Tom Firing His Musket Under the Stars, Uhlerstown


At the start of every year my friend Bo Hahn, an ophthalmologist and pyrotechnician who lives a few miles south of Durham Township, puts on a fireworks show as a gift to the community. The event takes place in a large farm field in Uhlerstown, Bucks County, directly across the Delaware River from Frenchtown, New Jersey. Cohort Tom always kicks off the show by firing his musket.

I've tried photographing Tom the last three years. The first year I messed up the exposure, the second year Tom didn't stand still long enough. This year worked out on both counts for the most part. It's a challenging photographic situation because it happens only once per year and lasts only 5 seconds! It's pitch black and freezing cold in that field -- but I'm always happy when I get another crack at it. :)

Thanks, Bo and Tom!

Camera settings and post-processing: Shot with the Canon EOS 5D and the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L lens at 24mm, ISO 1600, f/3.2, shutter 5 seconds (used tripod & cable release). Converted to monochrome with the Gradient Map, curves adjustments, color balancing.

Thanks for visiting Durham Township!



I am awed and humbled by the composition in this photo.

Posted by thewulf on January 4, 2008 12:35 AM

Congratulations for your Photoblog Awards 2007 nomination as finalist in Most Popular Photoblog. Bravo !!!

Posted by petitlouis on January 4, 2008 3:59 AM

Gorgeous shot.

Posted by alex on January 4, 2008 4:39 AM

WOW...! Amazing capture, can almost hear it banging!!! What was he aiming for?

Posted by javga on January 4, 2008 5:09 AM

oh the memories. I used to live in MO. my best gf and I pretended to be 12 again and so we did what any good Midwesterner women in their 30s do; we shot guns, threw firecrackers out moving cars, slept in graveyards hope to hear the dead rise up on full moons - and we drank A LOT of Virginia sweet tea. The MO thunderstorms were The Best I've ever seen. on occasion we see thunder here...usually accounted for when the local kids drag race up our long dark streets. oh those were the days. we could find trouble before the sun even came up. such fond, sad memories. all good to things must come to an end (when you grow up}. oh screw the growing up part. I miss the fireworks 24/7/365, and our all niter pie baking fest, horror TV until either thunder struck or we just collapsed. why...I could bust out signing the were we were any sec now.

Posted by g on January 4, 2008 5:42 AM

an amazing capture! and well done on your photoblog award, well deserved :)

Posted by david kleinert on January 4, 2008 6:58 AM

Wow!!! What a great shot! I admire your persistence. It really paid off. I love the brightness of the shot, the stars, the curve of the horizon, the light on the man, the lights of the houses. It all works.

Posted by Anita Bower on January 4, 2008 7:35 AM

wow, what a cool shot.

Posted by Keith De-Lin on January 4, 2008 8:16 AM

Wonderful, I love night photos, and this one is special. Just wonderful. Congratulations on your award :)

Posted by Noreen on January 4, 2008 8:44 AM

Awesome awesome awesome!
Happy new year!

Posted by tulna on January 4, 2008 9:09 AM

Events like this make your life interesting and full.Keep enjoying .

Posted by Adolph on January 4, 2008 9:12 AM

This is my favorite type of photography...

Posted by Marek.Kulikowski on January 4, 2008 9:43 AM


you always seem to find the most amazing opportunities...

Posted by Geoff on January 4, 2008 10:05 AM

Yikes!!! What a shot!!!!

Posted by motina on January 4, 2008 10:56 AM

Man Vs Comet? OK, first impressions can be wrong, but why exactly is Tom firing at Uhlerstown? (Is that Orion's Belt, or is it just me?)

"g" If Virgina Tea is anything like Long Island Tea, I assume your are singing by now.

Is that Connally Woman ever gonna run out of puts a smile on my day--So thank Tom, Kathleen and the Chinese--I hope Uhlerstown is OK!

Posted by david tinnon on January 4, 2008 11:08 AM

Kathleen, this photo rocks. I can't say I've ever seen a portrait that's been illuminated solely by a muzzle flash before. I like how you caught the faint whisp of smoke back at the breach. And, yes, David, that is Orion's belt in the sky above Tom as well as his arm and club. This a perfect exposure combination between stars (with no trails) and muzzle flash. I just have to wonder what the color temperature of ignited gunpowder is, had this not been black and white. Great shot (pun intended)!

Posted by Russ on January 4, 2008 12:47 PM

Oops, please insert "suprises? She" after "of" in sentence begining with "Is" (Is that clear, or is it just me?)

Posted by david tinnon on January 4, 2008 1:03 PM

Original, thought-provoking, and well captured as per usual, Miss C!

Posted by Betsy Barron on January 4, 2008 1:15 PM

very well done. This shot works really well.

Posted by mikelangelo on January 4, 2008 1:18 PM

After looking at this again, I think this is actually a flintlock rifle rather than a shotgun. But regardless, it's still a rockin' shot, Kathleen.

