How to Photograph Fireworks: Tips & Camera Settings
4th of July just a week away. I thought I’d share few fireworks photography tips. Fireworks are the most beautiful and spectacular way to celebrate. Shooting Fireworks may sound difficult, but with little bit of luck & applying some simple rules you might achieve that WOW result. Of course it’s not just going out & start shooting fireworks. Here are some technique you can apply to improve your results.
Equipments You Need To Shoot Fireworks
Cameras: Any SLR camera digital or film & Most Compacts will work. Some modern digital Point & Shoot even have a dedicated fireworks/night scene setting built in.
Lenses: For DSLRs, zoom lenses provide the most flexibility. Most compact zoom are good enough for fireworks photography. If you are sure of your framing you can use a fixed focal. Fireworks usually require a narrow aperture between f/8 and f/16. So fast lenses are nor necessary.
Tripod: Most important equipment in shooting fireworks. To capture the Firework’s spectacular smooth paths of light requires longer shutter speeds. Any camera shake, even vibration may ruin your shot. The best way to keep your camera still is a tripod. For versatility & affordability prefer to use this tripod
Remote or Cable Release: A must have accessory to ensure your camera remains completely still during fireworks. Touching the shutter button causes canera shake, a remote or cable release helps to prevent that. Camera’s self timer is a good alternative. But it will limit your flexibility & you have to rely more on anticipation & luck.
Camera Settings For Fireworks Photography
Everything manual is the key to successful fireworks photography. Take control of your camera using manual mode.
Focus: Always manual focusing. Auto focusing in low light can be tricky for many cameras and you’ll end up missing shots. Focusing at infinity works great, but I prefer to focus at some distant surrounding structures (if there is any). At f/8- f/16 (best aperture for Fireworks) most of the thing should be within the range of depth of field. Once focus is set you don’t really need to change, unless you change the zoom range.
Aperture: The best aperture is usually between f/8 and f/16. You don’t need fast Aperture for Fireworks Photography. Remember you are not shooting the dark, instead you are exposing the bright light. The exact setting also depends on the distance of the fireworks, intensity of burst and air clarity. Watch your histogram & adjust accordingly.
Shutter Speed: Probably more important than aperture. Long exposures of 4-10 Sec work best for me. The beauty of fireworks photography is in the capturing the movement of fireworks or motion blur. To achieve that you need a nice long exposure, preferably 4-10 sec long. The ‘bulb’ mode is the best for that & will allow you to keep the shutter open for as long as you hold down the shutter (using a remote shutter release). I prefer to hit the shutter as the firework is about to burst (anticipate it) and hold it down until burst is complete. You can also pre set shutter speeds, but it is less flexible & sometimes frustrating. Avoid over exposing & keep your shutter open too long. It will over expose the smoke created by fireworks and may produce a hazy effect.
ISO: Best is ISO 100-200. Try to stick to at a lower base ISO to get the cleanest shots possible. Never use Auto ISO.
Shoot RAW: It will help you to correct white balance later, if you don’t like the fist one.
Switch off your Flash (obviously!): Switch your flash off. Absolutely no use of it here. Otherwise you might end up exposing bunch of heads in front of you.
For Compact Cameras
If you have no manual exposure mode, use the Aperture-Priority (A or Av) mode instead. Choose the aperture, press the shutter before the burst. If the shutter stays open longer than your desire, use something to cover the lens (your hand) until shutter closes. If you don’t have Bulb mode, use long exposure mode or atleast the Night scenic mode. Again don’t forget to switch off you flash.
Few Basic Rules To Follow
Try to visualize your frame before you start shooting. Use Flickr or Google images to get an idea and pre compose your shot. Remember, when the display starts, it will be quick & in the dark. You will have less or no time to think. It is always better to have a prior scouting.
Show up early & secure a nice unobstructed view with an usable foreground & background. Gather information on fireworks set up and what parts of the sky they are likely to fill. Avoid bright light sources like street lights, they tend to become overexposed.
Take advantage of the flexibility of Zoom lenses. Better to start with wide angle. Wide angle helps you to easily aim your camera at right direction & compose or crop your frame later. Later you can use longer focal length for more tight framing. Long focal length are difficult to aim & frame.
Keep your Horizon straight, it is difficult during night time.
Watch your framing time to time & remember your framing. So that you can guess at what part of your frame the busts are happening without looking at viewfinder. It will help you to survey the surroundings, anticipate the correct time of burst & press the shutter at the right moment.
Avoid too many bursts in a single frame, it might overexpose your shots. But if you want to be more creative go ahead do some experiment. Think outside the bun.
Early part is the best part of fireworks display to photograph. the sky usually stays clear at that time. The finale may be the worst time to photograph fireworks. Smoke created by the early burst makes the atmosphere hazy later.
Include additional subjects in your frame. Iconic structure like buildings, statues add some extra interests & feel, even spectators. Sometimes lakes and rivers also create beautiful reflections.
Take as many shot as you can to increase you luck. Bring few extra memory cards. Even after proper camera settings, getting a good formation of the burst depends on chances as well. You only need one or two WOW shots!
Finally, this article is not the end of fireworks photography, this is just the beginning. There are no rules, do experiment and make your own rule that works best for you. Most importantly, take it easy. Remember, there’s always next time …
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