It’s getting close to fireworks time of year so today we wanted to present you with a few tips to help you photograph fireworks displays. For Indians across the world Diwali is a wonderful occasion tp practice these skills, and if you are an American make sure to practice them before 4th of July hits! The biggest thing to remember with respect to firecracker photography is that it’s all about practice, experimentation and loads of review.
#1 Use the right equipment for Firecracker Photography
Use a sturdy tripod and remote to fire the camera and bring an extra battery as long exposures tend to use them up quickly. I say STURDY tripod because it needs to hold your camera steady for several seconds without sinking, tipping, or wobbling.
#2 Set your ISO low
Like 100 or 200, for a couple reasons. First the higher the ISO you use the more noise you’ll introduce into your images, so keep it low to prevent that. Noise also lives in blue areas of images and nighttime has a lot of blue so that compounds the issue. Long exposures also tend to increase noise so if you add it all up you get a lot of noise so keep the ISO low to eliminate that variable.
#3 Turn OFF long exposure noise reduction.
This setting, while it does a really good job of noise reduction, adds an extra complication you don’t need when doing photography of fireworks. The way it works is that if you take say a 10 second exposure, it takes a second one of equal length but just black (the shutter doesn’t open). Then it merges the two together and blends the blank one into the shadow areas of the first one which is where noise typically shows the most. The problem is that fireworks happen so fast you don’t want to have to wait 10 seconds to be able to see your image, make any adjustments and shoot again.
#4 set your camera on Manual mode for exposure and set your aperture to f5.6 or f8.
Those apertures are pretty optimal for fireworks as the light streaks are controlled by the size of the aperture. Closing down more will make the light trails thinner, opening up more will make them wider and possible too over exposed. Do some tests but all the times I’ve done fireworks I keep coming back to f8 as my preference.
#5 Set your shutter speed to between two and ten seconds.
Do a test shot before the show starts and see if the sky is too dark or too bright and adjust the exposure time accordingly. As long as you’re under 30 seconds you can let the camera time the shots for you. Or you can switch to Bulb and just open and close manually when you feel you’ve captured enough bursts in one image.
#6 Focus your lens ahead of time, and then turn off AF
Otherwise the camera will keep trying to refocus every shot and you may end up with missed images or blurry fireworks if the camera misses. Assuming you’re a fair distance away from the fireworks you shouldn’t have to refocus at all; unless you change your angle of view or want to focus somewhere else, like the people in front of you.
#7 Use a neutral density filter to get a longer exposure if need be.
If it’s not 100% dark out yet it (the sky still has some light) this will allow you to get a longer exposure and make sure the fireworks bursts have a nice arch. If your exposure is too short you’ll end up with short stubby looking bursts, not the nice umbrella shaped ones. If yours are too short, just make the exposure time longer. If you are getting too many bursts in one shot and it’s coming out over exposed, shorten the exposure time. Using the ND filter in your camera lens, if it is dark it will also allow you to shoot longer exposures and capture more bursts per image. Play with that and try it with and without the filter if you have one. A polarizing filter will work to a lesser degree also.
#8 Scout your location ahead of time and get there early
Get a good spot, think about background (what’s behind the show) and if you want the people around and in front of you as part of the shot. In general the good viewing areas fill up sometimes 1-2 hours prior to the fireworks show. If you want a good spot with enough room for you and your tripod, go early and take a good book or something to entertain you while you wait.
#9 Shoot into the eastern sky not facing west
Especially if you want a darker sky. A photographer in Edmonton stated that, “we are quite far north and even by 10:30pm in the summer the sky is not fully dark yet. I’ve found that when I shoot into the sunset my sky gets too blown out and the lights of the fireworks don’t show up as well as they do against a darker sky. So try and find a vantage point that has you facing east when possible if that’s an issue for you as well.”
#10 Try some telephoto shots as well as the usual wide
Try some close ups zoomed in tighter for something a bit more abstract. For this you will need to aim basically into thin air and try to anticipate where the bursts will open.
#11 if you have a zoom lens try zooming during the exposure and see what you get!
If you’re going to try this make sure you have focused at the most zoomed in point of the lens. Try different technique including counting 1/2 the exposure before you zoom, or zooming right away and the last 1/2 is zoomed out. Try zooming fast, then slow. Try more bursts, or less. Get some city lights in the shot too.
Digital Photography / Peta Pixel