Posted by Russ on January 4, 2008 3:43 PM

javga: Tom was firing a blank up into the air to start the fireworks show. He wasn't aiming at anything - it was pitch black and you couldn't see anything except the stars. :)

David Tinnon: Thanks for the grammar lesson in the title! :) I guess I should change "at" to "in."

Russ: The color version of this was so wacky that I converted it to monochrome. I couldn't deal with the variances in temperature from one part of the image to another so I didn't even try. Technically, the very center of the blast is blown out, anyway.

And thanks, Russ, for letting me know it's a "flintlock" - I know zip about guns, etc., and forgot to ask Tom for the correct info. (I almost called it a rifle, for heaven's sake, but at least I knew that was wrong! My passion for John Ford films finally paid off.)

Posted by Kathleen on January 4, 2008 5:40 PM

david, virginia sweet tea is regular tea made with enough sugar per cup to kill most humans. or rightly should, anyway.

Posted by g on January 4, 2008 8:13 PM

Really good; thanks for the set-up explanation. Looks LOUD.

Posted by Robert on January 4, 2008 8:46 PM

Yikes, that's awesome in every sense of the word. Perfect balance with the night sky. Wonder what the guide number on that, um, flashgun is... :-)

Posted by Tony on January 4, 2008 10:49 PM

Amazing Shot. thanks for showing exif info plus adding more info. More chances to learn!

Posted by glaucia on January 5, 2008 12:23 AM

Wow, spectacular photo! I suppose Tom loved this shot too?

Posted by PiXistenZ on January 5, 2008 4:32 AM

Very unique shot!

Posted by Christina on January 5, 2008 6:36 AM

Congratulations on perfect timing.

Posted by Ruth on January 5, 2008 9:37 AM

That's wild! I'm really struck by th way the flash from the blast illuminates him. It definitely created a very dramatic effect.

Happy New Year!

Posted by Laurie on January 5, 2008 9:39 AM

Is this the newest invention from Ronco? Can we use it to deep fry turkeys? You betcha! As many as 50 at a time with minimal plucking afterwards! But wait, there's more!

Members of the NRA rejoice! God bless Charlton Heston! It's a hand held nebelwerfer designed and tested by the last of the Krupp dynasty and available on the street for under $100.00! You can stand in a cornfield in Iowa and put a round through Osama's Koran in a cave in Pakistan!

Ain't America great?!

Posted by Willow on January 5, 2008 11:29 AM

Damn, I'll have to try capturing a shot like this myself some time - great idea!

Posted by Detour on January 6, 2008 7:47 AM

Impressive photo - and the background story certainly puts the somewhat controverse subject matter into perspective.

I especially like the great light in the photo. It really conveys the darkness that must have been there on-site. And for once, blown-out highlights form a stunning element in a photo!

Posted by Thomas on January 6, 2008 12:22 PM

attention, ca va lui peter à la figure !!

Posted by rem_la on January 7, 2008 12:55 AM

Wow! Great expression! You were lucky - great moment!

Posted by Bob Sigter on January 7, 2008 9:15 AM

Excellent image, the detail and lighting is perfect Kathleen! I love it.

Posted by Craig Wilson on January 7, 2008 5:25 PM

Funny to consider that over a century ago, photographers commonly used black powder for flash, their images were black & white, and their blogs were of pages turned by hand. Today it's still all about timing while the old cameras and old guns are retired to shelf and mantel except for special occasions with special shooters. (here is one of those with two of them.)

Posted by David Tinnon on January 8, 2008 2:40 AM

Incredibly fantastic photography you have in this website. i feel so inspired.

Posted by johan on January 8, 2008 12:01 PM

Very nice! Talk about great timing.

Posted by Alice on January 9, 2008 3:53 PM

outstanding frame here, Kathleen

Posted by btezra on January 11, 2008 1:13 PM

Incredible and very impressive shooting. The right time at the right moment. A decisive clik !

Posted by Pierre Wetzel on January 12, 2008 7:40 PM

Wow, amazing photograph! He's managed to keep quite still for the 5 seconds after that big blast!

Posted by vg on January 15, 2008 3:32 AM

Holy cow. It looks like the fire god of the skies came down and is trying to swallow the barrel. Which came first?

Posted by Bob Eddings on January 28, 2008 3:35 AM

I'm left almost speechless....well not quite. Great drama and your third attempt was a charm. Spectacular, as always, Special K!

Posted by John on February 6, 2008 7:29 PM

this is an INCREDIBLE shot! I can truly say I've never seen one like this, and honestly that's hard to say sometimes with any photographer. Very very cool! FRESH!

Posted by bugsy on February 16, 2008 9:05 PM

well done kathleen

Posted by pierre on April 14, 2008 12:52 PM

If I could marry these pictures, I would!
This goes for ALL your photography.

Posted by Shahjahan on November 19, 2008 4:39 PM
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