Explosions int the Sky

Thought Behind the Shot: Explosions in the Sky

Written by Tim on . Posted in Post-Processing, Shooting

In this weeks “Though Behind the Shot” I’ll be taking a deeper look into one of my favorite photos I call “Explosions in the Sky”, which was taken about a week before the 4th of July  in 2010.

The thought behind the shot was to capture a moment in time of all the people gazing up, enjoying themselves with the sights and sounds of all the explosions in the sky. 

I used the great Nikon D300S and Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 lens to capture the shot. These to together make a great low light combo. I needed to use a higher ISO so I could use a faster shutter speed. I wasn’t aiming for a scene that was bright like daytime. Instead I was aiming for a darker scene, where silhouettes were visible and the rim light outline on the people added depth and drama.

Camera Settings:

  • Exposure: 0.5 seconds
  • Aperture:  F/3.2
  • ISO: 1250
  • No flash 

It’s tricky getting a tack-sharp photo at night with no tripod. I used a high ISO to give me some chance at getting a somewhat decently sharp photo.  It worked, but only after a few attempts. The first few photos I took were blurry like no other, but I soon figured that by sitting on the ground, I could rest the camera on top of my knee to stabilize the camera a bit more than I could just hand-holding it.

I had to time the photo just right, and anticipate the fireworks so that I could capture them at their brightest peak, allowing me to get the nice rim-light on the people I was looking for. The first few times the fireworks weren’t bright enough. But I kept shooting in hopes of capturing the perfect fireworks, and soon enough I got what I wanted. Some nice big, bright fireworks that lit up the scene how I had imagined in my head.


I shot in RAW naturally as I love to push and pull my images ’till they break. Why else shoot RAW?

I brought the photo into Lightroom and started by bringing up more details in the shadows by using a bit of fill light. Unfortunately, this introduces a lot more noise and grain, which I was expecting to begin with due to the high ISO.

After I adjusted the fill light, I played with the hues and saturation to get the colors of the fireworks to my personal liking. There’s a certain style of colors I like that I can’t get straight out of my camera so I usually adjust the hue most of the time. I also selectively adjusted the individual fireworks and trails to make the “pop” more. I did so by using the brush tool in Lightroom.

After selectively adjusting the areas I wanted corrected, I played with the overall contrast and brightness by using the tone curve panel. 

Once the image was done in Lightroom, the photo was exported to Photoshop where I removed as much noise as I could with the Nik Dfine noise removal plugin. It helped immensely. I then resized and sharpened the photo by using Photoshop’s handy Smart Sharpen.

In the end, the photo was not as sharp as I had wanted it to be, and there is a bit more grain and noise then wanted, but I am pleased with the outcome, especially considering it was a hand (knee?) held shot taken with a slow shutter speed and high ISO. And thanks to the awesome Nik Dfine noise removal plugin for Photoshop, I was able to remove most of the annoying noise and grain.

Have you ever shot fireworks before? I would love to see your results. Upload your photos in the comments below, and if you have any tips add those, too!

Thought Behind the Shot: Explosions in the Sky

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