Go For The Obvious, Dummy!

Conesus Lake does a "Ring of Fire" event every 4th of July weekend.  The event is bunch of well-to-do people with lakefront property engaging in a pissing contest about who can spend the most on fireworks.  It makes for a quite impressive show.  I have friends and family that live on / near the lake, and have previously shot the event. 

This year I had the best access I've ever had - a deck built on a bluff that jutted out over the lake a bit.  The best I had before was a hill about a quarter mile inland.  From this vantage I could shoot just about everything on the far side of the lake, and up and down the side I was on for a good half mile or so. 

I was concerned that the deck, made of engineered (plastic) boards, combined with wind and close proximity concussive blasts from the fireworks would not make for a stable enough platform for long exposures.  I did a few test shots with mixed results, then ended up deciding it would be good enough, if I kept the exposures relatively short. 

The sun set, and people started shooting their fireworks.  It was a very impressive show.  I was immediately not happy with my results.  It didn't feel like the deck was moving, and I was really the only person that could be affecting it (and I wasn't).  I have a very hefty tripod, and I even went as far as to tighten down a few screws, thinking maybe that was to blame.  The results did not improve. 

 Notice how every should-be stationary light source on the coast has a "J" hook to it?  That's the motion blur. 

Notice how every should-be stationary light source on the coast has a "J" hook to it?  That's the motion blur. 

I ended up blaming the deck and retreated.  There were some other people on the deck, and I figured either their movement or the concussive blasts from the fireworks were shaking it enough to wreck the shot.  I finished the night using shorter exposures, not wanting to retreat from the prime location to which I may never again have access. 

I knew the shots were not going to be great, and I delayed even looking at them a few days.  When I did get around to reviewing them, as I paged through, it suddenly dawned on me: it was my fault.  100% my fault.  Not the deck, nor the kids, nor the explosions were to blame.  I was so damn concerned with factoring in all these new one-off environment variables.  I missed a VERY basic, obvious, ubiquitous source of camera shake - mirror slap.  I had failed to account for it.  Normally, this is done by locking up the mirror.  In the case of my D80 (what I had with me that night), it is CSM31 - Exposure delay mode.  This inserts a 0.4 second delay between the mirror kick and the shutter release. 

 D80 CSM31 - Exposure delay mode.

D80 CSM31 - Exposure delay mode.

I knew this.  I've used it before.  But I failed to even THINK something this obvious would be my culprit because I was so damn busy searching out a source unique to the scenario.  Moral of the story = title of the post. 

Oh - one last thought:  This is EXACTLY why we don't do events.  I make a bonehead mistake like this, and it wrecks a night of shooting some hobbyist photos.  Even if I intended to turn any into wall art and sell them here (which I didn't), I'm not "out" anything but the opportunity.  Could you image how a bonehead mistake this this would go at a wedding?  "Sorry, father of the bride.  I know you torched several thousands of dollars for these pics, but I made a small bonehead mistake, and...well...some of 'em still turned out okay."  That's not a conversation I ever want to have, because I'm pretty sure it ends with either a right cross or a lawsuit, and I'm not particularly interested in being on the receiving end of either.