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    An even greater ball of fire

    5 minuti qari
    Shot from Mellieha heights about half a kilometre south of the St Agatha's (Red) Tower nearly 12 kilometres away. From left to right; Basilika San Ġorġ (under Gelmus Hill), the Ċittadella, the church of Għasri, and the Xewkija Rotunda. / Daniel Cilia

    This photo opportunity happened because I had missed the 21.45 hrs ferry to Gozo. I had been working to finish the work on a book I am doing, which needs to go to print next week and I was running late. I got to the ferry exactly as they closed the gate and thus, I missed it. I had really wanted to get to Gozo to photograph the fireworks.

    Last year I had captured the huge ‘Ballun tal-Blalen’ – a huge fireworks display over Victoria. It was a very successful photo and the Times of Malta used it on their back-page on the 17 August 2017.

    Great Ball of Fire - Fireworks, Victoria, Gozo
    Times of Malta, Thursday, August 17, 2017

    So this year I had a difficult challenge – to try and photograph this year’s ‘ballun’ which was to be bigger than last year’s. I had already thought of a few places to go in Gozo to try and capture it in a different way.

    I was so disappointed to have missed the ferry. By the time the next one came, I would have arrived in Gozo too late and the firework display would have been over. As I waited at Cirkewwa I had an idea. A few weeks ago, I was photographing the red moon lunar eclipse rising behind Mellieħa’s Red Tower (St Agatha’s Tower). When I was there I noticed how the Ċittadella came exactly in line with the Xewkija Rotunda, thus I figured out that if I had to go up there and drive down the road along Mellieħa Heights I could get the Rotunda on the side of the Ċittadella and Gelmus Hill with the fireworks on the left.

    Google Earth Fireworks

    I drove up, found the angle and set up my camera with a 40-year-old (bought 35 years ago) 500 mm Mirror Lens (this lens works by using a mirror to reflect the light so that one has a larger telephoto lens without the large size and weight). This lens brings far-away things closer by a factor of some x6.

    Gordon Grech

    The lens and camera were put on a steady tripod and placed behind the car to protect it as much as possible from wind vibrations. Usually, I would know when the big petard would be set off from its cannon by hearing the huge explosion to lift this mammoth into the air. However, I was too far away this year. So I kept opening the exposure on a setting called ‘Time’ where the camera opens the shutter at the press of the button with a cable release (pressing the button with one’s finger would cause a slight movement to the camera and since I was using such a large focal length lens it would cause the photo to be blurred). The shutter stays open until the button is pressed again. Thus I was doing exposures of about 15-30 seconds to make sure the shutter was open when the ‘ballun’ was fired.

    It is good to also mention that I was shooting in RAW (no in-camera digital processing) which yields a superior quality file. I had placed the ISO (light sensitivity) setting to its lowest at 31 ISO. Since the mirror lens has only one aperture setting (the ‘hole’ in the lens from which the light enters) of f8 I had to compensate to lowering the light sensitivity to avoid overexposure. Also, the 500 Mirror lens has no autofocus so I had to do it manually and maybe this was the most tricky part of it all since it was very dark. Thank God I managed.

    Eventually, when the ball exploded over Victoria, the shutter was open and it was captured in all its glory. On the way back to Gozo on the ferry boat, I opened the RAW file on my laptop and saw that all was good. The only slight problem was that because of how the mirror lens works, and also being so old, there were certain colour refractions on the digital file which I had to correct, especially at the edge of the ballun where it contrasted against the black sky. This lens being so old was made for photographic film exposure and not a digital camera! Yet it still did a pretty good job, so I’m not complaining. Also having shot in RAW helped to reduce these refractions although the colours might not have been 100% correct!

    This is the camera metadata. Lens is 0.0 mm and f. 0.0 because its such an old lens the camera metadata does not recognise the lens. Obviously, there are no digital connections on a 40-year-old lens!

    Camera metadata. Lens is 0.0 mm and f. 0.0 because its such an old lens the camera does not recognise the lens data.

    I would like to say prosit to VAMPA who organise the Gozitan Santa Maria fireworks display, as well as to all involved and to the Saint Joseph Fireworks Ghaxaq Malta for making this beautiful display.

    This photo was also featured in The Malta Independent:

    The Malta Independent, Friday, August 17, 2018