There they were, a continuous, almost organized line of middle-aged men in various stages of unfolding tripods, mounting massive DSLR’s on them, carefully aiming long lenses at indeterminate points in the darkening late evening sky.
The LCD’s lit their faces with a soft glow as they took test shots and talked among one another while fiddling with various items from their giant bags of equipment.
I stepped into an empty area among the photographers and leaned towards the grey-haired gentleman beside me.
“Is this spot taken?”
He murmured something, lifted his glasses over his head and stuck his eye on the viewfinder.
From my small Domke bag, I removed my tiny, old black film camera and held it up to the sky. I noticed a guy watching me but he didn’t speak, so I didn’t either.
I removed the bottom plate, sitting it in my bag, then set my shutter to bulb mode. I threaded and loaded a roll of film, tested the advance, then reinstalled the bottom plate.
The available light was just enough to observe the rewind knob rotate as I advanced the first frames of film. I didn’t bother setting the frame counter. Soon, I wouldn’t be able to read its numbers in the darkness anyway.
By now, a few guys were watching me. One tapped my shoulder and asked, “What are you gonna do with THAT?!”
“Me? I’m going to shoot the fireworks.”
“How old is that thing anyway?”
“Well, it’s a 1930 Leica. But the lens is a bit newer, it’s a 1946 Leica 90mm. And I’m shooting on Kodak Tri-X.”
The man smiled at me as I spoke, but I couldn’t be sure if he thought this was as neat as I did or if he thought I was being ridiculous. Either way, his mind seemed sufficiently blown.
“Okay, well good luck!”
“Thanks! You too!”
Using a Simple Film Camera for Fireworks
As the fireworks began soaring into the sky, I watched the first several to get a feel for framing and pace.
Shooting with my 1930 Leica is meditative, simple and liberating. The sum of my equipment could barely fill two open hands and involved no electronics. Yet, it was arguably just as capable as any of the new, complex rigs around me.
In order to operate a modern camera to do something as simple a photograph fireworks, the shooter needs to switch off of all the expensive gizmo’s and do-dad’s that people here had put so much money and time into choosing and buying and learning to use.
And what is left? A light tight box.
By now, it was too dark for me to be sure what I set my aperture to, but I had enough latitude with the Kodak Tri-X I wasn’t concerned.
I think I was at about f9 because the Leica 90 Elmar doesn’t have an f8. In fact, it doesn’t even have click stops!
So I rotated the brass aperture ring to the smallest aperture, and, then, opened up a little bit to counter any diffraction.
This lens is pretty sharp with it’s simple triplet, single coated optics. It exhibits some of that classic Leica glow around the highlights.
Once digitized on my flatbed, I had plenty of room to play with levels in Photoshop.
I brought my black point in pretty generously and then burned highlights until surrounding midtones were also near black.
Not only did this bring out a lot of detail in the highlights, but it gave the scans a crispy punch that they were lacking before burning.
In black and white, rather than ubiquitous color, these fireworks images take on a bit of an abstract quality I quite enjoy. There’s something old fashioned about them yet I feel that they are also sharp and contemporary.