Bonfire Night

1/200sec, f/5.6, ISO 800, 135mm

Remember, remember!
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

‘Tis November the fifth, the day that the UK celebrates the foiled plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament back in 1605. These days, of course, such a thing might feel like a blessing, but then politicians aren’t exactly the flavour of the month lately. For many, especially those raised by Hollywood, November the fifth – and especially the rhyme above – is perhaps more associated with the movie V for Vendetta. Which is understandable, I love that movie. Love the book too.

To commemorate this failed assassination, we light bonfires, often with an effigy of Guy Fawkes atop, and set off fireworks. It’s nicely apt, celebrating a failed big explosion with lots of little successful ones (and it would have been a big explosion. Huge, in fact – a TV show a few years ago replicated the Houses of Parliament as it was back then, loaded its basement with the same amount of gunpowder that Guy Fawkes was on the verge of lighting, and set it off to see if he might have succeeded. The result? The Houses of Parliament would have been pretty much atomised).

I say ‘we’; these days most fireworks displays are large public displays where the health and safety people can make sure nobody does themselves a mischief like singeing an eyebrow or accidentally firing a bottle rocket up their own arse. So yesterday my wife and I headed out to Richmond Athletics Ground to see the lighting of a bonfire and a fireworks display, and of course I took my camera with me.

It’s been over three years since I last attended a fireworks display. These days I associate these displays more with summer at the beach than winter at home, despite the fact that the dark nights and smell of burning in the air always reminds me of my rapidly approaching birthday and Xmas beyond it.

The last display I attended was also one of the very few I’ve photographed, but it was long enough ago that I didn’t have this blog, I still had my 400D, and I hadn’t really learnt how to use it yet. Still, I was pleased with the results – I used one of those images on the 100th post on this blog.

So when I came to photograph this display, I was honestly a little nervous. Last time, I was still photographing in pretty much point-and-shoot mode, and hoping for the right results. This time out, I knew more, and so I was expecting more of myself – and I should know more about how to get the results I wanted from the camera.

Before the display started, they lit the bonfire. It was quite far away from where we were, but it could still be seen really well beyond the funfair rides.

1/250sec, f/5.6, ISO 1600, exposure bias -1.0 (+1.6), 135mm

A few minutes later the display started. In order to try to capture the trails of the fireworks, I decided to use Bulb mode, which basically keeps the shutter open for as long as your finger is on the shutter (I use this mode in some of my long night exposures, along with a remote trigger so there’s no movement on the camera). Knowing the fireworks would be pretty bright, I set the ISO to 100 to avoid blowing out the images.

1.0sec, f/5, ISO 100, 18mm

There wasn’t much time to stop and check the images on my LCD screen, but every so often I tried to snatch a glimpse, and gradually closed up the aperture in order to restrict the light coming into the camera, as a few images were still threatening to be overexposed.

1.0sec, f/6.3, ISO 100, 18mm
1.0sec, f/9, ISO 100, 21mm

After the grand finale of the firework display (all of which is in the gallery below) we headed round to the funfair and the bonfire. We stopped briefly for candy floss…

1/25sec, f/5, ISO 3200, exposure bias -1.0, 47mm

… and then I tried one of my usual tricks on the ferris wheel.

2.0sec, f/18, ISO 100, 18mm

This image was not quite handheld, but wasn’t on a tripod either. I rested the camera against my chest, held my breath and shot blind. It seemed to work. The wheel was a bit frustrating. It would spin pretty fast for less than a minute, and then would spend a good five minutes loading and unloading riders, so when I just missed a ride (frustratingly because of a full SD card) I had to wait a while before it got going again.

As we walked across a muddy field to the bonfire, we passed some people playing with sparklers. I tried a ninja shot to get them, but as I didn’t want to stop and steady the camera the image came out pretty blurred – but I like the effect enough to keep it.

1/4sec, f/3.5, ISO 320, exposure bias -1.0, 18mm

I know there’s all sorts of fun to be had playing about with sparklers and long exposures. I’ll have to see if I can pick up any cheap.

We then got to the bonfire, which was a true roaring inferno.

1/1600sec, f/5.6, ISO 5000, exposure bias -1.0, 33mm

I was captivated by this fire. Not least because my shutter finger had frozen up by the time the fireworks display came to a close and the bonfire was really warm. But it proved really interesting to photograph; I found myself getting all sorts of interesting shots of the flame. In the image above, I rose the ISO really high to try to capture the fire as frozen as possible. I also tried lowers ISOs to get a bit of movement.

I also 1/40sec, f/4, ISO 100, 24mm

I also found it really interesting to get some closeups, removing some of the context and filling the frame with flame.

1/800sec, f/8, ISO 800, exposure bias -1.0, 135mm

Once we’d warmed up a bit, we made our way home. One of the things I love about Guy Fawkes’ Night is the going-outside-in-winterness of it all, but it is still really enjoyable to get to a warm home when you’re done (although we’re in that grey area of early winter where I’m too hot to turn on the heating at home, and the wife is complaining of frostbite).

I’m pretty pleased with these pictures. Funnily enough, my favourites are probably of the bonfire; the fireworks display wasn’t quite as colourful as the ones I’ve shot previously, and I suspect I could’ve made better use of my settings to bring out the colour a bit better in this display. All of the images are below in a gallery should you want to see all of the results, and the good news is that the bug in the EXIF data seems to have been cleared up, if that’s the sort of stuff that floats your particular boat.

7 thoughts on “Bonfire Night

  1. Excellent pictures. I had planned to get to our local display but ended up with a back garden one instead.


    1. Thanks! Back garden ones can be great too; they can’t be worse than a so-called public display I went to some years ago… literally, they fired off eight bottle rockets and called it a night.


  2. Superb series of shots! 🙂


    1. Thanks as ever, CK! I still prefer the fire shots to the fireworks, but that’s me…


  3. I’m a bit late getting to this, but great shots. I haven’t taken firework pics for ages, but used to put the camera on bulb and cover the lense with black card between bursts of fireworks to get lots on the same frame. Works well if you don’t over- do it. All a bit hit and miss in those days though, using a film camera.


    1. Interesting trick. I’ll have to remember that one and give it a go. Thanks!


      1. No problem – gives you a year to practice.


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