Nikon Professional Photographer

What I learned about photographing fireworks | Leighton DaCosta, Charleston Photographer

Charleston Harbor July 4, 2016. This is a 17 frame HDR Merge done in Adobe Lightroom.

Charleston Harbor July 4, 2016.
This is a 17 frame HDR Merge done in Adobe Lightroom.

I do not normally photograph fireworks, because I would rather just sit, watch, and enjoy them. This year for the Fourth of July, I was fortunate enough to have a great vantage point to watch the fireworks over most of the Charleston area. The one I came to watch, was the big one over the U.S.S. YORKTOWN, a retired, World War II Aircraft Carrier from the US Navy.

The fireworks were absolutely beautiful and I wanted to share a couple of things I learned that night for those wanting to do fireworks photography. 

Straight out of camera Shot of the fireworks over Charleston Harbor

Straight out of camera Shot of the fireworks over Charleston Harbor

Known Knowns

  • Slow Shutter Speeds. When Photographing moving luminous objects, to give a sense of motion, you are going to want to use a slow shutter speed to better capture the trailing light. I know many who photograph around 1-5 second exposures. Because of the distance, and the width of the lens I was using that night, I was between 15-25 seconds in exposure time. 

  • TRIPOD!!! Bring a tripod to give you the best stability when doing long exposures. Not only will it keep your camera stable, but it will allow you to take several images with identical frames that makes post production easier. 

  • Mirror Up. While I had already planned on using the live view function on my Nikon D810, I knew that I was only going to use it for precision focusing. In my experience, when using long exposures over 15 seconds, the mirror slap in a DSLR can cause enough vibrations to cause motion blur in distant luminous objects like stars and fireworks. For ideal stillness, photograph using a laptop and a tether cable, so you do not have to touch the camera at all. 


  • Lens Selection. When I first thought about about shooting the fireworks, I really wanted a wide perspective, so had all intent on using the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 manual focus lens. I absolutely LOVE that lens. Something told me though,  to bring my Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 lens; and it might have served me better to have brought my 70-200mm f/2.8 lens as well. due to the distance that I was photographing from. For future shoots, I plan on bringing something really wide, and something really tight, in addition to my intended lenses for an additional perspective.  
Straight out of camera shot; you may not know when something may go off causing a little more light than expected. 

Straight out of camera shot; you may not know when something may go off causing a little more light than expected. 


  • Wind and Weather. Wind and weather will play a part in which way your streams actually fall and how long the smoke stays around. With digital photography, you can do some immediate correction, but with film photography not as easy. I would advise carrying a simple point and shoot with manual functionality that can slow the shutter down enough to let you know what the wind and smoke are doing. 
  • Ambient/City Light. When photographing fireworks in the distance, you will have a disadvantage of having bright city lights in the background as well, which will compete with your fireworks. Consider adjusting your f/stop to reduce the highlights of the lights.

    While there is much more that goes into capturing fireworks, these are just a few things that I took into consideration and wanted to share with you. I had a lot of fun and can't wait to do this again!



6 hours with International Wedding Photographer Mike Colon at WPPI 2016 | Leighton DaCosta. Miami Wedding Photographer.

On the closing days of the Wedding Portrait Photographers International (WPPI) Trade Show, I was fortunate enough to attend a 6 hour Master Class with international wedding photographer Mike Colon. Mike is a photographer based out of Newport Beach California, who's work has graced many international magazines, clientele ranges from Usher to Mel Gibson, and extracurricular activities include Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. With a list of accolades that would tower taller than his 6' 2" frame, he is probably one of the most humble photographers I have met.  I was really looking forward to his class. I won't go too much into the details of what was taught, but I will highlight a few things. 

International Wedding Photographer Mike Colon doing what he does best, creating beautiful images. 

Sponsored by Sony, the class was about being able to dial in your mirrorless camera for weddings. I am currently a Nikon shooter, but I have always had interest in mirrorless cameras, because of the minimal footprint of gear compared to the regular DSLRs from Canon and Nikon.

Going into the class, I already had reservations about mirrorless systems mainly because of the Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) lag and the huge battery drain. I felt that Mike would offer a unique perspective, because while now a Sony Artisan, he was once a Nikon shooter as well. I can understand now, why he made "the switch."

The first couple of hours of the class were classroom lecture to go over the menus and custom buttons on the Sony A7 series, which is Sony's professional line of mirrorless cameras. A camera that is feature rich, but button sparse.

I HATE MENUS, and the Sony has LOTS of them. I did enjoy the layout of the menus though. Mike walked us through each menu, and showed us what he did on wedding day to make it easier for him. Those who have photographed weddings, know that there is so much going on the day of the wedding, that if you are wasting time looking at menus, you might miss something important. After the lecture portion it was time to move on to the practical part of the class. 

