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Fireworks Photography, New Year's Eve (or ...of Cameras, Kids & Cops)

What a freaking CF. If you don’t know what a CF is you can substitute “comedic fiasco” nicely. Nobody else will know, right? ;-)

of Cameras……..

This location is absolutely perfect when 60 feet higher on the roof of the parking garage in Old Sacramento. Even tho I was previously allowed to shoot there, I was stopped by parking lot officials because of “safety concerns” on New Year’s Eve. I was heartbroken but determined to capture a spectacular fireworks display from the next lower level. I was over an hour early so even the lower deck wasn’t holding more than 15 or so quiet people with young children eagerly awaiting the show from a unique perspective. I scoped out a window of my own and started setting up my dual tripods for shooting with both my Nikons D80 and D90 using bulb (long & untimed) exposures. Then things started going bad.

The edges of the parking structure all had raised lips on them so things wouldn’t fall all the way to the ground if they rolled to the open edge. That lip was about 18 inches deep, or just perfect to make no good support for all three legs of a camera tripod. I worked with it for about 15 minutes before settling on 2 legs up and one leg down. This gave me latitude to rotate the cameras easily while both maintaining a stable base and retaining a level panning option. It also put my precious cameras about 3 feet taller than the iron railing – a fact that didn’t make looking at the children and pre-drunk adults around me a comforting thing to do. I thought of literally strapping the cameras to the railing thru their tripods but that would make getting out of there slow if things went south in a bad-bad way. I tied the cameras to each others tripod making moving one thing more than a couple inches in any direction almost impossible without brute force.

I’d done all my homework and tested the settings on my Nikons for hours before 10pm. And all was ready to just take out of the cases, acclimate to the cold, set up, turn on, and run some test shots. All that was before I got “lowered” 60 feet from the correct focal point. What happened then was nothing remained quite right: I couldn’t aim for the sky and include the Tower Bridge because the window opening went outward too far. I couldn’t aim at the Tower Bridge without aiming into the wonderful Sacramento tree that forgot to let go of its leaves in FALL, not WINTER. And moving to the left and right offered no unobstructed views either.

Enter the Random Screw-up Factor (RSF). Both Nikons default to different non-fireworks friendly modes when you turn them off. I’d already practiced adjusting for that when I noticed the issue while refreshing batteries after all the testing. The RSF was getting cold, anxious about increasing noise around me (The little kids were too small to get too close to the fence because they could drop things over the concrete lip and they were too small to wander about. They got cranky enough for one “parent” to scream for them to behave before she tossed them over the side. I think the 40 or so eyes staring at her hammered her harder than 40 or so fists could get that notion out of her head).

…of Kids…..

I got it correct once with the D90 before the sudden arrival of three girls (21? Not likely but not illegal when at public functions either) and maybe two guys out of the elevator. One of the girls was wearing what was obviously designed to be a dress that covered neither the end of her legs nor the beginning of anything above them. She was a sensible girl tho: she wore black tights. The other two girls didn’t bother with the tights. The daddy of the screaming kids and I locked eyes for a good 20 seconds. Neither one of us could even shake our heads. Just blinked and turned back to the fireworks not happening.

I’m old and not that easily distracted but the arrival of semi-drunk female semi-nudity brought a great deal of attention from most of the people around me. It also brought a swarm of guys from the street level to get a better look at what was suddenly on the fence over their heads. I might have gotten it all together before the kids went nuts by driving cars up to the immediate area (from some lower level where they are previously parked) opening all the doors, and B-L-A-S-T-I-N-G dance music.

….of Cops….

I was turning around to see just how tenuous my camera situation was when I heard something louder than the music. I couldn’t tell what it was until the music got turned off: a cop using a bullhorn of a voice while riding a fully tricked out cop bicycle. Instantly kids are departing quietly, not quite running, heading for elevators, stairs, and silent cars. Kids aren’t like that, not teenagers. Well, unless they’re drunk and/or high, know it and know they don’t wanna hassle with a cop knowing it too.

It was then that I could actually hear what the cop was saying since he was saying it in front of me, addressing me as he addressed the non-scurrying NORMAL people: ‘Everybody off the parking structure. Now. All of you. People below are starting to complain of things falling on their heads. So everybody out, now.’

