When I got a positive answer to my request to photograph the annual holiday lighting of the historic Washington Monument in Mount Vernon and the spectacular display of fireworks that accompanied it, I was both excited and a little apprehensive.
The pressure was on to record this Charm City ritual for the front page on deadline, and to shoot video for The Sun's Web site. I set up a tripod for the still camera in an 11th-floor room at the Peabody Court Hotel at the west side of Mount Vernon Square, an often-used vantage point for photographing the monument. I placed the video camera on a deep sill of a small bathroom window, using books to prop it to the correct height.
Shooting fireworks can be tricky: correctly exposing for explosions without overexposing nearby objects like the monument, the focal point of the assignment.
Luckily, the fireworks lasted almost five minutes, giving me ample time to experiment. Each wave pierced the chill night sky with thunderous claps and painted it in bursts of colored lights and trails of thick smoke, filling the air with the smell of burned black powder.
The bigger the sound that preceded the fireworks by a split second, the brighter the fireworks. In that brief moment, I often had time to swiftly move the shutter speed of the still camera to adjust for the brighter lights. I left the aperture the same (f/5.6), using 400 ISO, while adjusting the timing, which was anywhere from 1 second to 1/15th of a second.
Once I set up the video camera, I let it roll. It automatically adjusts the exposure.
When the event was over, I quickly packed up my equipment and headed back to the paper. When I saw the images on the computer screen at work, I breathed deeply, happy to have experienced the festive event, and to have successfully captured it for the paper.