Mike Colon holds a speedlight that has been modified, while another participant captures the image. 

We went to the Sony PRO lounge where, we were provided with kits containing the new Sony A7RII Mirrorless camera. I was fortunate to have a 90mm f/2.8 G lens in my kit as well. (All images on this post are shot with the A7RII and are only adjusted for crop and color balance.) the other lens in the kit was the 55mm. 

The practical portion reminded me of being in school where as soon as you went into the lab you forgot everything in the lecture. I was ready to throw the A7RII in the MGM Grand pool, but a few moments more the camera started to actually make sense. One of the cool things that Mike showed us was the focus tracking that the A7RII provides. I will say it blew my mind. While there were some missteps, it is a pretty reliable feature, able to track the models' movements with ease.

We had two beautiful models, although, I wish that we would have had a model "couple" to simulate more along the moments of a wedding. Nonetheless it was great to have such beautiful models. Thank you to 24 Seven Productions who provided the models and to Sony. 

I see mirrorless in my future, and this class helped me move closer to that point. I loved the knowledge and hands on training that I got from the class. I learned a lot and would recommend to any photographer out there who attends WPPI in the future to take advantage of booking at least one Master Class or Plus Class. You wont regret it. 

One private lesson from an accomplished instructor is worth at least 10 group lessons.
— Mike Colon (Top 10 things I've learned from Brazilian Jiu Jitsu)

Quick Natural Light Tip for Photographers | Leighton DaCosta. Miami Fashion Photographer

Behind the Scenes: Howard Levy holds the reflector as high as possible to mimic the natural fall of light from the sun. I am still able to use the sun to back light my model creating great separation from the background and some nice rim lighting.

I posted the leading image this morning on my Instagram feed of a session that we were doing. I was asked by a few photographers, why was my assistant holding the reflector so high? So I wanted to start the discussion. 

Natural light while soft, often leads images to have a "flat" look to them.

Many photographers use "natural" or available light. Personally I've always hated that term, because as seasoned photographers will tell you, "Light is Light." Doesn't matter whether "natural" or artificial. Natural light, depending on the time of day, gives a light quality that is often hard to duplicate. For many photographers, especially those early on in their photographic journey, we get stuck looking mostly at the quantity of light, not the quality of light. That is, all we care about is exposure. Our lighting ratio is pretty much one to none, because all we have is the sun, right? 

Using natural light often gives ample light quantity as pictured, but the quality of light often leaves images looking flat. For this reason, experienced photographers will usually invest in a reflector kit which allows the photographer to add additional light onto a subject. This additional lighting is known as "Fill" and can be created by reflectors, flashes, and other forms of artificial lighting. 

By using a reflector, I have now added light in the shadowed portions of the subject's face, but also allows for the light to "embellish" shadows to give the subject more definition in the face.

I have noticed, and have been guilty of it myself, assistants usually holding a reflector low so the reflected light comes from below the subject and causing the light to bounce back up to the subject. The light direction of the bounce is usually inconsequential, because usually the bounced light is about a stop of exposure below the ambient.

On bright sunny days, because of the harsh shadows that the sun may leave on a face, any fill light in the face may be welcomed. But what about when your subject is standing in the shade and the background is out in the open? That uplighting bounced back into the subject's face can look like an old horror movie. Something affectionately call, "Frankenlighting."

To prevent the Frankenlighting and create a more pleasant fill, hold the reflector as high as possible, while bouncing light on the subject. This mimics what our eyes usually see. That is the natural fall of light from high to low, not the other way around. This may make sense to you if you use artificial lighting, because it is the same as you would do with a light on a light stand. 

Elevation gives you the ability to get a nice, natural light fall on the face, causing the shadows to go downward. Another tip with this, is that you can control the "hardness" of the light by moving the reflector further away from the subject or closer to the subject to make the light softer.  

The easiest reflectors to elevate are those with a rigid frame. I use the Lastolite 30" tri grip. For a little more, you can get the exciting line from Profoto which gives you several different options and are square in nature, giving a much larger reflective surface. There is also the internationally acclaimed, California Sunbounce, which not only gives you large surface area, but a rigid frame that makes it easier for one person, or even a weighted boom arm to hold. 

What are some things that you have done to modify and control the light while using natural light? Please comment below.

Good Luck, 



Unretouched, this image illustrates how with a little technique, natural lighting doesn't always have to be a handicap and can often give you looks similar to flash.


7 Ways to Make Your Studio More Mobile NOW | Miami Photographer, Leighton DaCosta

7 Ways to Make Your Studio More Mobile NOW | Miami Photographer, Leighton DaCosta

The reality is, to have a mobile setup doesn't have to be overly technical, or even overly expensive, IF you have a little forethought going into it.