Today is the 4th of July, Independence Day in the United States, and many of us will be laying in the grass to partake in the local fireworks show. Fireworks displays are something that evoke a lot of emotion as they are not only beautiful to watch, but they also are often used to celebrate momentous occasions. If you plan to photograph fireworks this evening, here’s some tips to help you capture some spectacular images.
Use a Tripod or Remote Release
One of the most important tips is to secure your camera to something that will make sure it doesn’t move during the shots. This is especially important in photographing fireworks because you’ll be using longer shutter speeds to capture the movement of the fireworks. Another way to ensure your camera is completely still during fireworks shots is to invest in a remote release device. These will vary from camera to camera, but most have some sort of accessory made for them. The other way of taking shots without touching your camera is to use the self timer. This can work, but you really need to be able to anticipate shots well.
Framing Your Shot
One of the most difficult parts of photographing fireworks is figuring out where to aim your camera. The challenge you’ll face in doing this is that you generally need to aim your camera before the fireworks that you’ll be photographing goes off. Scope out the location early; getting to the location early in order to get a good, unobstructed position is important. Think about what is in the foreground and background of your shots and make sure you won’t have people’s heads bobbing up into your shots. Take note of where fireworks are being set up and on what parts of the sky they are likely to be displayed. Also, remember your framing. You’ll probably spend less time looking in your viewfinder and more time looking at the sky. As a result, it’s important to remember what framing you have and to watch that segment of the sky. Doing this will also help you to anticipate the right time for a shot as you’ll see the light trails of undetonated rockets shooting into the sky.
One of the hardest parts of photographing fireworks is having your camera trained on the right part of the sky at the right time. This is especially difficult if you’re shooting with a longer focal length and are trying to take more tightly cropped shots. Typically, I shoot at a wider focal length but I may try a few tighter shots throughout the show (a zoom lens can give you this versatility). Keep in mind that cropping wider angle fireworks shots can always be done later to get a fuller frame in your photography.
A common question around photographing fireworks displays is what aperture to use. Many people think you need a fast lens to capture them, but in reality, it’s quite the opposite as the light that the fireworks emit can be quite bright. Apertures in the mid-to-small range tend to work reasonably well (f/8 to f/16).
Fireworks move, and as a result, the best photographs of them capture this movement (i.e., long exposure). A great technique for this is ‘bulb’ mode. This allows you to keep the shutter open for as long as you hold down the shutter (preferably using a remote shutter release). When using this technique, press the shutter as the firework is about to explode and hold it down until it’s finished exploding. You will also have to remember not to keep your shutter open for too long. The temptation is to think that because it’s dark that you can leave it open as long as you like, but the problem with this is that fireworks are bright and it doesn’t take too much to over expose them, especially if your shutter is open for multiple bursts in the one area of the sky.
Shooting at a low ISO (ISO 100 to ISO 250) is preferable to have the least amount of noise in your images.
Switch Off Your Flash
Shooting with a flash will have no impact on your shots; your camera’s flash will only have a reach of a few feet and even if the fireworks were this close, a flash wouldn’t really have anything to light except for some smoke which would distract from the real action. For the best images, switch your flash off.
Shoot in Manual Mode
If you’re shooting with a DSLR or film camera, you’ll get the best results by using manual exposure and manual focus modes. Auto focusing in low light can be very difficult for many cameras and you’ll end up missing a lot of shots. Once your focusing is set, you don’t really need to change it during the fireworks display (especially if you’re using a small aperture which increases depth of field). Keep in mind that changing focal lengths will mean you need to need to adjust your focusing on most lenses.
Experiment and Track Results
Throughout the fireworks display, periodically check your results. A good rule of thumb is to take a few shots at the beginning of the show and do a quick check to see that they are OK before continuing. Don’t check after every shot once you’ve got things set up or you’ll miss the action, but do monitor your shots occasionally to ensure you’re not taking a completely bad batch. It can also be interesting to experiment with taking shots that include a wider perspective, silhouettes and people around you watching the display. Having your camera pointed at the sky can capture some wonderful shots, but sometimes if you look for different perspectives, you can get a few shots that are a little less cliché and just as spectacular.
If you are able to capture any amazing and memorable shots this evening, show us your work in the comments below. We may feature it on a future post!