Last weekend I spent time in Chicago for the Out of Chicago Conference. On my last night there, fellow author Levi Sim and myself hosted a photowalk for attendees. Our small group was able to check out the University Club, which overlooks Millennium Park, on Saturday night.
And it was just in time for the Saturday night fireworks.
With my new Vanguard Veo 2 tripod in tow, we made our way up to the balcony. Instead of focusing distinctly on the fireworks, I wanted to capture the environment around them. It was Pride Weekend in Chicago, and one of the main buildings surrounding Millennium Park had spelled out “PRIDE” in its window.
Capturing various different shots of the fireworks allowed me to create a unique scene that would be rarely seen.
And while I was happy with my 13-second exposures, I wanted more. Specifically, I wanted more fireworks. I wanted the biggest grand finale I could create.
To do this, I had to get creative with my post-processing.
Blend Modes in Photoshop
I brought all three images into Photoshop by right-clicking them in Lightroom and selecting “Open as Layers in Photoshop.”
From there, the process is pretty straight-forward. I chose the first image as my “base” image, and then the other two were layered on top of it. Those two photographs I selected the blend mode in Photoshop to “Lighten.” This allows you to keep the brighter parts of a layer — for instance, fireworks and car trails — while letting the others fall behind (the darker trees and buildings).
In a nutshell, it blends the brightest parts of your image together with your other layers.
Final Adjustments in Lightroom
From there, I brought the final image back into Lightroom. Because I was shooting with a wide angle lens, I straightened the image so the building with “PRIDE” on it was no longer leaning. I also cropped the bottom of the photograph, to get rid of the railing screen that was reflecting a blue hue.
I also boosted the clarity, vibrance and saturation. I usually do this in a lot of my images, but with fireworks especially, this helps to add a bit of “pop” to the photograph. I also reduced the highlights just slightly, enough where the brighter areas weren’t completely blinding.
Finally, I adjusted the tint. The initial photographs were taken with the “Cloudy” white balance setting, meaning they were a bit warm. I added back a bit of blue and also added some green to further show the trees in the park.
Not all of us have the ability to go to a big city and capture some amazing fireworks. But with a little creativity, you can blend photographs together using Photoshop layers and blend modes, creating the ultimate grand finale.