NEW YEAR’S EVE 2011 FIREWORKS, MANLY, SYDNEY

Happy New Year from Manly, Sydney
Having lived in Sydney for 17 years and never photographed the sensational Sydney Harbour fireworks, I thought it was about time to see if the show was as easy to capture (photographically) as it looked (aah… no it wasn’t quite). We live in the seaside Sydney suburb of Manly, just a 15 minute ferry ride from the city of Sydney, so in theory it sounds like an easy escapade. That is if you are patient and are happy to arrive much earlier.
Unless you are invited to visit friends with luxurious views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, then you need to flag prime harbourside spots at least 10 to 16 hours earlier with your picnic rugs. Very keen friends who wanted to experience the show from the heart of the operation alongside the Opera House, were told to be there by 8am as only 5000 people were allowed into the fenced off area. There was a stage with Australian talent to entertain the crowd. In past years it has been known to take 2 hours lining up in queues for a ferry back to Manly after the event, so that really wasn’t an enticing possibility for our family to be a part of.
We were very lucky to have the option of a more relaxed environment to watch local fireworks on the Manly harbour 3 hours before midnight. It was fun to share the evening with a bunch of friends and their children without the ordeal and claustrophobia of venturing into the city. I thought I had the best elevated spot in front of the Manly Art Gallery, with plenty of room for my tripod, however we discovered only when the fireworks started, that the barge the fireworks were set on, was in an obscured area of the harbour for us.
We could only see a glimpse of the show over the roofs of the two storied Manly Aquarium and Manly Pavilion Restaurant. After taking a bunch of very ordinary photos in between palm trees, street lights beaming into my camera, and the odd uninvited heads blocking my view, we decided to make a mad dash to find a spot on the boardwalk in front of the Pavilion. My lovely friends boldly managed to find us a little area big enough to set my tripod down. I managed to grab a bunch of images for a couple of minutes before it was all over. The first of two Sydney city fireworks were simultaneously going off in the distance and created a beautiful glow in the sky behind our local fireworks.
I will remember to read the local Manly Daily Newspaper next year so we know where the fireworks will start from and where to hang out for even better photos.
We walked home before the renown midnight New Year’s Eve Sydney harbour fireworks in time to watch the live telecast. We had a lovely surprise to find that we could see these fireworks high in the sky from our new apartment (we are on the 7th floor and on one of the highest points in Manly) along with the distant Bondi and Botany Bay fireworks.
For those interested in my camera settings and post production steps here they are:
CAMERA SETTINGS: 1600 ISO, exposure .4 second at f/5.0, lens focal length 24mm (Canon 24-105mm lens). I focused manually. I set my focal distance to infinity and then moved it off infinity a touch as a starting point, then kept checking how I was faring, and just tried to focus when I could catch a glimpse of the barge. Most of my images were sharp, apart from a bit of ground movement from people walking past on the old wooden planks of the boardwalk.
POST PRODUCTION OF IMAGES: I used the Nik Software Plug in for Lightroom (also available for Photoshop and Aperture image editing software) to reduce the ‘noise’ in my images (not that it was very visible at web size but more so when magnifying).
To explain the term ‘noise’, virtually all digital cameras inherently create unwanted imperfections known as noise. The amount or type of noise in an image typically depends on the quality and type of imaging sensor with which it was created. Fast or high ISO speeds and low light levels can add noise to images. Nik Software’s ‘Dfine 2.0’ gives you control over exactly how much and where to apply noise reduction. This makes it very easy to eliminate noise in your images while maintaining detail and sharpness, thus improving the quality. Visit here to try it for yourself (free for 14 days).
I also used another Nik application to finish the images (turning one to black and white and tweaking the tone in the other) called ‘Color Effects Pro’. It is my favourite comprehensive image enhancement tool and is exciting and easy to use Nik Software – this one is free to try also. Just so you know, I am proud to be an ambassador for Nik Software and am a ‘Team Nik Photographer’ for Australia. I am not being paid to say I love their tools. You will find thousands of Photographers throughout the world who rave about Nik too!
WHAT I WOULD DO NEXT TIME: Next time I photograph fireworks I would experiment with using an even higher ISO and a faster shutter speed. I must confess, I assumed I would need a slower shutter speed than I did as I didn’t anticipate the fireworks would radiate such intense light as they did. It was incredible how much the glow of the fireworks lit up the Manly foreshore, and added a perceived extra dimension to the image captures. The experience was valuable and most importantly it was fun! The motto of the exercise for future new photography experiences [that have been done brilliantly by thousands of other photographers before] is to take advantage of ‘on-line tutorials’ on ‘how to shoot…’ before you actually do:-)