Fun with Fireworks

Happy Canada Day!

Fireworks over Victoria! Actually, they didn’t let off this many at once, but I employed a bit of Photoshop magic to make this picture. Read on to learn how to do your own!

It’s July! In Canada, July is ushered in with Canada Day. The scents of BBQ and suntan lotion waft on the breeze; the giant concert downtown reverberates off the houses for miles around. People wearing red and white saunter down the street, wave little flags around, and tote coolers. Even though I spent the afternoon in my home studio, I could feel the celebration in the air!

As the sky began to darken, I went over to my other studio at the artist’s co-op, Xchanges, to watch the fireworks. Our balcony overlooks downtown Victoria, and it’s close enough to watch the fireworks, but far enough away that it’s not so noisy.  It’s perfect for me: I don’t like loud noise and crushing crowds, and trying to escape the traffic if one is right down by the harbour, oh my! The one time we tried it, I was doing a festival downtown, and my booth was right on the harbour, too good an opportunity to pass up. It took almost an hour to get home —usually a less-than-ten-minute trip.

Since Xchanges has moved near downtown, it has become a tradition for me, and often friends and studio mates, to hang out there waiting for the fireworks to start. Yesterday I was joined by my writer friends Kate and Meriah, and we had a nice time discussing comics and writing in my studio beforehand. Ten o’clock found us out on the balcony, staring eagerly toward the harbour, but there seemed no end to the concert going on down there. With every minute, our impatience grew; finally there was silence, and the show began!

With the first explosions, the city’s seagulls streamed overhead, screeching their alarm and disgust (fortunately the balcony is covered!). Cheers erupted from the harbour, and I got ready for my annual attempt to photograph the fireworks. (Why do I never think to bring a tripod?!?)

I have a fancy-schmancy camera that has way too many bells and whistles.  I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to get it into its fireworks mode (I know it has one, I did read the manual once upon a time, honest!) so I ended up at my usual default: taking pictures on auto. None of them were very good, and I knew they weren’t going to be, but thought that I might be able to play around with them for fun, anyway, so I kept snapping.

When I got them home, I saw that I was right; most of them were blurry. However, a few did indeed have possibilities! I took the best ones, snipped them up in Photoshop and created a kind of collage.

Here’s how to do it, if you’d like to try it yourself!

1. Pick one photo to be your background photo; open in Photoshop.

sea anemone in the sky!

This is the photo I chose to be the background, as the city lights were the steadiest and the sky was still smokeless.

2. Open the others in Photoshop; crop them down to just the fireworks part.* Save them to your desktop and close them in Photoshop.

periodic table of the elements of collage

Here are the crops of other photos. The bottom one had some good city lights, so I layered those over the background photo to beef up the city a bit.

3.With your background later open, drag each cropped one onto it from your desktop (or select “place” from the file menu and select the photo from the window that opens).

4. This will form another layer. Set the mode for this layer to “lighten” in the layers panel, and you will be able to see both the background photo and your new layer. You will probably want to resize it; hold the shift key down to keep the aspect ratio the same, and drag one corner inward (a two-ended arrow will appear when your pointer is over the right spot) until it is the size you want. Move the new, resized layer around until you are happy with the placement, then hit return to “place” it. You can still move it around later by using the move tool.

5. Continue adding layers, following the steps in #4.

6. When you are happy with your arrangement of fireworks, go to the Layers menu and select “flatten image”. If you want to save the layers for later, save the file, then do a file>save as and save it as a jpeg, which will make a copy that is flat.

7. Crop the image if you need to, for composition.

8. You may want to adjust the image size if your camera makes big files. Go to Image > Image Size. I like to just select “percentage” and tell it to make it 50% or so; this usually makes it a manageable size for web. Or you can change the actual pixel size if you’d rather, or inches or centimetres.

*note: the cropping and layering works best if your background sky is totally black so you don’t end up with square edges. If there is smoke lightening the sky, try to place the edges of these images where they won’t affect the others. If you need to, you can use the brush tool to round the edges; use a fuzzy brush setting and paint with black.

If you try this with your own photos, I’d love to see! Head over to where I posted the photo-collage  on my Facebook page and put your results in the comments. If you have any questions, feel free to ask!


4 responses to “Fun with Fireworks

  1. It sounds like you had a fine time with your friends, and your photoshop editing suggestions very helpful.

    Great pics my friend.



  2. Thanks, Connie! I’m glad you find them helpful. I still consider myself a Photoshop beginner (or maybe I’m even an intermediate by now, on some things). There’s so much to learn!


  3. cool picture! I really appreciate the tutorial although I don’t use photoshop. You can afford that??!! LOL!
    I have a cute little iPad app called Juxtspose. It’s loads of fun!


    • The general principles apply in a lot of programs, I think. I was lucky enough to get CS6 when I was in school at a student discount. As long as my operating system supports it, I’m not going to the Cloud!

      I should learn to do more stuff on the iPad; I got it so I could do art on it, and all I do is watch movies and use it to do email when travelling!


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