I had just closed the shutter on my final test attempt using the D80. The shutter had been open about 5 minutes and it had been set for ‘long exposure noise reduction’. It’s blinking at me so I can’t turn it off. The babies suddenly realize they can hear themselves again and promptly make sure there’s something for them to hear themselves saying. The young photographer next to me who has been quietly watching me struggle with the location for an hour, smiles and says, “oh well”. The baby-daddy turns defiant, yells that he’s been waiting there for hours and it was OK for them to be there. My camera is still blinking “nr” as it processes and can’t be turned off. And the cop is staring at me.

As I closed my eyes and looked nowhere at all I heard someone quietly say “what’s he gonna do? He can’t arrest us all”. The cop makes a tiny wry smile when glancing that way but he’s still ‘addressing me’ from a distance of about 20 feet when he turns back. The D80’s still blinking but the D90 is aiming towards the Tower Bridge when the bridge siren goes off, warning people that the bridge is being immediately closed off so it can be raised to allow for a passing boat. I let me shoulders slump cuz I want the cop to know I’m not gonna test that arrest comment but I can flick the D90 on and press the LV and OK buttons before slowly starting to pack up.

I didn’t get enough time to hold the shutter release down to auto focus the shot so it just recorded the sounds of a quiet parking lot crowd and surprisingly quiet street crowd while capturing the raising and lowering of the bridge and the passing of a riverboat. I put the D80 in the backpack while it was still processing and the entire bridge sequence ran, mostly blocked by that darn tree, editing into a crappy 1 minute 39 second movie. It was just about 8 minutes before midnight when I left the view of the bridge behind me.


My fear of crowds overwhelmed me as I reached the street level. I didn’t run but I did turn away before the “GET THE SHOT!” thingie went thru my head. I started back to the opposite side of the bridge (where my other nighttime shots were taken years ago) but there was no chance I’d get there with broken ribs if the crowded had parted for me like the Red Sea; I would have had to run. I found a free space of about 20 feet behind a woman holding a small baby and in front of semi-blocked access to the garage. I all but tied the backpack to my leg while setting up the seconds tripod for the D90. Six minutes after midnight (and the start of the show), I was calm enough to set the camera correctly, aim blindly into the sky, and open the shutter for the remainder of the show. Enter RSF again. Sacramento evidently decided to out-fire the fireworks. The bridge’s lighting was turned off except for something akin to random laser-like blasts all along the bottom of the of the centre span right before The Big Finale. If I could have been able to see, I would have used my hand to block the entire bottom of the lens and shield the image from so much intense non-sky light. It blinded me right thru my glasses for a solid minute.

Show ends and I close the shutter. I carefully repack gear fully assuming I was going to have to fight to keep it, even fairly crushed where I was between brick and metal. I kept the D90 out while it processed and turned the D80 off while it was still in the bag. Two cute girls came by and admired my Nikon while showing me the absolutely beautiful shots they took using $150 camera phones. They asked to see mine and I sadly told them the camera was still processing. They said thanks anyway and walked away. I too, left the area very, very carefully avoiding anything that even looked partially human but managed to see more bottomless women than in my previous 53 years.

I was almost out of Old Sac when the processing finished for the single fireworks shot. The instant review was off so I pressed the button. If I had cried I would have frozen solid. If I had laughed, I would have cried from the rib pain and frozen solid anyway. Instead, I just shook my head as the horrific results lit up the entire vicinity from the tiny 3-inch screen. I imagine getting a live feed using Nikon’s Capture NX software, a laptop, and a very long USB cable attached to a Nikon D90 tossed off the lip of a volcano would look a lot like that.

So, damn it: here’s a bridge and a riverboat. Happy New Year.

Fireworks Photography, New Year's Eve (or ...of Cameras, Kids & Cops)

Lenny La Rue, IPA

Sacramento, United States

  • Artist
  • Artwork Comments 9

Artist's Description

Just another example of why humanity has just got to live somewhere except underfoot.

Artwork Comments

  • Karirose
  • Lenny La Rue, IPA
  • GailDouglas
  • Lenny La Rue, IPA
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