Photographer of South Island Rural landscapes and people

Bill Irwin


Mt Hutt fireworks: planning an image

When I heard about Mt Hutt skifield's  planned fireworks display to mark their 40th year I immediately visualised an image of the familiar mountain outline exploding with fireworks.  I ended up with an image I like, and a few others did as once I posted it on my facebook site it had 7500 views in 2 days and several hundred shares.  

Many of the comments asked about the capture so I thought I'd write a quick back story to how it was constructed.  

Location was key.  I knew most people would head right up to the mountain, where the fireworks would be but I wanted the show in context of the whole mountain.  I have a favourite spot near the Pudding Hill / SH72 intersection that gives a good view right in to the basin so decided to go there.  

At 6.30 pm, when it was due to kick off, the whole mountain was invisible in cloud.  I set my gear up and waited, luckily the cloud started to lift 20 minutes later when the show kicked off.  I'm not sure if they were waiting for cloud to lift or just doing the '6.30 for 7.00' thing.

Exposure was the next issue.  I wanted to capture enough detail so the mountain was recognisable, but had to balance this with the insane brightness of exploding fireworks. I was using my beloved Hasselblad H4D-40 to get the most detail possible, but it's best kept to ISO 100 which meant exposures of around 2 minutes to get enough detail from the available light.  You can sense the movement in the clouds during the exposure. 

I had the camera set up on a rock solid tripod (a Really Right Stuff carbon fibre one ) so the framing was exactly the same between shots.  This meant I could combine different frames if needed. Once one shot finished, I took another, ending up with about 20 images to work from.

In one shot, just after I started the long exposure, a ute came cruising down the deserted road.  I watched as it sailed past and lit up the trees and buildings at the far end of the road.  Nice!  Now I had some good detail for the foreground.  The fireworks in that shot were just average, so I picked a frame that had a brilliant display that lit up the whole basin and merged it.  There were also cars driving down the access road, the long exposure with dust flying added more nice definition to the hill.

Now I had an image I liked.  Not just a 'lucky snapshot' as some think, but one I'd pre visualised and planned, with a touch of opportunism that happens such as the ute driving through. I shared it on Facebook and it ended up being spread all over the place. I'm not sure if it has a commercial home yet, but it goes in to my library of images for future, as yet unknown, uses.

It's nice that so many people enjoyed it.  It's also interesting that, as a working photographer, there is a paradox that my most visible work is the least profitable.  I'm glad I have good clients who realise the value excellent images add to their business.  Most people see the images but have no idea where they came from, yet they provide most of my income. It allows me the time needed to build the skills I need to create my own most personally satisfying work.  

Now, if I can just convert all the Facebook likes to an income stream I'll really be living!

Mountain Thunder 2013

The Mountain Thunder motorbikes street races were on in Methven yesterday, Easter Saturday. It was excellent to see so many people from distant places coming to our normally quiet town. The whole CBD was fenced off and turned in to a racetrack, lots of action happening all day. Here’s a snippet of what I saw.