#879. Rediscovering fireworks

By pascaljappy | Opinion

Jul 19

Every July 14th, France celebrates Bastille day with much fanfare, in a three pronged event: military parades in the morning, fireworks in the evening, and louts destroying stuff in between, which appears to have become a new low IQ way of life in France (some people have a picnic, others burn motobikes, the thrills of variety).


I rarely partake in any of the phases.

Not in the fighting because, being of even lower mental ability than those having fun throwing stones at shopkeepers and cops, I might get mixed up and start chucking stuff at the inventors of that new popular sport.


Not in the display of admiration at our army, because, let’s face it, I cowardly wish those years of soviet-gorilla breast-thomping were behind us. Diane Fossey needn’t worry, apparently the worldwide population is on the rise. More and more of the most brutal males seem to be occupying the highest positions among humans, these days, and to have found pristine human females to mate with.

In fact, it fills me (not) with national pride to know that that blindly belligerent baboon Trump got the idea of militarizing Independance day from France. With the big clock at 2 minutes to midnight, this makes me soo happy. Although, it does help that this year’s main parade, in Paris, was largely about european collaboration.


Not in fireworks because I’m a lazy old git. The driving, the parking, the crowds, the wait. I mean, a good book in bed … right?

Two things made me change my mind, this year. No, make that three, there was promise of ice cream. But, really, make that one, because my wife said we were going and she’s the boss. Oh, I’m confused, now. And the ice cream shop was so crowed we didn’t go. The humanity.


So, were was I?

Oh yes, two photographic reasons.

One: my daughter had pulled out the Sony NEX-5r I bought her all those years ago. After years of using phones, seeing her dabble in traditional camerafare was elating. Her pictures follow.

Two: we were going to Aubagne. A small town with an impressive show (relative to the size of the population). And, most importantly, an immersive show where the fireworks launch barely 30 meters from you so you feel inside the display rather than watching it from a distance. The shattered eardrums, the howling kids and the many, many burns on our skins (and in some eyes) are a small price to pay for the excitement.

Well, that’s how I see it. DS reader and contributor Pascal R was with us that evening and received glowing ambers in his eye, so his assessment of the fun/pain ratio might be somewhat different.


Anyhoo. We’re there. And – wait for it – I forgot my SD card, so the X1D is basically an expensive scoliosis inductor in my bag. Shame. During my discrovery of that camera, a loaner from Hassy, exactly one year prior, it had produced some really lovely images.

Out comes Zung, Philippe’s pet name for my Galaxy S9 phone. All the photographs above are made with it. All those below are from my daughter with the Sony NEX-5r and kit 16-55 zoom.

M98 and the landing duck galaxy (c) Solveig Jappy

The contrast between the two is interesting.

I’m having a lot of fun with the phone. Point, tap the zone of interest, click. There is quite a lot of lag so, after a short adaptation period, the procedure actually becomes even more interesting. Because I have to anticipate, I follow a rising rocket, having seen the effect of a previous one, and compose on a background of fading light and smoke. Actually quite fascinating.

Three sisters (c) Solveig Jappy

But when you compare image quality, the differences become a recent phone and a relatively ancient camera become quite obvious.

The photograph below is a great example. The explosion in the top-right corner looks gorgeous in that NEX shot. It illuminates the puffy clouds of recent bands and the smoky background of more ancient ones, the diffuse remnants of defunct stars of the show.

B-day (c) Solveig Jappy

You’ll have to excuse the astronomical(ly poor) lyrical waxing here. But the show did feel a lot like the photographs in an astro-inspired coffee-table book. Globular clusters with a planetary nebula in the center. Colliding galaxies. Diffuse nebula lit by young stars. Supernovas. Absorption nebulas. Even Star Wars lightspeed startrails (it’s real, I saw it on TV).

But yes, there’s a big difference in rendering. The Sony feel so much more painterly. The drapes of smoke are so much nicer to look at. The sense of 3D is so much more compelling, too. Even in a purely abstract composition, the sense of presence is far greater with the little (gem of a) camera.

That being written and, as always, there’s room for both. Every format bring a different shooting experience and a different look to the light table (rememer those, silver foxes? I used to love them so much).

Bastillids shower (c) Solveig Jappy

The main difference is that it will only take a phone-sized print to show the limitations of my photographs, whereas some of my daughter’s would probably sing happily up to A3.

Pink Bang Theory (c) Solveig Jappy

Still, it was great to experience the two in the same conditions (and if Pascal R sends along some FF variants, I’ll add them below for a triple whammy).

It’s fair to say that the shooting procedure with the phone, which will no doubt go down in artistic history as anticipative composition, made me rediscover fireworks. Yum?

