Towards the end of summer in Catalunia, Spain, there are some insane and incredibly atmospheric celebrations called Correfoc. A typical Correfoc is generally full of characters, costumes and... fireworks.
During Correfoc, the fireworks are shot out of pitchforks, carried by the participants who are dressed as devils. Before the fireworks start exploding, they make a fountain of sparks that come out of the pitchforks. People bathe in these, dance around them and then, duck or run for cover, once the fireworks go off.
There are countless photo opportunities and it becomes important to narrow things down. After shooting for a while, I began the narrowing down process as I recognised what I wanted to capture. While I got numerous wide angle captures, I wanted to create a more intimate image of one of the participants, a portrait.
I picked out a man who seemed to be particularly enthusiastic. I also made a decision which might seem unusual to some. The shutter speed was set to 1/20s to turn the fireworks into light-streaks.
The main reasons it works for me
I’d say my two creative decisions are what makes the image work. Of course the tight framing, which enables us to see the man’s devious expression is one important factor. But also, I feel that just as important was the decision to slow down the shutter.
The light-streaks going down though the image add a lot to the atmosphere. Even though the framing is too tight to see the surroundings, the light-streaks strongly hint that what's happening has a lot to do with fire or fireworks. Add this to the man's costume and anyone who has been to this festival knows it's Correfoc.
When shooting at festivals or celebrations, it’s important to pause and to think about what exactly you are photographing. You might be able to do it more effectively or just in a different way. Mix things up, like I did here. Otherwise it’s easy to end up with a bunch of images which all feel and look very similar.
If I hadn’t framed up close and slowed down the shutter speed, I would have ended up with mostly wide to mid shots and pretty standard looking (frozen in time) fireworks.
A tip specific to Correfoc
The fireworks can be hazardous for camera screens, lenses and, basically anything that’s not hard metal. I ended up having parts of my camera LCD slightly burned. Thankfully I had a UV filter on the lens, or that would have been damaged too.
Protect your gear any way you can. Wear something on your head, preferably something you're ready to throw away, as it will get burnt too. Better the clothing than your hair or neck.