Would you like to learn how to photograph fireworks? Have your fireworks pictures been just blah or so-so in previous years?
If you answered yes to any of those questions you've come to the right place.
I'm going to give you a quick tutorial on how I like to capture fireworks.
With any good image you've got to have a couple of rules. Yes, I know, photography is an art and there shouldn't be rules when it comes to art. Rules can stifle you. In this case in order to get the good shot you need to follow a couple rules. The rest, as they say, is up to you.
1. Tripod - you MUST have one.
Why? Because you need to leave your shutter open for a second or more at a time. If you are holding your camera you are going to get camera shake. What is camera shake? Camera shake makes your images blurry. It's that slight vibration or movement that you exert while trying to hold the camera still. Normally you wouldn't notice it but when you are taking pictures with the shutter open (the shutter is what allows the light into the camera), it's visible.
Trust me. If you try and hold your camera you're going to look like you're an alcoholic that hasn't had a drinkin 4 hours. Shaky like a groom on his wedding night. I could go on with the metaphors but you get the idea.
2. Camera with Manual Mode - MUST have
Why? Firework photographs need a long exposure (aka the shutter is open longer than a milisecond). Most point and shoot cameras including smartphones don't have this option. You need a camera with a manual mode that allows you to adjust your shutter speed (Tv) to a second or more.
There is a night mode on smartphones which will hold open the camera's shutter for a a little longer than normal but it's not enough time for you to get grand sweeping fireworks picture. What I mean by that is you with get "THIS" and not "THAT".
THIS is a staccato burst of light. Basically dots of the fireworks light emitted.
THAT is a grand sweeping emission of color. You know those huge chandelier-like fireworks? They come down like a weeping willow tree? You want the shutter to stay open from start to finish so you can capture that entire image.
Those are the two MUST haves.
Somewhat Optional Items:
3. Remote Control Timer - I like to use this because then I don't have my finger on the shutter the entire time. Which can also cause a little bit of camera shake. You press down and then lift off. There is a little camera shake there.
I also like a remote timer because you have complete control of how long the shutter remains open. You don't have to change your settings constantly to get the right shutter length.
Each set of fireworks is different. Some are shorter bursts and some are longer (chandelier). You want to be able to start and end your shutter at your own discretion.
That's basically it for necessities. What type of camera you have, what tripod and what remote is up to you.
4. Camera Settings: Obviously there is debate amongst photographers what is best. What I'm going to do is give you my images from the last 7 years and what the settings were so you can judge for yourself which setting you want to use.
A couple of basics for you:
- I use BULB mode so that I can control all of the settings as well as the shutter speed. If you use manual you will have to change the Tv (Shutter speed) manually. Remember, that is how long the shutter stays open and therefore how much of the image you will capture. To little and you'll get staccato images and too much you will get way too much color and it'll look like a blob.
- I like to manually focus my camera at the beginning. If you put it on automatic sometimes the camera won't be able to focus until the firework has started. I'd suggest using the first couple of bursts to focus then start taking pictures.
- Landscape/Portrait - either will work. Fireworks are naturally vertical so this set-up lends well to them. However, I occasionally will switch to landscape and get the entire background as well (you know people, cars, buildings. This will give your fireworks perspective and you can really see how big they are. Plus you can always crop a landscape image to portrait in photoshop later on.
- ISO - I ALWAYS use ISO 100. You want a crisp and clear image not a grainy one so don't be afraid to use 100 instead of 1600.
- Aperture (Av): Aperture is what decides how much light goes into the camera. Shutter is how long the light goes into the camera and aperture is how much light goes into the camera. Aperture is like your pupil. During the day there is a lot of light so our pupil is smaller, letting in less light. At night it's dark and we can't see well therefore our pupil becomes larger thereby letting in more light giving us the ability to see better.
A small aperture (described as f-stops) is f/32 which allows the entire image to be in focus. An f-stop of f/1.4 would focus on a small image and completely blur the background.
I've used several different apertures (Av) ranging from 6.3-32. I mostly stay in the 6-12 range. That seems to work the best for me and the pictures I like. You can play around with this as well.
- Shutter speed - Generally speaking I hold mine open for a second or two but it really depends on what firework is going off and how much of it I want to capture. This I will leave up to you. My advice, start with a second and work your way from there (assuming you don't have the remote and need to set a shutter speed.)
Now, onto the pictures. A timeline of fireworks form 2007 to 2014:
I hope you enjoyed this post and these pictures. Good luck with your fireworks photographs and please leave links to your pictures. I'd love to see them.
Happy 4th of July!!