Shooting the Perth Skyworks. Fireworks on Australia Day.

The 26th January in Australia is marked as “Australia Day” and is the commemoration of the day the British flag was raised in what is now Sydney, and the British took dominion over the lands.

To this day, there are divided opinions over this holiday / commemoration, with many local indigenous people calling it “Invasion Day” and wanting it abolished or at least, the date of “Australia Day” changed.

One wag the other day suggested May 8th, as this is easily memorised by all Aussies “May 8… M-a-a-a-a-t-e!” Gerrit?

Anyway, politics aside, on this day many cities and towns hold commemorative fireworks displays, and the one in Per, the capital city of my home State, Western Australia, is noted as one of the biggest and the best.

Dubbed the “Skyworks”, up to 300,000 people gather on the Perth foreshore of the Swan River to watch the 20 minute or so spectacle that starts at 8pm sharp and explodes above Perth Water.

Now, to our US, European and Asian cousins (at this point the UK is still in the European Union so I include them in Europe by the way), 300,000 might not seem a lot, but when you consider this is about ¼ of the city’s population, it is pretty impressive.

One of the challenges is photographing or videoing the event, and this year, myself and Jacqui did the 4 hour trek from home in Quinninup (near Manjimup), leaving Budweiser and Shnorky the Hounds to play Guardy-Dogs for a couple of nights.

We stayed at the Great Southern Hotel in Northbridge, and at 6pm, walked the 2Km or so into the main city and then a further 1Km to find our 1 square metre of plot in the absolutely crowded Langley Park, the main viewing area (the other is at Kings Park above the river and about 2Km downstream).

The cameras I had with me were a Panasonic WFX1 4K camcorder and VUZE XR 360/180  VR Handheld.

One problem the average person gets in this situation (apart from the absolutely pointless act of leaving the auto flash turned on in still cameras / smartphones), is using auto focus and auto aperture. Simply, on this setting, the camera / smartphone is continually trying to “hunt” for something to focus on – without success in the alternating dark and bright flash / light from the fireworks, and doing the same for the aperture as again, the ambient light switches from black to bright light.

So, the simple trick is to pre-show, set the aperture manually – I used F8 – and focus to infinity. If shooting for still images, for the shutter speed I set to 1/60th, but playing around a little in the first few minutes of the show with settings and checking the resultant images will get you your ideal setting.

And it goes without saying – or does it – to hold your smartphone horizontally! This way you’ll fill the frame rather than have those wide, empty black vertical stripes on the sides of your video / photo. In other words, like your TV, the long sides to the top and bottom.

What I was after was to get the effects of the fireworks putting a reflection on the water, and also putting the crowd in front of me in silhouette.

I confess I wasn’t 100% successful, but the result – and there is no doctoring in this footage as it is direct from the camera, I just added the titles and logo – is not too bad. The footage has been down sampled from 4K to HD for this post though and I have included my Vegas Pro 16 layout so you can see the compositing and layering used.

Vegas Pro Screen Layout for Video

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