My 4-day 4th of July weekend has come and gone, and I spent most of it planted squarely in front of my computer monitor. Part of it was futzing with my cable modem and GCI’s tech support (only to have them tell me after a house call that “it must be network problems”), but most of it was playing computer games. Every once in awhile I rediscover the catharsis in casting aside my responsibilities and losing myself in frag-filled entertainment.
The weekend wasn’t a total creative loss, though. I pried myself away from the keyboard long enough to show up at a friend’s fireworks-watching party on the night of the 3rd. Years ago I admitted to myself that I didn’t find the festivities on the 4th very exciting. The parade, fireworks, street events and parties, I can take ‘em or leave ‘em, but I do enjoy hanging out with my friends. The house we were visiting was high up on a hill downtown, too, and it offered the perfect vantage point to try to capture the fireworks show.
I’ve been looking for years for a good place to rig up a time-lapse of the Juneau traffic after the fireworks display. Thousands upon thousands of people drive downtown for the show at midnight and before the last explosion finishes echoing off the mountainsides, the mass exodus along the only road out to the valley has already begun. For the next hour (at least!) you can see mile after mile of red taillights filling the north-bound lane contrasted with only the occasional pair of headlights going south. Seeing wave after wave of red running lights turning to redder brake lights at each stoplight’s intersection has always entranced me, and although I’ve recorded it to videotape twice, I’ve yet to do it from a really good spot.
Location, in photography as well as in real estate, is everything. I know that I should be scouting the best vantage point weeks in advance for pre-planned events like this. Photos and video could soar from good to great just by having the right foreground or background element. Why then do I rarely make the effort?
This year, I saved myself some guilt and vowed to not even try. Instead, I decided I might as well try to time-lapse the actual fireworks show itself. Unfortunately, I got all the way downtown before realizing that I’d left my firewire cable at home. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to connect my camcorder to my laptop and although I could still record the whole event to tape and time-lapse it later, I just sort of lost interest. I did record the show, but it was from inside on a windowsill and I made no real effort to compose the shot.
Instead, some of my fellow party attendees and I hiked up the few dozen stairs above our friend’s house to get to the top of the hillside. When the fireworks show began, we had a perfect view of the waterfront. I’d brought my Canon Powershot s30 just for kicks and, low and behold, I found a perfect, unobstructed spot on the railing upon which to rest it.
As the show started up, I clicked the camera over to manual and tested out some exposures in the 6-15 second range. My ability to compose shots was limited by the darkness and by the fact that I only had a quarter upon which to prop up the camera, but eventually I found the angle, zoom, and shutter speed that worked pretty well. While others “Oooooh’d,” “Ahhhhh’d,” and yelled “Freedom!” at the top of their lungs, I took as many photos as I could during the half-hour show.
It’s at events like these that I always feel a little guilty about taking pictures. In a way, I’m completely missing the entire show because I’m concentrating so hard on my shot composition, exposure, the remaining battery life, etc. This year, I found myself looking up to enjoy a burst or two in the brief time I had while images were being written to my flash card, but for the most part, I watched the whole thing through a tiny 2″ screen.
But then, after the show, I take a look at the results and remember again why I love photography so much. Not all of the pictures were good, but one or two came out great! So while I probably didn’t enjoy the show as much as others, I console myself by thinking that everyone else’s memories of this year’s show will eventually fade and blend in with all the other Juneau 4th’s. Ten years from now, I’ll be the one with the crystal-clear photo record and video library ready to be pulled up at a moment’s notice. I guess that makes it worthwhile after all.