Independence Day at Big Bear Lake 2016

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Monday, July 4th 2016

I took a drive up to Big Bear Lake to catch the legendary fireworks show that I had often heard about for the last twenty years. The show was not scheduled to start until around 9pm, but I wanted to get there early so I embarked on the one hour drive via Highway 18 (a.k.a. The Back Way). It seemed that many had the same idea and where heading up that same way, primarily high desert locals like myself. There are a few other ways up to Big Bear from the Mojave Desert which include some off road access, but this was the most direct method for getting there.

I had not been to Big Bear Lake since I last visited during my Big Bear Winter Drive in February. Summer in the Mojave this year was being relentless with persistent triple digit temperatures and escaping to the mountains would provide a little mercy from the heat, but not by much, it was about 85ºF at Big Bear Lake and, but the UV factor was high at about 8 and you can feel the burn on your skin.

“It was still pretty early so I decided to drive around the lake and see if there were any interesting photo ops.”

“Found these cool ruins of an old stone cabin near the west end of the lake atop a rocky slope.”

Big Bear Lake Village

GPS Coordinates: 34.2389° N, 116.9161° W

After cruising the lakeside for a while, I drove around Big Bear Lake Village for a bit until I found a super sweet parking spot at the Knickerbocker Public Parking Lot right smack in the middle of downtown. I grabbed my camera pack and cruised the Art Festival. I met a few photographers there who had booths and selling some of their work on both canvas and metal prints. One of the gentleman was a Big Bear native and had some pretty spectacular photos of Big Bear Lake from all times of the year and he said that sales were great for the day. I then met another photographer from Vegas who had some nice images as well, but he said that sales were a bit bleak for him that day. I figured that the reason for the difference in sales was that the man from Big Bear was selling beautiful photos of Big Bear in Big Bear while the photographer was selling photos of everywhere except Big Bear, but that’s just a hypothesis.

The Art festival was preparing to shut down so I walked around town for a while and stopped into the shops to ask questions about where the best place would be to catch the fireworks by the shoreline down the street. Everyone said that my best bet would be to go straight down to the Marina and set up shop there for some sweet photo opportunities. I had also heard from the workers at An Ran Ju 安然居 Gelato & Teahouse that the entire stretch of Pine Knot Ave. was going to be shut down to through traffic. As a token of gratitude, I purchased a large gelato.

“This is a 50/50 gelato combination of crème brûlée & almond mocha, it was very delicious!”

I walked back to the Starship after my sweet snack and grabbed a folding camp chair, biolite, jacket for mosquitoes, and my tripod. I started to make my way down to the marina around 5pm to search the shoreline for potential spot to set up for tonight’s show. I had done a fair amount of walking around and had to do a bit more if I was to secure a good spot by the shore and after a mile or two, I found the spot that I wanted.

“Not many people had arrived just yet so I planted myself here for tonight’s fireworks.”

“There was a sweet looking Steamboat Style Ferry that takes you on a 45 minutes tour of Big Bear Lake.”

“The sun was pretty brutal even in it’s final hours, but the time had come for twilight to set in.”

“It’s Showtime!”

I had been to countless fireworks shows and had always taken photos, but it was getting boring to capture the same old exposure style year after year. This year would be very different, I had seen many experimental images shot of fireworks where the focus ring is turned from out of focus to in focus during a long exposure. I decided to go reverse of this approach to see just what kind of a result I could get and I was pretty excited when I saw I had created!

“Twilight was in full effect and we are now just moments away from the start of the Big Bear Lake fireworks show!”

My Blossom Shot Settings:

For these shots, I set my aperture to f/2.8 and my shutter speed to ‘1 second’, and the ISO stayed at 100. The secret recipe for the “Blossom Shot” as I coined it, is to release the shutter after the firework explodes and turn the focus ring half way through your exposure which in this case is at 0.5 seconds. You will want to turn the focus ring away from the ‘infinity’ symbol on your lens’ focus dial which is close to where your ‘in focus’ point will be hovering around. The amount that you pull the focus ring will determine what results you will yield. I recommend a sturdy tripod, a remote release, and a steady hand so that you do not shake your camera when you pull focus.

“The first of the experimental blossom shots was my favorite color, Indigo!”

“Green blossom shot with a golden core of explosive beauty.”

“A little purple in the sky and I started to think of Prince.”

These two were experimental all the way into photoshop where I sliced down the middle and reflected one side to create a perfectly symmetrical blossom shot. It was a pretty interesting result, but I kept the rest of the shots natural as they began to look more like art than fireworks. By playing with the exposure time and the amount of focus pull, I was able to generate even more bizarre images.

“Photoshop edited symmetry #01.”

“Photoshop edited symmetry #02.”

“And this is where the experiments take an artistic turn.”

“Like a cluster of red luminescent balloons and golden pulsing orbs.”

“Major disruptions in focus lead to some pretty fantastic results.”

I realized that the blossom shot technique had limitations when there were too many fireworks exploding in the same area at once, the effect got lost in a jumble of light so the Grand Finale was taken in with the traditional photographic approach. My settings for that were an aperture of f/9 and a shutter speed of 0.8 seconds, the ISO stayed at 100.

“Spectacular end to a wonderful night of photographic experimentation, Happy 240th Birthday America!”

After the show was over, I hoofed it with a large crowd back to the parking lot. I knew I was going to be in a world of traffic jam hell to get home so I chilled in the Starship to review shots as I got out macaroni and turkey salad that I had packed and had myself a late snack. I watched the poor bastards who were in a hurry get stuck in traffic that seemed to not be moving at all. I finally got around to firing up my rig and merged into a milder version of the traffic that had been there an hour earlier. I went home via Highway 18 along with a long parade of other vehicles that were heading home to the desert as well. I can’t believe I had missed out on this show for 20 years! I’m just glad that I got to see it for myself.

Until the next travel blog, remember to get out there and “Shoot the Planet!”


©Indigoverse Photography. All Rights Reserved.

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