doing for Associated Press. I have all the ftp information stored in PM and so I just select all the images, right click and click on “Upload.”

Figure 9

What pops up is Figure 9 for me. I then just click send and the images are off the the photo desk.

Step Six—Keywording When not on Deadline

For when I am shooting for something other than deadline I am often keywording images.

Figure 10

To help you with Keywords, PM already has a structured list of keywords for you to use that many Stock Agencies already use and then you can add your own keywords.

So you can select one or multiple images and then just type “⌘ Command” and “I”, which brings up the IPTC pad [figure 2] and then click on the pull down menu for Keywords see Figure 11.

Figure 11

When you click on it you will then see Figure 10.  This way you can add things like “African American male” to all the photos you selected at one time. Now right next to the keyword field is a box with + sign next to it [Figure 11]. If you check it then it will keep any keywords already in the image and just add your keywords.  This way you can go through select all the photos with women and keyword them and then go and + add those photos where there are flowers in them.

Step Six—Upload to PhotoShelter or Stock Agency

Figure 12

PM has many ftp logins already for you like PhotoShelter, Flickr and SmugMug for example. Here in Figure 12 you can see I have PhotoShelter. I just pick the folder or create a gallery to upload the images.

Stanley’s Workflow

  1. Ingest to PhotoMechanic
  2. Select the keepers
  3. Delete all untagged images
  4. Import into Lightroom, because I am shooting RAW
  5. Make all corrections necessary to images
  6. Export all images to sRGB JPEGs
  7. Open PM 
  8. Upload if necessary
  9. Burn DVD as needed

For you Mac users: The best way of teaching is by example

Screenium software is available through your App Store on Mac for $39.99.

Don’t just describe a person what to do! It’s slow, it’s frustrating and chances are it’s easily forgotten so you’ll have to repeat that lesson at some point. Instead, record a screencast of your instructions and make it available online. What started as a one-on-one tutorial could help thousands of less experienced users all over the world.

I have done a few tutorials for folks and here is one I did on “Exposure Composition”

To make this I used the software Screenium.  It is available in the App Store on Macs.  It is very simple to use.

You can just record a: single window; a fixed area; fullscreen; or the mouse area.  If your Mac has microphone built in then just sit close to the monitor start the session and when you are done stop the recording.

You can then just post your video.

If you have a web camera hooked up you can also include this in the video if you like showing you talking to everyone.  Maybe you just want to use that to introduce yourself and then close the window or shrink it and then come back to it occasionally.

Here is one more video I did explaining depth-of-field. It has helped a lot of people see what DOF is all about and how to control it.

Now I think you can see from those two examples that seeing me walk you through it is much better than me just telling you something—wouldn’t you agree?

For Video Editing: Combine Final Cut Pro X and Event Manager X

First things first

I am using Final Cut Pro X version 10.0.8 when working with video, which you get through the App store on your mac.  I love the software because you can work in real time and not wait for rendering.  That works in the background.

No matter what video editing software you use I highly recommend maxing out the RAM on your computer. I have 16 gigs of RAM on my Macbook Pro 15″.  If I had a desktop I would have even more RAM.

You need a fair amount of free space on your hard drive as well. This is why I recommend running the projects off an external drive. The program is on the main drive, but the clips and video are on my external drive.

I recommend 20% or more free space on your main drive. As you fill up the external, its performance will also slow and this is why my next recommendation will improve your experience with Final Cut Pro X.


By default Final Cut Pro X will show you all  Events and Projects on all mounted storage devices. You are in essence loading all your projects on all your drives every time you open Final Cut Pro X.

Event Manager X gives you control over your Events and Projects so you can manage what you want to be visible in Final Cut Pro X’s Event Library and Project Library. So, you could have multiple external drives with various projects on them and Event Manager lets you decide what is visible.

Instead of launching Final Cut you launch Event Manager X. As you can see in the screen capture above those with a check are what will show up. Just uncheck and it doesn’t show up in Final Cut Pro.

What the program is doing in the background is moving your “Events” and “Projects” from their normal folders into “Hidden” folders.  See the example above.

Now lets say you have a few projects in the works. You finish one and send it for approval to the client. While you wait on their feedback and changes you can then close Final Cut Pro open Event Manager and uncheck that project and event for now. Then just check the event and project you want to work on next. As long as you have that “Re-open Final Cut Pro X” at the bottom, when you click on the button to move the events and projects it will launch Final Cut after it moves everything and then you only see what you are working on in Final Cut Pro.

The reason for using Event Manager X is not to make things look neat in Final Cut Pro X, it is to improve the performance of Final Cut Pro X.

Photography Composition Tip: Anchor Your Subjects

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 180,  ƒ/10, 1/500

Anchors Away

I am still in cruise mode after last week. It takes longer to do everything since I got back. You see I think I need to stop every 45 minutes and find food.

Being on the ship and see those huge anchors made me think of a simple composition technique to improve your photos.

Anchor your subjects.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 12,800,  ƒ/3.5, 1/160

When you crop off the feet of a subject or in this case the front of the car the subject isn’t well anchored.

Just lower the camera a bit and give the subject a little room at the bottom.

See what a difference the composition is by just moving the camera a millimeter?

The reason so many of us forget to do this is we are looking too much at the subject. You need to scan the edges of the photo and correct for this problem.

Many photographers tend to have too much space above the subject and this is due to centering of the subject.