Pyrotechnics is an ephemeral art that does not ordinarily allow for rehearsals. Every designer must thoroughly imagine his/her show before the daytime wiring and the nighttime performance. Computers offer somewhat realistic simulations of displays, but cannot begin to capture the true colors, the sound or the pulsing feel of a show. From my experience, the greater the pyrotechnician’s depth of knowledge, the more elaborate the fireworks show will be. That is why I try to hang out close to the fireworks while they are being wired and positioned. By gathering as much information about a show beforehand as I can, I am far less likely to miss an important shot or spectacular effect. What I’ve discovered is that the photographer, just like the pyrotechnician on the night of the show, has no margin for error. In other words, there are no instant replays or do-overs in the fireworks or photography business.
As you can probably tell, just watching pyrotechnics has never been quite enough for me. I also want my photographs to portray a deeper meaning. That is why I particularly enjoy shows that take place in historical locations like France. In France, it seems, they have a knack for combining architectural beauty with exquisite music, brilliant pyrotechinic choreography and vivid color.
When I was a child, I developed a passion for both photography and fireworks. I specialized predominantly in landscape photography, but as I grew as a photographer, I was able to combine my understanding of landscapes with the landscape-like distribution of pyrotechnics. These two passions have lived juxtaposed now for many years.
Thankfully (or I should probably say, luckily), I live in Chantilly (Oise/France). It is here I was able to attend perhaps the most beautiful pyromusical competitions in the world: “Nights of Fire” (“Les Nuits de Feu” in French). This international fireworks competition began back in 1987, but unfortunately ended (for budgetary reasons) in 2008. I was able to attend 16 of the 21 spectacular competitions performed at the Castle of Chantilly gardens. On a personal level, for me, attending its first competition more than 25 years ago was a genuine revelation. It was truly a dream come true.
Around the time of the millennium, I met the director of Les Nuits de Feu, and as luck would have it, he had seen some of my photographic work on my personal website (www.christopheblanc.fr). Since both of us were avid fireworkworks fans, and because he was impressed with my pyrotechnic photography, he asked me to be the official photographer for this shows. What an incredible honor!
This was how these international competitions became my photographic playground for many years. Once, I even took an entire week off just to attend the preparation phase of this spectacular. That hiatus from work made it possible for me to meet the pyrotechnic designers and discuss interesting minutia about their shows.
Honestly, I have so many great memories from these shows! Some of them were so amazingly beautiful I actually had to stop taking photographs while the displays were happening just to enjoy the overwhelming splendor of the moment. Those moments are now firmly etched into my memory, too beautiful to ever capture on film. Thankfully, many of my photographs are commonly used to communicate how wondrous this event had become. There are many who sincerely hope this “Nights of Fire” event will someday resume again! (Things are currently progressing in that direction, too. The French newspaper, Le Parisien, recently reported that if all goes well, Les Nuits de Feu may take place again sometime in 2015).
Because I wanted to share many of my best photographs from these resplendent shows with everyone, I have compiled them into a book that can be found at: www.blurb.fr/b/4700456-il-etait-une-fois-les-nuits-de-feu-a-chantilly-for. It is a large book—square format /12×12 inches—that I think captures the essence of the shows more effectively. As of right now the text is only available in French, but this is a first edition, and later editions may contain other languages.
The city of Chantilly did try to restart a somewhat similar pyrotechnic event in 2011 within the gardens of the castle. It was not a competition like the Nights of Fire, however, but two elaborate displays performed by two different pyrotechnic choreographers. Although their intentions were different, it did beg comparison to the “Nights of Fire” competition. Taken at face value, the shows were exceptionally beautiful. It did not generate the kind of public interest, though, that might have ensured a comeback of the original event.
Since I have gotten to know many of the world’s best pyrotechnic designers and choreographers, I now have access now to private shows and spectaculars in many other locations n many other countries around the world. My travels have provided me with a wealth of material, too, so much in fact, that I already enough material to begin a second book. Since this is very time-consuming process, however, you will have to be patient with me and give me ample time to create an opus II. For those of you who do not wish to wait, my photographs are available for viewing on my regularly updated blog: www.photopyro.fr.
A Few Photographic Tips
Equipment. For a long time I used a 35mm Nikon F100 camera loaded exclusively with Kodak negative film. It provided well for a wide latitude of exposure ranges. As soon as I was able to afford it, though, I bought a Mamiya 7 II camera. It was a wonderful camera, and providing very high definition using a 6×7 film format. I still am particularly fond of that camera and have great memories about using it. On the downside, it had many eccentricities (like having to change the film in the dark every 10 shots!).
Two years ago, I finally changed over to a digital camera. Still a Nikon aficionado, I bought a full frame D800. It took me a while to adapt to this format (it was an entirely new way to work for me), but what I liked about it most was how you could quickly change or adjust the parameters and never have to worry about the approaching end of your film roll. Of course the 36.3 MP certainly helped maintain the highest of definition, and if you’re serious about your photography, the Nikon D800, D800E or the new D810 are the way to go.
Whichever camera you use, here are a few simple tips to achieve better results: First, for fireworks photography you need to place your camera camera on a sturdy tripod. Second, use a remote cable release to avoid any camera movement while tripping the shutter release—and make certain your camera is not set on an “automatic” or on “auto” mode. Third, set your focus on your lens’ to its infinity marking, and your shutter should be set to “bulb”. Shut down the aperture manually on your camera to reduce the intensity of light from the displays. Finally, fourth, don’t forget to enjoy the show!
To keep in touch with me and to see some of my newest work, visit www.facebook.com/christophe.blanc.161