Addendum: Pascal R has just sent in these photographs made with a Sony A7r2 and Olympus Zuiko 50/2 macro lens. So now, you can see the results from 3 different formats ๐Ÿ™‚



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  • Chris Stump says:

    I love this post. It was the perfect way to reset my weekend attitude early on a Saturday morning.
    Had I suffered the drive, parking, crowds [Ugh], all to discover no card in the camera [and a Hassy, no less!], I’d have been bereft.
    But you turned that frown upside down, and triumphed. ๐Ÿ™‚
    I first viewed the story also on my phone, and on that screen your phone images were exuberant. Even now on a browser they’re very much fun, though I can see the differences you point out between them and your daughter’s [excellent] images.
    Thanks for the lesson in taking life’s lemons and making lemonade!

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thank you Chris. An added bonus of your comment is that I read it out loud and made my daughter blush. The small pleasures in life ;)))

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    “After years of using phones, seeing her dabble in traditional camerafare was elating. Her pictures follow. ”


    I am going to holdl you to that, my friend!

    Getting back to the photos – “ร  chacun son goรปt”, as they say in the old country. Personally I love the painterly ones – – best is “B-day (c) Solveig Jappy”, IMHO. But perhaps PJappy has sold himself short, by posting much smaller images? Or is that merely confirmation of all my dark views on “cell phone photography”? Should I weaken, and award equal first prize to nr. 4?

    I confess to a certain confusion about these fireworks. 14 juillet is in mid summer, you’re having blazing hot temperatures thanks to the world climate crisis, and yet fireworks are exploding all over? We banned Guy Fawkes Night here decades ago, because by November the risk of fire danger is too great – kinda like banning them in May, in Europe! Now, they only seem to blow them up over Sydney Harbour and our local Swan Water, neither of which is noticeably flammable – and the occasion is generally New Year’s Eve.

    And why Bastille Day? Not having been brought up properly (ie in France), what would I know? But I always understood that it was only foreigners who referred to the national day by that name. Is it “celebrated” (as in “dancing in the streets”, to celebrate the overthrow of the monarchy), or “commemorated”? Pardon my dumb!

    Anyway – I am stunned and overwhelmed to discover a small town like Aubergne can put on a show like this. Much better choice than “doing it” among the bottle throwing crowd nearer to home. I used to walk to the end of the street, cross King’s Park, and roost among the trees to watch the display over Swan Water – but that started getting out of hand, with drugs & alcohol, so I gave up years ago. I’m sure it’s very nice and a fun family show once again, now that I no longer go, and I’d hate to deter anyone else, but I am happier at home with my wife and my dog and my music and my photography.

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      I appear to have failed to notice that Pascal seems to agree – because he chose โ€œB-day (c) Solveig Jappyโ€ as the header photo for this article. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks Pete. Yes, B-Day is also a fave of mine. As you mention, it’s rare to see painterly fireworks and this photograph really does that very well.

      Fireworks, on July 14th alone, cots the country over 150 million euros. Whether that’s a wise thing or not is debatable ๐Ÿ˜‰ Keeping the people happy costs money.

      Now I have to fly over to Perth for Neay Year’s. Look what you’ve done ๐Ÿ˜€

  • JohnW says:

    On this one, I will happily join the the old farts(?), fuddyduds(?), curmudgeons(?) club …. ? Years ago while living in Ottawa, as patriotic duty (and my girlfriend) I went to the Canada Day celebration on Parliament Hill … the noise, the traffic, the crowds, the parking and trying to get the hell out of there and home. Never again!!! For a while. Vancouver is on the International Fireworks competition circuit so every July there are three weekly extravaganzas at English Bay which seems to be made of the same inflammable stuff as J-PG’s Swan Water (strange that; and what do the swans think of all the hullabaloo?). Tried that on one occasion … bad idea. Packing 100-150K people plus cars into less than a square kilometre of high rises and streets … you get the picture. Have never done that again and don’t ever plan to.

    All lovely images PJ and the phone be damned. But isn’t forgetting to put the card in a Hassy a bit like forgetting to put gas in a Benz?

    My flat out favourite is M98 and the Landing Duck galaxy … the minimalist expressionism is almost eye watering. BRAVO Solveig.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Yes, that moment when you realise you have no card in the camera … precious. At least, when it’s not a trip to the other side of the planet.

      I did it again this week-end, ugh. Emtpied the card, filled up two batteries as the one in the camera was low. Put the batteries in the bag. Put the camera in the bag.

      Not the same bag.

      Stupid, stupid, stupid : D

  • Pascal Ravach says:

    Great post, and lovely pics from both!
    Unfortunately, not one single pic from me… when I got that burning stuff in my eye, my reflex was to protect my face for the remaining time… didn’t want to add a 12th surgery “on the spot” ๐Ÿ˜€
    Two meters from me, people had to stop a flame too close to pants… never saw such an “immersive” firework (sorry for the bad joke). Honestly, I was watching Pascal and Solveig, standing undisturbed in the middle of a rain of little fires around us… maybe the recent politics make our French friends used to more “action” ๐Ÿ˜€
    The surviving eye allowed me to enjoy the view, though, and yes many moments had real poetry. For another time…

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